The Piñata that the Farm Maiden Hung by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Sebastià Serra

The Piñata that the Farm Maiden Hung 
illustrated by Sebastià Serra
Purchased with grant funds for my library
A companion to Vamos's  2012 winner of the Pura Belpré  honor award winner, The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, The Piñata that the Farm Maiden Hung is also inspired by "The House that Jack Built," and once again uses the same wonderful pattern of presenting a word in English on one page, then repeating it in Spanish on the next. Here is the text from the first two pages to give you an idea:

This is the boy 
who shaped the clay 
to make the PIÑATA 
            that the farm maiden hung. 

This is the horse 
that hauled the water
and carried the NIÑO
who shaped the BARRO
to make the PIÑATA
            that the farm maiden hung. 
Before the title page, readers see a girl in her room, marking off the day on her calendar, the title page showing her heading off with a basket on her arm, presumably to the market. Now her family can begin preparing for her surprise birthday party! With the help of a horse (who carries the agua), a goose (who mixes the pasta), a cat (who shreds the papel), and a sheep (who braids the cuerda), the boy creates the piñata. The farmer carves the alebrijes, which back matter (which also includes instructions on how to make a piñata and pronunciations) tells readers are Oaxacan-Mexican folk art "wooden animal and imaginary-creature figurines carved from wood and hand-painted with vibrant colors." Together with the farm maiden, the family decorates the yard, makes more decorations and fills the piñata. When the birthday girl arrives, they all yell, "¡SOPRESA!" and, "¡Feliz cumpleaños!" The final page shows the birthday girl hitting the piñata while the party goers sing the Piñata Song, which Vamos shares in English and Spanish.
As I read through this book, I was so excited to see so many aspects of Latinx culture on the page, but I was also puzzled from time to time. First of, I did wonder why Vamos used the word "maiden," which has a European, or at the least medieval, feel to it. Next, I wondered at the significance of the alebrijes and wondered if they would be put inside the piñata (sadly, we never see what goes into the piñata), as well as the cascarones, the confetti filled egg shells which are never named as such in the text itself, but named and defined in the back matter. Then, there was the papel picado, again, not named as such in the text. But, working within the confines of the "House that Jack Built" pattern, I could see how it would be challenging to pack all this in. Then I did what I always do when reviewing a book - see what other people think of it. I always start with Kirkus, a publishing industry resource that offers concise, thoughtful reviews that are almost always aligned with my thinking. While they gave The Cazuela that the Maiden Stirred a starred review in 2011, the review was very critical of this book, citing cultural inaccuracies, pointing to Barcelona-based Serra's European, rather than Mexican, images as inauthentic. Stunned and ready to skip reviewing this book, I decided to consult one more source and discovered this review at Latinx in Kid Lit. Reviewer Dora M. Guzmàn, a bilingual reading specialist who also teaches a college course on children's literature wrote, "Overall, I am forever grateful for this, a book that authentically reflects a Latinx culture," going on to share a generous list of teaching tips and ways to use the book in the classroom.

So, with these two very different reviews guiding me, I decided to review this book because, despite (possibly? probably?) culturally inauthenticities and "Anglicized pronunciations" this kind of book is rare, both for content and for the potential conversations it can start with students about culture, cultural differences and representation. And, I definitely plan to read and review The Cazuela that the Maiden Stirred!

The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred
illustrated by Rafael Lopez

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