I can remember when I was very little, those magical moments when I felt excited, curious, adventurous — all at once. It usually happened whenever the kid with whom I was playing would say two perfect words: “let’s explore.”
“Let’s explore”— two words that to me meant mystery, fun, crossing the line, something new around the corner, adventure. There was one adjective we never used in this context — boring. To explore was to experience, to soak up newness and wonder from a whole new world. And when you are six — especially when you are six — you need moxie to go exploring. When you are six, your own backyard is a land of unknown secrets, ripe for exploration. You muster the courage to explore that hidden drawer in the bureau behind the winter coats in your Mom’s closet. You bravely go where your best friend won’t — like the crawl space under the neighbor’s house.
Exploration helps children strengthen their sense of surroundings and systems that affect their everyday life, such as the relationship of the sun and the moon to the earth, or water cycles, or wind and ocean currents. Learning geography, for example, helps a child understand the concept of what makes land a place, what makes a place a country, and what makes a country home.
Which is why we feel a new book from Disney Publishing and Lerner Books, Explore Mexico, is essential reading for both children and adults. This visually engaging and age-appropriate book for children in the second through fifth grades, takes them on a journey through Mexico. Their tour guide is none other than Miguel and Dante, from Disney/Pixar’s global box office smash and Academy Award-winning animated feature Coco. The narrative illuminates Mexico’s geography, music, art, celebrations, and culture and specifically, helps children and families learn three essential “way-finding” skills (full disclosure — I’m a contributor to this book):
This little book is mindful in major ways. For example, children will learn that in addition to Spanish, many indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico. They learn how Mexico is situated on the globe, receive an introduction to Mexican culture, animal life, and diverse geography, and a basic understanding of life in Mexico through text and visuals that are culturally appropriate (e.g., no stereotypes here) as well as informative.
As I have written elsewhere, Coco is a film that illuminates a Mexico through storytelling that is fascinating, realistic and, spiritual. It came at a time when the narrative about Mexico, Mexican heritage and the Mexican people was again hijacked for political purposes. The film was not only a triumph artistically; it returned the mainstream media narrative about Mexican identity and culture back to the Mexican people by including them in the filmmaking process. This community-based creative effort came at a stage during American civic culture many had dreamed of but had yet to encounter: a narrative about Mexico and its heritage that was authentic, positive, and beautiful. It’s no surprise then, that the film became the most successful movie in the history of Mexican cinema and earned nearly $1 billion globally. In the United States its success went beyond financial returns — its affirmation of our common humanity through the lens of Mexican culture created an existential catharsis, which is ongoing.
Still, any narrative must be consistently sustained in order for its power to hold. This little book extends Coco’s narrative, and something more: it opens the door to a fact-based exploration of the real Mexico. For many children, this book will be a threshold to a place that is, actually, enchanting — a place that exists, a place that connects two continents and, like the marigold bridge in Coco, connects the aspirations of civilizations past and present. It’s a little book with the power of authentic elucidation of culture, history, and place. It celebrates the facts of cultural beauty and complexity. Its crux, then, is the beloved two-word incantation which inevitably results from this type of creative and fact-based exploration: “let’s explore!”
Explore Mexico A Coco Discovery Book
By Lars Ortiz in association with Marcela Davison Avilés, Cultural Consultant
Grades 2 -5 From the series Disney Learning Discovery Books
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