Saludos todos and welcome to the start of our November-themed book reviews! Our themes for this month will focus on food and the cultural importance of food, topics that seem to fit well with the harvest season that is upon us and the subsequent winter holidays for which food plays such a significant role. Along with traditional practices, food is an important cultural element that can awaken the senses, harken back to fond memories and seasonal associations, and bring people together though collection, preparation, and shared enjoyment.
Our book to start this exploration is The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, written by Samantha R. Vamos and illustrated by Rafael López. This fun and engaging book tells the story of a young farm maiden who, by enlisting the help of various farm animals and the farmer boy, makes a steamy, delicious pot of arroz con leche. The book has a lively, festive tone and the cooking process is described as a fun, unifying celebration, emphasizing the cultural and communal importance of food. In preparing the arroz con leche, everyone at the farm, including the anthropomorphized animals, must do their part and contribute. This not only exemplifies good team work, but also shows how everyone has a valuable skill or asset to contribute.
This story is written in English with various Spanish vocabulary words peppered throughout. The narrative also repeats itself on nearly every page, which helps kids learn and remember new vocabulary words. The text lists the steps used to prepare the arroz con leche, and every time a new step is added, the entire list is repeated in a cumulative verse: “This is the duck/ that went to the market/ to buy the sugar/ to flavor the LECHE/ made fresh by the VACA/ while teaching the CABRA/ that churned the CREMA/ to make the MANTEQUILLA/ that went into the CAZUELA that the farm maiden stirred.” Because each step incorporates a new Spanish vocabulary word, this format is especially useful for young readers and novice Spanish-speakers to remember each new word. This format could also inspire an activity with students where they make their own list of how to make a certain recipe, focusing on incorporating and repeating new Spanish vocabulary words along the way. While many of the Spanish words used here in this story can be understood through the narrative context and the illustrations, there is also a list of the words and their English translations provided at the back of the book, which help clarify any ambiguities.
Although this story takes place on a farm, the frantic running around, asking for favors, and last-minute improvisation might remind many readers of the excited movement of a busy kitchen during the holidays. As mentioned by the author, Samantha R. Vamos, in a blog entry for School Library Journal, “The proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ seems apt when I think about the creation of this story. I craved pancakes and I imagined ways to obtain the ingredients I needed.”
Vamos also describes how her story relishes in the mystery of what all of these unique ingredients could be used to make. The story progresses with the one-by-one inclusion of a new ingredient, without the reader knowing what the final product will be until the very end: “I wanted to incorporate a recipe that would be revealed at the story’s end. I hoped that readers would try to guess what the characters were making in the pot that the farm maiden stirred. Utilizing a recipe in this manner meant weaving the storyline around specific ingredients.” As mentioned by Vamos, this style allows readers to think about the different ingredients, how they could be used together, and guess what the final product will be, urging them to engage with the text and make connections. Used as a classroom activity, this could also be fun, engaging, and educational for children learning new vocabulary words, as each student would present a recipe while the others guessed what it could be based on the ingredients. At the back of the book, Vamos has also included a full recipe for arroz con leche, which children could try to make with their parents, or educators could make with their students.
López’ stunning illustrations could also inspire lesson plans and classroom activities that involve drawing different foods and ingredients based on sensory descriptions. As I described in one of my November posts from last year, ¡Yum, MmMm, Qué Rico! (which, coincidentally, is also illustrated by Rafael López), books about food are excellent tools for classroom activities focusing on descriptive vocabulary, poetry, art, and sensory observation. Food is a wonderful community-builder which is not only enjoyable but also educational. This month is a perfect time for educators to relish in the pleasure and educational value of food with their students and create lesson plans that are not only fun but also culturally and creatively enriching.
For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
For those of you interested in learning more about the author and illustrator, here are some additional resources:
- Personal website for Samantha Vamos
- Personal website for Rafael Lopez
- Blog for Rafael Lopez
- Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Interview with Rafael Lopez
Stay tuned for more November books!