Sunday, October 25, 2015

“Miguel, Mateo & The Magic Fish”

According to an author’s note, Chico writer and photographer Lisa West “became fascinated with Mayan culture on a trip to Yucatan, Mexico, in 1987.” Much later, teaming with illustrator Theda DeRamus and translator Rocío Guido, West created a fanciful tale of twin brothers and a mysterious world.

“Miguel, Mateo & The Magic Fish” ($12.99 in paperback from Star House Books), and an associated coloring book, are for kids with a third- or fourth-grade reading level. A glossary highlights some of the key aspects of Mayan mythology West uses in weaving her story. There’s the fish Kukulcan (or Quetzlcoatl), once a man; ceremonial pyramids, the sacred Jaguar, fearsome stone creatures that come to life at night, and magical twins who win the day.

Things begin peacefully enough. “The morning Miguel and his twin brother Mateo snuck off to go sailing, the sky was as blue as their mother’s shawl.” The boys, both ten (though Miguel, twenty minutes older, is more daring) set off in their father’s dinghy to look for fish. “No one will even notice we’re gone.” That’s Miguel.

As for Mateo, he’s about to respond when a storm appears and the wind begins to blow. “They tugged at the sail with desperate hands, the ropes digging deep into their skin. The sail ripped away from the mast, flapping wildly. Terrified, they crouched low, gripping the sides of the boat as it spun and rocked violently in the angry sea.”

The storm stops just as suddenly. The boys find themselves near a strange jungle beach; there in the water, “a marvelous fish. Gold and blue scales covered its body, and green feathery plumes grew from its head.” The fish, once a man who had tried to lead his village to safety, tells Miguel and Mateo that “only twins have the power to overcome the magic that keeps me locked in this shape. I brought you here because I need your help.”

The twins must find the jade ring and in so doing find courage.

The colorful paintings on every page, and the text in both English and Spanish, make for a captivating journey into the cultural imagination of an ancient people.    

No comments: