In his first work intended for young readers, Jaime Hernandez reworks three traditional folktales from Latin America. F. Isabel Campoy’s useful introduction speaks to universal importance of folktales, the complex interplay of the folklore from various countries on the folktales from Latin America, and the importance of strong independent women in the body of tales.
The title tale, “The Dragon Slayer,” has many familiar motifs from other folklore traditions. The youngest daughter’s generosity to an older stranger results in a reward of a magic wand that informs her about everything she needs to know. Armed with her courage and wit, she seeks employment at a castle, falls in love with the prince and, in a series of clever maneuvers with the help of the magic wand, slays the dragon, saves the day, marries the prince, and, in a slight twist to a traditional ending, establishes a new home and kingdom.
The second tale, “Martina Martinez and Perez The Mouse,” is adapted from Alma Flor Ada’s version of the traditional story of Raton Perez’s marriage from Tales Our Abuelitas Told. Martina and her red hair ribbon catch the attention of several suitors, but it is little Raton Perez that captures her heart and hand in marriage. Unfortunately, one day he falls into a cauldron of boiling soup creating a series of overemotional and unhelpful chain reactions from Martina and neighbours and friends. Thankfully, for Raton and Martina, a wise older woman offers wisdom rather than melodrama and another happy-ever-after-ending is the result. The final story, “Tup and The Ants,”’ is another amusing tale, this time of three brothers, none of whom are particularly clever. The youngest, Tup, is especially lazy and he manages to create an advantageous alliance with ants to win the respect of his in-laws and family.
All three folktales are told sparingly and simply in both text and illustration. The brightly coloured illustrations are generally divided into six panels with ten pages allocated for each tale. These colourful, unpretentious, and unadorned illustrations are extremely appropriate for the retelling of folktales for readers of all ages. While economically drawn, the characters, human and non-human, are imbued with expressive body language and emotions. Their eyes, in particular, are effective in developing character, tension, and moving the story from panel to panel just as the oral storyteller would use his or her facial expressions to bring the stories alive. There is a joyful movement and play that is evident in each panel, in the gutters, and, ultimately, in the telling of the three tales.
There are four pages of notes following the stories that provide background on each of these tales. The notes, aimed at older readers, include a bibliography of print and online resources and several stock beginnings for oral storytelling in Spanish and English. They explain antecedents and put the tales within context of the history of the area where the tales were traditionally found. Realizing that this collection is intended for young readers and those who share books with young readers, I will not take umbrage at the fact that a moral or lesson for each tale is spelled out in the notes. Stories from a rich heritage such as these should not have to be elucidated to the reader or listener of the tales and, as told by Hernandez, they are left for the audience to embrace their own conclusions. At the same time, I am very pleased that the background information to the tales is included in this slim, colourful, approachable, and enjoyable collection.
Also available in Spanish: La Matadragones: Cuentos de Latinoamerica. hardcover and paperback editions of both languages.
The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America
by Jaime Hernandez
Toon Graphics, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 8+