Last Friday, as most of the world already knows, also was the day the current US President signed an executive order temporarily banning travel to the US for anyone born in, or a citizen of, seven predominantly Muslim countries, indefinitely barring Syrians from travel to the US, and halting the refugee resettlement program for the next four months, including for those already approved for resettlement and even for those in transit. Earlier that week, he reiterated his infamous campaign pledge to build a Wall along the Mexican border.
While authors and illustrators from these regions may be barred or discouraged from travel to the US, I believe their voices and the stories they tell must be shared with children here. To that end, my reviews will focus on picture books written and illustrated by those from the regions affected by current US government directives, books about the refugee and immigrant experience generally, and stories from these cultures. Folks who have read my reviews this past year know that many of the books I’ve reviewed meet these criteria already. I’ll be doubling down, though, to locate and review even more of them. I invite readers to share their favorite picture books in these categories in the comments. After all, isn’t any picture book that introduces us to different cultures, that sheds light on different experiences, or that opens our minds to the world a Perfect Picture Book?
Title: The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes
Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2016
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: origin myth, Aztecs, volcanoes, diversity, love story, native legends
Once upon a time, there lived a kind and beautiful princess named Izta. Even though she was the daughter of an emperor, she loved to spend time with the people who grew corn in the milpas. She liked to teach them poetry, or flor y canto.
The Princess and the Warrior is a love story about a poetry-loving princess and a warrior, and a retelling of an Aztec origin myth that explains the appearance of two volcanoes in central Mexico.
Links to Resources:
- Discover more about the Aztecs, and other indigenous peoples of Mexico and central America,
- Learn more about volcanoes and make a model volcano,
- Iztaccíhuatl means white woman in the Nahuatl language, the language spoken by the Aztecs, and is often called la Mujer Dormida, the “Sleeping Woman” because its peak resemble a woman lying under a blanket of snow (see the Author Note). Draw the outline of a many-peaked mountain: what do you see? Could it be a face, a human or animal form, or something else?
Why I Like this Book:
I love origin myths, and I love discovering folk tales from other countries. Tonatiuh includes a strong female princess, who shares poetry with farm workers and rejects suiters who try to woo her with material gifts and a posh lifestyle, and a loyal warrior, who loves Princess Izta because of her “kind and beautiful heart” and who pledges to “stay by… [her] side no matter what”. By doing so, he elevates this myth from a story from the past to one that includes important role models for children today.
Drawing on images in the Mixtec Codices, Tonatiuh’s hand-drawn, digitally-collaged artwork set against earth-toned backgrounds invites readers to imagine the Aztec world at the heart of this love story.
A Note about Craft:
In an Author Note, Tonatiuh indicates that he added his own twists to the original myth. I can pick out hints of Beauty and the Beast, with Izta’s love of poetry, Sleeping Beauty, as Izta falls asleep after drinking a poisoned potion, and Romeo and Juliet.
The inclusion of Nahuatl words and phrases adds to the authentic feel of the story. Thankfully, Tonatiuh includes a Glossary with meanings, and importantly for this non-Spanish/non-Nahuatl speaker, a pronunciation guide!
The Warrior and the Princess is a 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2016, and received many starred reviews. Discover Tonatiuh’s many other books on his website.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!