I was going to write about Condorito, the new comic book collection that has been recently translated into English and published by Harper Rayo but, as usual, I got distracted and found this book while I was packing up for my big move to San Diego next weekend. Once I saw it, I knew I had to post this one instead. I think it was a good choice for this week's post.
Title: The Woman Who Outshone the Sun / La mujer que brillaba aun más que el sol
Author: Rosalma Zubizarreta, Harriet Rohmer, David Schecter
based on a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, Fernando Olivera (Illustrator)
Publisher: Children's Book Press (CA); Reissue edition (April 1, 1994)
This is one of my most beloved children’s books.
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun/La mujer que brillaba aun más que el sol is such a beautiful, compelling and moving story. It is based upon a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, a young Zapoteca poet who spent years collecting the oral traditions of his people. The Zapotecas are great storytellers and the tale of Lucia Zenteno comes from that grand and ancient tradition. In 1986 he published his version of this story as a poem and was later killed in 1987 while organizing the Zapotecas to regain their lost water rights.
The book is about Lucia Zenteno, a woman who was so beautiful she outshone the sun. All of nature loved Lucia and in this magical story, the fish in the river and the river itself love her so much that she combs them in and out of her glorious long black hair. The people of the village, however are afraid of her because she is different. They whisper about her and are so cruel in their fear of her. The village elders are different. They warn the villagers that Lucia is a woman in touch with nature and they hurt her at their own peril but the villagers donít care to listen. She is too different, too odd. Finally, Lucia, hurt by their taunts and whispers, leaves the town followed by her beloved pet iguana.
The river and nature mourn her loss and leave with Lucia caught up in her hair. It is only when the village, now desolate and dry that the villagers repent of their cruelty and seek Lucia out.
The book is fantastically illustrated with lush and magical paintings by the acclaimed painter Fernando Olivera, who was a close friend of Alejandro Cruz Martinez. Each page is a fantasy of beautiful Zapoteca indigenous dress, nature, animals and of course, the river which is as much an important character as Lucia Zenteno. My favorite illustration is of Lucia combing all the little fish and water creatures into and out of her beautiful, long black hair.
The story has a strong moral message for both adults and children and I cannot help but think that to Cruz Martinez, this story was told as an allegory for the water rights he died defending.. His widow gave Children’s Book Press (a wonderful independent publisher that specializes in multi-cultural books based in San Francisco) the permission to adapt the story. All royalties from this book are paid out to her.
I encourage everyone to purchase this and to read it to your children or just enjoy it yourself. Tell the children the story behind the book. Cruz Martinez was an eloquent and astounding poet and his voice should be heard. The book is bilingual in English and Spanish.