Friday, May 13, 2011

¡Buen provecho!

¡Enjoy your meal! That is the underlying message of The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Rafael López.

Children love a good story with a cumulative text. They love the repetition, and the idea that this is all building up to an exciting surprise. Samantha Vamos takes “The House that Jack Built” formula and adds a brilliant twist: she uses Spanish words in place of key characters and ingredients; each contributes to a delicious meal. Her story of just enough cooks in the kitchen gives children delectable morsels such as mantequilla (butter) and azúcar (sugar), and introduces the pato (duck) who visits the mercado (market) on the back of a burro (donkey).

When I had a chance to interview Samantha Vamos recently about Cazuela, she said that the phrase “the cazuela that the farm maiden stirred” came to her when she was short of ingredients one cold Chicago morning and fantasized that she lived on a farm where everything she needed would be handy. The phrase reminded her of “The House that Jack Built,” and she was on her way from there. But she also wanted to create a bilingual text, and the repetition of this framework allowed her to introduce Spanish words to children and invite them to practice the new vocabulary through the repeated phrases. She also liked the idea of featuring a meal in which everyone played a part and enjoyed the fruits of their joint efforts (unlike the animals in The Little Red Hen, who won’t help and therefore don’t get to eat the results).

The stunning artwork by Rafael López not only helps give visual clues to the Spanish words, but the artist also makes it seem perfectly normal that a cow would coach a goat, who’s stirring the cream into butter in the kitchen. He includes lots of details to be discovered upon return visits to the book, such as the sun’s moods changing from scene to scene, or the burro’s first appearance. A glossary that helps with pronunciation appears at the end, as well as a recipe for… well, I won’t give it away. But it allows children (with a little help) to prepare a classic Mexican dish just the way the farm maiden, farmer and animals do in the book. And Samantha Vamos also prepared an activity guide with word cards featuring Lopez’s divine illustrations.

Can’t you just see a group of friends putting this on as readers’ theater, and popping up with their word card each time the narrative reaches their part? Vamos said that when she visits schools, the kids like to say the repeated part of the text as quickly as possible, like a tongue twister. And that’s the best part of what books give us: new words to adopt as favorites, exotic words that we can exchange with others—like a great meal prepared and shared together. ¡Buen provecho!

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