Carmen Agra Deedy is not only an author but also a professional storyteller, and this partly explains her masterful retelling of this traditional folktale from her native Cuba. Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha, is a 21-day old insect who is "ready to give her leg in marriage." The first three suitors who flock to her balcony are entirely unsuitable: arrogant, hot-tempered, and interested primarily in her good looks. But fortunately, Martina's wise grandmother is on hand to administer a rather creative litmus test guaranteed to bring their true character to life---and to celebrate when she finds her perfect match.
In 2008, Martina received the ALA's Pura Belpre Honor Book award given to work that "best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth." And indeed, this book is not only a celebration of Cuban folklore but introduces a few elements of Old Havana (like its distinctive small green cockroaches, streetscapes, and cafe cubano and skillfully incorporates Spanish words in context. While part of the charm of the story comes from its sweet and playful ending, it also comes from the gentle humor of this retelling, including its physical comedy, absurdly exaggerated suitors, and bilingual word play. Austin's acrylics similarly draw out the comic aspects of the tale while also making cockroaches endearing and, through carefully chosen color palettes, give the whole book an otherworldly feel.
Note: This book is also available in a Spanish language edition.
Miss E's Read: Her favorite part is the page where Martina "crossed her legs / and crossed her legs / and crossed her legs." But she also giggles hysterically at the idea of spilling coffee on someone's shoes.