The story begins by introducing the main character "Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha was a beautiful cockroach", and making you familiar with her situation "now that Martina was 21 days old, she was ready to give her leg in marriage." Her home is a buzz with the excitement and every senora has a gift for her to make her more beautiful. "But Abuela her Cuban grandmother, gave her unconsejo increible, some shocking advice." She wants Martina spill coffee in the suitor's shoes so that they will show their true colors. Martina is mortified by "The Coffee Test", but she trusts her Abuela. The first suitor was Don Gallo, a very cocky rooster with "one eye on his reflection." After he croons his proposal...
Won't you be my wife?
Martina thinks only for a second before she is looking for some coffee. Of course the rooster explodes as soon as the coffee touches his shoes, and Martina realizes that he is not the rooster for her. Several more suitors arrive each with obvious flaws. Each time Martina wearily goes looking for more coffee, and each time the suitors react poorly. Finally Martina is ready to call it a night when Abuela tells her to look around and points out a tiny brown mouse in the garden below. With an interesting twist to the story, Martina realizes that the love of her life has been under her street lamp all the time. So there is a happy ending for Martina & her mouse, just like any good story should have.
I had several favorite parts in this story. The first was that Abuela wanted Martina to pick a suitor that would love & cherish her. I love how Abuela said "You are a beautiful cockroach. Finding husbands to choose from will be easy--picking the right one could be tricky." I think that is an important life lesson that some young people don't focus on enough. They often pick people that look good, but think only of themselves. Next was the part when the mouse beat Martina to the coffee test. It made her realize that the other person also had an Abuela that wanted them to be happy and feel cherished too. Another feature of the story that I enjoyed was the use of Spanish words and phrases throughout the story. I thought that it added flare to the story and reminded you that this was a Cuban Folktale. Finally I thought the illustrations were AMAZING!!! The colors are so vibrant and rich you can't help but think of Cuba and the Latin culture. Michael Austin's illustration also seem to have a three dimensional depth to them that helps the reader see the characters as "real people" instead of bugs and animals. I felt this quote from the Booklist did the best job of summing up the stories artwork, "The acrylic illustrations, in a hyper-realistic style reminiscent of a softer William Joyce, are rendered in a vivid tropical palette. Shifting perspectives and points of view add vitality to the compositions, and facial expressions reveal both emotions and character traits.” I enjoyed them so much that I searched for more information on Mr. Austin. I included his web address at the bottom of the page. This is a book that I will recommend to others.
I cannot wait to use this book in my classroom. I know my students will love the incredible artwork, and those with Hispanic backgrounds will enjoy helping me with my pronunciation of the Spanish words. As a teacher I think it would be a great mentor text to talk about the author's purpose for writing the story. Since many of my second graders are working on building their comprehension skills while reading. It also sends a good message about picking a partner or friends based on the way they treat you all the time not just the good times. However, after reading about good multicultural literature, I did wonder about a few things. Is a cockroach the right insect to represent a Cuban character? Are the rooster, pig, and lizard being stereotyped? I think these questions could open up a discussion about character traits and the way we perceive people. Is it okay for a folktale to make judgments on characters because it is part of a cultural history or is it just continuing to spread stereotypes about the culture? These are questions that are could be discussed in a middle or high school classroom.