¡Mira, Look!: Topilitzkuintli/El perro topil

¡Buenos días! Today we will continue our Indigenous Peoples book reviews with Topilitzkuintli/El perro topil. The story is written in Spanish by Elisa Ramírez Castañeda, translated to Nahuatl by Miguel Ángel Tepole, and illustrated by Francisco Toledo. Toledo is a significant Zapotec artist and activist from the Tehuantepec peninsula, and Ramírez Castañeda is a poet, sociologist and translator who works to spread the importance of indigenous cultures in both Native and non-Native communities. She is also author of the book titled La educación indígena en México, where she writes extensively about indigenous peoples of Mexico and their inclusion/exclusion in the Mexican nation and education. Toledo and Castañeda are also married with two children.

This Nahuatl story tells the tale of why dogs always smell each others’ rear-ends when they first meet one another. Kids will find this story silly and entertaining. In the story, dogs have been continually mistreated by humans. To resolve this, they decide to bring a message to the region’s leader, Señor Tlalocan, so that he will punish the humans. They choose one dog that would deliver the message, and name this dog the Perro Topil. Since the Perro Topil will be crossing rivers and mountains, the dogs carefully consider a safe place to keep the message during his journey. In the end, they decid to put it in the Perro Topil’s rear-end. Time goes by, and the message never reaches Señor Tlalocan.  We are to surmise that this explains why, even today, when dogs first meet, they smell each others’ rears in search of the Perro Topil and the message he carries.

I am happy to see the inclusion of Nahuatl in the text, especially since the story itself is from the Nahuatl people. If you are interested in the Nahuatl language and culture, you can check out a post I wrote a few weeks ago about The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan Tonatiuh. This post contains various links about the Nahuatl language, along with other indigenous languages in Mexico.

The paintings in this book are exquisite and exemplary of Francisco Toledo’s painting style. Each turn of the page reveals a new painting extending across two pages. These illustrations provide an opportunity to discuss the Mexican muralist movement, which greatly influenced Francisco Toledo’s work. For those unfamiliar with Mexican muralism, the Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR) website provides useful background information and lesson plans. PBS also has a lesson plan, “The Storm That Swept Mexico | Lesson Plan: Revolutionary Art,” that accompanies a video about the Mexican Revolution; however, the materials can stand alone in regards to their discussion of Mexican muralism. Apart from these lesson plans, students might also benefit from having the chance to discuss the similarities/differences between Toledo and other Mexican muralists.

Saludos,

Kalyn

¡Mira, Look!: The Princess and the Warrior

¡Buenos días!

November is Native American Heritage Month.  Typically, this means that the internet is flooded with underwhelming and endless lists of books highlighting “Indians and Pilgrims” – using this as the only opportunity throughout the year to discuss indigenous peoples of the US, and typically through a distorted lens.

We’re taking a different route, one that will celebrate the lesser-told stories of individual cultures and stories among Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

A brief aside: There are amazing educators out there who are debunking, challenging, and critiquing how to teach Native American Heritage Month in the classroom. A few of them offer resources that we wanted to put at your fingertips: Check Your Curriculum? Are Native Americans in the Past Tense? by Zinn Education Project; Some Thoughts About Native American Month and Thanksgiving by Debbie Reese of the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog; and the Rethinking Columbus guide from Rethinking Schools. These are just a few. As you find others, please add them to the comments below.

Since we at Vamos a Leer have been engaging in this conversation every November for the past few years, we’ve compiled other resources that may be useful to you. You might consider checking out our content on teaching about Indigenous Peoples, as well as our related materials on Rethinking Thanksgiving. And finally, you might refer, too, Reading Roundup of “10 Books About Indigenous Peoples of Latin America” – some of which we’ll cover in more depth in this month’s reviews.

We begin our reviews this month with the children’s book, The Princess and the Warrior, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. This title is an Illustrator Honor Book of the 2017 Pura Belpré Award and a Commended Title for the 2017 Américas Award, among others.

In this book, Tonatiuh tells his own version of the legend of Itzaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl, which are the two volcanoes southeast of Mexico City. Tonatiuh recounts the legend of how these volcanoes came to be, but adds his own twist to this well-known Mexican story.

The book is a love story about the beautiful princes Itza, who falls in love with a warrior, Popoca. Itza’s father, the emperor, prefers that Itza marry a powerful tlatoani, or ruler, rather than a simple soldier. However, he concedes that if Popoca is able to defeat Jaguar Claw of the neighboring area, with whom they have been at war, Itza and Popoca can marry. Although Popoca fights bravely and eventually triumphs over Jaguar Claw, a twist in the plot leads Itza to believe that Popoca has actually been defeated. In her grief, Itza drinks a special octli (fermented beverage) and cannot be awoken. Popoca, grief stricken, lays her on a bed of flowers and remains by her side throughout time. And that is how the two volcanoes came to be. As Kirkus Reviews writes, it’s a story “equal parts melancholic and transcendent – a genuine triumph.” Continue reading