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A Land of Books - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Duncan Tonatiuh has created another stunning picture book about early Mesoamerica. This time examining the creativity of the Mexihcah word painters who made and wrote the codices capturing their culture, legends, and history.

A Land of Books: Dreams of Young Mexican Word Painters


Author/Illustrator: Duncan Tonatiuh


Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers (2022)


Ages: 4-8


Informational Fiction


Themes:

Mesoamerican books, Mexihcah word painters, early book creators, painted words, and codices.


Synopsis:

Award-winning author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh sheds light on the significance of Aztec manuscripts and culture


A young Aztec girl tells her little brother how their parents create beautiful painted manuscripts, or codices. She explains to him how paper is made from local plants and how the long paper is folded into a book. Her parents and others paint the codices to tell the story of their people’s way of life, documenting their history, science, tributes, and sacred rituals.


Duncan Tonatiuh’s lyrical prose and beloved illustration style, inspired by the pre-Columbian codices, tell the story of how—contrary to the historical narrative that European colonizers bestowed “civilization” and knowledge to the Americas—the Aztec and their neighbors in the Valley of Mexico painted books and records long before Columbus arrived, and continued doing so among their Nahua-speaking descendants for generations after the Spanish Conquest. From an award-winning author-illustrator, A Land of Books pays tribute to Mesoamerican ingenuity and celebrates the universal power of books.


Opening Lines:

Our world, little brother, is an amoxtlalpan.

In the jungles where the jaguar dwells, the Mayas make books.

In the mountains the cloud people, the Mixtecs, make them as well. So do others in the coast and in the forests.

And we the Mexica of the mighty Aztec empire, who dwell in the valley of the volcanoes, make them too.


What I LOVED about this book:

This creative informational (or historical) fiction explores and describes the books, or codices, intricately painted by the Mexihcah, from the perspective of a young girl relating the stories and processes to her younger brother as they prepare for a flower festival.

Text & Image © Duncan Tonatiuh, 2022.


She explains that their parents are "tlahcuilohqueh, painters of words." The books (amoxtin) they create "tell the stories of our gods, our history, our people." Duncan does a great job showing and describing these amoxtin; long sheets of paper, with many page folds which are expanded in the temples, where the priests sing them, or collapsed for storage.

Text & Image © Duncan Tonatiuh, 2022.


Duncan's gorgeously distinctive profile illustration style and colorful palette make the book enthralling. We follow the young girl as she explains the steps and the ways she and her brother can help to make the paper from bark and the ink from insects, as well as the other creative endeavors of their grandparents and parents (painting temple walls and chiseling stone). After she highlights elements of the Mexihcah culture and hierarchy, both children drift off to sleep, dreaming of the books they will one day create.

Text & Image © Duncan Tonatiuh, 2022.


Using an imaginative five spread sequence, Duncan carries the reader into their dreams. He begins with them both dreaming of their gods and then progressively zooms in on the silhouette of each child dreaming about different pictograms of the amoxtin. Duncan weaves in the history of their migration and creation of the great city Tenochtitlan and how these books were territory maps, calendars, descriptions of animals, instructions on healing plants, and tales of warriors. It's such a wonderfully creative way to explain these books and how they were used. The inclusion of many of the images from the previously shown amoxtin encourages readers to reexamine the pictographs in the books at the beginning.


At the end, be sure to look closely at the amoxtin that the villagers at the flower festival get to hear read aloud with the partially one near the beginning where the girl and her brother are listening to a priest. The back matter examines the role which the Spanish colonization played in the destruction of many amoxtin and the Mexihcah culture, provides examples of one of the fifteen surviving Mesoamerican codices, and includes a helpful glossary of Nahuatl words, bibliography, and websites. This is a wonderfully engaging tribute to the books which influenced Duncan's illustration style and an important look at the rich, creative, cultural history and literary tradition of Mesoamerica. One I hope is included in all libraries.


Resources:

- try making your own codex using images from the book and the cover. Read it aloud to a friend or adult.


- pair this with Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth and The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes both by Duncan Tonatiuh for examples of Mesoamerican myths.


If you missed the interview with Duncan Tonatiuh on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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