This is one of my most beloved children’s books.
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun/La mujer que brillaba aún más que el sol is such a beautiful and moving story. It is based upon a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, who was a young Zapoteca poet who spent years collecting the oral traditions of his people. The Zapotecas are great storytellers and the tale of Lucia Zenteno comes from that grand tradition. In 1986 he published his version of this story as a poem and was later killed in 1987 while organizing the Zapotecas to regain their lost water rights.
The book is about Lucia Zenteno, a woman who was so beautiful she outshone the sun. All of nature loved Lucia and in this magical story, the fish in the river and the river itself love her so much that she combs them in and out of her glorious long black hair. The people of the village, however are afraid of her because she is different. They whisper about her and are so cruel in their fear of her. The village elders are different. They warn the villagers that Lucia is a woman in touch with nature and they hurt her at their own peril but the villagers don’t care to listen. She is too different, too odd. Finally, Lucia, hurt by their taunts and whispers, leaves the town followed by her beloved pet iguana.
The river and nature mourn her loss and leave with Lucia caught up in her hair. It is only when the village, now desolate and dry that the villagers repent of their cruelty and seek Lucia out.
The book is fabulously illustrated with lush and magical paintings by the acclaimed painter Fernando Olivera who was a close friend of Alejandro Cruz Martinez. Each page is a fantasy of beautiful Zapoteca indigenous dress, nature, animals and of course, the river which is as much an important character as Lucia Zenteno.
The story has a strong moral message for both adults and children and I cannot help but think that to Cruz Martinez, this story was an allegory for the water rights he died defending as the water plays such an important role. His widow gave Children’s Book Press – a wonderful independent publisher that specializes in multi-cultural books that is based in San Francisco the permission to adapt the story and all royalties are paid out to her.
I encourage everyone to purchase this book and to read it to your children or just enjoy it yourself. It is bilingual in English and Spanish and is just such a beautiful and compelling book.