Saludos, todos! This week we are featuring Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raúl Colón. This wonderful story falls perfectly in line with this month’s theme of Women’s History Month, focusing on positive representations of women in children’s literature and our appreciation for the women in our every-day lives. With Doña Flor, Mora narrates the story of a giant, benevolent woman, literally aggrandizing and extolling the female protagonist. Doña Flor challenges many unfortunate yet common ideas—that women should take up less space, speak less loudly and opine less frequently—by featuring a goddess-like woman who is unapologetically large and undeniably cherished. In effect, Mora’s story captures a childlike perspective of awe and admiration, reminding readers of the larger-than-life women in their own lives.
Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (ages 6-8) is a “tall tale” that uses a series of hyperboles to create an exaggerated and fantastical story. Doña Flor is a beloved member of her community, assisting all her friends and neighbors in any way she can. She carries the children on her back when they’re late to school; she makes giant-sized tortillas for everyone to eat, and always functions as a conciliatory, amiable force amongst the village people. And, finally, when a little mountain lion frightens the village by roaring into a hollowed out log, the fearless Doña Flor finds the cat, makes him purr and smile instead of roar and menace, and ultimately teaches him how to get along with the other village animals and people.
Doña Flor’s character functions as the town’s matriarch, but also as the land’s goddess, reminiscent of the character of the Hungry Goddess in my previous post on women in Mexican folktale. Doña Flor creates a river with the swift stroke of her large finger, hugs and comforts the agitated and personified wind, and sustains life and peace amongst the community’s diverse inhabitants. The gigantesque woman is also an avid reader and spreads knowledge and literacy throughout the village: “You see, Flor was probably the fastest reader ever. Why, she could read the whole encyclopedia in five minutes. She liked to sit in the shade and read stories and poems nice and slow to the children and animals that climbed all over her soft body.” Doña Flor’s character is absurdly large and unrealistically powerful, yet infused with childhood memories of strong matriarchs, female role-models, and the loving care of inspirational women.
According to Pat Mora’s website, this story takes place in the American Southwest. The text is written in English with Spanish words peppered throughout, reinforcing the bicultural makeup of both the setting and the characters. In addition, certain context clues, such as Colón’s illustrations of the homes and the landscape, as well as the food that Doña Flor prepares, help readers understand the geographical backdrop of the story. Colón’s illustrations also reinforce the story’s “tall tale” elements of exaggeration, while depicting Doña Flor as visibly gentle and warm. Raúl Colón is a renowned Puerto Rican artist who’s illustrated a number of children’s books, as well as covers for the New Yorker and New York Times, and New York City murals. According to a review by Kirkus Reviews, Colón’s illustrations “with his round, swirling scratchboard style in warm, buttery colors,” provide pleasing, soothing consistency throughout this action-filled tale.
A “tall tale” generally refers to any story that uses unrealistic descriptions, such as, in this case, a giant woman who speaks every language of the world. Unlike legends that also exaggerate certain elements, such as historic actions or events, a tall tale’s point of exaggeration is usually the focus of the entire story. For example, Doña Flor’s unrealistically gigantic figure is the central theme of the story, providing wit and intrigue throughout. Mora then skillfully uses this focal point to symbolically emphasize the contributions of women in society, and augment their presence in children’s literature. Tall tales are an important part of the American folkloric canon, and by creating a “tall tale” with a courageous female protagonist, and Spanish words interspersed throughout the text, Mora diversifies this traditional canon and challenges the under-representation of both women and Hispanic heritage.
To further build upon this folkloric tradition, educators could create a lesson in which students create their own tall tale. This would be a fun activity where students let their imaginations run wild with exaggerations and unrealistic character descriptions. To complicate the lesson even further, educators could ask students about people or narratives that they feel are underrepresented in American folklore, and how they could change that through their own tall tales. The tall tale genre is perfect for addressing the underrepresentation of certain groups in children’s literature, since the genre itself allows for the magnification of particular characters, traits, or events.
As previously mentioned, Doña Flor is written in English with occasional Spanish words interspersed throughout the text. Spanish words are used when Doña Flor speaks to the villagers, showing familiarity and warmth, but it is also used when she speaks to the animals of the southwest. Doña Flor’s ability to talk to animals contributes to her magical aura, while her use of Spanish in doing so portrays the Spanish language as a special gift that facilitates communication and reconciliation. Although speaking another language or being a part of another culture may sometimes make young children feel different, this story, in more ways than one, shows just how magical those intercultural and interpersonal differences can be. This “tall tale” not only emphasizes the love that a village has for this strong, courageous woman, but also celebrates the beauty in all of our differences and the magic of coexistence.
For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom and in teaching about tall tales in American folklore, here are some additional resources:
- Thundering Tall Tales: Using Read-Aloud as a Springboard to Writing, Read Write Think lesson plan for grades 3-5
- Scholastic American Tall Tales Extension Activities, grades 3-5 (these activities could also be modified to incorporate more Latin American elements of culture)
- Birgit Self lesson plan on Dona Flor, grade 2
- Making Connections to Language and Culture in a Multi-Cultural Classroom Through the Use of Semi-bilingual Picture Books, Illinois University lesson plan for Dona Flor
- Elizabeth Herrera lesson plan on Dona Flor, grade 2
- Día! Family Book Club, lesson plan on Dona Flor, ages 4-8
- Betterlesson lesson plan on Dona Flor- Pat Mora: Characterization
Stay tuned for more wonderful books!
Images modified from Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart: Pages 1, 5, 10, 28, 29, 30.