¡Buenos días! We will close out this month’s Peruvian theme with The Llama’s Secret: A Peruvian Legend, written and adapted by Argentina Palacios and illustrated by Charles Reasoner. The book is also available in Spanish.
The author, Palacios, builds the following story: a family in the Peruvian highlands has a llama that they cherish very much. The llama makes their lives much easier, particularly because it is able to transport things necessary for the family’s day to day activities. One day, the llama will not eat, even after the father of the family takes him to various fields of enticing grass. Finally, the llama explains to the father that a great flood is coming, and that they need to walk to the highest mountain with his family in order to escape it. Along the way, the llama tells all of the animals they encounter about the flood. As a result, pairs of animals walk in a line to the top of the mountain. The most stubborn of the animals, the foxes, do not believe the llama’s tale. The disbelieving foxes go leisurely, so slowly that in the end the tips of their tails stay in the water. It is for that reason that foxes have black-tipped tails. While the animals are atop the mountain, and just as the lake nearly reaches them, everything goes dark; they are experiencing a solar eclipse. During this time, the animals are afraid that Inti, the sun, has died. However, the llama assures them that it is only resting in the waters of the great lake, Mamacocha.
¡Buenos días! After having spent the past three months in Cusco, Peru learning the Quechua language and conducting research for my master’s thesis, I’ve decided to focus on Peru for the ¡Mira, Look! book reviews this month. I hope to share with you how my experiences in Peru have influenced my perception of these children’s books!
I’ll be kicking off the Peruvian children’s book reviews with Kusikiy: A Child from Taquile, Peru, written and illustrated by Mercedes Cecilia. The book is about a child named Kusikiy and his environment on Taquile Island of Lake Titicaca. The story begins with an introduction of the different family members’ household and societal roles, in addition to traditions situated on Taquile Island. The illustrations are colorful and filled with symbols and images integral to highland Peruvian life, such as potatoes, wool, looms, thatched roofs, hummingbirds and musical instruments like the quena. In the story, Kusikiy worries about the delayed arrival of the rains for the continuance of the agricultural cycle. Thus, he embarks upon a journey to help with the appearance of the Llama Constellation, which announces the yearly arrival of the rainy season in highland Peru.
Kusikiy draws attention to how the “trees are wilting, the birds are silent and the wind is hot and dry,” demonstrating the interconnectedness of all aspects of life and the environment with the agricultural cycle, which directs Andean life. The first person Kusikiy looks to for guidance in his search for the Llama Constellation is his great grandmother, Yatiri, emphasizing the necessary role of elders in the community as knowledge-keepers. He then looks to his great grandfather, Kuriwallpa, for help in finding the Llama Constellation. In the end, Kusikiy decides “to bring an offering to the APU, the Guardian Spirit of the Great Glacier” to ask him for rain. His mother suggests that he “bring an offering of flowers, potatoes and quinoa for the APU.”
After his fantastical journey to the glacier, Kusikiy is able help bring the rains to Taquile Island. With the coming of the Llama Constellation and the rain, community members spend the night dancing and playing music. The book highlights the importance of actions associated with the agricultural cycle, and how each being and element of the Taquile environment has a purpose in its continuance. It also demonstrates the importance of celebration with the changing of the seasons. Continue reading
American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood
Written by Marie Arana
Published by Bantam Dell
Age level: Adult
Amongst many other things, Marie Arana, author of American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, is a brilliant storyteller. American Chica, her memoir, tells the story of a childhood, growing up with a Peruvian engineer and aristocrat for a father and an American musician as a mother. She begins with slowly discussing and dissecting her family structure: her perfect sister and her adventurous brother, her two parents who seem, at times, so different from each other, and her role. In the end, it’s not only a beautiful narrative of her background, it’s also a telling tale of the lineage of a family and the connection of two different cultures that offer distinctly divergent ideas of what it means to be “American.”
Wendy Gimbel, author of the New York Times book review for American Chica, stated:
“One of the many reasons the reader can’t put this memoir down is the author’s impressive command of her craft. “Storytelling,” the critic Walter Benjamin once wrote, “sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way handprints of the potter cling to the dry vessel.” Arana has left her own imprint on her material, while at the same time displaying virtuosity in the storyteller’s traditional gifts: sparseness, clarity and a passion for allegory.”
Lost City Radio
Written by Daniel Alarcón
Published by Harper Perennial
Age level: Adult
As many of you may know, we are really excited to be reading adult books every other month in the Vamos a Leer book group. Although we love(!) young adult novels, choosing older books allows us to expand our reading list and discussions. These books draw on many of the themes that we discuss for younger readers, but tackle them in more complicated and nuanced narratives. Personally, this serves as our own form of professional development, contributing to our own background knowledge. In the end, these novels can allow us as educators to be more empathetic and understanding as we extend ourselves to really connect with some of the students and issues with whom and which we work.
Our first adult selection, and the book I will be reviewing today, is the 2008 novel Lost City Radio from Peruvian-American writer Daniel Alarcón. I first read Lost City Radio nearly three years ago after I had read his then newly-released novel At Night We Walk in Circles. I think I can speak for many when I say after you read Alarcón for the first time, you don’t stop. Instead, you find his other novel, his short stories, his podcast and his news articles fluttering through some of the most respected spheres on the internet, and you devour them. He is an intoxicating author and writes with such a beautiful simplicity, a created simplicity, that puts the reader directly into an experience and makes reading almost effortless.
Lost City Radio is set in an unnamed capital city in an unnamed Latin American country, and here we encounter Norma, the voice of the unnamed nation. Unlike the magical realism sometimes associated with fictional settings in Latin American literature, this novel is painfully realistic and political. Although set in an unnamed Latin American country, it represents Alarcón’s Peruvian homeland and draws on the country’s history of conflict and civil war. To read more about how Alarcón’s novel responds to history, see the Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Spring 2007. In some ways, we can read the novel as an intimate narrative of Peru. Continue reading
Doesn’t the title say it all? It’s an International Children’s Digital Library. And it’s free! Books are searchable by country and award-winning, as well as through the traditional categories. North and Central America have 493 titles; South America has 103.
While browsing I came across a lovely little book in Spanish that was released in 1995. It’s titled “Intik’a: How the Taquileo island was not an island but a very tall mountain that was called Intik’a” and was written by Cronwell Jara Published by the North American Cultural Institute of Peru (ICPNA) & National Library of Peru (BNP), it ” is a magic story where men, birds, and gods talk and then create a document in which they describe the mythical thought of the people of the south Peruvian Andes.” The author, Jara, has been recognized for adopting a “perspective related to a view of authority as an oppressing force” and for elevating “ordinary men and women to the category of heroes” (Núria Vilanova, “The Emerging Literature of the Peruvian Underclass,” in Bulletin of Latin American Research 17(1), 1998).
Did I mention that the site authors have suggested teachers incorporate these books into their classroom through group story reading? If you have an Internet connection and projector, students could read right along with you and enjoy the illustrations being larger-than-life.
Since the very first book I chose proved to be a gem of beautiful verbal illustration and tacit social justice, I’m going to keep searching to see what other gems are in this free digital library.