Harlingen elementary teacher publishes children’s book about a Valley favorite

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HARLINGEN – The little girl with the hair curly and wild sits on her bed grief stricken with sad eyes as she dreads waiting a week for her pan dulce.

She has just had her fill of pan dulce and she must await the return of Sunday for a refill of her favorites.

“On Monday I struggled to get out of bed, the thought of ‘molletes’ danced in my head,” says the girl with the round face in the book, “The Wait Until Sunday For Pan Dulce.”

The book by Monica Velasquez tells the story of a little girl yearning for pan dulce on Sunday with her family. However, that is only the surface interpretation. The book by Velasquez, a kindergarten teacher at Zavala Elementary, has a deeper and more poignant message for her young readers.

“It’s about keeping our traditions alive,” said Velasquez, 45. “It’s about keeping our families together, spending time together, making it an important aspect in everybody’s life, being able to share the traditions of pan dulce with your family and being able to reminisce and make memories, that’s very important.”

So important is family to Velasquez, a married mother of two children, the main character is modeled after her nine-year-old daughter Sophia. Velasquez sent photos of her daughter and pan dulce to an illustrator in Indonesia, and the result was a set of illustrations which depicted pan dulce in the Valley with an impressive accuracy.

When 9-year-old Sophie saw her image on the cover she exclaimed, “Mommy, it’s me!”

“Yes! It is!” Velasquez answered.

Velasquez understands very well this tradition and the importance of this tradition and its value.

“It’s a tradition in my family every Sunday,” she said. “Every Sunday my brother-in-law Javier, who I name in the book, brings pan dulce to my mother-in-law’s house. We wait until he comes and he brings us pan dulce and he usually get us our favorites.”

She reveals quickly those favorites in the book, and they are favorites much loved by Valleyites.

“A sweet ‘empanada’ is what I was about to snag,” reads one line.

“A savory ‘marranito’ was not far from my reach,” reads another. “Tiny ‘pan de polvo’ is what I thought of. Dreaming of biting a thick slice of pink ‘pastelito.’”

Certainly such descriptions would tantalize any imagination, even more so for her little kindergarteners. When she told them she was publishing a book, they did not show much reaction. When she said it was about pan dulce there was a big reaction, a pleasant reaction, and they began talking all about their favorite pan dulces.

“I think that my students and families are able to enjoy reading the book and being able to reminisce about their families and it takes them back a little bit with their families,” she said.

It appears now that perhaps the pan dulce in this is a figure of speech, an allegory, an emblem for the greater virtues of family and tradition and loyalty. Or maybe a motif. In the sitting down at the table for pan dulce it is seen as a sort of catalyst for intimacy and warmth and the commitment of family. It is the wheel around which everything revolves.

Velasquez knows this revolving of things very well, and knows it again each Sunday at the home of her mother-in-law where they wait for the arrival of the pan dulce.

“It’s more like sitting around a table waiting and just talking and reminiscing about memories,” she said. “My mother-in-law puts a full pot of coffee and we just sit around and enjoy a piece of pan dulce, and it’s something we long for all week until we get to Sunday.”

The teachers and administrators and students – in fact all the staff – are proud of their teacher and her achievement.

“We are extremely proud that one of our teachers has been able to fulfill her lifelong dream of being a children’s book author,” said Principle Beatric Cruz. “As a school we want to model learning by example, and having Mrs. Velasquez fulfill her dream as an author is an inspiration to our entire Zavala community.”