For today’s Perfect Picture Book, I’m venturing south to Guatemala, a country that has almost 6% of the population living outside of its borders, many of them in the United States, as they seek to escape extreme poverty and violence:
Title: Rainbow Weaver (Tejodora del Arcoíris)
Written By: Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated By: Elisa Chavarri
Publisher/date: Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low Books)/2016
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: Guatemala, weaving, Mayans, bilingual English/Spanish, recycling, cultural traditions
High in the mountains above Lake Atitlán, Ixchel watched her mother weave thread into fabric as beautiful as a rainbow. The fabric had blues as clear as the sky, reds as bright as the flowers, and yellows as golden as the corn.
“Mama,” Ixchel asked. “May I weave too?”
Her mother shook her head. “Not now, Ixchel,” she answered. “This cloth is for the market. If it brings a good price, it will help pay for your school and books.”
Brief Synopsis: Ixchel, a young Guatemalan girl, yearns to help her mother weave colorful fabrics to sell in the marketplace to earn money for school fees and books. Because her mother has no extra thread for Ixchel to use, Ixchel tries other weaving materials until she discovers a solution that is both colorful and solves another problem, too.
Links to Resources:
- A Glossary and Pronunciation Guide to Mayan terms used in the text is included;
- Lee & Low provides a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide;
- Learn about Chavarri’s illustration inspiration and techniques;
- Weave a potholder, other woven items, including a small purse for a special Mother’s Day gift, or a rainbow;
- Explore Guatemala;
- Prepare and eat traditional Guatemalan foods, including Guatemalan tacos, elotes (corn), Arroz Guatemalteco (a flavored rice and vegetable dish), and flan (a custard dessert);
- Learn about the Mayans.
Why I Like this Book:
Rainbow Weaver is an engaging story that introduces readers to the tradition of colorful Mayan weaving while shedding light on a region and problem that many kids and parents know little about. Ixchel, its can-do, think-outside-the-box main character, not only helps solve the primary problem, raising money for school fees, but her solution benefits her entire community. I loved learning about the Mayan weaving tradition and meeting the cooperative community of female neighbors. I also appreciated the entrepreneurial spirit exhibited as Ixchel utilized new “thread” to enable an ancient handicraft to be a solution to a current problem.
Rainbow Weaver is published as an English/Spanish bilingual text and includes Mayan words as well. Even the main character’s name, Ixchel, holds special meaning: Ixchel is the name of a Mayan goddess, the Grandmother of the Moon, who, according to myth, shared the skill of weaving with the first woman.
A Note about Craft:
Rainbow Weaver begins with colorful imagery, in the form of a simile comparing woven cloth to a rainbow, foreshadowing a happy ending as well as the solution to the problem of earning money for school fees and books. In the few short sentences quoted above, Marshall indicates where we are, in the mountains above Lake Atitlán, describes the central subject of the story, weaving, indicates that the main character wants to weave, too, and what the problem, and presumable solution, are. A brilliant opening that encouraged this reader to turn the page and read more!
As indicated in an Author’s Note, Marshall wrote Rainbow Weaver because she knew the Guatemalan founders of Mayan Hands, “a fair-trade nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering Mayan women in their quest to bring their families out of extreme poverty as they continue to live within the culture they cherish” (as stated on the website). A portion of proceeds benefits this not-for-profit. Although Marshall is not an #OwnVoices author, she knew the issues because of this association, and then visited Guatemala for further research. As she states, “I…met with weavers, shared the story, and received their input.” I think this is a valuable lesson for authors who embrace causes or who desire to write about topics outside their cultural experience to not just write empathetic stories, but to do on-site research and test the story premise on people from that other background or culture.
Finally, the story premise and solution involve recycling plastic bags, which adds another layer to this rich story. A good companion book would be Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Lerner Publishing Group, 2015).
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!