Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 9 to 18
- Grade: 4 to 12
A collection of poetry by one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas about the vanished world of his childhood — that of the Maya K’iche’.
Aquí era el paraíso / Here Was Paradise is a selection of poems written by the great Maya poet Humberto Ak’abal. They evoke his childhood in and around the Maya K’iche’ village of Momostenango, Guatemala, and also describe his own role as a poet of the place.
Ak’abal writes about children, and grandfathers, and mothers, and animals, and ghosts, and thwarted love, and fields, and rains, and poetry, and poverty, and death.
The poetry was written for adults but can also be read and loved by young people, especially in this collection, beautifully illustrated by award-winning Guatemalan-American illustrator Amelia Lau Carling.
Ak’abal is famous worldwide as one of the great contemporary poets in the Spanish language, and one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas. Ak’abal first composed his poems in K’iche’ in his mind before writing them down in Spanish.
Key Text Features
Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.
About the authors
HUMBERTO AK'ABAL was born in the Maya K’iche’ village Momostenango in Guatemala in 1952. He worked as a blanket weaver (one of the activities for which Momostenango is renowned,) a shepherd, a sweeper, then a garment maker in a maquila in Guatemala City. When he was thirty-eight, he published his first book of poetry. Ak’abal is famous worldwide as one of the great contemporary poets in the Spanish language, and one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas, having written over twenty-five books.
He died in January 2019, leaving his widow, Mayulí Bieri, and son Nakil Ak’abal Bieri.
AMELIA LAU CARLING was born and brought up in Guatemala. Her parents' store sold the thread used by many Maya weavers in their extraordinary work. She was, therefore, in constant contact with Maya culture and creators from an early age. She is the author-illustrator of the celebrated books Alfombras de Aserrín(Sawdust Carpets) and La tienda de Mamá y Papá (Mama and Papa Have a Store) — winner of the Américas Award and the Pura Belpré Award for Illustration— and the illustrator of numerous other books. Though she now lives in the United States, she returns to Guatemala frequently.
Hugh Hazelton is a Montreal writer and translator who specializes in the comparison of Canadian and Quebec literatures with those of Latin America. He has written four books of poetry and translates from Spanish, French and Portuguese into English; his translation of Vétiver, a book of poems by Joël Des Rosiers, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for French-English translation in 2006. He is a professor emeritus of Spanish at Concordia University in Montreal and former co-director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre. In 2016 he won the Linda Gaboriau Award for his work on behalf of literary translation in Canada.
PATRICIA ALDANA was born and brought up in Guatemala. She came to Canada as an adult and founded Groundwood Books, of which she was the publisher for thirty-five years.
- Commended, CCBC Choices
- Commended, Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year
- Commended, Junior Library Guild Selection
Beautiful imagery ushers readers into a complex conversation.
[T]o be savored and ruminated upon.
CM Review of Materials
An excellent addition to poetry collections for youth, sure to also find fans among adult readers. STARRED REVIEW
School Library Journal
Vital and refreshing.
[A] closely observant and at times mischievous ode to the small moments and details in quotidian life.
Lovers of poetry will delight in perusing the pages of this book.
Winnipeg Free Press
The poems have a collective evocative beauty.
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