Letras al carbón

BOOK TITLE: Letras al carbón
AUTHOR: Irene Vasco
ILLUSTRATOR: Juan Palomino
PUBLISHER: Editorial Juventud, Barcelona
GENRE: CHILDREN’S LITERATURE – Realistic Fiction
READER’S NAME: Teresa Mlawer
DATE: April 3, 2016

The author, Irene Vasco, is from Colombia. The Illustrator, Juan Palomino is from Mexico. The publisher, Editorial Juventud is from Barcelona, Spain.

Irene Vasco travels to very poor areas of Colombia, especially to towns along the Pacific Coast to give workshops on writing and reading.  

The population in this coastal area has been neglected for many years,  especially when it comes to education. You can find among the population many of the older people that do not know how to write or read.  However, their oral stories are rich in tradition and family values.

It was during one of Irene Velasco’s visit to the town of Palenque that this story was born

Summary of the story:

In the village of Palenque, most people do not know how to read, but that does not mean they are not full of stories. With humor, love and respect, we learn that one of the few people in town who knows how to read is Mr. Velandia, the store owner.  He writes on the wall of his store with a piece of chalk what people owe him, crossing their names out once they pay him. 

Letters are visible to everyone in the town, from the newspapers used to pack their groceries to announcements that arrive in the mail, but hardly anyone can read them. Every week a man would bring goods and mail to the town of Palenque in a canoe.

One day, Gina, a young girl from Palenque, receives a letter from Miguel Angel, a young doctor who had spent time in town.  The letters keep coming every week, and Gina would sit, under a mango tree, trying to imagine what the letters say.

Gina’s younger sister, sensing her sister’s sadness, decides to learn how to read and offers to help Mr. Velandia in the store in exchange for him teaching her how to read. As she learns the letters and is able to form words, she sets out to teach her sister and other children in town.

Finally, both Gina and her younger sister learn how to read. Then one day just before Xmas, Gina receives a letter from Miguel Angel. It’s a farewell letter. Miguel Angel has written her every week and since he has never received any letter from her, he assumes that she is not interested.  Of course, Miguel Angel had no way of knowing that Gina did not know how to read. Even though, Gina is sad, life goes on and she soon discovers the power of reading! 

This is one of the many stories of the people from Palenque!