¡Buenos días! Today we will move further south in Mexico to a small Mazateca village in the state of Oaxaca with the children’s book, Napí, written by the Mexican muralist/activist Antonio Ramírez and illustrated by Mazateca artist/activist Domi (Domitila Domínguez). The two have worked together as partners and activists, particularly within the context of indigenous activism and the Zapatista movement in Mexico, and together founded the Colectivo Callejero (the Streetwise Collective) in 1982.
Napí tells the story of a Mazateca girl of the same name. In the story, Napí introduces herself and takes us into her world of home, life, family and dreams. She carefully and intimately shows us different elements of her village; these elements are normal parts of her day to day life, however, her descriptions, accompanied by Domi’s captivating illustrations, demonstrate that there is nothing mundane about them. Napí moves along through the pages, illuminating the beauty of plants, animals and other elements of nature.
Napí describes her family, plants and animals with love and warm respect, and her depictions portray how the elements of nature, such as the large ceiba tree outside of her home, take care of her, and she trusts in them to do so. It is the ceiba tree that brings Napí dreams. Napí cherishes her dreams and explains them with excitement. Throughout the book we get the overall feeling that Napí is in a familiar, loving and supporting environment. As De Colores reviewer Bevery Slapin explains, “She [Napí] says she is poor, but that is belief by the richness of her land, her culture, and the community of which she is a valued part.”
The simple and direct language in the book is well-accompanied by Domi’s expressive, deep and colorful illustrations. Together they allow the reader to connect to Napí and her world. One of my favorite components of this story is that it expresses so much depth and understanding of such a small area, particularly by describing one place in particular at different times of day. Almost everything happens next to the river – Napí’s mother (Naa in Mazatec) braids her hair beside the river; Napí’s grandfather tells her stories there; during a certain time of day, that spot on the river is orange; during another time of day, it is purple; during her dreams it is similarly present. Napí associates each color with emotion and memory, illuminating the power of place.
In sum, I highly recommend this book for both your school and home libraries. Domi’s illustrations are breathtaking and could surely be used for inspiration with watercolors in the classroom. Ramírez’s descriptions of Mazatec life through the eyes of a young girl are also beautiful and inspiring. While the text does not ignore issues with poverty, it emphasizes value of family (human and non-human) and place. In this way, unlike many children’s books published in the US, this book neither romanticizes poverty nor lingers on it as a defining characteristic.
If you can’t get enough of Napí, you can continue to adventure with her in Ramírez and Domi’s other two books, Napí va a la montaña/Napi Goes to the Mountain, and Napí funda un pueblo/Napí Makes a Village. They are available in English and Spanish.
Here is a video about Mazatec traditions published by the Mexican State Center of Languages and Indigenous Cultures. It is spoken in Spanish. And here is another video of a poem spoken in Mazatec, accompanied by photos of the Mazatec region. It is important to also note that there are several different dialects of Mazatec.
Finally, this could be a good opportunity to talk about the recent earthquake disaster that happened in Oaxaca on September 7, 2017 and the importance of support and solidarity during these trying times. PBS has some available teaching materials about earthquakes that I recommend checking out. Also, here is an article titled “Los heroes del terremoto – Materials for Spanish teachers,” which elaborates on the effects of the earthquakes, describes personal stories of everyday people and support networks, and more.