By Marianne Snow
DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): In this new cooking poem, Jorge Argueta brings us a fun and easy recipe for a yummy salsa. A young boy and his sister gather the ingredients and grind them up in a molcajete, just like their ancestors used to do, singing and dancing all the while. The children imagine that their ingredients are different parts of an orchestra — the tomatoes are bongos and kettledrums, the onion, a maraca, the cloves of garlic, trumpets, and the cilantro, the conductor. They chop and then grind these ingredients in the molcajete, along with red chili peppers for the “hotness” that is so delicious, finally adding a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt. When they are finished, their mother warms tortillas and their father lays out plates, as the whole family, including the cat and dog, dance salsa in mouth-watering anticipation.
Winner of the International Latino Book Award for Guacamole, Jorge Argueta‘s text is complemented by the rich, earthy illustrations of Duncan Tonatiuh, winner of the Pura Belpré Award. His interest in honoring the art of the past in contemporary contexts is evident in these wonderful illustrations, which evoke the pre-Columbian Mixtec codex.
MY TWO CENTS: Here’s another Jorge Argueta picture book that’ll make you hungry! Argueta has created several bilingual poetry books that celebrate traditional Latin American dishes – including Guacamole, Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup, and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding – and Salsa is just as mouth-watering. I love how he uses beautiful language to stir the senses, appealing to readers’ taste and smell with scrumptious descriptions of vegetables and herbs; sound by drawing comparisons between ingredients and musical instruments; and touch by weaving together the acts of cooking and dancing.
As a lover of spicy food, I particularly enjoy Argueta’s ode to hot chiles, complete with imagery that clearly evokes the crackly, wrinkled skin and the tingly burn of the peppers. Here’s a little taste:
Hay chiles con cara de abuelo
y chiles con cara de abuela.
Hay chiles rojos
Al morderlos nos calientan la lengua
como si tuviéramos en la boca una lucecita.
There are chilies with faces like a grandfather
and chilies with faces like a grandmother.
There are red chilies
like little flames.
When we bite one our tongue gets hot,
as if we had a tiny light on in our mouth.
I really wish I had some salsa right now.
Meanwhile, Duncan Tonatiuh’s signature illustration style, which hearkens back to pre-Columbian Mixtec art, captures readers’ sense of sight and beautifully reminds us of Mexico and Central America’s past while celebrating a contemporary family coming together to prepare a meal. Inviting Tonatiuh to illustrate this book is a perfect choice, since his historically inspired images reflect Argueta’s description of the history of the molcajete, the mortar and pestle crafted from volcanic rock that people have long used to grind vegetables and spices. This connection of the past and present through both words and illustrations makes Salsa an especially delicious dish for me.
(My much loved molcajete.)
TEACHING TIPS: This book is an invitation for several meaningful hands-on learning activities. Students and teachers can write up bilingual recipes for salsa using the ingredients Argueta presents in the poem and then make a tasty, healthy snack to eat and share with others at school. If children have family members or friends who have experience using a molcajete to make salsa, teachers can invite these special guests to demonstrate their techniques – a perfect opportunity to welcome students’ home lives and funds of knowledge into the classroom. Afterwards, everyone can write their own food poems utilizing some of the various literary devices – similes, metaphors, rich imagery, synesthesia – that Argueta employs.
Additionally, Salsa is an excellent springboard for a science lesson about composting and plant growth. When the family in the poem finishes making their salsa, the son takes leftover lime seeds and vegetable peels outside and buries them in a hole in the ground:
Las entierro para que se conviertan en abono,
Children can do the same when they finish their own salsa, making hypotheses about what will happen to the seeds and foods scraps and then observing the changes that occur as weeks pass. Will the vegetable matter decompose and turn into soil? Will new plants emerge from the seeds? You’ll have to try it and see!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Salsa’s book jacket): Jorge Argueta is an award-winning author of picture books and poetry for young children. He has won the International Latino Book Award, the Américas Book Award, the NAPPA Gold Award, and the Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction for Juveniles. His books have also been named Américas Award Commended Titles, USBBY Outstanding International Books, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, and Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. A native Salvadoran and Pipil Nahua Indian, Jorge spent much of his life in rural El Salvador. He now lives in San Francisco.
LINKS / OTHER INFO: Here are a couple of fascinating videos that teachers can use to supplement the book:
Marianne Snow is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, where she researches Latin@ picture books, representations of Latin@ people in nonfiction children’s texts, and library services for Spanish-speaking children and families. Before moving to Georgia, she taught Pre-K and Kindergarten in her home state of Texas and got her master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Texas A&M University. In her spare time, she enjoys obnoxiously pining for Texas, exploring Georgia, re-learning Spanish, and blogging at Critical Children’s Lit.