Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Snow is falling, preparations for a family feast are underway and the air is thick with excitement. Maria is making tamales, kneading the masa and feeling grown-up. All she wants is a chance to wear her mother's diamond ring, which sparkles temptingly on the kitchen counter. When her mother steps away, Maria seizes her opportunity and dons the ring, then carries on with her work. Only later, when the tamales are cooled and a circle of cousins gathered, does Maria remember the diamond. She and the cousins search every tamale--with their teeth. Of course the ring turns out to be safely on Mom's finger. Soto, noted for such fiction as Baseball in April , confers some pleasing touches--a tear on Maria's finger resembles a diamond; he allows the celebrants a Hispanic identity without making it the main focus of the text--but overall the plot is too sentimental (and owes a major debt to an I Love Lucy episode). Martinez's sensuous oil paintings in deep earth tones conjure up a sense of family unity and the warmth of holidays. The children's expressions are deftly rendered--especially when they are faced with a second batch of tamales. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
This story will have readers hungering for tamales. Maria is convinced that she has lost her mother's diamond ring while she was making tamales for the family's Christmas celebration. When her favorite cousins arrive she tells them her story and they eat all the tamales trying to find the ring. Everyone can identify with Maria's panic and the too-full tummies, but this also inspires children to share the way their own family celebrates holidays. The joyful paintings portray a loving Hispanic family. 1996 (orig.
More than the usual feel-good holiday celebration of ethnic pride, this warm picture book about a Latina child at Christmas is rooted in cultural tradition and in the physicalness of happy family life, with echoes of universal fairy tale. It's also a very funny story, full of delicious surprise. The handsome, realistic oil paintings, in rich shades of brown, red, and purple, are filled with light, evoking the togetherness of an extended family, and making you notice individual expression and gesture. Maria is happily kneading the "masa", helping her mother and father make tamales. When her mother takes off her diamond ring, Maria can't resist secretly slipping it onto her finger. The ring falls off into the sticky dough, but it's only after the 24 tamales have been cooked and her cousins, grandparents, and aunt and uncle have arrived for the festivities that Maria suddenly realizes the ring is lost. She begs her cousins for help, and the four kids doggedly, secretly, eat up all the tamales, searching for the ring. In one unforgettable painting, the queasy kids focus on the youngest child's extended stomach: "I think I swallowed something hard," he says. Tearful Maria finally owns up to her mother, but the ring is found, everything is cheerfully resolved, and the whole family moves to the kitchen to cook up another batch of tamales--despite the protesting groans of the stuffed children. Gary Soto is an accomplished poet and adult writer, and his children's stories are widely popular. His first entry into the picture book genre is a joyful success.
From the Publisher
"A very funny story, full of delicious surprises . . . a joyful success." Booklist, starred review
"A warm family story that combines glowing art with a well-written text to tell of a girl's dilemma." School Library Journal, starred review
"A mini-drama rendered so acutely that anyone who has lost something special will respond." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books