Talk to any bibliophile and they might tell you that books are more than just paper and ink; they’re a way to share human truths and form connections with others. For Libros Sin Fronteras, a new international book club at Los Altos, this couldn’t be more true.
“We are able to come together [with the students from Mexico] because of the reading,” senior Jhosseline Guardado said.
The idea of librarian Gordon Jack, Libros Sin Fronteras—Spanish for “Books Without Borders”—aims to connect students at Los Altos, many of them native Spanish speakers, with students at Escuela Preparatoria 19, a school in Guadalajara, Mexico, all through the vehicle of books.
“As you talk about books…you’ll learn more about the different ideas that people have,” senior Victor Macias said. “You learn…different points, different angles.”
Libros Sin Fronteras first connected with Escuela Preparatoria 19 through Spanish-community liaison Maria Hoerni, who has family and connections in Mexico. Through counselor Ariel Rojas, the club also hopes to expand to a school in Nicaragua.
Jack was inspired to start an international book club by an experience he had working in Argentina in 2010 with students from Freestyle Academy. On that trip, they communicated with local students through self-portraits they had drawn. Language wasn’t a common base; instead, they tried to find out how much of it was possible to understand about a person through the images they chose. Jack wanted to emulate that cross-cultural connection with Libros Sin Fronteras but in a different way.
“Often, when you’re…talking about literature, you bring up issues related to your life, and the world that you live in and how that compares and contrasts with the book,” Jack said.
The first book the club is reading is “El Tunel” by Ernesto Sabato, which is a classic existential novel taught in much of the Spanish-speaking world. It’s not quite what Jack had in mind when he first envisioned the project; the novels he was expecting were more contemporary, like “The Fault in Our Stars” than classics like “The Great Gatsby.” But ultimately, he wants the choice of book to be the students’ and not his own.
“I really want the students to be motivated to read and talk… [and] that will happen more if they’re picking books they really love, not books that they’re supposed to love,” Jack said.
Many students are also excited by the prospect of talking with kids in other countries.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new students that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to know,” Jhosseline said. “I also want to see how our perspectives on the same book are the same or very different because we live in different countries.”
Though such a sharp geographical divide may foster different ideas, book discussion has already bridged some of the differences between students.
“The book is held as a key item for uniting…the community, basically,” Victor said. “It’s not just a way for us to understand one simple topic or one simple product or one simple theme.”
Libros Sin Fronteras has started to accomplish what Jack set out for it to do: connecting students with one another and showing them how similar they are, no matter the geographical and cultural barriers.
“The more we talk to [the students from Guadalajara], the more we realize how much we have in common,” senior Rita Villanueva said. “[We can] remember our families from there and appreciate their culture.”
As well as understanding each other, Jack has one more goal for the club: for students to find understanding in their worlds and each other’s.
“The goal here is to understand not only each other better, but also the worlds that we live in,” Jack said.