From School Library Journal
K-Gr 2-Shaw takes readers through the daily activities of a young Guatemalan girl. Elena rises early and dresses in colorful traditional clothing: "The huipil [blouse] is as red as a bursting tomato. The corte [skirt] is blue-black like the beginning of night." Elena has not been able to finish her homework because candles are too expensive; she must watch her younger brother, who finds ways of getting into trouble at every turn; and she is conflicted about handling her numerous chores while trying to keep up in school. Eventually her mother realizes that success in school is worth the price of candles. The author describes the child's worries with empathy and concern that should connect with readers even if theirs are different. While the watercolor illustrations tend to be a bit murky, they are well researched and authentically depict the landscape, clothing, and architecture. There is little on the culture of Guatemala available for young children, and this is a serviceable addition.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
A young girl relates her hardships in learning to read, primarily because of where she lives in western Guatemala with her mother, younger brother, and baby sister while her father is away working on a plantation. Family chores make it difficult for Elena to find time to practice reading as she must help her mother with cooking, planting, weeding, and keeping her young brother from mischief. The plot, however, focuses more on establishing the culture than on the story. Along with other obstacles, Elena faces a language barrier: her mother speaks Mayan and can’t read, while her father speaks the Spanish his daughter is learning in school. Rodanas’ folksy full-page illustrations are richly colored and add plenty of cultural details, though without a stronger narrative, the story sometimes strays into purposeful territory. This entry in the Tales of the World series features a glossary of five Spanish words and an author’s note that cites how the book is fiction but was inspired by a visit to her daughter in the Peace Corps. Grades K-2. --Julie Cummins