4.6 3
by Ann Cameron

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When Tzunún was little, her mother nicknamed her Colibrí, Spanish for “hummingbird.” At age four, Colibrí is kidnapped from her parents in Guatemala City and ever since she’s traveled with Uncle, the ex-soldier and wandering beggar, who renamed her Rosa. Uncle told Rosa that he looked for her parents, but never found them.See more details below


When Tzunún was little, her mother nicknamed her Colibrí, Spanish for “hummingbird.” At age four, Colibrí is kidnapped from her parents in Guatemala City and ever since she’s traveled with Uncle, the ex-soldier and wandering beggar, who renamed her Rosa. Uncle told Rosa that he looked for her parents, but never found them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Achieving an almost hypnotic intensity, this taut novel invites readers to sample both savory and bitter flavors of Guatemalan culture as Cameron (The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods) creates a melting pot of mixed values, religions and races, where both the pure and not-so-pure of heart have faith in a spirit world. The narrator, a 12-year-old girl, navigates an uncertain, mysterious world; in bits and pieces, the author reveals that Tzunun (Mayan for "hummingbird," which is colibri in Spanish) was kidnapped at age four, while her family was visiting Guatemala City. In the intervening eight years, Tzunun has wandered from village to village with the man she knows only as "Uncle." Most of her early childhood has slipped from her memory, but she does remember that the "first job" her mother gave her was "to be honest." Cameron's understated prose eloquently expresses the complex, interdependent relationship between Tzunun and her kidnapper, who remain linked even though they feel little affection for each other. Tzunun does not leave Uncle because she is afraid of being alone, and Uncle keeps close watch over Tzunun because a fortuneteller predicted that she will lead him to treasure some day. Tension mounts as Tzunun is pressured to lie, cheat and eventually steal for Uncle. In the end, her strong morality is both a saving grace and a threat to her survival, freeing her from Uncle but putting her in danger of his vengeance. Tzunun's struggle to stay true to herself is moving and suspenseful. If the protagonist's final destiny feels somewhat contrived, her growth is convincing nonetheless. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Kidnapped at the age of four by a con man who keeps her only because he has been told she will lead him to a treasure, Colibrí, now called Rosa, yearns for her parents, even after eight years. She has always been obedient to "Uncle" but now, at the age of twelve, he takes her to a town where he and a friend plot to steal a valuable statue from a church. Rosa senses this is wrong and tells the priest. Uncle and his friend are imprisoned, but he escapes and goes in search of her. The suspenseful conclusion will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Cameron creates a vivid picture of the Guatemalan landscape and gives insight into the cultural life of the people. The influence of the ancient Mayan culture brings an element of mysticism which is key to the story. The terror created by the late twentieth-century political situation is presented in a flashback that relates the events of a massacre of innocent people. Cameron never sensationalizes the events. They are presented as testament to the character of Uncle. She puts all these elements together in a smoothly written and compelling coming-of-age story with a memorable heroine. 2003, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 12 to 15.
— Sharon Salluzzo
Cameron has lived in Guatemala for 20 years and she obviously understands the people and their history and culture well. Colibri is the voice of the story; she is a twelve-year-old girl on the streets with her "uncle" who is a beggar, a petty thief. Colibri does whatever her uncle wants her to do as they travel from village to village, because although she has vague memories of a time before, when she was a little child in a loving home, by now she has become enslaved to the wishes of this selfish man. The book is about how she finds herself, because by the end of the story she is able to defy her uncle. The tension builds as Colibri and the uncle move in with Raimundo, who plots the theft of a statue in the local church. He lies to the naïve, trusting Colibri to enlist her help. But she knows stealing is wrong, and she gets the courage to report the robbery to the local priest, which results in the imprisonment of her "uncle." Afraid of what the man will do if he gets out of jail, she goes on the run with Raimundo's dog as a companion, learning to think for herself for a change. A midwife healer takes her in (which is perhaps why I associate this book with The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman) and prepares her for the final confrontation with the enraged "uncle" once he escapes from prison. The life on the streets and in the simple homes of Guatemala is described clearly, as is the mixture of cultures—Indian and Spanish—including vocabulary, clothes, and religion. The plight of Colibri as a kidnapped child whose spirit has been nearly destroyed is painfully real, which is why her ability to reconnect to people who love and respect her is such a treasure for readers. She is able todiscover the person she truly is, and move away from the obedient ghost-child she had become. KLIATT Codes: J*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 228p.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Twelve-year-old Tzunun Chumil is called Rosa Garcia by "Uncle" Baltasar who allegedly saved her from abandonment at age four. Traveling throughout Guatemala, Rosa must guide Baltasar around the towns as he begs for money disguised as a blind beggar. Rosa has a difficult time following Uncle's lying schemes as she remembers that long ago her mother raised her to be honest. Uncle and his best friend, Raimundo, plot to take a 400-year-old statue, Holy Mar'a of the Lilies, from a church. They tell her that they merely want to fix termite holes, but Rosa doubts their story. Up to this point, Rosa has been quiet, and Uncle keeps her around because for years Day-Keepers (seers) have told him that she will bring him a treasure. Rosa finally decides to reveal their plan to the priest. This event transforms Rosa, Uncle, and the entire community. Throughout the novel by Ann Cameron (Farrar, 2003), Rosa comes to realize that women's roles in Guatemalan society are changing and they have a right to be heard. By the end of story, Rosa discovers that she was kidnapped by Uncle and, with the help of the Day-Keeper, is finally reunited with her parents. Actress Jacqueline Kim narrates the production with a powerful voice, allowing listeners to feel as if Rosa is sharing her thoughts with them. She employs a variety of intonations to bring all the characters to life. Native vocabulary and colloquial expressions are well pronounced, bringing all the characters to life. An engrossing read well executed on tape.-Beth McGuire, Fannett-Metal School District, Willow Hill, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Twelve-year-old Tzunún barely remembers her life before Uncle, but what she does remember features a loving mother and father. Uncle is far from loving, traipsing her over the Guatemalan countryside and forcing her to assist him in fraudulent and humiliating begging schemes. Life with Uncle is barely a life, but he's the only security she has. His conviction that Tzunún will bring him fortune leads him first to consult a fortune-teller for confirmation and then to force Tzunún to assist in a church robbery. These two encounters force Tzunún to examine herself and finally to reject submission, as she first thwarts the robbery and then flees to live with Do-a Celestina, the fortune-teller-until the destiny that she shares with Uncle exerts itself. Tzunún is an entirely sympathetic narrator, her heartbreakingly ingenuous voice at turns describing modern-day rural Guatemala, and plumbing her own moral depths with complete believability. Readers will ache with her longing for love and her need to claim her own individual humanity. Painful, beautiful, and ultimately triumphant. (Fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Readers Circle Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.24(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


The Valley

Moss and bright grasses glistened around the spring. The earth smelled as if it were singing.
I scooped up water in my hands and drank.

We ate our last pieces of dry bread. I shook the crumbs out of my shawl, folded it into a square, and put it on my head to shade my eyes.

"Let's go, Rosa," Uncle said.

He always called me Rosa. My real name, Tzunœn, was a secret I had almost forgotten.

The road was narrow. We walked on, Uncle carrying our belongings on his back in the black suitcase with the broken zipper. So nothing would fall out, he'd stuffed the suitcase inside a rope bag with a carrying strap. The leather strap went around his forehead and left a mark there.

We were in the Ixil Valley, in the high mountains of Guatemala where it rains a lot and sometimes there's frost in the winter. Beside us was a forest of tall pines with flowers in the sunlit spaces—tiny star-shaped red ones, shaggy purple ones with rough raggedy leaves, and seven-foot-tall yellow daisies. The daisies were my favorite, the way they bent their heads and seemed to smile at me.

There were rocks all around, too—enormous boulders that had tumbled down the mountains in ancient times and got to flatter land and just hit a place where they stuck.

Pinecone seeds sprouted on top of boulders, driving their roots into the rock. They'd cracked some boulders wide open.

The seeds in pinecones are lighter than a grain of sand. Sometimes I'd held them in my hand and blown them away, as if they were fine grains of dust. Yet they had the power deep inside them to split rock. Power silent and invisible, but real as the mountains. What was it? Where did it come from?
I wanted to ask Uncle, but I didn't. He disliked questions. Sometimes for whole days he hardly talked.
Uncle said he was a ladino. That is, he claimed he had some Spanish ancestors way back, as well as Mayan ones—and he said that made him moody and gave him a blood disease. He said his Spanish blood hated his Mayan blood, and his Mayan blood hated his Spanish blood, and they were together in him fighting all the time.

I didn't see how that could be. Blood is blood.

We walked along by pastures where sheep were grazing—white ones and black ones, grown ones and little lambs just learning to walk. I thought they were sweet, but I kept that to myself. Uncle called the people he didn't like—which was most people—"stinking sheep." I figured that meant he didn't like sheep.
Behind us a pickup tore up the road, the grinding of its motor eating the stillness of the forest. We moved out of the way and it rocked along beside us, drowning the smell of grass and pines in smoke. The driver glanced at us, slowing down to see if we wanted a ride. A lot of passengers were already in the back, holding on tight to an iron frame welded to the pickup bed, but there would have been room for us.

Uncle waved the driver on.

That was one of the hard parts of being with Uncle. I could never tell what he would do. Often he would accept a ride, and at the end, when the driver was collecting money from everybody, he would try to sneak away without paying. Other times, even if he had money, he'd turn a ride down and just keep walking as if he could walk to the end of the world.

He was a fast walker. When I was little and couldn't keep up, he used to get mad and say he would give me away.

My sandals were tight and hurt my feet. I was growing fast. Too fast, Uncle said.

I didn't know exactly how old I was, because I had lost track. Uncle figured I was twelve.

We kept walking, and pretty soon we were standing on a ridge, looking down into a valley where a town was spread out like the flat bottom of a bowl. We could see tile and tin roofs of houses, and a big white church in the center of town.

"Nebaj," Uncle said. It was a place I'd never heard of. He hadn't told me where we were going.
Uncle got out his machete and hacked down a sapling at the side of the road. He trimmed it into a walking stick.

We started the descent to Nebaj, Uncle striding along, swinging the stick. The town had looked close, but the road down was long and winding. We got to a scattering of houses, and the dirt road fixed itself up fancy, just as a person would going to town. It became a street of smooth paving stones, lined with low houses painted in yellows and reds and blues.

The sun was low in the west, and the day was getting cool. We stood in the dark shadow of the houses. I took my shawl off my head and wrapped it around me. Uncle held out his walking stick, and I took hold of one end of it. I had to.

He was starting in on being blind.

I didn't mind so much when he got to a town and turned lame, or deaf and dumb. When he turned blind, that was the worst. He wouldn't tell me which way to go. But if I went the wrong way, he would get mad and poke at me with the stick.

"To the church," he said.

I guessed which way it was and walked ahead of him. Uncle followed, holding the other end of his walking stick, his chin raised high and a dead look in his eyes.

One day, we were in a town where I saw a girl helping her father, who was really blind, but you could hardly tell it.

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