Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

A school can be anywhere: Armando and the Blue Tarp School

armandoArmando and the Blue Tarp School, by Edith Hope Fine, Judith Pinkerton Josephson/Illustrated by Hernán Sosa (March 2014, Lee & Low), $12.95, ISBN: 9781620141656

Recommended for ages 5-8

Armando’s family are pepenadores -trash pickers – living off things they can use, recycle, and sell from the city trash dump community where they live. Armando works with his father to help support the family, but dreams of being one of Señor David’s regular students. Señor David sets up a blue tarp in his colonia and teaches the children how to spell, count, and learn words in English, and says a school can be anywhere – even on a tarp in a colonia. At first, Armando’s parents discourage him from attending the school, saying that they need him to help the family and that they have always been pepenadores, but slowly, his father sees the importance of an education and allows Armando to attend the school. Shortly after, a fire burns down several homes in the colonia, Armando’s included, and it’s Armando’s picture of the blaze that runs in a newspaper and calls support to the colonia. Money and support come into the community, allowing for a new school building to be built.

Inspired by the real-life Señor David: a New York City special education teacher in the 1980s who went to Mexico to teach children living in the Tijuana colonia – Armando and the Blue Tarp School shows kids that education is a privilege not every child enjoys. Armando desperately wants to learn; he saves bits of erasers, paints, and paper he finds while working alongside his father in the trash dumps, and is thrilled when Señor David returns to his area. Kids will also see that not all parents understand the value of education: Armando’s father scoffs at his son’s “dreams of school”. To many parents in poverty-stricken areas, education takes time away that could be spent working and earning money for the family. For many families, work is survival and education is an expense they can’t afford.

This is a great book to use in classroom, library, and home discussion about how education is perceived throughout the world, and it opens up a chance to find out from kids what they think about education. Do they understand how important it is in the long run? Ask themselves to think about Armando, and put themselves in his place. There are some activities at the Blue Tarp website, some discussion questions, and suggestions for expanding on the story’s theme.

Armando and the Blue Tarp School was a nominee for a California Young Reader Medal and was turned into a stage production in 2009; kids can listen to one of the songs from the show and watch video taken from the show at the Lee & Low blog.

An author’s note at the end of the book provides more information about David Lynch, his Responsibility organization, and the Los Angeles Times article about his work in Mexico that prompted an anonymous donor to donate money to build a school in the Tijuana colonia. There are photos of Lynch and his colonia students, success stories of previous students, and a glossary and pronunciation guide.

A valuable addition to #weneeddiversebooks and school-age collections.



I'm a mom, a children's librarian, bibliophile, and obsessive knitter. I'm a pop culture junkie and a proud nerd, and favorite reads usually fall into Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I review comics and graphic novels at WhatchaReading ( I'm also the co-founder of On Wednesdays We Wear Capes (, where I discuss pop culture and geek fandom from a female point of view.

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