Review

Tortillitas Para Mama
And Other Nursery Rhymes/
Spanish and English
Selected and translated by Betsy L. Bucks (Colombia 1964–66), Margot Griego, Sharon S. Gilbert and Laurel H. Kimball; Barbara Cooney (illustrator)
Henry Holt
1990
32 pages
$5.95

Reviewed by Karen Williams (Malawi 1980-83)

    BRAVO TO THE PUBLISHERS for reprinting this appealing collection of simple Latin American nursery rhymes. Playful verses collected by the authors through the oral tradition are written both in Spanish and English, some with suggestions for finger plays.
         The verses, each only several lines long, provide lovely images as well as pure fun with language. The collection begins with a dream at dawn about an angel. The child wakes to find Mama and a good morning kiss. Near the end of the book the moon appears:

    Ahí viene la luna
    Comiendo tuna,
    Echando las Cáscaras
    En esta laguna    
    Here comes the moon,
    Eating prickly-pear-fruit,
    Throwing the waste
    Into the pond.

         The bilingual experience provides an excellent opportunity for young children to begin to experience and appreciate different languages and cultures.
         Each poem is accompanied by the rich, warm paintings of Barbara Cooney, the well loved master of children’s book illustration. The pictures are simply rendered but full of detail adding an authenticity to the cultural experience.
         Some adult readers may be overly sensitive to one verse where Mama gets the burned tortillitas and the best are saved for Papa. In another verse a little girl may be beaten if she soils her dress. But these experiences, very real for some children and so simply stated, add to the authenticity of this book and will provide thought and discussion for even the youngest readers.
         Today, especially when children are more apt than ever to be sitting in classrooms with children who are immigrants and refugees from far away lands and vastly different cultures, there is a need for this kind of book to be shared. There is too little fine literature published for children today that provides a true meaningful insight, into different cultures. The bilingual component in Tortillas Para Mama is an added bonus.

    Karen Williams, author of the award winning Galimoto and several other books for children about Africa and Haiti, has two new picture books about refugee children due out in 2007.