We Got the Best Teacher in Spain
In Spain last summer, Bilingual Baby attended a bright, colorful little school called “Al Cole.” I wrote about how wonderful it was, and how lucky we were that she ended up in Coni la Grotteria’s classroom. I’m not kidding when I say we were lucky. In January this year, Coni was selected—out of 600+ preschool teachers nominated—as one of Spain’s best teachers by the Madrid-based news outlet, El Confidencial.
In 2002, when Coni was 18, her family fled her native Argentina during the disastrous economic crisis there. That same year, I was also 18 and had also just arrived in Spain, only I was simply fleeing American high school. But I remember the news of the sudden meltdown in Argentina, and I remember the arrival of Argentine immigrants in my Spanish high school and at my host mother’s dinner table.
Coni is lively, loving, and has stayed in touch with us via WhatsApp to see how Bilingual Baby is doing over the past year.
El Color Negro Mola – A Children’s Book
Coni is also a children’s author, and her best-known book is called El Color Negro Mola, about the color black and how badly she wishes to be part of the rainbow, to be a color kids reach for when they’re coloring, to shed the reputation as “the color of bad guys.” Late last year I read the book to the kids at Bilingual Baby’s American preschool, and we did a coloring project where the kids were only allowed to color with black and one other color—I had to raid our neighborhood recycled art store for all their black crayons in order to have enough. It was fun to see what the kids did under these creative limitations.
An International Favor
A few months ago, Coni asked us to translate and record El Color Negro Mola in English for her so she could reach a wider audience—and to do it by April 23rd, in time for El Dia del Libro (or, El Día de Sant Jordi in Cataluña). We accepted!
As I translated the book into English, my first challenge was how to tackle the title, namely, the word “mola.” In my mind, when a Spaniard says “¡esto mola!” I hear “that rules!” But when I thought about it, the phrase “that rules” felt so 1990’s. The word “mola” in Spain, however, means the same thing that “cool” does in the English-speaking world and is just as pervasive. So I went with The Color Black is Cool for the title.
Recording the Voice Talent
Once I had translated the story, Bilingual Baby and I sat side by side with my phone on “record.” Since she can’t read, I read a sentence, and then she repeated it in her sweet little voice. Once we had recorded the entire book that way, I imported the audio to Adobe Premier, and set to cutting out my own voice, linking together her sentences, and setting it to the timing of the turning pages in a video of the book. A little guitar intro, and we had it!
The result was the telling of a sweet story about an earnest character who wants and deserves to be included. Bilingual Baby’s tiny four-year-old voice expertly mimicked my own inaudible phrasing to the point that it sounds like she’s reading it on her own:
Watch the original in Spanish too, read by Coni:
And for even more, watch Coni at Valencia’s TEDX conference this past year talking about the mission behind her writing:
“Vivimos en un mundo linguístico. Interactuamos constantemente, creando realidades y posicionándonos frente a ella.”Coni la Grotteria, TEDx Valencia, 2019
In Spain racist phrases can still be heard in colloquial conversation, are still overlooked and accepted as just part of that society’s lexicon. Phrases like, “llevo todo el dia trabajando como un negro (I’ve been working like a black person all day)” or “tan malo que debe ser de los chinos (so bad, it must be Chinese).” Through her books, and in the classroom, Coni works to point out these linguistic failings. She reminds parents and educators that words matter, immensely.
If you’re looking to increase the diversity of your child’s library at home, El Color Negro Mola, and the follow-up book, El Color de la Piel are great books to have. You can find them on Amazon.