Hello there readers! Last week I reviewed a children’s book that teaches shapes through showcasing Latino foods, and two weeks ago I presented a bilingual poetry book written by award-winning, Salvadorian author, Jorge Argueta. This week I tie them all together by presenting one of Argueta’s poetic recipe books: Tamalitos: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem (ages 4-7), illustrated by Domi.
Here is a description from Goodreads:
In his fourth cooking poem for young children, Jorge Argueta encourages more creativity and fun in the kitchen as he describes how to make tamalitos from corn masa and cheese, wrapped in cornhusks. In simple, poetic language, Argueta shows young cooks how to mix and knead the dough before dropping a spoonful into a cornhusk, wrapping it up and then steaming the little package. He once again makes cooking a full sensory experience, beating on a pot like a drum, dancing the corn dance, delighting in the smell of corn . . . And at the end, he suggests inviting the whole family to come and enjoy the delicious tamalitos “made of corn with love.” Domi’s vivid paintings, featuring a sister and her little brother making tamalitos together, are a perfect accompaniment to the colorful text.
Central American and other Latino cultures often traditionally eat tamalitos around the time of Christmas and other holiday celebrations. This book recognizes the importance of the dish, and celebrates its simplicity through the fun-filled experience of cooking. It beautifully details the ancestral origin of the main ingredient of tamalitos-corn-then goes on to list the other ingredients and tools that are needed. Argueta poetically details the steps of preparation while intertwining fun aspects such as using the pots as drums, dancing various indigenous corn dances, as well as laughing and singing as the preparation takes place.
The book highlights the way in which cooking can be a healthy and positive activity for children. “The smell of corn makes me happy./These tamalitos will be happy corn tamalitos!”, “The kitchen is happy!/The whole house is happy!” The illustrations reflect this tone by showing subjects that are almost always smiling, and including bright, bold colors that light up the pages.
The book is a great bilingual educational tool as it showcases poetic verses in each language next to one another on each page. Interestingly, and unlike most bilingual books I have reviewed, this book presents the Spanish language as the first, primary passage. This unique approach is beneficial to all readers. Native Spanish readers are prioritized and set at ease by being able to forgo the unnecessary English; while non-Spanish speakers are encouraged in their new language acquisition, as they must first try their hand at understanding before they receive the translation.
Note that this is truly a cooking poem. The poetry provides actual instructions for how to make tamales. Argueta keeps an eye out for younger readers by putting an asterisk along the passages that detail parts of preparation requiring parental supervision.
Tamalitos is only the latest publication in Argueta’s famous cooking poem series. If you enjoy this one, check out the other three books in the series:
- Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem
- Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem
- Guacamole: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem
You may appreciate, too, this activity sheet by Groundwood Books to go along with Argueta’s cooking poems.
For those of you, like me, who would now like to make some tamales for the holidays, (and in case you can’t get a hold of Argueta’s book) here is a similar recipe from restaurant Progresso Tamale-only with the addition of my personal favorite ingredient..New Mexican native..Green Chile!
I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season full of fun, food, and family. ¡Mira, Look! reviews will go on hold as I take winter break, but I and the rest of the Vamos team will be back in January to pick things up again and bring you plenty more reviews, educator’s guides, book club meetings, announcements and more! Stay tuned!
Images: Modified from Tamalitos. Illustrator: Domi