Saludos todos! This week we are continuing our November themes of food, and specifically its cultural importance, with another great read, El gusto del Mercado Mexicano/ A Taste of the Mexican Market, written and illustrated by Nancy Maria Grande Tabor. This wonderfully interactive book is great for celebrating food, includingthe vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables, the textures of different nuts, and the distinct shapes of different meats and fishes. It also engages kids in valuable exercises in counting, describing what they see, and learning new vocabulary on food and the different ways to prepare food. The book even won the Scientific American Young Readers Book Award for its variegated educational import.
The pages are structured as a type of interactive game. The first page, for example, shows the front wall of a market with words that read, “En una visita a Mexico se pueden comer muchas comidas diferentes. Ven conmigo al Mercado mexicano. Mi canasta esta vacia y aqui tengo la lista de compras. Vamos!/ On a visit to Mexico you can eat many different foods. Come with me to the Mexican market. My basket is empty and here is the shopping list. Let’s go!” On the sides of the page readers see a long list of items to be found in the market. As the book progresses, the narration guides readers on an instructive journey through the Mexican market, addressing the young reader directly with a didactic and playful tone: “Vamos a encontrar las frutas que tenemos en nuestra lista/ Let’s find the fruits on our list.” The narration also engages readers by asking them direct questions, prompting dialogue and reflection between the reader and his/her peers, parent or teacher: “Hay frutas en el Mercado mexicano que nunca has visto?/ Does the Mexican market have any fruits you have never seen before?” Not only do these questions encourage readers to engage more with the text, they also stimulate intercultural observation, reflecting on what is new or foreign to them, what is different between the market in Mexico and the market that they are accustomed to.
Aside from listing the different foods and providing an excellent and abundant resource for Spanish/English translations of vocabulary words, this book also includes sections that describe what parts of certain plants are edible and what parts are not, how to weigh certain foods and what kind of measurements are used in Mexico compared to the United States, and how to count by dozens. Simple math problems are interwoven within the text, sometimes even requiring the reader to look at the different items drawn in the illustrations to count, add, and subtract: “Pan dulce es un postre especial, pero es tan difícil saber cual escoger. Si compramos dos de cada tipo, cuantos tendríamos?/ Pastries are a special dessert, but it’s so hard to choose which to buy. If we choose two of each, how many will we have?”
At the end of the book we see how all of the different ingredients come together to create a delicious meal, just like how all different people can come together to create a beautiful community. The final note of the book emphasizes the cultural value and unifying force of food: “Y lo mejor de todo es que estamos juntos, compartiendo nuestras culturas y celebrando nuestra amistad/ And the best part of all is that we are together, sharing our culture and celebrating our friendship.” By addressing the reader as a newfound friend, this final message also emphasizes implicitly the unifying power of literature. Literature, like food, brings people together and functions as a vehicle for intercultural exchange.
At the back of the book, the author has included a list of questions for further engagement with the text. These questions can be exceptionally useful for educators looking to use this book in their lesson plans or to prompt other classroom activities. Some of the questions ask readers to go back through the illustrations and make observations, such as “Hay quince piñas en este libro, puedes encontrarlas?/ There are fifteen pineapples in this book. Can you find them?” while others call on readers to create their own questions, such as “Que preguntas podrías hacer sobre las cosas que se venden en este mercado?/ What questions can you make up about the things for sale in this market?” This exceptional book requires children to make observations based on a variety of different characteristics and media. These techniques are also useful in the real world, outside of literature, and later in life, when these young readers travel to new places and experience new cultures, and could benefit highly from good observational skills. Some of my own cherished travel experiences include walking through the markets in Peru, Spain, and Senegal, soaking in the different scents, ogling at the different fruits, vegetables, and meats that one can’t find in the standard North American grocery store, and talking to different, enthusiastic vendors, who share with you part of their culture when they offer you a sample or tell you how their merchandise was made.
For more information about the author, Nancy Maria Grande Tabor, here are some additional resources:
For those of you interested in using this book and its main themes in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
- Teacher Vision resources on teaching about food in the K-12 classroom
- Teacher Vision Health and Nutrition Teacher Resources