Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred

Seems like I have quite a few picture books to blog about - get ready for some posts on great books, both old and new!  And in the pipeline is another Alice book blog and some nonfiction picture books too, so there's a lot to look forward to this fall!

I think you can tell by now that I have a fondness for Hispanic authors and stories (If you haven't thought about that before, there's reviews here and here.  I've lived in San Diego and the Phoenix area, so I am definitely interested in talking about these books and seeing them succeed.  So I'm here to introduce you to one of the books that has already been mentioned as an outstanding picture book this year.  I'm hopeful it will at least win a Pura Belpre award, if not a Caldecott, too!

The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred is set up in a cumulative rhyme pattern.  I know preschool and primary grade teachers salivate when they hear that a new book is written in a cumulative pattern.  At my old library, we put together themed boxes of books for teachers.  We dreaded seeing "cumulative books" on the request slip.  There is no easy way to search for these books since there isn't really a subject heading.  You would have to rely on web bibliographies or your own memory to find these books.  For those of you who might not know what a cumulative book is, it's a book that is constructed like the nursery rhyme "The House that Jack Built", where things are added on with each stanza, but the stanza is primarily a retelling of everything that's come before.  It's always worth mentioning when a book works successfully in this pattern.

It begins, of course, with the farm maiden, who is leaping on the title page as she begins the stirring.  Each page introduces both an animal and the ingredient they are adding to the pot in English (the majority of the text is in English).  On subsequent pages, the animal and the ingredient are incorporated into the text in Spanish.  Vamos uses the text itself to emphasize the Spanish words - each noun is at the end of a line, formatted in bold, larger text.  It draws your attention to the Spanish vocabulary.  For non-Spanish speakers, there is a certain amount of comfort in the fact that they have already seen the word in English.  That way parent can point to the animal or ingredient when it is repeated in Spanish.  Also included for non-Spanish speakers is a glossary with pronunciations located at the end of the story.
Speaking of the end of the story, once all of the animals (and a farmer) have added their ingredients to the farm maiden's pot, they have made a traditional Hispanic dish, arroz con leche.  All the animals, farm maiden and farmer enjoy it together in what the jacket flap calls "a bilingual celebration of community and food".  It truly is a celebration, and all of them have given their time and work to make this delicious dish.  Vamos has also included a recipe for arroz con leche (good to know for schools or families who like to present a book and then cook together).

But as much fun as the rhyme is, the illustrations take its exuberance to a higher level.  Lopez chose warm yellows, browns, oranges and reds that evoke a desert landscape.  There is so much to look at in these illustrations for viewers.  There are animals everywhere, interacting with each other in funny ways.  The goat wears a large chef's hat as the cow gives him instructions as the farm maiden milks her.  As the arroz con leche cooks to its finale, all the animals peer longingly into the pot.  The farmer and farm maiden's clothing and home add to the rustic feel of this book.  Everyone is happy to work together and equally happy to eat up their hard work.  Texture is drawn into the illustrations with swirls, dashes and dots.  However, Lopez also uses the background texture of the grained wood he created his paintings on to good effect.  He is expert at evoking smell, movement and emotion in his art.
This book is luscious and highly recommended.  I only hope the committees appreciate this as much as I do!

The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred.  Samantha R. Vamos; illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  Charlesbridge, 2011.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark library

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