Hoboken High School Spanish teacher Tasha Austin recently turned a graduate school project into something much, much more.
The former student of Jersey City’s James J. Ferris High School recently decided that she had what it takes to become a children’s author when she self-published her book, “El Barrio Mío,” last month.
Her book, born from an assignment from a Rutgers University education class, is a simple yet effective beginner-level introduction to both the Spanish and English language. With simple sentences in both dialects, the book can help first-time students learn either Spanish or English whether it’s their first language or not.
According to Austin, the story is about a young girl who travels around her neighborhood, discovering the various different aspects of culture happening right outside her door.
“You can’t teach language in a vacuum.” – Tasha Austin
Austin, a native English speaker, said that while studying abroad for a year in Spain, she was able to gain knowledge about the excitement of learning a new language.
“My year in Spain gave me a much broader perspective into how much significance language carries,” said Austin.
In fact, Austin’s graduate school assignment called for a summary of the student’s personal border-crossing experience.
“It was done originally in a scrapbook,” said Austin. “My professor was so impressed with it and recommended that I publish it.”
After five years of teaching Spanish at Hoboken High School, Austin finally decided to get her book out on the market.
“It’s an educational book,” said Austin, who added that the book best helps readers at third and fourth grade levels. “You can’t teach language in a vacuum. There’s language, and then there’s culture, and it’s best to [combine the two]. The best way for kids to learn a language is by stories.”
Austin said that her goal is to use her book to encourage learning on a variety of different levels.
“My juniors could be given a project based on the book,” said Austin. “They can write their own stories based on their own experiences, using my book as a guide. This book can be manipulated in many ways.”
Austin said that she aspires to continue writing and publishing more children’s books about exploring the cultures found in “melting pots” such as America.
“I definitely have ambitions to continue writing children’s books,” said Austin.” “If I can make this book into a series, it’d be nice.”
“From an adult’s perspective, it’s really encouraging that a child has the motivation to explore and become acclimated with another culture,” said Austin.
Austin also said that she plans to tackle other ideas and issues in her books to come.
“There are some other complex issues I’d like to talk more in depth about, such as cultural celebration and the recognition of diversity,” Austin added.
Austin, who uses the pen name “Tori Leggard,” said that she will begin book signings once school ends in June. For more information or to purchase the book, visit Barnesandnoble.com or Amazon.com.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.