Before students are released from Star Center School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, there is one big event everyone looks forward to: The Cartonera Project, a school-wide writing celebration.
What is a cartonera?
Translated quite literally, a cartonera is a cardboard book. Cartoneras got their start in Argentina in 2003 as a way of making reading and writing accessible to all citizens, not just the upper class. Small, locally owned cartonera publishing houses would buy recycled cardboard and turn it into books. They’d add brightly colored covers using paint and other textiles. Then local authors, both known and new to publishing, added their stories. Local fairs and markets sold the cartoneras at cost.
Some credit the cartonera movement with raising declining literacy rates in Argentina because it brought books to people who might not have them otherwise. Cartoneras also offered inexperienced, new writers the opportunity to grow their craft by becoming published authors. It has been said that cartoneras “democratized” literature because it made it accessible and affordable to ALL. Cartonera publishing houses are now found around the world.
Every student IS an author
Star Center School began their own Cartonera Project in 2013. Every student in the K-5 school writes, edits, illustrates, and publishes a favorite piece of writing. The cartoneras are then displayed around the school during a Cartonera Celebration event. At the event, fellow students, families, and community members read the cartoneras and leave positive written messages called Raves From Readers.
What began as a capstone project to support the school’s writing goals and celebrate student writers quickly turned into a cherished annual event.
Transforming writing, transforming writers
Star Center credits the Cartonera Project with turning around their writing culture. Students become true authors when they produce their cartonera. It is a job they do not take lightly and here’s why:
- Cartoneras are real books. When students write and publish one, they rise to the level of the authors they enjoy reading.
- Students are writing for an authentic audience. Their peers, teachers, families, and other community members will read their cartonera during the celebration and even beyond. For this reason, the writers will put forth extra effort to ensure their writing is clear and easy to read.
- The Cartonera Project builds a community of readers and writers within your school. Students support each other in the journey from inspiration to publication.
- Cartoneras raise the bar for student writers. Many will challenge themselves to try new vocabulary, write in a different genre, or add extra detail to their illustrations to extend meaning.
- Raves from Readers allow the student authors to know how their writing has affected their audience. It is empowering!
- Your school becomes its own publishing house. You can brand each cartonera with the school’s logo, stamp, or other defining mark and the date of publication.
Join in the fun
I invite you to bring The Cartonera Project to your school! With a little bit of help and collaboration, you can turn your school into its own cartonera publishing house and your students into published authors.
Furthermore, students can now connect about writing through a database of classrooms participating in The Cartonera Project. Add your school or class to the database, so you can connect your student writers with writers from other classrooms and share your cartoneras beyond the walls of your school.
- Watch a video of the Star Center Cartonera Project so you can see it in action.
- Sign up to receive more information about The Cartonera Project or join the Cartonera Classroom Connection database.
- Access cartonera project templates and directions to share with your school.
- You can also contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about The Cartonera Project or visit my website at https://www.teachwrite.org/the-cartonera-project.
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