We had such a great time discussing this book at our book group on Monday night! Our monthly meetings are definitely one of my favorite parts of my job. I’ve shared my thoughts on the book below. We’d love to hear what you think as well–just leave a comment at the end of the post.
Written by Ann Cameron
Published by Laurel Leaf, 2005
Age Level: 12 and up
Description (From GoodReads):
She was little and quick and pretty. Her mother nicknamed her Colibrí, Spanish for “Hummingbird.” At age four she was kidnapped, torn from her parents on a crowded bus in Guatemala City. Since then she’s traveled with “Uncle,” the ex-soldier and wandering beggar who has renamed her Rosa. Uncle has always told Rosa that he searched for her parents but had no success. There’s almost no chance Rosa will ever find them, but Rosa still remembers and longs for them.
When she was young, Uncle consulted fortune-tellers who told him that Rosa would bring him luck – a treasure big enough to last him all his life. So he’s kept her with him. Together, they have traveled from town to town in the highlands of Guatemala, scraping out a living, hoping to find the treasure. Eight years have passed, and Rosa has turned twelve. No treasure has been found, and Uncle has almost given up hope. When he turns angry and desperate, danger threatens Rosa from all side, but especially from Uncle himself.
With nothing but positive reviews, it’s not surprising that Colibrí was a great read. It’s a well-written and engrossing novel. Told from the point of view of Tzunún, a 12 year-old girl, students will find it easy to connect with the young narrator. It’s not a light read; instead, it offers a coming of age story that shows a young girl forced to make decisions that we would hope only adults might have to confront. Yet this is part of the power of the book. Often our students do have to deal with situations that we wish we could protect them from, but can’t. Tzunún’s journey to find out who she really is may give those students some much needed hope, and a story they can learn from and identify with.
Fear is a theme throughout the novel and a powerful force in Tzunún’s life. Often her fear controls her, but Tzunún must learn to conquer her fear in order to survive and live the life she desires. In our classrooms, we don’t often talk about fear or how to confront it, yet it’s something many children need help with. Colibrí provides a rich opportunity to have this discussion with our students. An important struggle for Tzunún is how to determine what is right or wrong, and how to make the choices that she feels are morally acceptable. Often Uncle asks her to do things that she is not okay with, but out of fear she does anyway. A significant turning point in the story takes place when Tzunún chooses to no longer do Uncle’s bidding. Tzunún makes the choice to confront her fear and risk an unknown future on her own. In doing this, Tzunún sets herself on the path to find out who she really is. Despite the fact that she’s quite young, Tzunún’s choices shape the path her life takes. What we learn is that just because one is young, does not mean that the choices and decisions he or she makes don’t have life-altering ramifications.
Taking place in Guatemala, the setting provides a context that is likely unique and engaging for many of our students. With references to Guatemalan culture woven throughout the story, the novel provides a great way to bring knowledge of Guatemalan foods, terminology, ethnicity, traditions, beliefs and religion into the classroom. It could easily be implemented in a social studies unit on Latin America. Cameron shows important aspects of both Latino and Mayan culture. Through the various characters in Tzunún’s life, Cameron demonstrates not only the ways in which these two cultures have blended, but also the continued oppression of Mayan people and ethnic struggle in Guatemala. While not a significant part of the story, the novel does allude to the military violence of the Guatemalan Civil War, so this historical theme could be expanded upon if appropriate for the teaching context.
Aside from the emotionally moving story of Tzunún, Cameron’s novel also provides an excellent mentor text from which to teach the art of sensuously descriptive writing. Her words paint beautiful pictures of Guatemalan landscapes. She never forgets to describe the smells, tastes, sounds or tactile aspects of Tzunún’s experiences. Colibrí is another novel I’d love to see in our classrooms and libraries. I’d recommend it without hesitation.
Colibrí has received a number of awards and recognitions as a Junior Literary Guild Selection, A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and An American Library Association Notable Book among others. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your classroom library. Click here to be taken to our Educator’s Guide for the book.
If you’re interested in hearing what Ann Cameron has to say about the book, check out her website