¡Mira Look!: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Image result for martina the beautiful cockroachSaludos todos! This week we are concluding our monthly theme of love with Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, an adaptation of an old Cuban folktale, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael Austin. This book won recognition as a Pura Belpré Honor Book. According to the introduction of the book, this folktale is one of the best known in Latin America, but versions of this classic tale also exist in other regions of the world. Nonetheless, Deedy takes this traditional tale, and its familiar themes, and intertwines it with her own creative twists and childhood memories. This in itself is one of the beautiful things about traditional folktales—their themes and plots have become so familiar to most people that they can be retold and adapted across countries, cultures and individual experiences to reflect both common sentiments of society, and the particular lives of individuals. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach deals primarily with themes of romantic love, but also of familial love, as young Martina relies on the advice of her wise abuela in choosing a future spouse. This charming story conveys themes of respect, compatibility, and family love, and is bound to make any reader smile as they follow the journey of Martina the beautiful cockroach.

martina-1 martina-2The story begins with a scene of the young Martina with her family inside their lamp post home. The warm hues of the illustrations evoke feelings of comfort and good company, while also accentuating witty details, such as a sofa made of a can of beans, a staircase made of books, and a stamp as a wall-hanging portrait. Martina has just turned 21 years old, and her family thinks that it is now time for her to find a husband. Her wise abuela tells her to go up to the balcony to await her suitors. Since Martina is stunningly beautiful, the entire town is abuzz with talk about marrying her: “Soon all Havana—from the busy sidewalks of El Prado to El Morro castle—was abuzz with the news.” However, her abuela also tells her to use the famous “coffee test” to pick the right suitor. When a suitor comes to speak to her, Martina must “accidentally” spill coffee on their shoes, and watch how they react. Based on their reaction, she will see how they will act towards her when they are angry. If they lose their temper and act disrespectfully, then they are not the right suitor. Although Martina is skeptical of her abuela’s eccentric advice, she follows it nonetheless.

martina-3 martina-4The first to come speak to Martina is Don Gallo, the rooster. The rooster has “splendid shoes,” and exclaims, “Caramba! You really are a beautiful cockroach. I will look even more fabulous with you on my wings!” But when Martina “accidently” spills coffee on his shoes, he erupts in a fury, insulting her and her “clumsiness”: “Clumsy cockroach! I will teach you better manners when you are my wife!” Alas, Don Gallo has failed the coffee test. Martina tells him cooly, “A most humble offer, senor, but I cannot accept. You are much too cocky for me.” These little play on words continue throughout the story, adding a layer of humor to an already charming and endearing story. While portraying the all-too-human sensations of searching for love and finding love, this story also self-consciously highlights the witty absurdity of the anthropomorphized characters: “Daintily, she sat down/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs,/ and crossed her legs.” As one suitor comes after the next, Martina grows more and more appreciative of her abuela’s unique advice.   Many of her suitors do not react kindly to having coffee spilt on their shoes, and this little experiment enables her to see each suitor’s true colors.

martina-5Finally, Martina spots a cute little mouse who’s been waiting in the bushes below the whole time. Martina, instantly drawn to him, goes to speak to him, but not before her abuela brusquely reminds her, “Don’t forget the coffee!” The little mouse blushes while speaking to Martina and tells her that although she is very beautiful, his eyes are not very good; his ears, however, are very sharp and he knows that she is “strong and good”: “Then he squinted sweetly. ‘Who cares if you are beautiful?’” Although this old folktale relies on old traditions of courting suitors, the values that it conveys—mutual respect, kindness, and a focus on internal values rather than external appearances—are timeless and remain important for any couple to this day. Although Martina is reluctant to try the coffee test this time, she does as her abuela says. Just as she is about to spill the coffee on the mouse’s shoes, though, he surprises her by doing something none of the other suitors have done. So as not to ruin the ending, which is my favorite part of the story, I will leave it at that. But in the end, Martina ends up falling in love with the most unassuming suitor, while also realizing how important her Cuban roots and family traditions really are.

For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for an introduction to our March themes and for more great reads!

Hasta pronto!

Alice


Images modified from: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, pages 3, 7, 9, 11, 18

¡Mira Look!: Haiti My Country

Image result for haiti my countrySaludos todos! This week I will be reviewing Haiti My Country, a collection of poems written by a variety of Haitian school children, illustrated by Rogé and translated from the French by Solange Messier. As we continue with our February theme of love, including love of self, love of community, and love of others, to name a few, this book resonates primarily with themes of love of country and love of nature. Through each individual and unique poem, these children express pride in their country, adoration for its natural beauty, and, ultimately, the love that they have for themselves and for their own particular identities.

haiti-1This book on Haiti also harkens us back to my February posts from last year, where I used Black History Month as an opportunity to focus my book reviews for the month on books about Haiti, a country that is sometimes overlooked in our studies of Latin America. Of course, Afro-Latino culture and populations are prominent in all countries of Latin America, however Haiti’s history and society stands apart, as the majority of the population is made up of Afro-descendents, and it was the first country in the Americas to lead a successful slave rebellion. Some of my posts from last year include, Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, Running the Road to ABC, and Children of Yayoute. You may also be interested in Keira’s post on Resources to Teach about Haiti and Afro-Caribbean Cultures, or  Charla‘s post on Teaching about Haiti with Love. While Haiti My Country fits in with out general theme of love for this month, it also helps us remember and link back to some great resources and teaching plans from last year.

haiti-5The introduction of Haiti My Country, written by Dany Laferrière, provides some geographical and historical context for this collection of poems:

After the ongoing deforestation of the last few decades came a succession of cyclones, deadly floods, and then the horrific earthquake. I should clarify that these poems were written before the earthquake of January 12, 2010. What’s more, the region where these young poets live has been largely unaffected by the calamities that I have just mentioned. The natural landscapes that surround these teenagers inspire such dreams that visitors are often surprised they originated in Haiti.

haiti-2Laferrière notes that when he reads novels he can usually discern the age of the author based on a variety of cultural and historical context clues; however, with poetry it is different. He remarks that one of the enchanting and even mysterious aspects of these poems is that the poets themselves are so young, yet their words evoke such wisdom.

haiti-3One of the things that I find especially beautiful about this book is Rogé’s stunning, detailed, and humanistic portraits. Each portrait is presented on the adjacent page of the poem, depicting the poem’s author. The children are smiling, and resting their faces in an expression of serenity and tranquility; however, sometimes their expressions bear a degree of mystery, a complacent smile that hides a deeper truth: “The illustrator (I say illustrator and not painter because these portraits force us to think rather than to look) seems to be trying to resolve a deep mystery behind the faces that are suddenly unreadable.” According to Lafereire, one of the most poignant aspects of this book is the combination of the magical scenes painted by the children’s poetry, and the portraits of their calm, tranquil faces, coupled with the unavoidable context of poverty and devastation that has plagued Haiti for years.  He explains, “Such energy inhabits these adolescents! It overflows and consoles us, even as unfathomable sadness invades our hearts. Their vitality is irresistible. But as heavenly as the setting is, it does not distract them from the human condition.”

haiti-4Nonetheless, Laferrière also notes that these stunning portraits help paint a more holistic image of Haiti, the natural beauty of the country, articulated through the poems, and the endearing faces of its children, the faces of hope and the future. Again, what is so compelling about this collection is what is said and what is not said, the sweet smile on the face of a Haitian adolescent, and the tinge of sadness in her deep, dark eyes. This poignant duality is felt in a poem by Annie Hum: “Magnificent country becomes/ Broken land/ All smiles are lost.”  Yet these poems are also imbued with inspiring hope and faith in the future, in the future that these children will bring: “Everything is born, everything lives, everything perishes./ But this country, her exceptional natural beauty–/ I want her to live forever.” Another poem, shown beside the portrait of a somber looking boy starts with “I dream” and concludes with “I do not want to see these things in dreams/ But in reality…”  That poem alone is reason enough to use the book in the classroom–what a wonderful writing prompt that line could be!

For those of you interested in learning more about contemporary Haiti, here are some additional links:

For those of you interested in learning more about the book’s artist, here are some additional resources:

Stay tuned for more great books!

¡Hasta pronto!

Alice

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¡Mira Look!: La Noche Buena, A Christmas Story

la-noche-buenaSaludos toddos, and welcome to our final book review for the semester and for the year! We are continuing our December themes this week with one last review on winter holidays. Our book for this week is La Noche Buena, A Christmas Story, written by Antonio Sacre and illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Sacre is a new name here on our blog, but I have already reviewed several books illustrated by Dominguez, including Mango, Abuela and Me, which won Dominguez the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book, and Maria Had a Little Llama/ María tenía una llamita.

La Noche Buena is a heartwarming story about a young girl who travels from her New England home down to Miami to spend Christmas and Christmas Eve with her Cuban relatives. It is her first time traveling to Miami for the winter holidays, and at first the warmth and humidity seem strange at this time of year: “How will Santa land his sleigh in the heat?” The unnamed, female protagonist’s parents are divorced and it is her Cuban father’s turn to have her for the holidays. The fact that the protagonist is unnamed helps readers identify with her, and her position as a child of divorced parents is an important perspective for children to witness and experience through literature. Divorce is such a common occurrence, but it is still a difficult experience for children. As young readers watch the protagonist transition between two parents, two cultures, two languages, they will witness how strong and resilient she is, a positive example for children going through similar struggles.

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¡Mira Look!: Miracle on 133rd Street

Image result for miracle on 133rd street lesson plansSaludos todos! I hope everyone had a nice and relaxing Thanksgiving break! This week we’re continuing with our November themes of food and the cultural importance of food while also transitioning into our brief December focus on winter celebrations. We’ve spent November highlighting the importance of food in cultural celebrations and rituals as well as community environments, which has been a nice way for us to bridge the celebrations of late October and early November such as Day of the Dead, late November celebrations such as Thanksgiving, and December celebrations such as Christmas and Las Posadas.

133rd-1 Our book for this week, Miracle on 133rd Street, written by Sonia Manzano and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, focuses on the frantic energy of the yuletide season, as a family tries to find space for their holiday roast. The oven is too small in the family’s tiny, New York City apartment, forcing them to journey through the halls of their apartment complex, seeking help from their diverse neighbors, all of whom are also anticipating and preparing for their own holiday celebrations. The plot of finding space for the holiday roast is what drives the story showing how food facilitates community and brings people together. Food is at the crux of this exciting and endearing plot, as it is for many of us celebrating the holidays.

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¡Mira, Look!: The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos

the storytellers candleSaludos todos, and welcome to my first book review of the year! I’m thrilled to be back writing for the blog, and I’m especially excited for all of this year’s amazing books.

This month we will be celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month while also drawing special attention to the renowned Pura Belpré Award, which recognizes outstanding works of Latinx children’s literature, and is celebrating its 20th year in 2016. The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. In our celebration of this prestigious award and its recipients, we will also be celebrating Pura Belpré herself.

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¡Mira Look!: Author’s Corner: Oscar Hijuellos

HijuelosSaludos todos! This week we are taking the time to feature the renowned, Cuban-American author, Oscar Hijuelos, and his body of work. Like with our previous authors, we take this time to feature the breadth of the author’s collective oeuvre, as well as the more personal aspects of his life and legacy.

Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013) is a Cuban-American author who wrote several adult and young adult books, mostly focusing on Latin American protagonists or themes. Hijuelos was the first Latino to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction when he was recognized for his 1989 novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, which was turned into a movie in 1992. Hijuelos also won the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature in 2000. Through his iconic work, Hijuelos endures as a prominent figure of Latino literature, describing the immigrant experience, questions of identity, and the many hurdles of communication, through witty and endearing prose.

A New York Times piece remembering Hijuelos after his death reflects upon the narrative style and insightful perspectives that appear throughout his novels:

In novels like “Our House in the Last World” (1983), which traces a family’s travails from Havana in 1939 to Spanish Harlem; “Mambo Kings,” about the rise and fall of the Castillo brothers, Cesar, a flamboyant and profligate bandleader, and his ruminative trumpeter brother, Nestor; and “The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien” (1993), about several generations of a Cuban-Irish family in Pennsylvania, he wrote about the non-native experience in the United States from a sympathetic, occasionally amused perspective and with a keen eye for detail in his period settings.

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Writers’ Words: Edwidge Danticat

Claire of the Sealight Danticat

¡Buenos días!

I hope everyone is having a great Thursday! In celebration of this month’s featured book, Claire of the Sea Light, I’ve brought you a visual quote by Edwidge Danticat.

I hope you enjoy it!

¡Saludos!
Kalyn