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Celebrating the World of Books

“Today is a special day!” Upper School Spanish teacher Inés Gómez-Ochoa told her students on a recent afternoon. Indeed, this particular Thursday – April 23 – was World Book Day, an annual United Nations-sponsored celebration that honors international literature and promotes the joy of reading across all languages, genres, time periods and cultures.

“Why was April 23 chosen for this day?” asked Sra. Gómez-Ochoa, who is the Head of Chapin’s K-12 World Languages Department. “Can anyone take a wild guess?” The students in this remote class looked up at their teacher from their Zoom boxes. One raised her hand by clicking the appropriate icon on her screen.

“Because of Don Quijote?” she suggested.

“And who wrote Don Quijote?” Sra. Gómez-Ochoa prompted. 

“Miguel de Cervantes,” another student offered.

Smiling broadly, Sra. Gómez-Ochoa went on to explain that this legendary author, whom her students have not yet studied, died on April 23, 1616, after penning what is widely considered to be the most influential work in the Spanish literary canon. She noted that another literary giant died on the exact same day. “Who was this?” she asked.

“Shakespeare!” several students correctly answered in unison after unmuting themselves. Remarkably, the class learned, a third distinguished writer, who was lesser known outside of Europe but greatly revered in Spain, also died on April 23, 1616. The son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega was heralded for his accounts of Inca culture and history, the first works by an author born in the Americas to join the western canon. 

Because the vast majority of this class, “Spanish IV/V: The Spanish-Speaking World Through History, Art and Literature,” was conducted en español, the Class 11 and 12 students had the opportunity to practice their speaking and comprehension skills through this inspired lesson, a brief departure from the regular curriculum.

“I just wanted to give my students a taste of a cultural and literary experience and to do something different from what we have been studying,” explained Sra. Gómez-Ochoa, adding that, in this class, she has taught units on political activism among youth and women poets who write about gender inequalities.

Thus, after receiving an overview of Don Quijote, which tells the story of a book-obsessed nobleman from La Mancha who embarks on a quest to become a knight, the students turned their attention to their teacher’s shared screen. A short clip from a film adaptation of Cervantes’ masterpiece, which had been broadcast on Spanish television in 1992, began, depicting a bearded man journeying on horseback through the countryside. An authoritative voice narrated the riveting scenes.

As the students listened closely to the unfolding action, Sra. Gómez-Ochoa paused from time to time to further elaborate on this eccentric character, while making sure her class understood what was happening by asking specific questions, and getting the answers, en español. 

Judging by their engaged expressions and thoughtful observations, the students enjoyed this dramatized version of the book. After the clip ended, Sra. Gómez-Ochoa excitedly introduced the next activity, an interactive exercise. 

“We’re going to read the exact same section in the book that we just watched,” she said as she shared a Google Classroom document with them. “I want each of you to read one sentence, loud and strong.” 

One after the other, the 18 students took turns speaking a portion of the opening lines from Don Quijote’s Capítulo VIII (Chapter 8). Urged on by their proud teacher, each eloquently enunciated her selection of Spanish words. Although participating remotely, these scholars succeeded in bringing the transformative text to life – and to sharing the power of literature. What a moving celebration of World Book Day!