Educator’s Guide: Colibrí

Educator’s Guide: Colibrí 

Colibrí by Ann Cameron is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for January 13th, 2014.

The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using Colibrí (Cameron, Laurel Leaf, 2005) in the classroom.  The standards are not included here, but are included with the lesson plans in the PDF. The complete guide is available for download at no cost: Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: Colibrí.

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review, and have a look at the Spanish version.


She was little and quick and pretty. Her mother nicknamed her Colibrí, Spanish for “Hummingbird.” At age four she was kidnapped, torn from her parents on a crowded bus in Guatemala City. Since then she’s traveled with “Uncle,” the ex-soldier and wandering beggar who has renamed her Rosa. Uncle has always told Rosa that he searched for her parents but had no success. There’s almost no chance Rosa will ever find them, but Rosa still remembers and longs for them.

When she was young, Uncle consulted fortune-tellers who told him that Rosa would bring him luck – a treasure big enough to last him all his life. So he’s kept her with him. Together, they have traveled from town to town in the highlands of Guatemala, scraping out a living, hoping to find the treasure. Eight years have passed, and Rosa has turned twelve. No treasure has been found, and Uncle has almost given up hope. When he turns angry and desperate, danger threatens Rosa from all side, but especially from Uncle himself.


  •  A Junior Literary Guild Selection
  • A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • A Booklist Editor’s Choice
  • An American Library Association Notable Book
  • A Notable Book for a Global Society Award, International Reading Association


About Ann Cameron:

Ann Cameron was born in Rice Lake, Wisconsin in 1943. As a child, Cameron spent a lot of time doing outdoor activities. For Cameron these childhood activities as motivation for outdoor motifs in her books because she feels that children today tend to lack this element during childhood. Also, she has used people, particularly her older sister, and experience at her family’s summer home as inspiration for her work. Reading and listening to the radio as a child also served to inspire her imagination.

After high school, Cameron attended Harvard University during a pivotal time in American history. She has cited attending Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech at the university as well as her participation in a freedom ride to Maryland in the 1960s. She also listened to influential poets give readings at Harvard, and she even studied with the poet Robert Lowell. Upon graduation, Cameron moved to New York where she worked for a publisher, but she decided that she wanted to learn more about writing. Thus, she returned to the Midwest to receive her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. She released her first children’s book, The Seed, in 1974.

After several moves, Cameron landed in Panajachel, Guatemala. Over the course of fifteen years, Cameron and her husband worked with locals, international donors, and private organizations to improve the library in Panajachel, which is now recognized as one of the best in Central America

Cameron shared the following on how Colibrí can be used in the classroom:

Ann Cameron’s discussion of how Colibrí can be used in the classroom from her website:

“In social studies classes Colibrí is a winner:  it’s authentic to geography, history, and daily life in Guatemala and to Mayan customs (both current and historical). Teachers of middle grade students might use the novel to encourage reflection on the pressures young U.S. teens feel to conform and how they at times resist in order to find their truer selves.

Colibrí is based on my twenty years of experience living among the Mayan people. Every detail of customs and beliefs was checked with Mayan sources. The wartime massacre described briefly in the book is one that actually took place at a plantation called “La Hortensia,” near Nebaj, Guatemala. Major events of the book–a child kidnapping and the theft of a statue from a church–are unfortunately frequent happenings here and are a common topic of articles in Guatemalan newspapers. All the places in the book are real, though some names and locations are changed. The place described as “Two Rivers” is in a Guatemalan national park, “Semuc Champey.” “San Sebastián” resembles the town where I lived, Panajachel.

Uncle kidnaps Tzunún because he believes he can sell her to unscrupulous characters who arrange foreign adoptions of kidnapped children.  Guatemala holds the dubious honor of having the highest per-capita number of foreign adoptions in the world. Adoptive parents pay up to $30,000 to arrange adoptions. That attracts criminals, so sometimes children are kidnapped and sold into adoption; as many as 15 child kidnappings are reported each month. The government fights this evil and on occasion the newspapers have stories of clandestine baby nurseries being discovered or of DNA testing resulting in a baby being returned to the mother. The U.S. Embassy requires DNA testing as well as face-to-face interviews with the natural mother before issuing a visa to the baby. Spain, Canada and the Netherlands will not approve adoptions from Guatemala. The vast majority of the adoptions are legal. Most U.S. adoptive parents have met the biological parents of the children they adopt and are rightly sure about the legitimacy of the adoption. In the event children adopted from Guatemala are in your school, I think this subject should be handled with great care.

What I most wanted to capture in the book, though, is the reality that newspapers and maps can’t express: the courage and generosity of Guatemalan people, and the way faith, mystery, magic and dream is a vital part of their lives. The novel is an adventure story, but most of all it’s a study in identity formation and the development of autonomy in a girl–a young girl becoming a teenager and learning to take upon herself the responsibility for who she is and becomes. This is a universal experience of both sexes, and I think will be very meaningful to middle school readers.”

For more information, please visit Ann Cameron’s website.


The following lesson plans are comprised of guided reading questions organized by parts of the book and extended response writing prompts.   These questions have been written to support the types of reading and critical thinking skills required in standardized reading comprehension tests.  The following key words and skills are highlighted: analyze, infer, evaluate, describe, support, explain, summarize, compare, contrast and predict.

In addition to these lesson plans, there is a section of “Questions for Discussion” at the back of the Random House Reader’s Circle Paperback Edition; along with “A Conversation with Ann Cameron” that both provide excellent material for class discussions.

Social Studies and History:

Find Guatemala on a map.  As you read Colibrí, find the places that Tzunún and Uncle travel to. Are any of the places in the novel imaginary? Use Ann Cameron’s discussion of Colibrí found in our Author’s Corner above for more information on the locations.  Ask students how they would have felt if they were Tzunún and moved around that much.

The Maya:
Colibrí and her family are Mayan, and this an important part of the story.  Many students may not be knowledgeable about who the Maya are, their history, or their cultural traditions.  Using appropriate print or online resources have students research the Maya, creating a poster presentation, essay, or some other form for communicating what they’ve learned.  This could be done in small groups or individually.  Brown University put together the following unit: Culture Connect: Experience the Culture of the World, which would also be useful.  One section of this unit is dedicated to the Maya of Guatemala, focusing on their tradition of weaving.  This provides a more structured lesson plan for the entire class to participate in as a whole group.

Other lesson plans and resources on the Maya can be found at:

Rigoberta Menchú and Human Rights Activism in Guatemala:
In Colibrí Ann Cameron alludes to the violence and human rights abuses many Guatemalans suffered during the Guatemalan Civil War.  Depending upon the grade level of students reading the book, it may be appropriate to delve deeper into the details of this period of Guatemalan history.  Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous women from Guatemala, is well known for her efforts to expose the human rights violations suffered by many indigenous peoples in Latin America.  In 1992 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.  There are a number of resources available to help teach about her efforts:

Guided Reading Questions:

Chapter 1 | Pages 3-7

  1. Why does Uncle call Tzunún Rosa? What is her real name? Make a prediction: why do you think her real name is a secret? (p. 3)
  2. What has the ability to crack the large boulders open? Why is this so surprising? (p. 4)
  3. What does ladino mean? What does Uncle claim makes him moody? (p. 4) If it were true, why would Uncle’s Mayan blood hate his Spanish blood? What would the Mayan and the Spanish be fighting over?
  4. What does Uncle begin to pretend as soon as they get to Nebaj? (p. 6)
  5. What is different about the blind man and his daughter that Tzunún sees in town? How does Uncle respond to the man? What do you think he means when he says “Stupid Sheep!. . .Blind, and he isn’t even getting the value out of it”? (p. 7)

Chapter 2 | Pages 8-13

  1. How are the women and girls dressed differently than the men? (p. 8)
  2. How does Uncle change when he plays the part of a blind beggar? What do people believe about him? (p. 11)
  3. What was the first job that Tzunún’s mother ever taught her? How does this interfere with her work with Uncle? (p. 13)

Chapter 3 | Pages 14-21

  1. Why do you think Tzunún is crying? (p. 16-17)
  2. What does the man give Tzunún? Do you think Uncle will let her keep it? (p. 17-18)
  3. What does Uncle do to get Tzunún to give him the hundred quetzal bill? (p. 19)

Chapter 4 | Pages 22-30

  1. What does Tzunún dream about? What do you think the dream means? What does Uncle believe Tzunún is going to do for him? (p. 22-23)
  2. After Uncle orders breakfast, Tzunún gets the impression that the other customers are saying something uncomplimentary about Uncle.  What do you think they might have said? (p. 25)
  3. What is Uncle looking for that he asks a question about? What is a Day-Keeper? (p. 26-27)

Chapter 5 | Pages 31-37

  1. What is the most important thing to Uncle? (p. 31)
  2. What does Tzunún’s name mean? Why do you think the book is titled Colibrí? (p. 32)
  3. Why do you think Tzunún has such a hard time saying Uncle? (p. 32)
  4. What do you think Uncle was hoping to do with Tzunún? Why? (p. 34-35)
  5. What does Uncle learn from the fortune teller at the fair? (p. 35-36)
  6. Why does Uncle continue to keep Tzunún? (p. 36-37)

Chapter 6 | Pages 38-45

  1. Where does Señora Tuc believe she has seen Uncle before? Do you think he is telling the truth? Why or why not? (p. 41-42)
  2. What does Uncle learn about his birth date? Do you think the things Señora Tuc says are true descriptions of Uncle?  (p. 44)

Chapter 7 | Pages 46-51

  1. What does Señora Tuc use to answer Uncle’s question? (p. 46)
  2. What is Uncle’s question? (p. 47) What answer does he receive? (p. 48-49)
  3. What does Uncle owe Tzunún? Make a prediction: What do you think is on it? (p.48)
  4. What happens when Uncle pays Señora Tuc? How does she communicate that she knows he is cheating her? (p. 50-51)

Chapter 8 | Pages 52-57

  1. What does Uncle buy for Tzunún? Do you think this is the little paper that Señora Tuc meant? (p. 53-54)
  2. How does Tzunún feel when Uncle gives the old lady the fake money? Do you think she should have said something? What would the consequences have been? What would you have done? (p. 54-55)

Chapter 9 | Pages 58-64

  1. Where does Tzunún end up going? (p. 59)
  2. What happened at La Hortensia? Why is it important to Señora Tuc/Doña Celestina? (p. 60-63)

Chapter 10 | Pages 65-69

  1. What is Tzunún afraid is in her throat? What does Doña Celestina find? (p. 65)
  2. How does Doña Celestina know that Tzunún is not stupid? What is she going to do for Tzunún’s words? (p. 66)
  3. Do you think Uncle respects Tzunún? Why? (p. 68)
  4. Does Tzunún want to leave Uncle? Why do you think she feels this way? (p. 68-69)

Chapter 11 | Pages 70-75

  1.  Where would Tzunún like to stay? Can Doña Celestina take her? Why? What is she afraid would happen? (p. 70-73)
  2. What does Doña Celestina give back to Tzunún? (p. 74)

Chapter 12 | Pages 76-78

  1. The lump is no longer in Tzunún’s throat, where is it now? Why do you think it has moved? What does this mean? (p. 76)
  2. Why does Uncle want to leave Nebaj? What does Uncle value above all else in the world? (p. 77)
  3. Where are Tzunún and Uncle going to from Nebaj? (p. 78)

Chapter 13  | Pages 79-84

  1. What does Tzunún remember while on the bus with Uncle? What do you think triggers this memory? (p. 81-83)
  2. What did Tzunún used to believe about why her parents had lost her? Does she still believe this? (p. 84)

Chapter 14 | Pages 85-89

  1. What happens to the cup of hot chocolate with the hearts on it? What does Tzunún believe this represents? Why does she ask for the pieces? (p. 86-88)

Chapter 15 | Pages 90-95

  1. What does Uncle think of the foreigners or the tourists that come to visit Guatemala? How does he describe them? (p. 91)
  2. Describe Raimundo.  Does he look like Uncle? How is he different? (p. 92)
  3. What does it mean to have a long tongue and a long nose? (p. 93)

Chapter 16 | Pages 96-103

  1. To what saint does Raimundo have an altar for? Describe what it looks like. What does this saint represent? How does this show that Raimundo and Uncle value the same things? (p. 97-98)
  2. What does tango sound like to Tzunún? How does it make her feel to dance tango? (p. 101-103)

Chapter 17 | Pages 104-106

  1.  What does Uncle say to Raimundo about Tzunún? Do you think he is correct? How would you describe Tzunún? (p. 105)

Chapter 18 | Pages 107-112

  1.  How is Dolores different from other women that Tzunún has seen? (p. 109)
  2. Think about the things that Tzunún is grateful for at Raimundo’s.  Are these things that you would think about if someone asked you if you were comfortable, or are they things that you take for granted? (p. 109)

Chapter 19 | Pages 113-116

  1.  Why does Tzunún become anxious after she buys the shoes?
  2. Why do you think Tzunún feels more comfortable in the mountains helping the family? (p. 114-116)

Chapter 20 | Pages 117-126

  1. Do you think Dolores warning about her brother is accurate? Why? (p. 120)
  2. What are Uncle and Raimundo teaching Tzunún to do? Do you think it’s a game? (p. 121-122)
  3. How does Raimundo justify stealing the passports to Tzunún? Does Tzunún believe him? (p. 123-126)

Chapter 21 | Pages 127-138

  1. Do you think Raimundo and Uncle really bought the dog? Why?(p. 128)
  2. What are Raimundo, Uncle and Tzunún going to do at the church? Do you believe Raimundo when he says that they are going to get the statue fixed and then return it? Do you think it really has termites? (p. 129-131)
  3. What do you think of the statement “There are no criminals at all in San Sebastian”? What is ironic about Raimundo saying this? (p. 131)
  4. How does Tzunún attempt to justify taking the statue? What does she say to it? (p.136-137)
  5. How does Tzunún figure out what she must do? What do you think she decides? (p. 137-138)

Chapter 22 | Pages 139-148

  1. What decision does Tzunún make about the statue? Who does she go to? (p. 139-141)
  2. What is Tzunún worried about? Do you think you would worry about the same thing? (p. 140-141)
  3. Who catches Uncle and Raimundo stealing the statue? What happens to them? (p. 144-147)

Chapter 23 | Pages 149-152

  1. Where does Tzunún go after Raimundo and Uncle are taken to jail? (p. 149) Who finds her there? (p. 151)
  2. Who does Tzunún take with her for protection? (p. 152)

Chapter  24 | Pages 153-155

  1. What does Tzunún name the dog? What does the name mean? (p. 154)
  2. Where do they spend the night? (p. 154)

Chapter 25 | Pages 156-158

  1. Why do you think Tzunún is worried about Uncle? (p. 156-157)
  2. How do you think the man is moving the dogs? What do you think the metal bar really is? How does it work? Is it magic? (p. 157-158)
  3. What do you think will make Tzunún happy? (p. 158)

Chapter 26 | Pages 159-164

  1. Do you think Marcos knows that it was Tzunún who helped to stop the robbery? Why? (p. 162-163)

Chapter 27 | Pages 165-171

  1. What lesson does Marcos teach Tzunún about money? How does he teach her? (p. 166-168)

Chapter 28 | Pages 172-177

  1. Does Tzunún make it to Nebaj? What condition is she in when she arrives at Doña Celestina’s home? (p. 173-175)
  2. Who is taking care of Tzunún? (p. 174-176)

Chapter 29 | Pages 178- 181

  1. What good has come out of Uncle committing the crime? (p. 179)
  2. What advice do Doña Celestina and Doña Amalia give Tzunún about fear? (p. 179-180)
  3. What do they do to try and get more information about Tzunún’s past and where she’s from? Does it work? (p. 181)

Chapter 30  | Pages 182-188

  1. What does Doña Celestina do to try and protect Tzunún from Raimundo and Uncle? (p. 182-183)
  2. What kinds of jobs does Tzunún do for Doña Amalia and Doña Celestina? (p. 184)
  3. How does Doña Celestina help Tzunún make peace with the woman from the market? (p. 187-188)

Chapter 31 | Pages 189-195

  1. What memories does Tzunún have of making tortillas? Have you ever had an experience like that? (p.189-190)
  2. How does Tzunún conquer her fear and return to Doña Amalia with the mint? (p. 191-193)
  3. What is the butterfly a sign of? (p. 194)

Chapter 32 | Pages 196-200

  1. What warnings do Doña Celestina and Tzunún receive that Uncle is going to come back? (p. 197-199)
  2. Do you think that Doña Celestina is really calm? How do you know? (p. 200)

Chapter 33 | Pages 201-206

  1. Where are they going on 13 Q’anil? Why are they going there? (p. 202-204)
  2. Why do you think that J’aal is hesitant to leave Tzunún? (p. 206)

Chapter 34 | Pages 207-210

  1. Who is the skinny man that Tzunún sees? (p.208)
  2. Where does Tzunún find to hide? (p. 209-210)

Chapter 35 | Pages 211-213

  1. What does Tzunún find in the cave? (p. 212?)
  2. How does Uncle find Tzunún? (p. 213)

Chapter 36 | Pages 214-216

  1. What happened to Raimundo? Who does Uncle blame? (p. 215)
  2. How did Uncle fool the people into telling him where Tzunún was? (p. 215)
  3. What does Uncle finally admit to Tzunún? (p. 216)

Chapter 37 | Pages 217-222

  1. What is Uncle going to do to Tzunún? How does she respond? How does this show she’s changed? (p. 217-218)
  2. What do you think Uncle will do when Tzunún reaches for the paper? (p. 220-221)
  3. Who saves Tzunún? What happens to Uncle? (p. 222)

Chapter 38 | Pages 223-224

  1. What is on the little paper from Uncle’s wallet? Why is this important to Tzunún? (p. 224)

Chapter 39 | Pages 225-227

  1. Does Tzunún tell anyone about the treasure? What would you have done? (p. 225)
  2. Will Tzunún get to keep J’aal? Why do you think her previous owners would let her stay with Tzunún? (p. 226)
  3. What is Tzunún’s reunion with her parents like? (p. 226-227)

Reflective Writing Questions:

Below you’ll find questions that allow for more of an extended response.  Also, be sure to check out the “Questions for Discussion” included at the end of the novel, there are great questions provided there that we didn’t duplicate here.  Those are also perfect for extended response or essay style responses.

  1. Why do you think Tzunún feels like she has something stuck in her throat? Think about the times that she feels it the most, what is she trying to do? Do you really think that she has something in her throat? What do you think is making her feel this way?
  2. Think about fear as a theme in the novel.  How does fear control Tzunún? Have you ever been afraid like Tzunún? How did you deal with it?
  3. How does Tzunún change over the course of the novel? Use examples from the story to support your answer.


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website.  This guide was prepared 12/2013 by Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant and Neoshia Roemer, LAII Graduate Assistant.


2 thoughts on “Educator’s Guide: Colibrí

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