American Stories in Valencia

Where’s Freddy?

Boscoe eyes his preyWe live in a global village, but some people are more global than others; meet Ree Gillett.

Freddy the Frog is a character from a children’s book written by an AmericanSchool teacher Ree Gillett, and he’s a hard frog to kill, despite the sustained efforts of Ree’s family dog Boscoe.

Freddy has been bad-temperedly delighting children on both sides of the Atlantic and more recently in Zambia, where Ree and her British husband Neil Collen are closely involved with an NGO in Luanga.

Ree’s first visit to Spain was in 1974, when the short man with the moustache was still in power. She stayed in Gijón as part of the American Field Service project, set up after World War II by a group of ambualnce drivers to forment international cooperation as a way of preventing another war.

While in Gijón Ree stayed with a very well to do family, her host being the sister of the Prime Minister of the time, Torcuato Fernández Miranda y Hevia, later the 1st Duke of Fernandez-Miranda,

This was the Spain of one TV channel and emergency laws restricting young people from meeting in groups for fear of being arrested by the Guardia Civil. Nevertheless, after a year studying at the DoñaJimenaSchool, the bug had bitten and when Ree returned to her home state of Conneticut it was to study Spanish at the University of New Hampshire.

In September 1978 she returned to Spain, this time to Valencia and stayed, along with four other students at a host family flat in Avenida Blasco Ibañez, where Ree became ‘Maria’ as Ree was too difficult or too short for the family to grasp.

The day that she landed at Valencia Airport she could see fireworks from the plane and the following day further fireworks flew when she met the man who would become her first husband and father to her children Mary Ann, who is following family tradition by working and studying in Berlin, and Michael, who is studying Industrial Engineering in Valencia Polytechnic University.

Her second husband Neil brought another child to the marriage, Natasha, who had just returned from volunteer work in the Dominican Republic and whose mother is French.

In other words; a typical family.

Even so there was room at home for Freddy the Frog, although in order to keep those children enthralled, he has had to be cloned following an attack of Boscoe’s fury.

Ree in the American SchoolIn the times when (don’t tell anyone, promise?) the entire native teaching population of Valencia was illegal due to absurdly protective labour laws, Ree worked at an English academy for four years and then for a British, later American spice company, Bush Boake Allen.

After taking three years off to dedicate herself to her children (while studying for her MA with the University of New Hampshire), she started teaching at Puzol’s American School, Valencia’s first bilingual school, in 1989.

She would later be head of Preschool and Vice Principal, although she is currently on a sabbatical, dedicating time to her writing both of books and songs for children, doing some teacher training, travelling to promote her first book ‘Freddy Frog and the Lost Kite’, including a trip to Istanbul, and developing her colaboration with Zambia.

Freddy has a curious personality and is often grumpy, so in her performances with young children Ree encourages them to help her persuade Freddy to come out of hiding; and in fact the whole show is really a series of techniques to involve the children in the story and to encourage values such as cooperation, teamwork, repect, consideration and understanding as the children help calm Freddy down.

Ree illustrates the books herself and has had some genetic help in that department as her great grandmother went to Paris in the 1930s to study art, and her grandmother and mother were also artists.

She is currently filling her 25 hour days by doing an on-line art course with the London School of Art.

The Zambia project is partly husband Neil’s idea. Neil is a Partner in an international Mergers and Aquisitions company called Livingstone, whose founder’s wife was in fact a descendant of the famous Doctor Livingstone.

Project Luangwa http://www.projectluangwa.org/ is designed to improve the standard of living and especially the schools in that area of Zambia and among her plans in her 13 months a year timetable is taking groups of teachers there to help out.

Freddy and Ree readingOn her visit there in March 2013 they took 200 books and the idea is to help develop the resourecs there and also to link up Zambian schools with European partner schools.

Unfortunately there has been a price to pay; Freddy’s best friend Hailey the Hedgehog decided to investigate the bush one day and never came back. Ree would like to think that she met a friend and started a family, although I suspect something far more sinister occurred.

Please don’t mention it when you visit her at http://www.ferndaletales.com/

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