Uncle Snake

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Something unearthly happens when a boy ventures into the forbidden cave, and no one can change him back to what he was. Once again Matthew Gollub and Leovigildo Martinez have spun a mysterious and captivating original tale from the rich folk culture of Mr. Martinez's native Oaxaca. Full-color illustrations.

When his face is changed into that of a snake after he visits a forbidden cave, a young boy wears a mask for twenty years, ...

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Overview

Something unearthly happens when a boy ventures into the forbidden cave, and no one can change him back to what he was. Once again Matthew Gollub and Leovigildo Martinez have spun a mysterious and captivating original tale from the rich folk culture of Mr. Martinez's native Oaxaca. Full-color illustrations.

When his face is changed into that of a snake after he visits a forbidden cave, a young boy wears a mask for twenty years, before being taken into the sky.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gollub and Martinez (The Moon Was at a Fiesta; The Twenty-five Mixtec Cats) pair up for a third and less successful effort, carving a new tale from ancient Mexican folklore. Their story also has ties to Oaxaca, Mexico, where it was believed that a snake in the sky brings about heavy rains. Here, a boy ventures into a forbidden cave and comes out with a snake head atop his human body. A nahual (magic worker) suggests a remedy, that the boy dance at every fiesta and wear a mask for 20 years. He obeys, but when he finally removes his mask he turns into a snake with a human headlightningwhich from then on lights up stormy Oaxacan skies. The beguiling connection between undulating, quick-striking snakes and flashes of lightning is overshadowed by the unexpectedly punitive ending and some annoying loose ends. On the bright side, Martinez's delicate watercolors are as fresh and eye-opening as usual, and his eerie, primitivist characters intensify the tale's supernatural flavor. Ages 5-up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
After a curious boy enters a mysterious, forbidden cave, the magic snake creatures cause him to become part snake too. For years he wears a mask to hide his snake head, but after many years, Uncle Snake, as he is now called, returns to the cave, reconciles with the power there, and finally brings lightning and helpful rain to his people. The illustrations, which are watercolors on textured paper, have a cubist feel to them and add to the drama and mystery of the tale. Includes glossary and a note on its Oaxaca, Mexico origin.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3A wonderful original folktale "inspired by an ancient belief in Oaxaca, Mexico, that a snake in the sky brings about heavy rains." Many years ago, a curious boy entered a forbidden cave where he saw a group of children with human heads and snakes' bodies. After leaving the cave, the boy himself became a human body with a snake's head. Attempting to return the boy to a fully human state, a nahual (shape-changing magic worker) provided him with a mask to wear for 20 years. After 20 years had passed, the boy, now known as Uncle Snake, removed his mask and found himself to be a snake with a human head. He then leapt into the sky, where he lives today. Now every time there is a storm, Uncle Snake flashes across the sky in the form of lightning. This folktale, filled with curanderos (folk healers), snakes, and fiesta dances, sets a decidedly Mexican mood, reinforced by Oaxacan artist Martinez's glowing earth tones and eerie folk images. Dramatic black-and-white borders surround the watercolors painted on textured paper and the text. Pair this tale with another Gollub/Martinez hit, The Moon Was at a Fiesta (Tambourine, 1994), for a captivating Southern Mexican story time.Denise E. Agosto, Midland County Public Library, TX
Kirkus Reviews
A murky, captivating tale based on the culture of Oaxaca, Mexico, from the team behind The Moon Was at a Fiesta (1994). Martinez's delightfully comic illustrations place readers solidly in the enchanted world of a tale that explains the origin of lightning. A boy who has ventured into a forbidden cave from which strange lights flicker during storms discovers the fate of former curious children—they have turned into snakes with human heads. When this happens to the boy, no curandero can heal him, but a nahual, a shape-shifting magic worker, gives him a mask to wear and outlines a 20-year program of prayer and dance, the successful completion of which will enable the boy to "show the world something new." The resolution of his troubles will bedazzle even impatient youngsters, weary of the story's many arbitrary shifts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688139445
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.33 (w) x 8.85 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2010

    "Uncle Snake" lights up the sky!

    Uncle Snake is an original folktale by Matthew Gollub, inspired by a Oaxacan belief that likens lightning to snakes. My 5 and 8 year old read this book with quiet excitement, especially my son. The story follows a boy into a cave where he experiences a mystical transformation. Now with the head of a snake, the boy is taken by his parents to the village curandero, a healer, and then a nahual, a magic worker, to see if they can change him back to his original form. Given an enchanted mask and special instructions, the boy grows up to be Uncle Snake. He dances and tells stories and runs through the hills to cheers from the village children. When his time has come, Uncle Snake removes the mask and is changed again and jettisoned into the sky to become a dancing beacon to all below that storms approach. Leovigildo Martinéz, an honored artist from Oaxaca, illustrates this fable with compelling watercolors that cast its Mexican characters and landscapes with mythic light and shade. This picture book is a great selection to encourage cultural literacy and open up discussion about the world's fables with your kids. And sometimes now, when my kids ask me a question I can't answer, I borrow a favorite line from the book's nahual. "The answer is in the clouds." Gollub and Martinéz have also collaborated on two other fine books for children, "The Moon was at a Fiesta" and "The Twenty-Five Mixtec Cats." They are available in Spanish as well.

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