Monday, October 6, 2014

Review: Jorge Argueta's La Fiesta de las Tortillas

Teachers!  Parents!  Do you want to make read-alouds as educational and informative as possible for your kids?  I'm starting a series of book reviews in which I provide tips for using diverse picture books in the classroom (or at home).  I hope you enjoy them!

Title: La Fiesta de las Tortillas / The Fiesta of the Tortillas
Author: Jorge Argueta (El Salvador)
Illustrator: María Jesús Álvarez (Argentina)
Translators: Joe Hayes & Sharon Franco
Publisher: Alfaguara
Age range: 5+

Who doesn’t love food and a good mystery?  In La Fiesta de las Tortillas / The fiesta of the tortillas, USBBY and Américas Book Award winner Jorge Argueta draws from his childhood experiences to serve up a charming, semi-autobiographical “story full of magic and flavor” (p. 2).  Koki’s family owns a restaurant in rural El Salvador, and each day his aunts and cousins make fresh tortillas for their customers.  One night Koki’s Aunt Toya hears a rhythmic clapping – the sound of someone cheerfully preparing tortillas – coming from the empty kitchen.  

The next day, she asks her sister Rosa about the clapping, and Rosa confirms that she has also heard the mysterious noise.  Each night, the rhythm awakes a different family member who stumbles into the kitchen only to find it dark and empty.  After days of confusion and concern, the women finally realize that the Spirit of Corn has been visiting them.  They embrace the cheerfulness and warmth of the Spirit and get to work together, singing a tortilla-making song they enjoyed when they were younger. 

This side-by-side bilingual text is an excellent support for emergent bilingual children.  Argueta tells his story with delicious, descriptive Spanish imagery, blending rich figurative language, preterit and imperfect verb tenses, and a large helping of food vocabulary (loroco, pimiento, masa, tamales, huevos, frijoles).  A native of El Salvador, Argueta also introduces readers to Salvadoran and Central American vocabulary, like comedor (restaurant), pizcucha (kite), resortera (slingshot), and pupusa (stuffed tortillas).  

Since the language is complex, Joe Hayes’ and Sharon Franco’s English translation below the Spanish text can help young Spanish learners find their way through difficult passages.  María Jesús Álvarez’ intricate illustrations – a combination of earth-toned watercolor and photographic collage that pops with bright blues, reds, and yellows – also reflect and reinforce the text, providing readers with an excellent visual aid.

This book is also replete with cultural information that provides children with an engaging introduction to learning about the Pipil Nahua people, the indigenous group to which Argueta belongs.  Because of the relative absence of indigenous American voices in media and public discourse, many non-indigenous children are unaware that native peoples are still around today, much less that some people of indigenous heritage, like Argueta, still participate in their communities’ traditional beliefs and cultural practices (as evidenced by the Spirit of Corn in this book).  Therefore, La Fiesta de las Tortillas can ease children into a deeper knowledge about the presence of indigenous people in Central America, particularly the Pipil Nahua in El Salvador.  Please see the following links for additional resources:

Interview with Jorge Argueta (Spanish)

Interview with Jorge Argueta (English)

Additional information on Pipil Nahua history, culture, and current events

List of Jorge Argueta's books on Goodreads

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