Monday is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day when we celebrate the first inhabitants of these lands. I can’t think of a more Perfect Picture Book to read this weekend.
Title: Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua
Written By: Gloria Amescua
Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2021
Suitable for Ages: 6-10
Themes/Topics: indigenous peoples, Nahua, Mexico, art, biography
A girl stared at the stars sprinkling the hammock of sky. Like many other nights she listened to the whisperings of the ancient Aztecs in the wind. She heard their xochicuicatl, their flower-song. She listened as the elders repeated tales their grandfathers had told. Tales their grandfathers’ grandfathers had told: how sacred streams and mountains protect them, how the Nahua lost their land to Cortés, the conqueror, and to the Spaniards who followed him.
She was Luz Jiménez, child of the flower-song people, the powerful Aztecs, who called themselves Nahua—who lost their land, but who did not disappear.
Brief Synopsis: A biography of Luz Jiménez, a Nahua girl in Mexico, who became a model for several important artists and a teacher, and who thereby helped preserve her people’s culture.
Links to Resources:
- Learn about the Aztecs, from whom the Nahua people descend;
- Luz Jiménez served as a model for many artists, including Diego Rivera, a Mexican artist known especially for his murals. Try recreating a mural by Diego Rivera;
- Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day;
- Check out the rich back matter, with its Author’s Note, Artist’s Note, Timeline, Glossary, Notes and Bibliography.
Why I Like this Book:
In this rich biography, readers learn the story of Luz Jiménez, a little-known indigenous woman who became the face of the Nahua people by serving as a model for many artists. She also realized her dream of becoming a teacher, by sharing the stories of her youth, native crafts, and the Nahuatl language with anthropologists and university students. I love that readers learn so much about traditional Nahua life and culture in this book. From the legends Luz grew up listening to, to the skills she learned as a girl, including grinding corn, twisting yarn, and weaving, readers experience Luz’s life in the early twentieth century.
Readers also experience this culture through Tonatiuh’s detailed and signature-style artwork that features side-profile humans and glimpses of Nahua legends in the landscape. He also shared in the Artist’s Note that he found inspiration in the “works of art for which Luz Jiménez modeled”.
We also learn, though, that the Mexican government required Nahua children to learn Spanish in school, as “the descendants of the Spanish who ruled the country” sought “to turn the native children into modern ones”. I found this tragically similar to the stories about residential schools for indigenous children in Canada and the United States.
In addition to learning so much about the Nahua peoples and their history in Mexico, readers also discover how young Luz had a dream, a dream to attend school and become a teacher. Although the school she attended was not one that included lessons about her native culture, and although she never taught children in her beloved home village, she did become a teacher – a guide to her culture and a university instructor sharing the Nahuatl language. I love how this shows young readers to hang on to their dreams, and to adapt them to life’s circumstances when necessary.
I also love how Luz broke with tradition, becoming a model for artists, to help preserve her native culture and traditions. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that Luz “never told her mother about her modeling work” as it “wasn’t something that Nahua women typically did.” Only by breaking norms did she preserve them – what an important action to discuss with kids.
I believe that Child of the Flower-Song People is a wonderful resource for classroom discussions. Note that it includes a reference to the death of Luz’s father at the hands of government soldiers, it has a fairly large word count, and it includes more historical details than many picture books. It clearly is targeted to the upper end of the picture book market.
A Note about Craft:
In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she first learned of Luz’s story in a pamphlet announcing a symposium about her at the University of Texas. Although Amescua missed attending that symposium, the story stayed with her, and years later, she researched and wrote this picture book biography.
“Flower-song”, part of the title and an image that runs through the book, derives from the Nahuatl word for poetry, xochicuicatl, “the flower and the song”. In the Author’s Note, Amescua shares that she uses “the term ‘flower-song’ to represent the Nahua spirit in Luz and the Nahua people.”
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!