Graded Celebrates Cordel Literature with Visiting Author Mari Bigio

Laura Martinez, Staff Writer

The walls of Graded's Lower School Innovation Studio were decorated with the vibrant colors of illustrated booklets hung from strings. Excitement filled the air as students welcomed visiting author Mari Bigio, a charismatic cordel writer, singer, and storyteller from Recife.

These colorful booklets, typical of the northeastern region of Brazil, are called literatura de cordel and are named after the cord on which they are strung for display. This cherished form of popular literature showcases a myriad of themes through folk tales, poems, and songs. The booklets themselves are adorned with intricate xilogravuras—woodcut relief illustrations that bring the stories to life.

Visiting author Mari Bigio reads cordel stories to Graded students.

Mari Bigio specializes in children’s cordel, visiting schools throughout the country to engage students in the appreciation and creation of cordel literature. In her workshops, students listen to her expressive storytelling and produce their own poems. 

“There’s great pedagogical potential in cordel literature,” she said. “I started to explore this potential through my books and my writings, so I ended up having this very close relationship with schools and education. My focus is to make a connection between education and culture.”

Ms. Bigio enjoyed sharing her work at Graded, as it provided a fun opportunity for students to discover new aspects of Brazil’s diverse culture and language. She hopes this experience will lead them to explore new genres and become avid readers in the future.

Ms. Bigio autographs books for lower school students.

In May, Graded’s lower school hosted Brazilian Literary Week. Students participated in a series of activities around campus designed to highlight this important aspect of Brazilian culture and celebrate the literature of the country that Graded’s diverse student population calls home. One such activity was Chá de Cordel, where grade 3 students roamed the campus reciting and gifting cordel poems they wrote in class along with tea packets to Graded staff members.

“Our objective was to provide a deeper contact with and celebration of Brazilian literature, poetry, words, and cordel, which was a new genre that we started working on more in-depth this year,” said Lower School Portuguese Teacher Carla Ramalho.

Cordel’s easy-to-read style and fun rhymes are key components of Portuguese language learning, as they focus on stressed syllables and intonation.

“Syllables in Portuguese are different from syllables in English,” said Lower School Portuguese and Brazilian Social Studies Teacher Luciana Castro. “The better students understand this process, the better they write and spell, noticing where the strong syllable is, being able to accentuate it, and understanding what the rule is. Cordel is very good for this.”

Throughout the week, lower school students also engaged in activities centered on Portuguese words. Inspired by the exhibits at Museu da Língua Portuguesa, the Chuva de Palavras workshop featured cascading words projected on a screen. Students from all grade levels identified words they recognized, some of which originated from other languages, like Tupí, an extinct language once spoken by an indigenous population in Brazil. 

Lower School students gifted their cordel poems to Graded staff members.

The activities also fostered grade-to-grade interactions. Students from grade 5 read poems to K5 students, third-graders recorded videos reading their favorite cordel verses to share with their peers, and all grades viewed the work displayed around the lower school. Students also completed a cordel passport, registering what they learned throughout this memorable experience. As the week drew to a close, they embraced the opportunity to stroll around campus, reading and gifting their poems to Graded community members.

“We got out of the classroom and took what we learned outside,” said Lower School Portuguese and Brazilian Social Studies Teacher Sandra Lima. “This appreciation of the language, poetry, and spoken word makes the Portuguese language more alive in our community.”

Lower school students walked around campus, sharing their poems with the Graded community.