Parents always think that the gifts their children receive will be equally entertaining and educational. Building blocks, doll houses, small robots or action figures are all fine gifts, but a book has the ability of providing hours of fun and building important skills for the future.
Books are gifts that keep giving. Page after page and character after character, children are transported to new places and learn new things with each and every read. At Local Keeps, the stories we love the most are those about Costa Rica, its rainforests, its creatures and, of course, it's people.
We've created a list of the best Costa Rican children's books that your kids will love, along with a short overview on Costa Rican kid’s literature!
“The Toucan and the Rainbow”, written by Yazmin Ross and illustrated by María Elena Valdés, tells the story of Tuku, a colorless toucan that will gradually become one of the most colorful birds of the tropics. This story is a creation of Ross, along with Roberto Boccanera (author of “The Sugared Sea”) and his daughter, Greta Capelli Ross.
The making of the book involved field research work, as well as input from ornithologists, park rangers and birders guides. As a matter of fact, illustrator María Elena Valdez used a bird shelter as her stage and gave free rein to her imagination, technical and narrative skills. The translation into English was done by educator Carol Weir, who adapted the original text in order to create rhymes in a different language.
Did you know animals get annoyed when you take pictures of them? One of its inhabitants, a mischievous monkey, learned this when he became the rainforest’s very first paparazzi! “The Rain Forest Paparazzi”, by Yazmín Ross and illustrated by Ruth Angulo, is a charming bilingual book with beautiful drawings of the Costa Rican rainforest.
When a squirrel monkey finds a camera, he starts taking pictures of the rainforest animals at the most inconvenient times, forcing them to hide or select creative costumes to throw him off. “The Rainforest Paparazzi” is a wonderfully playful tale that will teach children the importance of granting everyone around us some privacy and personal space.
The characters of Narilu and Ruby are perfect opposites. Despite being so different, they rely on the strengths of each other to create a solid, beautiful friendship. “Narilú and Rubí” is the last children's story written by Yazmín Ross, who died in 2017. The story was completed by Ross’ first husband, Argentinian Jorge Boccanera and illustrated by Ruth Angulo.
Angulo researched each animal thoroughly. According to Luciano Capelli in a Nación interview, she even based Narilu’s design on a very specific species of hummingbird, the only one known to migrate between northern Canada and northern Costa Rica. This story is an homage to Ross’ work and to the natural wonders you can find in the Costa Rican rainforest.
A Brief History on Costa Rican Books for Kids
Literature written specifically for children begins in 1920 and has much to do with the creation of the Escuela Normal de Costa Rica, founded in Heredia by Alfredo González Flores, then President of the Republic. In that institution, Joaquín García Monge created in 1919 the first "Professorship of Children's Literature" in Costa Rica. Monge urged his students to collect stories around a campfire, legends, songs and lullabies.
A few months after creating the Professorship, García Monge gave the position to a former student of his: María Isabel Carvajal Quesada, known in our literary world as Carmen Lyra. Carmen Lyra wrote a series of stories extracted from the popular literature of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Her well-known work "Cuentos de mi tía Panchita" was published by García Monge, who financed the edition from his own pocket.
The events and cases narrated in Lyra’s collection come from the folklore of Europe and Africa. Lyra references The Brothers Grimm in "La casita de las torrejas" and the works of Spanish writer Fernán Caballero in "La flor del olivar" and "Uvieta". Another interesting case is that of "Tio Conejo". This character comes from Africa, where he is known as "Somba".
Joaquín García Monge encouraged another student known as María Leal de Noguera. In 1921, she published her "Cuentos viejos". These ancient tales come from the Indian, Greek or Latin cosmogony. Besides Noguera and Lyra, we must also mention Carlos Luis Saenz. He published in 1929 his first book for children, "Navidad", in 1929. He later published Mulita Mayor (1949), El abuelo cuentacuentos (1975) and El gato tiempo (1983).
We can’t talk about Costa Rican children’s literature without mentioning Fernando Luján, Emma Gamboa and María del Rosario Ulloa, who made significant contributions to children’s books (and to children!). There's also Joaquín Gutiérrez, Lilia Ramos, José Basileo Acuña and Fabián Dobles - the works of these authors are now fixtures in the bookshelves in many Costa Ricans.
During the 1980s and 1990s, a new generation of authors emerged, who are still read at home and in schools: Clara Amelia Acuña, Alfredo Cardona Peña, Delfina Collado, Rodolfo Dada, Quince Duncan, Adela Ferreto, Floria Herrero, Floria Jiménez , Lily Kruse, Mabel Morvillo, Dorothy Pinto, Julieta Pinto, Lara Ríos, Carlos Rubio, Cary Sagot, Rocío Sánz; more recently: Minor Arias, Ani Brenes, Gloria Macaya, Ana Piza or Evelyn Ugalde, to mention a few more names.
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