Monday, September 29, 2008

Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales (Genre 2-Traditional Literature)

Philip, Neil, ed. 2003. Horse hooves and chicken feet: Mexican folktales. Ill. by Jacqueline Mair. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0-618-19436-0.
Plot Summary
This is a collection of Mexican folktales. The fourteen stories range in length from one to several pages. They also vary greatly in their plots. Some stories sound like the familiar stories of other cultures. Also included is an introduction providing insight as to the reason certain stories were selected for the collection as well as other points of interest concerning Mexican folktales. At the end, Mr. Philip provides notes on the individual stories included in the collection - where the story was collected from, variations on the story, and other tidbits of information pertaining to the story.
Critical Analysis
I found this to be a wonderful collection of authentic folktales. Some seemed to be simply the Mexican version of a traditional tale but even so, all were uniquely suited to the people and culture of Mexico. Some even seemed as though the meaning was somewhat lost in translation; as though the full meaning of the story could only be complete in the story's native language. The common spiritual and religious references to God, the Devil, St. Peter, priests, etc. reflect the strong Catholic presence in the culture. Many stories also reflected other aspects of the culture dating back to the ancient civilations of the area in their personification of the natural world (i.e. the Sun, Moon, and Wind helping the soldier find his true love).

The illustrations of the book further demonstrate the culture of the tales but are not necessarily weaved into the storylines. Being of an oral tradition, the stories stand alone without the aide of illustrations.
Professional Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal From the familiar "Cinderella" variant presented in "The Two Marias" to the Chelm-like stupidity of the "The Mule Drivers Who Lost Their Feet," this richly varied collection presents the unique blend of folkloric elements and Catholicism that defines Mexican folklore. In an informative introduction, Philip delineates the distinctive flavor of Mexican tales, their blend of religion and humor, and the particular pointed bite of many of the stories. The sparkle he discerns in the body of work comes through clearly in his stylish and humorous retellings. Mair's primitive acrylic illustrations, based on Mexican folk art, are alive with bright color and a kinetic sensibility. They both complement and extend the spicy stories, making this a well-put-together package. Clearly superior to the Little Book of Latin American Folktales (Groundwood, 2003), this title is narrower in scope, but the excellence of the text more than compensates for it. The book concludes with detailed notes on each of the stories and an extensive bibliography. All of the stories tell aloud well, which may be the way to introduce this sound and enjoyable volume to youngsters.

From Booklist Philip brings together a useful and attractively presented selection of 14 folktales from Mexico and people of Mexican decent from the American Southwest. The stories are simply yet effectively retold, usually in five or six pages, with many reflecting the strong influence of the Catholic Church on Mexican culture. Adding considerably to the overall appeal of the book are Mair's exuberant illustrations, accomplished in the style of Mexican folk art. Usually, one illustration comprising several images accompanies each story, each image mirroring some action, often in a way that is original and unexpected. Philip's illuminating introduction explains the origins of the tales, with appended notes providing even more background. An extensive bibliography of titles of Mexican folktale collections is appended. A solid collection that may also find an audience among readers who are older than the target audience.
~ This book lends itself to a comparison of traditional tales across various cultures.
~ With so many examples in one book, this can also be used to investigate the elements of traditional literature.
~ As with all literature from the oral tradition, this collection could be used as a practice in storytelling.

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