TITLE: MARTINA THE BEAUTIFUL COCKROACH (A CUBAN FOLKTALE)
AUTHOR: Carmen Agra Deedy
ILLUSTRATOR: Michael Austin
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Year: 2014 (First edition 2007)
Word Count: 1020
Summary: A humorous retelling of a Cuban folktale in which a cockroach interviews her suitors to decide whom to marry.
I do not know where to start with this book. There are ten picture book elements for this challenge – character, conflict, plot, dialogue, theme, pacing, wordplay, patterns, rhyme, beginning/endings – from which I could choose. Since I have already reviewed books using dialogue, wordplay, and beginning/endings, I could use any of the remaining elements. But that is what makes this difficult. It is difficult because this book fits in with most of the elements except for rhyme. What the beeswax, let’s do several.
First, you have to understand what this story is about. It is about Martina Josefina Catalin Cucaracha, a cockroach who is ready to marry after twenty one days old. Like any women when it is time to wed, her grandmother, Abuela, gives her advise.
“You are a beautiful cockroach,” said Abuela. “Finding husbands to choose from will be easy – picking the right one could be tricky.”
So Abuela told her what to do to find the perfect mate. “Spill coffe on the suitor’s shoes.” Abuela later explain the reason behind the coffee spillage. “It will make him angry! Then you’ll know how he will speak to you when he loses his temper. Trust me, Martina. The Coffee Test never fails.”
What makes this story unique is, everyone that came to ask for her hands in marriage, failed the test. Rooster came; left without a bride. Pig came; left without a bride. Even oily-fingered, little lizard came and left without a bride. Here is the arc of the story – when it seem that she will not find her groom, Abuela stepped in again and said, “What about him?”. She pointed to the garden below in which the illustration showed a hard-working mouse. Martina was immediately smitten and did not want to give the mouse, Perez, the Coffee Test. But Abuela insisted. As Abuela handed Martina the cup, Perez swooped in and spilled the coffee on Martina. And the book read, “Now the coffee was on the other foot.” This line was so clever; I was cracking up 😀 Martina did not get angry. Instead she asked, “How did you know about the Coffee Test?” Perez grinned. “Well, mi amor, my love…I too have a Cuban grandmother.”
This book is wonderful. I was so smitten with Perez, I want to marry a rat. 😀
ELEMENT #1 ~ CHARACTERS
CHARACTERS – Martina, Abuela, Perez, and minor ones as well. I love Martina. At any time, any girl off the streets can be her. She was not degrading, and had a natural “niceness” about her. The grandmother was not overbearing, but caring, kind, and brilliant. And the illustrations depicted the other mentioned characters with color and vibrancy.
ELEMENT #2 ~ CONFLICT
The CONFLICT was more “man versus self” even though we did see “man versus man”. Man versus self because Martina wanted a husband and did not feel right about giving the Coffee Test. She struggled with it, but not to argue with her grandmother, she went along with it. And it worked out in the end.
ELEMENT #3 ~ PLOT
The PLOT – when a cockroach takes advice from her grandmother about finding the perfect mate, she learned grandmothers know best.
ELEMENTS #4, 6, 7, AND 8 ~ DIALOGUE, PACING, WORDPLAY, AND PATTERNS
The dialogue between Martina and Abuela flows beautifully together. The genuity of it all makes the reader sense the pattern and the conversation flowing naturally. I grouped all these elements because at times I see them all working together to create this masterpiece. For instance, when the suitors come, they all say the same thing :
Won’t you be my wife?”
In return she says, “Coffee, senor?”
This is where pattern comes into play. Each suitors asked the same question. And she offers each Coffee sending her plan in motion.
I also love the dialogue of the characters. For example, when Don Cerdo, the Pig, came, Martina wheezed, “What an unimaginable scent. Is it some new pig cologne?”
“Oh no, senorita. It’s the sweet aroma of my pig sty. Rotten eggs! Turnip peels! Stinky Cheese!” Don Cerdo licked his chops.
This was brilliant. 😀
The WORDPLAY came in the form of appositives ( An appositive is a word placed after another word to explain or identify it.) In this case, it is the Spanish and English translations. An example would be, “Meanwhile, Papa sent el perico, the parrot, to spread the word.) Here the author took in consideration that the reader may not be aware of an “el perico”, so she placed the english definition/translation next to the Spanish. You can find many of these sprinkled throughout the text.
Deedy’s retelling of this Cuban/Latino folktale has a rollicking voice laced with sly tongue-in-cheek humor :D. The acrylic illustrations given in a vivid island/tropical setting. Shifting among various points of view (Martina, Abuela, and the suitors) add life to the writing, and grimaces reveal all the emotions and characterization. A sprinkling of Spanish words adds an ethnic feel to this amazing story that should be read to every grade.
I found these resources online to help teach the text.