"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story

The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story
Author: Rudolfo Anaya
Illustrator: Amy Cordova
Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
ISBN-10: 0826342140

Rudolfo Anaya, author of one of my all-time favorite books, Bless Me Ultima has written a magical and lovely folktale about the origins of that of us Mexicanos/Chicanos, the delicious tortilla. The First Tortilla is the story of Jade, an indigenous girl that lives in a small village near a volcano. Her village has been suffering through a drought and all their squash and bean plants are dying. Jade prays to the Mountain Spirit to bring rain so that the precious plants will live and her village won’t go hungry.

As Jade works in the garden, a blue hummingbird brings a message to go find the Mountain Spirit and ask for rain. Without a question for her safety Jade sets off, braving the volcano and follows the hummingbird to the very top where she meets the Mountain Spirit. She offers the spirit food made by her own hand and he is so pleased with it that he gives her the gift of corn which the ants have in a cave.

Jade tastes the corn and finds it to be sweet and delicious. She takes it back to the village and plants it. As the prayed for rain comes, the corn grows alongside beans, squash and chiles. Jade grinds the harvested dried corn, adds water and makes masa. She puts it on a comal or griddle and the smell soon permeates the village. Her parents taste it and find the corn tortilla to be wonderful. Soon Jade is teaching everyone how to make the tortillas and the people have a new staple.

I loved this story. It has elements of old Aztec legends like the ants in the cave with the corn. It gives a feel to how important water was and is to people. It tells how water was so important that people would move from a village if there was no rain. Children will get a sense of the importance of the tortilla as a staple.

Amy Cordova’s rich and colorful illustrations give a beautiful insight into the village life. Her depcitions of those beautiful indigenous faces are just amazing and give children a sense of how they lived and dressed.

I loved how the hummingbird, such an important figure in Aztec mythology was incorporate into the tale. This book is bilingual and the translation by Enrique R. Lamadrid is smooth and almost effortless. The book is recommended for ages 9-12 but I think children of pre-school age will love this book just as much. The bright colors and stunning illustrations are sure to capture their eyes and interest as much as the story read to them will capture their imagination and heart. Highly recommended.

Book Description from the publisher:

The First Tortilla is a moving, bilingual story of courage and discovery. A small Mexican village is near starvation. There is no rain, and the bean and squash plants are dying.

Jade, a young village girl, is told by a blue hummingbird to take a gift to the Mountain Spirit. Then it will send the needed rain.

Burning lava threatens her, but Jade reaches the top of the volcano. The Mountain Spirit is pleased. It allows the ants in a nearby cave to share their corn with Jade. The corn was sweet and delicious and Jade took some back to save the village.

Jade grinds the dry corn, adds water, and makes dough. She pats the masa and places it on hot stones near the fire. She has made the first tortilla. Soon the making of corn tortillas spreads throughout Mexico and beyond.

Reading level: grade 3 and up

The story of a young Mexican girl who saves her village by making the first tortilla with the help of the Mountain Spirit.

About the Author
Rudolfo Anaya, widely acclaimed as one of the founders of modern Chicano literature, is professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico. Anaya was presented with the National Medal of Arts for literature in 2001 and his novel Alburquerque (the city's original Spanish spelling) won the PEN Center West Award for Fiction. He is best known for the classic Bless Me Ultima. Amy Córdova is an instructor for the Taos Institute of Arts, Taos, New Mexico. She wrote and illustrated Abuelita’s Heart. Enrique R. Lamadrid is professor of Spanish folklore and literature at the University of New Mexico. In 2005, he was awarded the Americo Paredes Prize by the American Folklore Society in recognition of his work as a cultural activist.

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