The Secret Footprints


The Dominican legend of the ciguapas, creatures who lived in underwater caves and whose feet were on backward so that humans couldn't follow their footprints, is reinvented by renowned author Julia Alvarez. Although the ciguapas fear humans, Guapa, a bold and brave ciguapa, can't help but be curious--especially about a boy she sees on the nights when she goes on the land to hunt for food. When she gets too close to his family and is discovered, she learns that some humans are kind. Even though she escapes ...
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The Dominican legend of the ciguapas, creatures who lived in underwater caves and whose feet were on backward so that humans couldn't follow their footprints, is reinvented by renowned author Julia Alvarez. Although the ciguapas fear humans, Guapa, a bold and brave ciguapa, can't help but be curious--especially about a boy she sees on the nights when she goes on the land to hunt for food. When she gets too close to his family and is discovered, she learns that some humans are kind. Even though she escapes unharmed and promises never to get too close to a human again, Guapa still sneaks over to the boy's house some evenings, where she finds a warm pastelito in the pocket of his jacket on the clothesline.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

A story based on Dominican folklore, about the ciguapas, a tribe of beautiful underwater people whose feet are attached backwards, with their toes pointing in the direction from which they have come.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Making her children's book debut, Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) fulfills only some of the potential inherent in her story, which is based on an intriguing legend from the Dominican Republic, where she grew up. The ciguapas are a secret tribe who live underwater "in cool blue caves hung with seashells and seaweed" and venture onto land only at night because they are so afraid of humans. Their unusual anatomy helps preserve their hidden existence--their feet are on backward, so that "when they walked on land, they left footprints going in the opposite directions." But Guapa, an especially beautiful ciguapa, does not fear humans, even after the ciguapa queen warns her that if they capture her, people "will force you to take baths and do laundry and wash your hands before meals." Guapa's curiosity nonetheless drives her to surface from the sea one bright day, whereupon an encounter with a kind boy and his family threatens to ruin the ciguapas' secret. Unfortunately, the narrative is not uniformly focused and the climactic episode lacks tension; the payoff seems small. To a large extent Negrin's (The Selfish Giant) stylized, luminous paintings compensate for the story's shortcomings. Somehow he renders the ciguapas as both elusive and earthy. Portraying the vegetation of the sunlit tropical setting as well as the ciguapas' watery, nocturnal frolics, he suggests a world lush with mystery. Ages 4-7. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
K-Gr 2-In this beautifully translated version of Alvarez's magical tale (Knopf, 2000), the mythical Ciguapas are underwater cave dwellers, peaceful and attractive with golden skin and long black hair. The fact that their feet point backward keeps humans from following their tracks and discovering their ocean home. Guapa, a brave and beautiful Ciguapa, is curious about life on land. Despite warnings from her elders, she ventures ashore and spies on a family enjoying a picnic of pastelitos ("small pastries") and local fruit. She is discovered but treated kindly until she manages to find her way home. The book ends with the possibility of further interaction between the family and the Ciguapas, as the girl continues to visit her new friends at night. Negrin's pastel, dramatically hued illustrations gorgeously capture the lush tropical settings as well as the moonlit, underwater scenes. This book will be of particular interest to those who share the Dominican background of the author and story.
—Maria Otero-Boisvert, "Criticas" Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-4-The brilliant blues, greens, and yellows of a tropical island set the mood for this bit of magical realism from the Dominican Republic. It is based on a legend about the ciguapas, a secret tribe of beautiful creatures who appear to be human except for their backward feet. In this tale, Guapa, a fearless young ciguapa, repeatedly risks being discovered by venturing from the undersea caves in which she lives to explore the land. Though she tries to heed her queen's warnings, Guapa's curiosity eventually gets the best of her, and in one of her daylight forays, she is found by a family of friendly humans who think she has twisted her ankles badly. When they leave to get a doctor, she remains in the care of their son. Having learned her lesson, she manages to escape, leaving behind a seashell for the boy, who never forgets the mysterious stranger. Alvarez's language flows as effortlessly as the vivid colors in the pictures, setting a mood of ease and tranquillity echoed in the rounded forms and curving lines of the illustrations. This gentle tale, with its images of glowing color, conjures up a touch of magic.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
Recalling childhood tales from the Dominican Republic, the author of the adult In the Name of Salomé (p. 492), etc., crafts an atmospheric encounter between a human boy and a beautiful member of the ciguapas, the sea people. Though the ciguapas have a secret defense against capture—their feet are on backwards, so their trail always leads away from their actual path—only one, Guapa, is not shy and fearful of humans. One time, creeping up to a house to investigate the clothing hanging on the line, she catches sight of a lad, who calls out to her before she flees. Another day, she trips while spying on him, but knowing the danger her people would face if their secret were discovered, she tricks the boy into letting her escape. Though they never again meet, Guapa leaves him a shell as a token, and ever after she finds tasty pastelitos in the clothing hung out to dry. Thicklimbed figures with flowing black hair and clear brown skin tones grace Negrin's (Dora's Box, 1998) lush, richly colored tropical scenes. Not a conventional romance, perhaps, but there's a romantic quality to the story and illustrations both. (afterword) (Picture book. 710)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780613878029
  • Publisher: Turtleback Books: A Division of Sanval
  • Publication date: 9/1/2002
  • Pages: 40
  • Product dimensions: 8.52 (w) x 11.18 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia  Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is the award-winning author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, and íYo!
Fabian Negrin has illustrated Dora's Box and The Selfish Giant for Knopf.


Julia Alvarez was born in New York City during her Dominican parents' "first and failed" stay in the United States. While she was still an infant, the family returned to the Dominican Republic -- where her father, a vehement opponent of the Trujillo dictatorship, resumed his activities with the resistance. In 1960, in fear for their safety, the Alvarezes fled the country, settling once more in New York.

Alvarez has often said that the immigrant experience was the crucible that turned her into a writer. Her struggle with the nuances of the English language made her deeply conscious of the power of words, and exposure to books and reading sharpened both her imagination and her storytelling skills. She graduated summa cum laude from Middlebury College in 1971, received her M.F.A. from Syracuse University, and spent the next two decades in the education field, traveling around the country with the poetry-in-the-schools program and teaching English and Creative Writing to elementary, high school, and college students.

Alvarez's verse began to appear in literary magazines and anthologies, and in 1984, she published her first poetry collection, Homecoming. She had less success marketing her novel -- a semiautobiographical story that traced the painful assimilation of a Dominican family over a period of more than 30 eventful years. A series of 15 interconnected stories that unfold in reverse chronological order, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents addresses, head-on, the obstacles and challenges immigrants face in adapting to life in a new country.

It took some time for "ethnic" literature to gain enough of a foothold in the literary establishment for Alvarez's agent, a tireless champion of minority authors, to find a publisher. But when the novel was released in 1991, it received strongly positive reviews. And so, at the tender age of 41, Alvarez became a star. Three years later, she proved herself more than a "one-hit wonder," when her second novel, In the Time of Butterflies was nominated for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. Since then, she has made her name as a writer of remarkable versatility, juggling novels, poetry, children's books, and nonfiction with equal grace and aplomb. She lives in Vermont, where she serves as a writer in residence at her alma mater, Middlebury College. In addition, she and her husband run a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic that hosts a school to teach the local farmers and their families how to read and write.

Good To Know

From 1975 until 1978, Alvarez served as Poet-in-the-Schools in Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina.

She has held positions as a professor of creative writing and English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-81), the University of Vermont (1981-83), and the University of Illinois (1985-88).

In 1984, Alvarez was the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University. Currently, she is a professor of English at Middlebury College.

She and her husband run a coffee farm, Alta Gracia, in the Dominican Republic.

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    1. Hometown:
      Middlebury, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 27, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975

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