Saludos, everyone! Our theme for this month will be “New Tellings/Versions of Familiar Stories,” focusing on children’s books that offer new perspectives on familiar tales. I am very excited to kick-start my blogging with such a cool theme. We have a lot of great books lined up!
Our book for this week is a modern, bilingual rendition of the classic, Little Red Riding Hood. In this retelling, the story is titled Little Roja Riding Hood. Written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Susan Guevara, the book adopts the plot of the original while incorporating elements of Hispanic language and culture. The authors also provide modern-day safety tips that are bound to make readers smile, such as always carrying your cell phone when you go out alone, and equipping the house with a high-tech security system. The occasional use of Spanish vocabulary allows non-fluent educators and readers to understand their meaning based on context clues, and the playful rhyming makes it perfect for reading out loud. The first page of the book provides a glossary of Spanish vocabulary words found throughout the text, an educational bonus for non-bilingual readers, while the illustrations are teeming with allusions to Hispanic culture and mythology. Best suited for readers ages 3-7, this book would be a wonderful resource for bilingual households and classrooms. Following the storyline of the original, Roja is sent by her mother to visit her sick abuela and bring her soup. On the way she meets a large wolf, or lobo, who offers her colorful flores to bring to her grandmother. The little girl takes the flowers and when she’s not looking el lobo takes off with her red capa and her basket. The illustrations show birds that follow Roja screaming out warnings in Spanish, such as “¡Ladron!”, “¡El lobo!” and “¡Cuidado!” The story proceeds predictably as the wolf continues on to the grandmother’s house. At the end, however, there’s a neat twist that reinforces the agency of the two female characters. Hint: the wolf doesn’t triumph.
As illustrator Susan Guevara mentions in an interview, this story is set in New Mexico. She notes that New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the country, and many public schools don’t have the resources to bring in a variety of books. Guevara explains that her intention in making the illustrations resemble New Mexican landscapes and adobe homes was to give young New Mexicans a presence in children’s literature. This is an intention that I’m sure our local readers can appreciate. She also explains the symbolism behind some of the images in her illustrations: “There is a shrine in Chimayo, NM, referred to as the “Lourdes” of North America. It is devoted to Santo Niño de Atoche, a version of the Child Christ. He helps pilgrims along their way, feeds the homeless, cares for the disenfranchised. Abuela has a santo of him in a nicho near her front door, to bless those coming to her door as well as to take his blessing with her when she leaves her home.” Furthermore, Kirkus Reviews points out the allusions to Latin American mythology: “The playful illustrations elevate the book, blending a whimsical fairy-tale land with contemporary Latino-American life. In the kitchen, where Mamá watches telenovelas while chopping peppers and garlic, three blind mice scamper about, a pair of mischievous goblins lurk outside the window, and symbols reminiscent of milagros, or prayer charms, rise up in the steam from the clay pot of bean soup.” In creating a bilingual, bi-cultural book, author Elya and illustrator Guevara capture familiar elements of bilingual Latino or Hispanic households.
The seamless way in which the dialogue code switches (alternating between English and Spanish) reflects a natural way of speaking amongst intercultural families. According to the Worlds of Words blog, “Children’s books that use codeswitching in authentic ways can help children explore the varied languages and dialects used in the real world. For children who hear codeswitching in their homes and communities, these books show that their language is valued and that people like them have a place in literature.” In recreating the natural speech of many bilingual children, Elya provides those children with a story that they can relate to, and incorporates their unique experiences into the body of American children’s literature. The illustrations on the first page call attention to the canon of classic American tales for kids, showing stacks of books in the girl’s room with titles ranging from “The Three Little Pigs” to “Rumple Stiltskin.” In juxtaposition, the next page shows an image of Roja’s mother watching Spanish telenovelas, with Spanish-language novels strewn across the table and counter. Elya’s book espouses these two literary traditions and creates a contemporary, Latino/Hispanic rendition of a classic tale.
Stay tuned for more creative versions of familiar tales!
Images: Modified from illustration, Little Roja Riding Hood, pages 2 and 20.