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— Book Review —

“The First Tortilla” Title: “The First Tortilla” Author: Rudolfo Anaya Illustrator: Amy Cordova Published: 2007 Publisher: University of New Mexico Press, Bilingual: English and Spanish Children age nine years and older 32 pages, hardcover By Rosanne Boyett Beacon Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Book review articles are available online at Author Rudolfo Anaya has written a charming bi-lingual story that explains the creation of the first tortilla. The protagonist, Jade, is a young girl who follows the message sent from the Mountain Spirit. The messenger is a hummingbird that promises to guide the young girl safely to the mountaintop. Her parents warn her about the dangers of such a journey. But if the angry Mountain Spirit is not appeased with gifts, then the drought will force the entire village to find a new home. “Jade grew sad. She knew the people did not want to leave their village. They had lived at the foot of the volcano for many generations. This had been the home of their ancestors,” wrote Anaya. The young girl decides to take a gift to the angry god. “She warmed a bowl of bean and squash and sprinkled chile powder on the food. ‘I hope this pleases the Mountain Spirit,’ she said.” The journey is frightening but Jade persists and is guided by the hummingbird. The Mountain Spirit responded to her dedication and said, “You are a brave girl. I will send rain. And I will give you a gift. You may have the food the ants store in the cave. ‘The ants carry pebbles,’ Jade said. ‘Look closely,’ the Mountain Spirit whispered.’” The young girl’s adventurous spirit is rewarded, and she returns to her village laden with corn kernels. “During the harvest fiesta the people held a ceremony to thank the Mountain Spirit for giving them corn. They also thanked Jade, the girl who had baked the first tortilla,” according to Anaya’s tale. This beautifully illustrated story relates an ancient Mexican legend, which explains the origins of human reliance on corn as a dietary staple. “The next time you eat a tortilla I hope you appreciate the gift of corn and remember the girl who made the first tortilla,” Anaya tells young readers. “One of the Aztec gods turned himself into a black ant and entered the cave where ants had stored corn. He delivered the grain to the Mexicans, and this became their most important food,” according to the author’s note. “The cultivation of corn made it possible for the great civilizations of Mesoamerica to flourish. . . . Corn, beans, and squash flavored with chile are still a traditional food today,” Anaya explained. The book includes a short English-Spanish glossary. The author chose the protagonist’s name, Jade, because the stone was considered precious in ancient Mexico. Amy Cordova’s lush artwork brings a new perspective to this traditional folktale. World-renowned author Rudolfo Anaya is professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico. The prolific writer is also author of “The Santero’s Miracle” and “Curse of the ChupCabra,” both books for young readers. Amy Cordova has illustrated many children’s stories, including Anaya’s “The Santero’s Miracle.”

The First Tortilla