A beautiful story written by Sonia Rose, translated by Jane Springer, and illustrated by Luciana Justiniani Hees, When the Slave Esperanca Garcia Wrote a Letter (2012, Groundwood Books) is an empowering story of a woman whose writing provided her hope.
The slave of Jesuit priests in Brazil, Esperanca Garcia was separated from her husband and older children when the Jesuit priests went back to Europe and she had to be the cook for Captain Antonio Vieira de Couto. Using the reading and writing taught to her by the priests, Esperanca writes a letter to the governor of Maranhao. Though we do not know if Esperanca ever received a reply, the date of the letter (September 6, 1770) inspired Black Consciousness Day and her named has been used to name community buildings and and groups.
The richness of this true story comes from the fact that a disenfranchised woman used the reading and writing skills she learned from the priests to try to inspire change. As it humanizes Esperanca, Rosa’s powerful narration style helps readers feel Esperanca’s sense of hope. I cannot say how beautiful the illustrations are in this book. The final illustration poignantly reveals Esperanca standing over her two younger children’s heads and pointing to what may be beyond. Just wonderful. A powerful tribute to an inspiring woman, When the Slave Esperanca Garcia Wrote a Letter will resonate with all of us who value the power of language to evoke change.
Here are a couple of teaching ideas:
(1) Use When the Slave Esperanca Garcia Wrote a Letter to create a text set about women who are empowered through writing. I’ve blogged about several other books that feature strong female protagonists who become empowered through writing: Margarita Engle’s The Wild Book, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, Carolyn Meyer’s Diary of a Waitress, and Sharon Draper’s Stella by Starlight.
(2) Let kids be inspired by Esperanca’s focus on writing for change, and encourage them to write for change in their communities. Have students focus on something in their school or community they feel is unjust and compose a written product with the purpose of creating change.
Let me know what you think of When the Slave Esperanca Garcia Wrote a Letter in the comments below!