Children in rural Guatemala grow up surrounded by beautiful vistas—rolling hills and terraced landscapes that spark the creative imaginations of hundreds of volunteers who visit these rural areas with Cooperative for Education (CoEd) each year. But for these kids, creativity—especially in the context of reading and learning—is simply not part of their everyday lives. Reading instruction often relies on rote methods, such as tracing the shapes of letters. Even children’s books are a rare sight in a Guatemalan classroom.

But CoEd’s Spark Reading Program aims to change that. The program provides Guatemalan primary-school teachers with 60-144 high-quality children’s books, combined with training in best practices for reading instruction. The program even provides teachers with creative strategies that encourage students to love reading and learning, sparking their imaginations along the way! Since the program began in 2008, more than 900 classrooms in 94 schools have been transformed into centers of creative learning.

Key to the program’s methodology is giving children the opportunity to author their own stories on topics or themes important to their lives. And in 2019, the program held the first-ever “Little Authors” contest to recognize the creativity of these young students. The winning student was second-grader Sharlyn Jop Raxon, from Santiago Sacatepéquez. Sharlyn’s story, “Un Extraño Dia,” was about a “trash monster” that destroys her village. The story carried an important underlying message about taking care of the environment. Listen to Sharlyn read her story below!

In return for winning the contest, Sharlyn got to see her book professionally transformed into a fully illustrated children’s book, in both Spanish and her indigenous language, Kaqchikel. The book will even be published for other children to read and enjoy for generations to come—especially to serve as bilingual material for future beneficiaries of the Spark Reading Program. At age eight, Sharlyn can already say that she is a published author!

Sharlyn also won a gift package donated by program partner Grupo Pit, receiving their “Power of an Illusion” treatment at one of the company’s Domino’s Pizza restaurants. Sharlyn, her teacher, and her grandmother got a lesson in pizza-making from the professionals and enjoyed free pizza for the day. But best of all, the contest gave Sharlyn the opportunity to exercise her passion for writing, while setting a good example for her little sister, Sharon, just like she always wanted to.

Sharlyn’s legacy will live on as her book continues to inspire new generations of students in the Spark Reading Program—including her younger sister. 

Want to support more students like Sharlyn?