Monday, February 24, 2014

The Latino Holiday Book, Golemito

The Latino Holiday Book
From Cinco de Mayo to Dia de los Muertos – the Celebrations and Traditions of Hispanic-Americans
Valerie Menard, foreword by Cheech Marin

This is pretty much an encyclopedia of Hispanic holidays. The book I checked out is the updated and expanded second edition, and I am considering purchasing a copy for myself. The book is divided into four seasons, starting with Spring and ending with Winter. Holidays covered include well-known days such as Dia de las Madres and Dia de los Reyes, as well as lesser-known holidays such as Dia de la Raza, and a section of special occasions celebrated all year long, such as Cumpleaños, Bodas and Quinceañeras.  There is also a section on Dia de los Niños, and the author has even included Dia de los Libros, the day that was developed under author Pat Mora in 1997. The traditions are very well described, and there are facts, songs, and other relevant and interesting information in the margins. For example, in the section for Dia de las Madres, the author has included the song Las Mañanitas in the margin, as well as a bit of background information on the tradition of the song and its origins. The Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos section includes information on traditions and compares them to traditions from other cultures. For example, the author mentions the calavera, and describes how it must be approached “with a sense of humor” in celebrating this holiday, instead of as a ghoul or ghost or specter from traditional American beliefs. The author also goes into the background of the art of the day of the dead in very good detail. Each holiday and occasion is covered in such detail, making this a treasure of a book.

Ilan Stavans
Ill. By Teresa Villegas

Sometimes when readers begin to read a book that is set in a certain place or within a certain culture that they know, they will view the book within the culture as they see it. Their experiences may shape their views
of that culture, especially if that culture is their own. This is part of what drew me to this book. One of the books I have previously read, Migrant by Maxine Trottier (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, 2011), reminds me of this, too. Migrant shows us that people don’t always think about Germans living in Mexico and being migrant workers. In the same way, people don’t always think about people in Mexico having beliefs other than Catholic. But the world is a giant melting pot now, and different cultures and beliefs are everywhere.  When I read that this book was about a Golem in Mexico, I wanted to see what this book was about. I find it so interesting to read about different cultures, and I love how this book explores characters with Jewish beliefs who live in Mexico.

The story centers on Sammy Nurko, the friend of the narrator, Ilan, who is brilliant with mechanical inventions. Ilan, while he loves reading and studies Nahuatl in his free time, does not do well in science. Ilan comments that it is not surprising that Sammy was often bullied. I paused to think about this, and I think every reader should. There are two boys bullying Sammy, one of them called a “feline” by Ilan. The bullies begin to steal Sammy’s food, among other things, and when Sammy (cleverly, I think) puts a laxative in his sandwich and the bullies find out that Sammy was the cause of their stomach upset, they vow revenge.

Sammy approaches Ilan (it seems this is the first time the narrator’s name is mentioned) about a story where a rabbit gave life to a clay figurine. One of parts that I really like from this book is when Ilan tells Sammy that this rabbi was alive in the 17th century, “when people believed in magic. Now we believe in Science.” This reminded me of a Witchcraft course I took in college, when the professor stated that we must not make any generalizations or judgments about people or things, ever. Especially about people that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, because in their daily lives, magic was all too real and all too dangerous.

Sammy is going to go through with it, and Ilan tells him “Perhaps you don’t need a golem, just courage.” I love this part as well. Ilam shares his knowledge of Nahuatl with Sammy and the courageous battle poem he has been studying. The golem Sammy creates is an Aztec warrior with a feather crown, shield, and machete. Sammy’s grandmother had a vial of clay from the Dead Sea, and although there was not much, there was enough to model this tiny warrior, a warrior who understands the Nahuatl Ilan has been studying. The warrior begins to do his work and the bullies not only get in trouble, but when Ilan sees them, they look downright scared.

Golemito is soon no longer a small warrior, he grows and grows. Ilan rushes over and calms Golemito wish Nahuatl words and poetry, but he still seems agitated. At school, the students must recite poetry, and Sammy arrives late, bruised and with a torn shirt. He recites the Warrior Song poem calmly in Nahuatly, perfectly. The same poem Ilan admired and had been studying, and the same poem that Ilan had read to Golemito form the night before.

Sammy tells Ilan that the only way he found to put Golemito to sleep was by reciting the poem over and over. As Golemito turned to dust, Sammy saw him smile. And he reveals to Sammy that his favorite part is “within myself I discover this.” I love that the author included the Aztec warrior smiling as he turned to dust. It was as if he wanted Sammy to see that within him he has the strength and the courage, and that when he saw that Sammy knew the poem by heart, he knew that Sammy would understand, and he smiled. An absolutely beautiful story with equally beautiful illustrations, and great for learning about cultures, beliefs, bullies, friendship, and so much more.

No comments:

Post a Comment