I first found out that this book existed while researching for a class presentation of another Groundwood Book, The Black Book of Colors, which has three contributors (in the English version), of which Elisa Amado is one. I will not use this space to talk about my opinions on that book – onward.
I like this book. I like it a lot. More critical reading/questions to follow.
Quick synopsis: Margarita, who is probably about four or five years old, makes observations after climbing up a tree. Timoteo works in her family’s garden, while the shacks her young neighbors and friends Rosario, Chepe, and Juanita live are on the other side of the hedge in which Margarita has hidden her tricycle. She watches the children remove her trike and hide it under a box in their yard, but when her mother asks where it is, she replies “I don’t know.” At lunch, Margarita overhears a guest at the table say, “They are all thieves. They should be shot,” which upsets Margarita.
For discussion: Is it for logistical, traditional, or symbolic reasons that Margarita is dressed all in white? When she climbs the tree, she notes that gum from the tree sticks to her blouse and will probably leave a permanent stain, which she does not care about. In the second-to-last painting in this text, Margarita rests in her mother’s arms. The color palate is incredibly calm and neutral – the walls, Margarita’s clothes and her mother’s clothes are all shades of white and off-white. Her neighbors, who are obviously of a different economic and social class than her family and their friends who come to dine with them, are illustrated in “dirty” shades of brown and desert gold.
Related symbol: The tricycle. Margarita admits “I’m too old for a trike now, anyway.” Tricycles are by definition “similar to a bicycle,” (New Oxford American Dictionary) and in common use are the precursor to bicycle use, which is often related with independence (from a parental-type figure). I feel as though this text acknowledges the idea that people of higher social and economic class are responsible for the support and mobilization of people in lower classes and/or living in poverty. Ie: higher class = parents, lower class = children. Margarita is literally looking down at her neighbors (and the gardener) in this scene.
While acknowledging this idea, Tricycle does not necessarily support it.
What I really like is also what I did not mention in my synopsis. In the tree, Margarita also sees “the smoke billowing from the Volcán de Fuego,” which is “always erupting.” Her last statement to her mother, who attempts to calm Margarita by letting her know that “No one is going to get shot,” is “I hope the Fuego doesn’t erupt on us…[o]ur house is strong but Rosario’s house could get all burned up,” to which her mother does not reply.
After this, Margarita does not “feel like climbing the tree, so [she goes] over and watch[es] Timoteo plant some flowers.”
The last painting is of the Fuego.
Is this not a realistic book in that it admits that Margarita, of the more advantaged social and economic status, sees the poverty and disadvantage of her neighbors, but does not see how to fix it – and therefore retreats to the comfort of her own yard, her family’s garden and gardener? She chooses not to see the volcano anymore. She chooses not to see the poverty.
If you have read this book, please feel free to continue this conversation. I miss having classmates who HAVE to talk to me about these things.