Exploring Juan Felipe Herrera’s La Casa De Colores Project

The following post, which originally appeared on the Teaching with the Library of Congress Blog, was written by Educational Resource Specialist Danna Bell.

We were thrilled to hear that Juan Felipe Herrera has accepted a second term as Poet Laureate of the United States. The program at the end of his first term

Juan Felipe Herrera, Sarita Sol Gonzales and Elena Medina. Photograph by Shawn Miller

Juan Felipe Herrera, Sarita Sol Gonzales and Elena Medina. Photograph by Shawn Miller

celebrated those who had inspired him and introduced attendees to two children he described as “poet laureate chicas.”

During his first term, Herrera focused on building his Poet Laureate project La Casa de Colores, which has two sections. El Jardin involved the Poet Laureate visiting reading rooms in the Library to see some of the primary sources from the collection and then writing a poem about those resources and his experience in the reading room.

The second section of La Casa de Colores was La Familia. Herrera asked for contributions for what he called an epic poem documenting the American experience. Each month he focused on a different area including family, the migrant experience, language, peace, democracy, and support for veterans.casa-banner2

Bring La Casa de Colores into your classroom with the following teaching suggestions:

  • Show the students one of the videos from the El Jardin series. Ask the students to write their own poem based on what they see in the video. Then share the poem Herrera wrote and the comments he provided on how he crafted the poem. Did the students focus on the same item as Herrera? Why did they choose the item they did?
  • Work with an archivist or historian to bring facsimiles or actual primary sources to the classroom or, if possible, take the students to an archival repository, special collections library or historical society. Ask students to choose an item they find especially interesting and to write about why this item is of interest to them. They should also note what additional questions they have about the item or the history surrounding the item. Ask the students how they can get answers to their questions. If possible have the staff member of the repository provide background information on each item or provide tips on how to do additional research on the item. If you are unable to connect with an archivist, historian, or special collections librarian you may wish to use the Connecting with Primary Sources activity with your students.
  • Provide copies of the different styles of poems Herrera uses in the El Jardin series. Using the item from the previous exercise students can write a poem using one of the styles Herrera used.
  • Ask students to define an epic poem. Have them read a section of La Familia as well as the information on how people could participate in the creation of La Familia. Do they think that La Familia is an epic poem?
  • Students can read the introduction for the Language Weavers section of La Familia. Provide a couple of examples of items submitted by participants. Ask students to write a segment of the poem based on the directions provided by Herrera. What story did they tell and what language did they use and why?

Learn more about Juan Felipe Herrera on the Library’s Poetry and Literature page. Students can watch his inaugural reading and see more about his activities. Herrera will have a new project for his second term, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with!

How can you encourage students to enter La Casa de Colores?

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