By Jorge Argueta
(House of Anasazi Press)
The poetry of Jorge Argueta, a children’s book writer based in San Francisco is whimsical, lively, and instructive on cooking edibles that are accessible to kids. A Native Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Argueta writes bilingual books, in Spanish and English, spotlighting traditional dishes with fanciful verse.
Each book includes a recipe for the dish named in the title, as told by a child narrator recounting the tale of learning to cook the dish with her family. Argueta utilizes vivid imagery sure to keep a child’s attention: cilantro trees must be washed, avocado boats slide down a sour river of lime, Maya and Aztec corn kernels dance in the pot. But it is difficult to recreate the dreamy and frenetic fun of his prose without simply quoting him. From a recipe for Arroz Con Leche:
￼￼￼￼Don’t forget the salt and the sugar.
Take the salt cellar and dance around.
Shake it until little stars come out.
Next it’s time to add
more clouds and sugar snow.
No olvides la sal y el azúcar
Toma el salero y bailando
agítalo hasta que salgan estrellitas.
Después te toca anadir
mas nubecitas y nieve del azucarero.
In the kitchen.
Salt stars and sugar snow
are falling from your hand.
en la cocina.
Están cayendo estrellitas
y nieve de tu mano.
In a similar fashion, Argueta instructs on how to make guacamole, salsa, and tamalitos in his other books from this series. Each features a different illustrator, all of whom are up to the task of bringing visual life to Argueta’s extraordinary words. In particular, Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations in Salsa, inspired by pre-Columbian and Mixtec paintings, are exquisite.
By Joe Hayes, Illustrated by Esau Andrade Valencia
(Cinco Puntos Press 2013)
If children’s books are to teach a lesson, the moral of Don’t Say a Word/No Digas Nada, Mamá is on the virtue of sharing. A spin on the Gift of the Magi, it is the story of two sisters named Rosa and Blanca. As children, they were always helping each other perform the tasks assigned by their mother.
As adults, Rosa got married and had three children, while Blanca remained single and lived on her own. One year, the two of them planted gardens, and each helped the other pick her bountiful produce. Rosa reasoned that Blanca did not have a husband and children to help her out, and told her mother that she would give half of her tomatoes, chiles and corn to Blanca. When giving some produce to her mother, Rosa told her of this plan, but asked her to keep it a surprise: “No digas nada, Mama.”
On the other hand, Blanca decided that Rosa had more mouths to feed, and she set out to secretly give half of her produce to her sister. Likewise, she asked her mother to keep it a secret. The two crossed paths in the dark of night, stowing into each other’s kitchens to deliver their edibles.
Each sister, in response to the inexplicable proliferation of tomatoes and corn on her kitchen counter, gave even more produce to Mamá. At first, Mamá kept the secrets of her daughters from each other, until the day she ended up with mountains of hot chiles—which is when she decided to reveal what each sister had been up to.
Hayes grew up in southern Arizona, and his stories are inspired by the storytelling tradition of the American Southwest. Esau Andrade Valencia’s illustrations are lovely, with soft expressive faces as the central theme. Valencia is originally from Tepic Nayarit, Mexico, and his folk art style echoes Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera. Visual beauty, humor, storyline, and a moral come together in this excellent book for kids.
By Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford,
Illustrated by Antonio Castro L.
(Cinco Puntos Press 2015)
A story truly rooted in Tucson, Rivera-Ashford tells a tale of a grandfather who is known for using traditional herbs as homeopathic treatments for various ailments. In both English and Spanish, the book is practical and useful, as well as entertaining for children.
Tata, as the child narrator relates, has been treating neighbors and family members since he was a young man. When the narrator’s little sister is stung by a bee, Tata packs her arm with mud and makes a wrap out of cloth soaked in corn silk. He makes a powder out of cat’s claw pods for diaper rash, a rinse from elderberry blossoms for itchy eyes, and marigold blossom and hummingbird flower tea to treat a fever.
Perhaps even more valuable than the medical advice is the lesson in cross-cultural diversity. One of the neighbors who comes to Tata for treatment is a recent immigrant from Angola. For children whose first language is English, the Spanish text offers encouragement to learn another language prevalent in our region.
This melting-pot approach comes naturally to the author. Rivera-Ashford’s Jewish ancestors settled in Nogales years ago, and she taught school in the border region for 30 years before retiring in Tucson. Her themes are deeply tied to the varying cultures of the border—another book, Hip Hip Hooray, It’s Monsoon Day!/Ajua, Ya Llego El Chubasco! celebrates the rainy season here in the desert. ✜
Molly Kincaid is a Tucsonan who is obsessed with tinkering in the kitchen and reading cookbooks. Her favorite foods are, paradoxically, kale and pork belly.