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The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story

The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story

by Rudolfo Anaya, Amy Córdova (Illustrator), Enrique R. Lamadrid (Translator)

Jade is a young girl who lives in a village next to a towering volcano. On its peak lives a Mountain Spirit who makes his presence known by rumbling the earth, filling the sky with smoke, and pouring lava down the mountainside. Angered by those who forget to honor him for providing their harvest, the Mountain Spirit has stopped sending rain to Jade's village and


Jade is a young girl who lives in a village next to a towering volcano. On its peak lives a Mountain Spirit who makes his presence known by rumbling the earth, filling the sky with smoke, and pouring lava down the mountainside. Angered by those who forget to honor him for providing their harvest, the Mountain Spirit has stopped sending rain to Jade's village and the people are faced with the possibility of having to abandon their homes and land.

As Jade collects water from the near-dry lake, a blue hummingbird--a messenger from the Mountain Spirit--tells Jade she must take a gift to the Mountain Spirit and ask for rain. Guided by the hummingbird, Jade presents her food offering to the Mountain Spirit. Pleased, the spirit offers the brave girl corn kernels that she takes back to her village and uses to create the first tortilla.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Ramirose I. Attebury
As the squash and bean crops of her family's village begin to die from lack of water, Jade receives a fortuitous visit from a tiny blue hummingbird. The little creature convinces Jade that she must undertake a journey to the Mountain Spirit and ask for water for her village. Although her parents tell her it is too dangerous for a girl to survive such a trek, Jade knows that the Mountain Spirit is angry at her village for failing to make offerings. She therefore sets off with a gift to appease the controller of rain. Because of her bravery, Jade not only saves the village from drought but she also brings back a gift of her own from the mountain: corn. By drawing on an old Mexican legend, Anaya creates a new story with a female heroine that will entertain and instruct children about gratitude and bravery. Beautiful, colorful, and creative, the illustrations will delight readers as much as the text. A glossary at the end of the book helps readers understand some of the Spanish words used in the English version of the text. This book would make a good addition to any public or school library. Reviewer: Ramirose I. Attebury
Children's Literature - Gwynne Spencer
In the Mexican village where Jade lives, the Mountain Spirit of the volcano is angry because the villagers have failed to honor him. So the rains do not come. Without the rains, there is no food, so the people face starvation. A blue hummingbird tells Jade she can succeed in climbing the mountain to ask that the Mountain Spirit send rain. Jade takes a bowl of beans and squash with some chili powder sprinkled on it as an offering. She endures the quest, mentored by the blue hummingbird. Jade's bowl of beans and squash is acceptable tribute, and the Mountain Spirit agrees to send rain. Jade is also given a gift of food stored in a cave by ants. Jade returns to the village with yellow, blue, red, and white corn, a new food the villagers learn to grow—although the text says, "They scattered kernels of corn in their garden and said a prayer of thanks," and corn must be planted; scattering just does not do the trick—Dried kernels are crushed in the metate with the mano. Jade adds water to make masa, pats out a pancake, cooks it on a hot stone near the fire, and everyone eats. Jade names it "tortilla," but there is no mention of the original Huichol word or what a "torta" is. Jade goes from home to home teaching women to make tortillas. During the harvest fiesta, the people thank the Mountain Spirit for giving them corn. Glossary in English and Spanish, and a brief author note on how Anaya used the Aztec legend the origin of corn in his version of the story (q.v The Legend of Food Mountain by Harriet Rohmer from Children's Book Press in which a giant ant helps Quetzalcoatl bring corn to the first people.) A recipe for making basic masa and tortillas can be found onwww.cookingupreading.com in the listing for this title.
Children's Literature - Maria E. Gentle
This bilingual picture book about Jade, a young girl from a small Mexican village, tells the story of the first tortilla. Jade's village is near starvation due to a severe draught. The bean and squash plants are dying. A blue hummingbird tells Jade the reason for the draught. The village has been ungrateful to the gods, in this case the Mountain Spirit. Over her parents' objections Jade sets off on a mission. First she prepares a gift for the Mountain Spirit, then guided by the blue hummingbird Jade manages to avoid falling boulders and reaches the mountain top. The Mountain Spirit, pleased with her gift and her bravery, grants her wishes and gives her a gift as well—the gift of corn. Jade returns to the village, the corn is planted, and so it goes. Eventually Jade mixes the dried, ground corn with water and makes the first tortilla. The rich, bold and vibrant illustrations complete the legend. It is a story of bravery and one that makes a child the star. A glossary is included, along with an author's note. This is a wonderful addition to any multicultural collection. Reviewer: Maria E. Gentle
School Library Journal

Gr 2-4
Anaya has retold a Mexican legend and made it his own with his spiritual prose. Jade's people are struggling. Her mother tells her that because there is no rain, there will soon be no food. Without sustenance, the villagers will have to leave their homes at the foot of the volcano where they have lived for generations. Then Jade is told by a hummingbird that she should visit the Mountain Spirit on the peak of the volcano to ask for his help. The spirit is pleased with her bravery and faith and not only grants her rain, but also gives her some corn kernels. Jade uses them to create masa, dough that is baked into the first tortilla. Córdova's rich acrylic paintings lend a traditional feel to the setting while maintaining the tale's mystical elements. A beautifully written and illustrated title.
—Susan E. MurrayCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

University of New Mexico Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.10(d)
Age Range:
9 - 13 Years

Meet the Author

Rudolfo Anaya, widely acclaimed as one of the founders of modern Chicano literature, is professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico. He is best known for the classic Bless Me Ultima.

Amy Córdova of Taos, New Mexico, is an artist, arts educator, and activist, renowned for her highly contextualized depictions of Latino cultures. She has illustrated over seventeen children’s books and has been awarded the prestigious American Library Association Pura Belpré Award twice, in 2008 and 2010.

Enrique R. Lamadrid is a literary folklorist and cultural historian in the University of New Mexico's Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

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