Lewes teacher writes bilingual book for kids

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LEWES — Jordan Saez, a 2018 Elementary Education graduate and currently a student in the English as a Second Language Master’s Degree Program at Delaware State University, has not waited until she completes that degree to begin working in bilanguage areas.

Ms. Saez – a kindergarten Spanish immersion teacher in the Cape Henlopen School District – has authored and independently published an English-Spanish children’s book entitled “The Last Day of School,” which she is using in her classes.

The impetus to write the book was provided in part by COVID-19.

Like all other school districts in the state, by April 2020, the coronavirus pandemic had restricted teaching to virtual online classrooms. At the time, Ms. Saez was a third-grade teacher at Richard A. Shields Elementary School in Lewes.

Because there were some students who were had to go to work with their parent during the daytime school hours because there was no one to watch them at home, Ms. Saez tried to work around that challenge.

“I wanted to record myself reading a story out loud so the children could go online and hear it once they got home,” Ms. Saez said. “But then I was told that I couldn’t record a story, because that would be an infringement of copyright.”

While that stopped that particular effort to accommodate her students, Ms. Saez channeled her frustration into authorship.

“So I said that I’ll write my own book,” she said.

The plot of the “The Last Day of School” was not inspired by what happens at the end of an academic year, but rather it was the last day of classes just before the pandemic closed the schools.

The book tells the story of what she did in her classes on that last day, as well as what happened in other teachers’ classes.

Her involvement with Hispanic students in her English class led her to write the book in English and Spanish.

“I had an eight-year-old student (from Guatemala) who didn’t speak English well. In the six months I had her, she learned some English, but I wanted her to be able to read this book too,” Ms. Saez said. “I felt strongly about it. I had six students like her in my classes, and if the book had been written in English, it would have left out one-fourth of the class.”

She began writing the book in April of last year and then had to figure out how to get it published.

“At DSU, Dr. Janet Hill (now-retired faculty member) gave me a project to learn more about publishing because as an undergraduate, I had written a children’s book in English about the first day of school, and she liked it.”

Ms. Saez first learned about writing queries to literary agents – the traditional route – and then studied the process that was involved in independent press.

“Sometimes (independent press) gets a bad rap, because you are doing it yourself,” she said. “But when it comes to marketing and design, especially as a woman of color, it gives me more freedom.”

Ms. Saez chose to work with Book Baby, an independent press firm that gives guidance, does the printing and provided marketing options.

Although Book Baby does not do book illustrations, Ms. Saez found that there are worldwide sources of illustrators looking for work. She settled on an illustrator in Pakistan to provide her with the colorful pictures for her book.

Ms. Saez had to reject the initial illustrations because it consisted of all-white characters with blond hair and blue eyes.

“Because I control the rights, I can say what people look like,” Ms. Saez said. “I’m not saying that Whites are bad, but in the pictures there also needed to be Brown people with black hair and brown eyes, and Spanish-speaking people, and curly hair and afros.”

After getting on the same wavelength with the illustrator, after about seven months, the book was completed and the first copies were ready for sale by November 2020. Through the assistance of Book Baby, Ms. Saez markets the book on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and she even set up her own website to sell it.

The authorship of the book is not the only remarkable aspect of Ms. Saez.

While through her father, part of her lineage is Puerto Rican, Ms. Saez was born and raised in Delaware and did not grow up speaking Spanish. But because the desire was there, she took Spanish in high school and as a DelState undergraduate. Last year she had planned to do a three-month summer trip to Mexico, but COVID-19 canceled that travel.

However, she managed to salvage that opportunity by doing the trip virtually. In addition to virtually touring many sites in the country, she was able to get ample practice speaking Spanish.

“They provided a private tutor who gave me two hours a day of one-on-one instruction and conversation practice,” Ms. Saez said.

She developed her Spanish conversational skills so well, she subsequently took the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages exam and was scored to be an advanced speaker.

That led to her appointment as the Spanish immersion kindergarten teacher by the school district. She currently teaches Spanish language arts as well as mathematics in Spanish.

She also comes from a three-generation Delaware State University family. Both her father and mother, Dr. Jose and Zona Saez graduated from DelState, and her sister Journey will graduate from the university later this month. She also has grandparents and other relatives who are DelState alumni.

While Dr. Saez is a kidney specialist and operates his We Care Nephrology private practice in Sussex County, the two daughters have followed the footsteps of their mother — who was a public school teacher until she became her children’s homeschool teacher. In addition to Jordan Saez, her sister Journey is near the completion of a BS degree in Elementary Education.

As for Ms. Jordan’s book, it may not be the last. She says she has written five others awaiting to be published.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Carlos Holmes director of news services at Delaware State University.