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by Tony Johnston & illustrated by Karen Barbour

Age Range: 8 - 12

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2003
ISBN: 0-374-30347-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Twenty-nine poems in free verse and haiku celebrate Mexico’s dramatic history and continuing traditions. The poems speak of the ancient rain god Tláloc and the plumed serpent Quetzalcóatl. They reflect on the landing of Hernán Cortés in Veracruz, on the building of colonial churches where saints were given Indian faces, and on the enduring landscape. A young girl with long braids and folkloric dress is featured in many of the illustrations. “On a Jalapeño day—hot, hot, hot—” she drifts out the window and floats over the field where her father plows with an ox. In another poem, “Near the Zócalo” she stands “where the Old Ones / received the sign— / of eagle, serpent, nopal.” The folk-like illustrations in black ink crowd the pages with childlike energy. Although the past infuses the present, the images are primarily rural. A rainy-day traffic jam in Mexico City is depicted with child-like drawings of cars occupied by men in sombreros and women with shawl-covered heads. Nothing is conveyed of the sophistication and energy, the vibrancy, or the daring modern architecture of contemporary Mexico City. A glossary provides pronunciations and brief explanations of people, places, and terms. For many readers, more detailed explanations of the history behind the poems would have been helpful. The poems are competent, but not outstanding. A good addition where books about Mexico are needed. (Poetry. 8-12)