Saturday, July 2, 2011

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach (Picture Book 6/6)

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach
Carmen Agra Deedy, author
Michael Austin, illustrator
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (September 1, 2007)
Pura Belpre Award, Honor Book, 2008.
Category: Folk tale.
Style: Cartoon style/traditional style.
Media: Acrylic on illustration board. 

5/5 stars

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach  is a retelling of a traditional Cuban folk tale.  In this version, Martina (the beautiful cockroach) is beset with inappropriate suitors and, following her Grandmother's advice, pours coffee on each one's shoes to see how he would respond to her when angry.  Thanks to Abeula's test, Martina is able to dismiss the terrible suitors and find true love.  

Deedy often pairs important words with their Spanish counterparts in a casual and friendly way which teaches Spanish words without appearing to teach at all.  She makes great use of repetition in the song sung to Martina by the suitors.  She also uses humor and occasional puns.

Though cartoon-like, in that these are anthropomorphic animals and insects, Austin has carefully and delicately crafted both the characters and the scenes, so that it often appears as lovely as a traditional painting.  He has carried the humor of the story into the illustrations, especially in the objects used in the cockroach household: cigar boxes for the grand staircase, for example.  He uses rich, full colors but soft lines.   The perspective changes often, though not drastically. He makes use of a variety of techniques; the illustrations are at times in frames, occasionally they cross the gutter into both pages,  and sometimes they are straight-forward one page illustrations.  It is a pleasure to view.

This is a truly amusing book and sounds lovely when read aloud. This age group will have no connection with the idea of finding a proper husband, but should enjoy the humor.   It is most likely too hard for typical readers of this age group to read alone.  It could be used in the classroom when learning about Cuba, or about folktales.

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