Friday, February 22, 2008

Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Lady with a Great Big Heart

Mora, Pat. 2005. Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Lady with a Big Heart. Raúl Colon. New York: Knopf. ISBN 13: 9780375823374.

Doña Flor is the epitome of the gentle-giant. With a house "as big as a mountain" and hands as "wide as plates," she has a heart to match, inspiring the love and respect of the people in her Southwest village. When a fearsome noise frightens the villagers, Doña Flor comes, as always, to the rescue. Raúl Colon won the 2006 Pura Belpré Illustrator Medal for his contribution to this fresh and inventive tall tale.

Pat Mora's, Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Lady with a Big Heart, has the hallmarks of a classic tall tale, a multi-faceted heroine and rich details. Despite her overarching kindness, Dona Flor can be tired - as when the wind keeps her from sleep, angry - as she stomps off to find the puma that annoys the village, and indulgent - as she takes a "long, hot bubble bath," the smell of roses rising from the chimney. Her size and kindness are communicated expressively. "When she worked, Flor sang, and birds came and built nests in her hair."
"She gave the school band her hollyhocks to use as trumpets. The music smelled like spring."

Mora introduces multiple Spanish words in Doña Flor with varying techniques and effect. Literal translations are clear to the reader, but interrupt the story flow. "'¿Dónde estás? Where are you?' called her worried neighbors." Nonliteral translations include "Everyone called her Doña Flor because they respected her." and ""Mi casa es su casa," she they knew they were always welcome." Most pleasing are the untranslated words, "Are you the chico who's causing all the trouble?" "Why, you're just a kitten to me, Pumito." These passages allow a smooth rhythm to the story with unfamiliar words fitting contextually into the sentence.

In addition to Spanish words, Doña Flor contains many textual references to the story's Southwest setting. Tortillas are prominently featured in the story; Flor makes tortillas with her huge "plate-sized" hands. The children use them as rafts and villagers use them as roofs for their homes. The village or pueblo is filled with adobe homes and is located near a tall mesa. Pumas, rattlers and coyotes inhabit the village.

Raúl Colon's award winning illustrations are a "combination of watercolor washes, etching, and colored and litho pencils." The muted, yet varied colors, evoke the Southwest atmosphere - dry and serene, yet not without life. Dona Flor herself has skin the color of the Southwestern soil, lips the color of adobe walls, and luxurious long dark hair - wrapped in a braided bun for the day's work and flying loose in the starlight sky at night. She appears to be a child of the Southwest earth itself. Her benevolent brown eye peers in the doorway of a village family. The home is adorned with a woven rug, a clay pot, and a sombrero; and although her eye fills much of the doorway, it does not inspire fear. Her giant tortillas provide rafts for the children, and in the evening, she envelops herself in a woven blanket, cradling the village creatures in her arms. Next to Doña Flor, the sky is the prominent feature in most of Doña Flor's illustrations portraying the vastness of the Southwest; dwarfing the whitewashed adobe homes and tiny villagers dressed in long skirts, serapes, and sombreros.

Doña Flor is an inventive tall tale, beautifully illustrated and told with rich details. When the sun shines upon the giant tortilla roofs of the villagers, the reader can almost smell the corn baking. "Mmmm, the houses smelled corn-good when the sun was hot." It also is a story with deep connections to the earth. Flor's mother sings to her in a voice as "sweet as river music," and in the evening, Flor makes her bed, filling her arms "with clouds smelling of flowery breezes." This is not a retelling or variation of a traditional tale. Readers will enjoy the fresh plot and it's surprising ending, as Flor finds the littlest mountain lion making the biggest of noises.

Read the Doña Flor audience-participation poems on Pat Mora's website. This is suitable for very young children and public library storytime as well.

Read this story with other "tall-tale heroine" books -
Thunder Rose, by Jerdine Nolan and Ill. by Kadidr Nelson and Sitka Rose by Shelley Gill and Ill. by Shannon Cartwright.

Compare these to the classic tale of Paul Bunyan.

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