Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: Monica Brown's Clara and the Curandera

Title: Clara and the Curandera / Clara y la curandera
Author: Monica Brown (Arizona, US)
Illustrator: Thelma Muraida (Texas, US)
Publisher: Arte Público / Piñata Books
Ages: 4+

Whenever I felt grumpy or down as a child, my parents suggested that I try helping others in order to get my mind off of myself, and I found that this strategy often did the trick.  Later, as an early childhood teacher, I advised my students to do the same whenever they were having a difficult time escaping a grumpy mood.  In Clara and the Curandera / Clara y la curandera, Monica Brown addresses this topic in a warm, gentle manner that can both counsel and entertain young readers. 

As the story opens, Clara is irritated – at having to take out the trash, at her reading homework, at sharing with her siblings.  Her mother, fed up with Clara’s foul mood, exasperatedly demands that she go see the wise curandera (traditional healer, or, in this case, a wise older woman) down the hall.  When the kind curandera asks her about her problems, Clara confesses that she’s “tired of not having any space to [herself]” (n.p.).  The older woman quickly replies that, in addition to performing all of her regular tasks, she must also take out her elderly neighbors’ trash, share all of her toys with her siblings, and read not one but five books during the next week.  

Reluctantly, Clara agrees, and she soon finds that following the curandera’s instructions has improved her mood.  She suddenly takes great pleasure in helping her neighbors, spending time with her family, and, most of all, reading at the library.  In the end, Clara decides to continue heeding the curandera’s advice.

In addition to teaching children about the joys of giving and learning, this dual language book can help both Spanish and English learners develop their language skills -- especially vocabulary related to emotions (enojada/annoyed, sorprendida/surprised, feliz/happy).  Meanwhile, Thelma Muraida's soft, warm pencil illustrations reinforce the plot, while small retablo-style drawings placed in between the English and Spanish text delight the eye as young readers work their way through the story.

Furthermore, teachers can use this book (and others) to help their students learn more about curanderismo, or the traditional healing arts popular in Latin America and parts of the US with deep Latin@ heritage.  While the curandera in this book simply dispenses wisdom, other curander@s are practitioners of herbal medicines, midwifery, and spiritual healing.  Therefore, this book might be a good addition to learning units about occupations, community helpers, and the diversity of Latin American / Latin@ cultures.  For more resources, please see the links below:


  1. It seems like a great advice that your parents gave you and the Curandera gave to Clara: Focus on others in order for temporarily get your mind of yourself. The illustration on the book cover is very pretty, especially in capturing the facial expressions of the Curandera and Clara.

    1. It's such a sweet book. Sometimes we all need to take a break from focusing on ourselves -- balance is important.