To really enjoy and understand these poems, the reader needs to know something about Mexico—its history and culture. There is a glossary that defines the names of ancient gods, places, and Spanish words, which provides some help, but I still feel that a better grounding is necessary. Some of the poems focus on modern Mexico, and include the hustle and bustle of Mexico City—"Rainy Season, Mexico City" "Chapultepec Park" and "A Boy Named José"—while others look to the past and especially to the ancient gods—"Quetzalcótl" the serpent god who supposedly gave the people maize (corn), Ixta the volcano that is a sleeping princess whose eruptions produced obsidian, and "Quetzlcóatl Lies Sleeping" whose second coming is supposed to save the Mexican people. A couple of poems lament the changes brought when the Europeans landed and life in Mexico changed forever and another one laments a problem that is not unique to Mexico—the destruction of the forests and jungles. In the poem "In Chipas," Johnston asks "Where will the monkeys, / the jaguars / go?" The black-and-white illustrations are bold and have a folk art feel. They aptly depict both the past and present and fill the pages that contain Johnston's sometimes sparse but lyrical poems. 2003, Farrar Straus Giroux,
The twenty-nine evocative poems in this slim volume with its colorful, eye-catching dust cover are a heartfelt and loving tribute to Mexico's rich history. Johnston's deep affection for the country-its legendary past of ancient civilizations, harrowing conflicts, and timeless traditions and its present full of promise as a vibrant, progressive nation, is evident. Although past and present do not always coexist seamlessly, the author is clearly hopeful for Mexico's future, its people, and its natural resources. Johnston's eloquent, lyrical voice and style are beautifully complemented by the masterful illustrations on every page, deceptively simple black-and-white line drawings that are graceful and expressive. The various mythological characters, ancient tribes, traditional customs, sites and events, and words in Spanish that are mentioned in the poems are all explained in the handy glossary, an important convenience. Together with the fine text and art work, these features combine to make an interesting, easy-to-read book that can be enjoyed by all ages and might even entice reluctant readers. It will certainly stimulate further research into this country's fascinating history. Young adult librarians will want to look this one over as a possible acquisition. Glossary. Index. Illus. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Farrar Straus Giroux, 64p, Culberson
Gr 5-8-For those readers unfamiliar with Quetzalc-atl, a Mexican serpent god, or the Day of the Dead, The Ancestors Are Singing may be a good launching pad into a discussion of Mexican culture. Johnston's poems give readers glimpses of a rainy street in Mexico City (complete with a "silver skein of cars") to the mouth of an erupting volcano, blowing out slivers of obsidian black lava. Jos sells newspapers on a street corner; meanwhile, industry is chopping down the jungle ("-Where will the monkeys,/the jaguars/go?"). There is a sense of strong connection to history and culture, through imagery of animals, gods, and ancestors. Barbour's bold, swirling black-and-white illustrations convey a vivid sense of place. A volcano comes to life; the stoic faces and sensitive expressions are proudly depicted. And the joy and mysticism of angels, spirits, the moon, the sun, and music are aptly presented-all without the use of color. A brief glossary can help explain unfamiliar terms.-Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Twenty-nine poems in free verse and haiku celebrate Mexico's dramatic history and continuing traditions. The poems speak of the ancient rain god Tláloc and the plumed serpent Quetzalc-atl. They reflect on the landing of Hernán Cortés in Veracruz, on the building of colonial churches where saints were given Indian faces, and on the enduring landscape. A young girl with long braids and folkloric dress is featured in many of the illustrations. "On a Jalape-o day-hot, hot, hot-" she drifts out the window and floats over the field where her father plows with an ox. In another poem, "Near the Z-calo" she stands "where the Old Ones / received the sign- / of eagle, serpent, nopal." The folk-like illustrations in black ink crowd the pages with childlike energy. Although the past infuses the present, the images are primarily rural. A rainy-day traffic jam in Mexico City is depicted with child-like drawings of cars occupied by men in sombreros and women with shawl-covered heads. Nothing is conveyed of the sophistication and energy, the vibrancy, or the daring modern architecture of contemporary Mexico City. A glossary provides pronunciations and brief explanations of people, places, and terms. For many readers, more detailed explanations of the history behind the poems would have been helpful. The poems are competent, but not outstanding. A good addition where books about Mexico are needed. (Poetry. 8-12)