Armando and the Blue Tarp School

Agate Cover

Title: Armando and the Blue Tarp School
Authors: Edith Fine and Judith Josephson
Publisher: Lee and Low.
Type: Picture Book
Level: Ages 4-8
Pages: 32

Want a book that infuses culture and compassion, hope and healing into a language arts lesson? Check out Armando and the Blue Tarp School by Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson. Although the story is fiction, it’s based on the journey of teacher David Lynch, (Señor David) through the colonias of Tijuana, México.

The saga begins with Armando, a young dreamer who yearns to learn but isn’t able to devote time to school because his first duty is to work as a pepenador, a trash picker, to help the family.

As the story unfolds, Papá comes to understand that if Armando is to better his life, he must be allowed to pursue an education, so he lets Armando spend afternoons with Señor David in his ad-hoc classroom (the blue tarp of the title).

Armando and his friends are soon learning words in English and Spanish using flashcards, songs, games, and art.

When fire sweeps through his village, Armando loses his drawings but not his dreams. He returns to Señor David’s makeshift classroom and exhibits his feelings about the tragedy with a sketch that draws the attention of a local newspaper reporter.

See what happens when Armando’s picture makes the front page.

This bilingual treasure, beautifully illustrated by Hernán Sosa, is filled with enrichment possibilities. As a former language teacher, I love the glossary in the back of the book that can springboard a lesson in Spanish vocabulary. As a counselor, I appreciate the healing effects of art therapy woven into this jewel. And as a character mentor, I imagine the potential for a dialogue about empathy using the Think and Discuss questions on the book’s website.

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary, Friendswood, TX, a finalist in the 2008 CEP National School of Character Award.