Cats and Cockroaches?

Author Spotlight: Carmen Agra Deedy
According to her book jacket bio, Carmen was born in Havana, Cuba.

She came to the United States as a refugee and like most immigrants sees the world from multiple perspectives.  Deedy has performed in many prestigious venues, but children are her favorite audience.

This is evident in the wide age range of audiences targeted by her two books below: a primary grade picture book, and an upper elementary Dickens-like tale.

As a primary grade teacher, I got the pleasure of using great children’s literature to teach all subjects to my second graders.  Round Rock ISD has few adopted textbooks, so good literature provides a platform for lessons in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  During the spring unit on Theme & Genre, I always enjoyed reading this delightful folktale to them:

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale
By Carmen Agra Deedy; Illustrated by Michael Austin
Price New $4.99

Age Range
With parental interaction: 5-8 years old (grades K-2nd)
Independent reading: 8-10 years old (grades 2nd-4th)

You read that right…beautiful cockroach! This story encourages great conversation about what makes a good companion, as Martina searches for a husband.  You’ll be shocked and enlightened as you read about her abuela’s (grandmother’s) wise advice on how to test someone’s character.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; Illustrated by Barry Moser
Price New $16.95

Age Range
Independent reading: 8-12 years old (grades 3rd-6th)

I got this at the library last week and finished it in 2 sittings.  The setting and characters are inspired by the authors’ love of Charles Dickens, so I was worried I might miss some of the meaning since I’ve only read a few of his works.  But a Cybil Award reviewer stated it best:   “Charles Dickens has an important supporting role and there are abundant literary allusions and though these may be lost on some younger readers, we believe they will remember and enjoy them again in later life.”

You can certainly read this book with no knowledge of Dickens and still enjoy the rich language, tongue and cheek humor, and memorable characters.  The plot is lively and intriguing.  Each character’s distinct voice provides a wonderful depth to a book that, at first glance, might seem like just a cute talking-animal tale.

My favorite scene (at least that I can reveal without spoiling the plot) occurs in Chapter 6 during a fascinating encounter between a cat and mouse.  After capturing the mouse, the main character Skilley spits him out onto the stone floor.

He then nudges the mouse, whispering, “Run…”  After a pause, in which the mouse lay as still as if he were dead, eyes tightly shut, the cat asks, “What’s wrong with you?  Why don’t you run away?”

To this the mouse replies, “What’s wrong with me?  I’m behaving as I ought in this situation.  What’s wrong with you?”

This begins the unusual and humorous relationship between two fascinating characters, Skilley and Pip.  There also 2 very rich scenes about apologies and forgiveness.  The authors weave these very naturally into the story and give the reader great insight into friendships and the need to understand the tough truths about ourselves sometimes.  This title is on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list for 2012-2013.  For a list of all current nominees for 2012-2013

2 responses to “Cats and Cockroaches?

  1. Interesting stories Jennifer! cool.

  2. Thanks! I hope you’ll check them out.

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