Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Soda Bottle School by Suzanne Slade

In a Guatemalan village, students squished into their tiny schoolhouse, two grades to a classroom. The villagers had tried expanding the school, but the money ran out before the project was finished. No money meant no wall materials, and that meant no more room for the students. Until they got a wonderful, crazy idea.

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of 100 nonfiction books for children. Her most recent release, THE SODA BOTTLE SCHOOL: THE TRUE STORY OF RECYCLING, TEAMWORK, AND ONE CRAZY IDEA, shares the story of children in Guatemala who built their school out of trash. Ms. Slade often writes about ordinary people who achieve extraordinary things with the hopes that her books will inspire children to pursue their own dreams, passions, and crazy ideas.

This book is perfect for ages 7 to 107 (The author's 101-year old Grandma likes it!)

Tell why you wrote this book and created these characters

Several years ago I went to the annual Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. and spotted a colorful, plastic wall made out of old bottles and trash. The display explained how the tiny town of Granados was facing two problems in 2007: their trash piles were too big, and their school was too small. The village had no garage dumps—no place to put their trash. The school was so crowded that two students had to use one desk. The situation looked hopeless, until the villagers got a crazy idea. When I discovered how 200 children created a school from old soda bottles and trash, I literally got “goose bumps” (this always happens when I find a story I have to share.) Although I had many projects waiting on my desk back home, I knew I had to share their story.

Tell something about the characters you would like young readers to grasp.

The children in the book are based on real students in Granados. The main character, Fernando, is a remarkable boy who kept a positive attitude during the long, grueling building process. The story also shares the phenomenal teamwork of the entire community as they worked together for 18 months to build a school. I hope this true story helps young readers see that sometimes a seemingly “crazy idea” can be the perfect solution to a problem, and that with persistence and cooperation, they can achieve things others might say are impossible.

How you see your book fitting into schools and into the concept of Windows, Mirrors and Sliding glass doors.

I hope this book serves as a window into the Guatemalan culture as it shares how those students worked side-by-side to create a school that was big enough for everyone, a sliding door which allows readers to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where the schools are so crowded that children are willing to get blisters on their hands to create a bigger school, and a mirror which helps readers see that their “crazy” ideas can come true, and that teamwork is a powerful entity that can accomplish almost anything.

Tell us a little about your research and other efforts to make the portrayal of your characters culturally accurate

I co-authored this book with Seno Laura Kutner, a teacher at the Granados school, who played a big part in the building project. Working closely with Laura was crucial in ensuring the story details, as well as the illustrations, were accurate.

Are there any words from your publisher, reviewers or readers you would like to share?

After the Granados Soda Bottle School was completed, other communities in Guatemala decided to solve their growing trash problems (and overcrowded school issues) by building schools out of trash. To help with these projects, I’m donating my profits from this book to Hug-It-Forward, a nonprofit organization which helps fund new bottle schools.

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