Friday, September 21, 2007

The Runaway Tortilla

Kimmel, Eric A. 2000. The Runaway Tortilla. Ill. by Randy Cecil. Delray Beach, FL: Winslow Press. ISBN189081718

Plot Summary
This is a story about a tortilla that was "too beautiful to eat" and ran away from the taqueria. Tia Lupe and Tio Jose, the tortilla shop owners, chase after the runaway tortilla as it sings, "Run as fast as fast can be. You won't get a bite of me. Doesn't matter what you do. I'll be far ahead of you!" Others try to help Tia Lupe and Tio Jose catch the tortilla to no avail. Finally, a coyote is able to trick the tortilla and manages to eat it, thus ending the story.

Critical Analysis
This trickster tale gives the reader a valuable lesson that taunting others is unwise. Eric Kimmel takes a familiar story by an unknown author and sets it in the Southwest.

The predictable lines of the tortilla's song (an allusion to "The Gingerbread Man") encourages the reader to become active with the story. The song is even illustrated to mimic the rolling of the tortilla through the town and into the desert. As the tortilla rolls along, animals of all sorts try to help Tia Lupe and Tio Jose. I liked that the animals included in the story help show what kinds of animals would be found "down by the Rio Grande" as the story's first line indicates the setting. Also, the colors used in the illustrations reflect the earth tones of the Southwest.

The tortilla resembles a moon because of it's coloring and facial features. Both my daughter and a high school student of mine thought the illustration was a moon until I explained that it is a tortilla. The believability of a talking tortilla works with this story and is not a distraction. It makes the reader imagine, "What if our food could talk? Would it try to run from us?"

This was almost a counting book as well as a folktale. As others came to help Tia Lupe and Tio Jose catch the tortilla, the number of helpers increased (two horned toads scampering, three donkeys trotting, four jackrabbits leaping, five rattlesnakes slithering, etc.).

One strength of the book is using the typical coyote as trickster. The coyote convinces the tortilla to jump into his throat to pull out a grasshopper. The tortilla's reward will be "a great treasure" which the reader can surmise will be knowledge of being tricked instead of riches and gold. When the tortilla is inside the coyote's mouth, illustrator Randy Cecil makes the reader feel the cavernous space by extending the drawing over 1 1/2 pages.

The endpapers show a repeating pattern of pictures of the ingredients and tools needed to make tortillas: oil, flour, salt, griddle, and rolling pin.

Because of the repetition of the tortilla's song, my daughter "read" the story to me easily. The predictable patterns (the song, the counting animals, the animals actions) makes this book a good example of a traditional folktale.

Review excerpts
HORNBOOK: "Playful illustrations in a brown-gold palette set this one in the Texas desert."

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "Kimmel's saucy story joins a swarm of similar, albeit popular, retellings of traditional tales with a Southwestern setting."

BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS: "The setting and vocabulary are unusual enough to make this well worth reading or telling aloud."

It was also reviewed in: Schon, Best of the Latino Heritage: A Guide to the Best Juvenile Books about Latino People and Cultures: 1996 through 2002, Scarecrow Press, 2003 but I could not access the actual review.

Related books: Compestine, Ying Chang. The Runaway Rice Cake. Ill. Tungwai Chau. ISBN 0689829728
Kimmelman, Leslie. The Runaway Latkes. Ill. Paul Yalowitz. ISBN 0807571768
Squires, Janet. The Gingerbread Cowboy. Ill. Holly Berry. ISBN 0060778636

*Rewrite the ending of the book. Could the tortilla out smart the trickster? Could the tortilla face other obstacles besides the coyote?
*Research the authenticity of the animals shown in the illustrations. Create an original art project of one animal.
*Make and share tortillas and tortilla recipes.
*Have students create their own trickster tale.

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