Whenever Anne Señol and other staff from the publishing house La Jirafa y Yo deliver their books to public schools, kids gather around the boxes and hold their new, beautifully illustrated books like newfound treasure. Making children understand the value of reading is exactly what Señol wanted when the idea of founding La Jirafa y Yo first popped into her mind.
It started five years ago when Señol visited Portalón, a small community south of Quepos on the central Pacific coast, where, two weeks prior, a flood had devastated the village.
“It just came like that. I knew I had to write about what I had seen in that town,” Señol says.
This is how “Portalón” became the first of many stories she wrote. As the founder and principal of the European School in San Pablo de Heredia, north of San José, Señol knew the school she started 20 years ago would serve to test her pilot project. A year later, books by La Jirafa y Yo have proven to be an effective method to instill the love of reading in children. The group recently published its latest book, “La cueva de los cuentos” (The Cave of Stories), based on the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and illustrated by Russian artist Olga Anaskina.
“Kids deserve to feel challenged by literature. I’ve had a second-grader come up to me and tell me that she wants to be able to read more poetry in school,” Señol says.
La Jirafa y Yo has now published six books, three of which are fresh didactic material for teaching Spanish in first, second and third grades. But one of the things that makes these books so special is also what seems to be the most obvious: The stories are set in Costa Rica and portray a reality that children here can understand.
“In Costa Rica, public schools use ‘Paco y Lola’ to teach how to read and write,” Señol explains. “Though a very respectable book, it is dated and doesn’t show the world in which Ticos are growing up today. [And] private schools … use foreign didactic methods from Mexico or Colombia with stories that children cannot relate to.”
With works like “Leo y Lea,” “El árbol imaginario” and “La cueva de los cuentos,” La Jirafa y Yo aims to bring young Ticos closer to their own reality, as a complement to reading classics like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Ugly Duckling” or “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”
“Instilling the love of reading is perhaps as important as it is for Ticos to realize that their own stories can go hand in hand with world literature classics,” Señol says.
“La cueva de los cuentos” is available for ₡6,000 ($12) at Librería Lehmann and Librería Universitaria bookstores, as well as at the European School. For information about La Jirafa y Yo’s books and points of sale, visit www.lajirafayyo.com.