The Coquíes Still Sing
Illustrated by Krystal Quiles
“He hands me a fistful of vegetable seeds and says, ‘This is our gold‘.”
The Coquíes Still Sing is set in Utuado, Puerto Rico, a town in the central mountainous area of the island known as La Cordillera Central. It tells of a family surviving Hurricane María in 2017. The story follows a young girl, Elena, her little brother Benito, her father, and her grandparents. Prior to the hurricane, Elena spends time outside with her dog Luna, tending to her family’s garden, eating mangoes from her grandma’s mango tree, and listening to the coquí frogs sing. When the storm hits, the family takes shelter in the closet. They hear the wind tear off their roof and rain pouring in. Their garden is destroyed. Elena narrates, “Hours pass, and the rain stops, turning everything quiet. We are wet and scared, but we are alive.” As the community begins cleaning and recovery, Elena notes that the coquí frogs are no longer singing. Her father beckons at the garden and assures her, “They will come back and so will all of this.” The garden becomes a gathering place for the community as they attempt to rebuild what was lost. Together, they plant new vegetables, share food, and share laughter in a place that has become a symbol of hope for their recovering community. Elena reflects on the larger impact of the hurricane, noting friends that have moved away and her school that has shut down. “At night, our neighborhood is without light. Yet we can see the moon and the stars more clearly than ever. I hold on to what I have—my smile, my community, and my family—because my roots are strong.” After months of hard work, the garden begins to grow, buds sprout from the mango tree, and finally, “the coquí frogs are singing again.” Elena concludes with the final lines, “The coquíes’ song sounds like home, even though home has forever changed.”
The Coquíes Still Sing is especially useful as a first-person depiction of surviving a hurricane; a story of Hurricane María; and a story about the ways in which a community heals and rebuilds itself following a natural disaster. The focus on the ecosystem’s role in post-disaster restoration is represented by Elena’s concern for the mango tree and the coquí frogs. The story highlights the importance of community resilience, not focusing on Elena’s family alone, but noting the ways in which neighbors, friends, and community members support one another in order to overcome the damage. By portraying gardening (see local food, food sovereignty, the commons) and coquí frogs as indicators of the ecosystem’s health (see habitats)—as well as symbols of hope and resilience—González highlights the necessity of conserving and sustaining each community’s agricultural resources and natural habitats. Such hope could easily be tied into a discussion surrounding youth climate activism. This story could also easily serve as an entry point into hurricanes in general. As students learn about these storms, they would have the opportunity to investigate the damage they cause, the ways in which communities rebuild or migrate (see climate migrations), and how hurricanes differ and relate to other kinds of natural disasters that students may be familiar with.
In the last few pages, González and illustrator Krystal Quiles offer detailed context and commentary on Hurricane María, its effects on Puerto Rico, as well as life following the storm. These pages provide entry points into conversations and questions central to climate literacy. How does climate change affect natural disasters around the world? How can communities work together to recover from disasters and restore their environments? What does valuable support and just recovery following disasters look like? How do U.S. laws and policies adversely affect the restoration process of various states and communities around the world? How can states and organizations create sustainable avenues of support going forward, not just reactive ones (see climate justice)? And how can a community achieve food sovereignty and agricultural independence?
Also worth noting is the contrast between the story and the author’s notes that follow. While the book does depict a moving and hopeful story of community resilience and environmental restoration, the author’s notes reveal structural failures of the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane María and the ways in which hegemonic powers restrict the ecological health of communities around the world. Such different topics open up countless avenues of potential learning in a classroom setting.
©2023 ClimateLit (Peder Ericson)
Topics: #ownvoices, Agricultural Independence, Climate Justice, Climate Migration, Commons, Conservation, Coquí Frogs, Ecological Restoration, Ecosystems, Extreme Weather Events, Food Sovereignty, Frogs, Gardening, Habitats, Hope, Hurricane María, Hurricanes, Just Recovery, Local Food, Rebuilding, Resilience, Youth Climate Activism