“Aunque ensile el pensamiento,/libre amor, nadie lo alcanza./ Even if someone were to saddle thought,/ Nothing can restrain love’s freedom” – Antonio Machado, “Canción a Guiomar III”
Saludos todos! We are concluding our September ¡Mira, Look! posts with another great book that highlights Hispanic heritage and the beauty of shared tradition. Tales our Abuelitas Told, written by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, and illustrated by Felipe Davalos, Vivi Escrive, Susan Guevara, and Legla Torres, is a lovely compilation of Hispanic folktales whose origins span the globe. Given the length and detail of the stories, this book is best for more advanced readers; however, if children are being read to, all ages could enjoy these beautiful tales.
The book begins with a “Welcome” section, where Campoy and Ada introduce not only their objective in creating such a collection, but also the general history and development of many of these tales, starting in Europe, with Arabic and Jewish influence, and moving to Latin America, fusing with African heritage. While providing an extensive and impressive history of folklore throughout the Iberian peninsula and then the Western hemisphere, Campoy and Ada remind readers of the ultimate beauty and importance of story-telling: “Through stories people share their dreams, their hopes, and the lessons they learn from life, and also their celebration of the imagination and the ingenuity of a well-told tale.”
The introduction provides an excellent, synthesized overview of the historical context of these stories, which in itself could lead to a variety of lessons on history and geography. From the European relations between the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians, the invasion in Spain of the Visigoths, and the Arabic influence in southern Spain, to the onset of colonization in 1492, the indigenous civilizations of the Americas and their “magnificent civilizations,” and the slave trade, the introduction provides a detailed account of the history of these folktales. In particular, the authors discuss the influence of African culture in the Americas:
The enslaved African people, who were brought to the Americas, came without material possessions. Still, they carried with them their experiences, their knowledge, their cultural beliefs and worldviews, their languages and their stories. Some of the best-known and most-beloved stories told in Latin America today originated in Africa or among the African people forced into slavery.
This collection is rich with historical context and cultural heritage, weaving in thoughts, sentiments, stories and dreams of peoples from all over the globe, who spent their lives in Latin America. Imbued in the telling and retellings of Ada and Campoy is a love and awe for the power of storytelling and the resounding tragedy, mirth, and beauty of the past.
Yhe authors’ “Welcome” section also introduces the format for their rich and highly informative collection: “After each story we tell you a little about its origin—and in some cases about our relationship with the story—so that you may learn a bit more about the people who created that tale and the long journey it has traveled to reach you.”
One particular folktale, “Blancaflor,” tells the story of a young prince whose father, the king, has fallen terribly ill. In exchange for his father’s health, the prince makes a deal with spirit, that in three years’ time, he must go to the Three Silver Towers in the Land of No Return. Once the king has regained his health, he insists that his son must marry, so that he can live to see his grandchildren. However his son denies every proposition, and, right before three years have gone by, starts making his way towards the Land of No Return. Although the Land of No Return is a bleak and barren place, the prince meets a young girl by the name of Blancaflor. Here, the story takes an uplifting turn, and readers will delight in Blancaflor’s cunning and charm, and the ensuing tale of young love: “And this is the story of Blancaflor. It began with threads of silver and ended with threads of gold, all woven for you in the story I told.”
Some of you may remember the name of the folktale from a book review I did last year on Fiesta Feminina, another collection of folktales that focuses specifically on tales with female protagonists, including the tale of Blancaflor. As acknowledged by Alma flor Ada, who wrote the note “About ‘Blancaflor’” at the end of the story, this is a popular tale which originated in Spain and which has had many renditions told and heard throughout the years: “In that same spirit, I have taken a few liberties myself.”
At the beginning of the book, following the introduction, the authors have also included a page on “To Begin a Story,” where they provide Spanish phrases and their English translations: “To gain their full attention, the storyteller begins with a phrase that seizes listeners’ imaginations.” Readers learning Spanish or English as a second language will benefit from these translations, and more advanced readers could even use them in an exercise on writing and storytelling. From “había una vez…/Once upon a time…” to “Para saber y contar y contar para aprender…/To know in order to tell and tell in order to know…”, students could practice using these opening lines to start and create their own stories. To deepen the exercise, teachers could also have students focus their original tale on childhood memories, family history and culture, or other such markers of heritage. At the back of the book, the authors have included a page on “To End a Story,” where again they provide readers (and educators) with a list of Spanish and English phrases useful for wrapping up a tale “…y colorín colorado, este cuento se ha acabado/…and, my many-colored feathered friend, now the story has found an end.” Just as Ada and Campoy have drawn from cultural heritage to exercise their own creativity, students of all ages could do the same.
For more information about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:
For more ideas on how to use this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:
- Scholastic lesson plans (for a variety of ages) on teaching Myths, Folktales, and Fairy Tales
- Read, Write, Think lesson plan for grades 3-5, Exploring World Cultures Through Folktales
- Education World, Lessons for Teaching About Fables, Fairy Tales, Folktales, Legends, Myths, Tall Tales
Stay tuned for an introduction to October’s themes and some more great reads!
Images modified from: Tales our Abuelitas Told, pages 8, 13, 22, 36, 50