Maria Had a Little Llama/María tenía una llamita, written and illustrated by Mexican-American creator Angela Dominguez, takes us through the streets of rural Peru and enchants us with the beautiful friendship between a little girl, Maria, and her faithful llama. This picture book is bilingual and shows first the English text and then the Spanish translation underneath. The illustrations do an excellent job of exposing the reader to Peruvian geography, landscapes, clothing and even traditional musical instruments, and the concluding message, one of unfettered friendship between a schoolgirl and her llama, is truly heartwarming.
As the little llama follows Maria through the streets of Peru, the illustrations show various images of Peruvian life. On one page, they even pass a large map of Peru, including Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, Cuzco and the Andes. Maria’s llama is so attached to her that he follows her all the way to school, where the teacher makes him wait outside until class is over: “But still he lingered near/and waited patiently about…” The illustrations show a series of clocks, demonstrating the passing of time, and the llama patiently waiting in the grass. Both English and Spanish words accompany the illustrations on each page, until we get to a two-page spread showing a bird’s eye view of the center of town, with no words to go along. As Elizabeth Bird states in a School Library Journal review, this was clearly done on purpose to draw specific attention to the images. We can see brown roofs, arched doorways, fruit stands in the street, and clusters of people playing traditional instruments, as well as the beautiful Andes mountains in the background.
On several pages Maria herself is also shown playing traditional instruments, such as maracas and wooden pipes. The book incorporates a theme of music, represented on nearly every page, reminding readers of the light-hearted, sing-song nature of the original nursery rhyme: “Maria had a little llama/ whose fleece was white as snow/ and everywhere that Maria went/ the llama was sure to go”. This theme of music also adds a pleasing tempo to the story, as we move from page to page, following Maria throughout her day. The same band of musicians that we see in the two-page spread of town, appears again in the background when Maria is finally let out of school and reunited with her llama. When she was in school no music played and her llama sadly waited outside, and it wasn’t until she was back out on the streets that the music took up again as she and her llama continued on their merry way.
Deepening the storyline slightly, the scene in the school functions as a pause from the continuous rhythm and pace of the rest of the book. It gives readers the occasion to reflect on the relationship between Maria and her llama, as the teacher emphasizes a valuable lesson on comradery: “ ‘Why does the llama love Maria so?’/the eager children cried/ ‘Maria loves the llama, you know’/ the teacher did reply”. The teacher is a positive influence in the story, warmly spreading lessons on love and friendship. Her ultimate message is that loyalty and affection are based on mutual respect.
For those interested in learning more, here are some additional links and resources:
Stay tuned for next week’s book review, and the start of our October-inspired themes!
Images: Modified from illustrations, Maria Had a Little Llama, pages 6, 15, 24.