Three bilingual board books by Dr. Cynthia Weill and published by Cinco Puntos Press will delight young readers and adults, too. “Opuestos” (Opposites), “Animal Talk” and “Count Me In” all feature the artwork of artists from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. This is an area filled with many types of artists. The work of different artists grace each board book. And each board book is bilingual, teaching the reader about concepts in English and Spanish.
Two of the books are filled with small wooden animal figures called alebrijes. They are carved and carefully painted. Some have parts that can be removed like ears and tails. There are many artists in this area of Mexico who create alebrijes.
In “Opuestos,” the artwork is by brothers Quiriño and Martín Santiago. They live in a small town on the outskirts of the capital city of Oaxaca called La Union Tejalapam. The animals are brightly colored with huge expressive eyes and show opposites like “day/día” and “night/noche.” The animals are painted yellow, orange and maroon and feature stripes, large dots or small dots. Some are black and white. They all have a rather primitive look. Weill has a video she made with her nephew Bryant Boucher. It features the two woodcarvers. “Opuestos” has a teacher’s guide available.
In “Animal Talk” Weill shares the differences in English and Spanish in how animals “talk.” Sometimes, animal language is the same in both languages. For example, fish in English say “glub, glub” and in Spanish the page states “Los peces dicen GLUB GLUB.” But bees speak differently in English and Spanish. In English, the bees say “BZZZ BZZZ,” but in Spanish “Las abejas dicen ZUM ZUM.” The artists who create the alebrijes for this board book are Rubí Fuentes and Efraín Broa. These animals are painted with bright colors and often with intricate geometric designs.
“Count Me In” is a bilingual number book that features figurines of people who are traditionally in the Oaxacan parade called the “Guelaguetza.” It’s famous for the brightly colored costumes and pageantry.
The artists are the Aguilar sisters whose mother, Isaura Diaz, created this style of ceramics. She taught her daughters to work in clay, and they collaborated for the first time for this book and dedicated it to their mother.
One sister made clay figures that represent some of the regions and the traditional clothing of Oaxaca.
The sisters are Irene, Josefina, Guillermina, and Concepcion. The figures in the book, starting with the number 1, the guy with the marmota, follow the actual order of people in the Guelaguetza. It takes place in July and it’s a huge event.
Another sister made the figurine of the man carrying the marmota, the big balloon that starts the parade.
The figures in the counting board book were made by the sisters as follows:
Number One is the Marmota guy created by Irene Aguilar; Number Two are the guys with the fireworks created by Josefina Aguilar; Number Three is the chirimea band created by Josefina Aguilar; Number Four are the gigantes (giants) created by Guillermina Aguilar; Number Five are the children with lanterns created by Josefina; Number Six are the women with baskets on their heads created by Concepción; Number
Seven are figures dressed in regional costumes of Oaxaca by Guillermina; Number Eight are the musicians from Ocotlán de Morelos by Josefina; Number Nine are the dancers by Irene; and finally, Number Ten are the local followers created by Josefina.
All of the board books are beautifully created with brightly colored backgrounds in colors that would be at home in any Mexican mercado (market). Each page in the books features a border with traditional Mexican motifs, making each book not only filled with art but a work of art in and of itself.
All photos by the author, Cynthia Weill, or Jorge Luis Santiago.
Please note: This review is based on the board books provided by Cinco Puntos Press for review purposes.