Tag Archives: Mexico

PPBF – Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

As we’re nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, and as Mexico, and particularly the region surrounding Mexico City, just experienced horrific damage from devastating earthquakes, I decided to showcase a new picture book about a Mexican cultural treasure as today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419725326_s3Title: Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/August 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes/Topics: Mexico, biography, dance, traditions

Opening:

Amalia Hernández was born in Mexico City in 1917, and everyone assumed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher like her mother and her grandmother. Even Ami, as everyone called her, expected that.

Brief Synopsis:

Danza! is the biography of Amalia Hernández (1917-2000) who enjoyed and practiced ballet and modern dance as a child, grew up to become a professional dancer and choreographer, and later founded El Ballet Folklórico de México, the most famous dance company in Mexico. It also recounts the story of El Ballet from its inception through the present.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Danza! shares a positive message about the cultural traditions of Mexico and the hard-work and persistence of the founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. I can imagine many children reading this story and dreaming of dancing in a company of dancers such as El Ballet or perhaps founding a cultural or sports group themselves.

The text is informative without being didactic. I appreciated the inclusion of pronunciation guides and ballet terms, the sprinkling of Spanish terms throughout the text, and the inclusion of an Author’s Note, Glossary, and Bibliography.

Tonatiuh’s artistic style suits the subject matter well. His characters seem to dance on the pages. I especially enjoyed the collaged additions of photographed fabrics and even hair.

A Note about Craft:

Although Danza! principally is the biography of Amalia Hernández, it also tells the story of her legacy, namely El Ballet and the promotion of Mexican folk dancing. By taking the story beyond Hernández’ death and focusing on El Ballet, Tonatiuh leaves the reader feeling hopeful about the continuation of this important dance company.

Tonatiuh brings Hernández’ story full circle: he tells us at the outset that it was “assumed” that she would become a school teacher. We learn near the end of the book that in later life, she taught and supervised the ballet rehearsals. “She had become a schoolteacher after all, like her mother and her grandmother.” Placing her in her family tradition strengthens the story, I think, as Danza! is, at its heart, a story about preserving cultural traditions.

Visit Tonatiuh’s  website and check out some of his other books:

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Reviewed here

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Reviewed here

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Reviewed here

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!

PPBF – Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story

When our daughters were young, they loved to dress up as princesses and “marry” princes. Tomorrow, our daughter will marry her “prince”, who hails from South America and speaks Portuguese and Spanish. I couldn’t resist reviewing a book set south of the US border, sprinkled with Spanish phrases and with the happy ending we all know and love!

9781417735105_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story

Written & Illustrated By: Tomie dePaola

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers)/2002

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tale retelling; Mexico; folklore

Opening:

Hace mucho tiempo – a long time ago- in a village in Mexico, there lived a merchant named Francisco and his beautiful young wife, Adela.

Brief Synopsis: This retelling of the Cinderella tale features a young Mexican orphan living with a stepmother and two stepsisters, a young rancher seeking love, a doting nurse, and a fiesta.

Links to Resources:

  • Host a fiesta with Mexican-inspired foods and crafts;
  • Discover more about the lovely traditional clothing and Rebozos (shawls) that play a role in this retelling;
  • Try your hand at creating some Mexican folk art of your own;
  • Compare this Cinderella retelling with the “Disney” version so many of us know: what’s the same? What’s different? Why do you think dePaola kept what he did and changed other aspects of the story?

Why I Like this Book:

Adelita is a classic dePaola offering: lovely, detailed illustrations framed by vibrant Mexican tilework and a story with just enough elements from a familiar fairytale combined with new details to satisfy any fairytale lover. I especially appreciate the inclusion of Spanish phrases throughout the text, especially as a dictionary with pronunciation guide is provided.

Although Adelita is an older book and the text is longer than many picture books published in today’s market, I think the story stands the test of time and kids today will enjoy meeting this Mexican Cinderella.

adelita_door

reproduced from dePaola’s website

A Note about Craft:

How has dePaola made the classic Cinderella story his own, and what can writers learn from what he kept or changed?

  • The folkart Rebozo that Adelita wore to the Fiesta is at the heart of the story and replaces the glass slippers. dePaola picked an item that is found in Mexico and honors its artistic traditions. Additionally, we learn that the Reboza belonged to Adelita’s mother – another break with the “original” Cinderella story where the shoes appear magically;
  • The prince becomes a rancher in dePaola’s tale, a person with stature in the community, but one that is more believably from the region;
  • The magical elements of other versions are absent from Abelita. Instead, the kindness of a loving older woman enables Abelita to attend the Fiesta; and
  • Rather than being named Cinderella, Abelita references the fairytale when she is at the Fiesta, and bids her “prince” to “Just call me Cenicienta – Cinderella.”

dePaola published insights about his Mexican Cinderella story on his website .

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books https://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/list provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

It’s the last Perfect Picture Book Friday of April. I considered sharing a picture book of Poetry or about Jazz music/musicians, as both are celebrated in April. But given that funding for the Wall has been in the news so much this week, I just couldn’t resist sharing today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Mexico, migrants, folk tale, journeys, coyotes, rabbits

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

Links to Resources:

  • Duncan Tonatiuh wrote a fascinating post about Pancho Rabbit & the plight of undocumented migrants;
  • As is indicated in the Author’s Note, the term coyote has two meanings in Spanish: it is the name of an animal, and it is slang for someone who smuggles people across the Mexican-US border. Interestingly, it is the name of the same animal in English. Try to think of words that are the same, or similar, in Spanish and English. For some examples, check here;
  • A Glossary defines other Spanish terms used in the story;
  • Pancho Rabbit packs his father’s favorite meal as he sets out to find him. What would you pack for your father, mother, sibling or friend? Is it similar to the meal of mole, rice, beans, tortillas and aguamiel packed by Pancho? If not, how does it differ?

Why I Like this Book: Although Tonatiuh wrote and illustrated Pancho Rabbit several years ago, it is, sadly, still such a timely topic. Migration, and the need to migrate, are difficult subjects to understand for kids and adults alike, as Tonatiuh comments in the Author’s Note. To make it more accessible to children, he sets the story as a modern-day fable, combines scenes every child can relate to, including a Welcome Home party, complete with Papá’s favorite foods, special decorations and musicians, peoples the story with animal protagonists, and illustrates it in his distinctive, colorful style that draws on the Mixtec Codex. This is a multi-layered picture book, perfect for home & classroom reading and discussion.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that Tonatiuh includes “kid-relatable” occurrences in the fable of Pancho Rabbit and peoples the story with animal protagonists to render a difficult topic more easily understood. But where did the story come from? What can aspiring picture book writers trying to write about difficult subjects learn from this text? Note that Pancho packs a meal, loads it into a back-pack, the modern-day equivalent of a basket, and sets off on a journey to deliver the food to Papá. Sound familiar? I am indebted to Gordon West’s insight about Pancho as Little Red that appeared in an interview with Tonatiuh in Kirkus Reviews.

Pancho Rabbit was honored as:

  • Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book 2014;
  • New York Public Library’s annual Children’s Books list: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013;
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2013;
  • Best Multicultural Children’s Books 2013 (Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature);
  • Notable Children’s Books from ALSC 2014;
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2014.

For a companion read about migrants that also includes rabbits, see Two White Rabbits.

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You also may enjoy Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011), about the famous Mexican muralist. Diego’s work, sadly, was rejected for Rockefeller Center in the 1930s for political reasons (not a focus of Tonatiuh’s book; for information about the Rockefeller Center mural, see this 2014 NPR article).9780810997318_s2

 

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!

PPBF – Migrant

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book on a #BooksForBetter list of 20 Books about Refugee and Immigrant Experiences. Read others on the list, and join me for today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9780888999757_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Migrant

Written By: Maxine Trottier

Illustrated By: Isabelle Arsenault

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Mennonites, Canada, Mexico, farming, migrant

Opening:

            There are times when Anna feels like a bird. It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.

            Her family is a flock of geese eating its way there and back again.

Brief Synopsis: Migrant is the story of Anna and her family, Mennonite farmers, who journey each summer to Canada to supplement their income by harvesting produce.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about Mennonites (note: this is a resource targeted to adults, not children);
  • Explore animal migration; a great place to start is by reading Circle, reviewed here last year, and including several migration-related activities
  • Do you know where the fruits and vegetables you enjoy come from, who plants and harvests them? Learn about food and farming, including some fun activities and games.

Why I Like this Book:

Migrant sheds light on a phenomenon about which many people, including adults, know little about: agricultural migration. Although I was aware of the migration to places like upstate New York from Mexico and Central America, I had no idea that a community of Plattdeutsch (low German)-speaking Mennonites resides in Mexico nor that some, like the fictional Anna and her family, hold Canadian citizenship as well. With its many references to animals that migrate or that live in “borrowed” homes, Migrant helps even young children empathize with Anna, who must leave her home in Mexico to accompany her family to Canada where they harvest produce. Particularly poignant, Trottier describes the “ghosts of last year’s harvest” inhabiting the rental home, shopping for groceries at the “cheap store” where people often stare and Anna understands only a few of the words spoken. This is a wonderful introduction to the topic of migration and helping children, and their adults, understand that we rely on migrants like Anna and her family to harvest the foods we eat.

Arsenault integrates the homespun patterns from Mennonite clothing into the illustrations. Migrating geese wear the hats and kerchiefs worn by Mennonites, too, and the homespun artwork even reaches the fields – a patchwork of quilting squares.

An Author’s Note explains the history of the Mennonite communities of Mexico and Canada and describes farm migrant working conditions.

A Note about Craft:

Trottier utilizes many similes in Migrant, even setting the first scene as a comparison when “Anna feels like a bird” (emphasis added). Her family is a “flock of geese” and through the book, Anna feels, in turn, like a jack rabbit, that lives in abandoned burrows, a bee, a kitten sharing a bed with her sisters as her puppy-like brothers fight over a blanket “that barely covers them all”. Most notably, Anna dreams of being a tree “with roots sunk deeply into the earth”, staying in one place, unlike Anna and her family who “like a monarch, like a robin, like a feather in the wind” join the geese and migrate south in the fall. These similes, I believe, will help even the youngest listeners empathize with Anna and subliminally tie the plight of migrants to the natural world they inhabit.

Migrant is the Winner of the 2012 Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2012; Winner of the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award Honour Book 2012; Short-listed for the Governor General’s Award: Illustration 2011; Selected for the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2011; Selected for the ALA Notable Children’s Books List 2012; Selected for the 2012 USBBY Outstanding International Book 2012; Short-listed for the 6th Annual Read Boston Best Read Aloud Book Award. 2012; Short-listed for the Ruth and Syliva Schwartz Children’s Picture Book Award 2012

For another book about migrants, see Two White Rabbits, reviewed here last year. Since this review was posted, Groundwood Books has published an Educator’s Guide.

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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!