CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 5 . . . . October 5, 2012
The illustrated book La Malinche is a balanced retelling of the story of Malinali—a woman who embodies many symbolic associations, and who has many political, cultural and social associations. These associations are both positive and negative. Malinali, also known as La Malinche, was a 16th century Aztec princess who was given as a slave to Cortes and who subsequently played a pivotal role as his trusted interpreter and advisor in his interactions with the indigenous people. She is a controversial historic figure, reviled by some as a traitor and respected by others as an intelligent, principled woman whose linguistic abilities and negotiation skills saved thousands from slaughter. The overall design of La Malinche is well executed, resulting in an accessible overview of a complicated historic figure, discussing her mythical status without diminishing her personal history.
An ongoing element present in La Malinche is that of the importance of language and of Malinali’s role as translator. The power that derives from the ability to communicate in numerous languages is stressed throughout. It is fitting then that the first publication of La Malinche was in Spanish, written by Francisco Serrano, while the English story is told through the work of translator Susan Ouriou. Serrano is also a poet, and the author’s experience as such may be, in part, why this complicated story does not have an overly dry or formal tone.
The format of this illustrated information picture book consists of a series of spreads with a page of text on the left and an accompanying illustration on the right side. The information is broken into headings acting as short, unnumbered chapter sections. These sections have intriguing titles, such as “Horses and Women” and “Myth and Reality”. The non-sequential nature of the sections makes this an easy book to flip through, to choose various headings to pursue without losing the overall sense of story.
The illustrations, by Pablo Serrano, balance the themes of the text with similar parallels in the images. Both bright and muted, the illustrations ground the visual experience, giving more texture to the overall story. Most captivating is an illustrative spread found mid-way through the book, void of text. It serves as an invitation to pause and reflect on the book’s characters and themes. The cover of La Malinche is a compelling invitation to readers to explore the book.
Without claiming to tell, this illustrated text presents information, acknowledging this story is a complicated one containing both myth and reality, and encourages young readers to find out more about this little-known but compelling historic figure and to draw their own conclusions. Glossary and further reading suggestions are available for those who would like to explore further. Groundwood Books has succeeded in this attempt to make an old story new.
Lara LeMoal is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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