Sunday, July 8, 2012

Juan Verdades, by Joe Hayes

Juan Verdades: The Man Who Couldn't Tell a Lie

by Joe Hayes
illustrated by Joseph Daniel Fiedler
32 pages

New York: Orchard Books
ISBN 9780439293112

In this retelling of a classic folktale, honest Juan is tempted to deceive his employer. Will he succumb, or will his better nature win out?

Children familiar with the archetype of "Honest Abe" or the apocryphal tale of George Washington and the cherry tree will recognize "Juan Verdades" as a kindred spirit. Juan is the overseer of a plantation, and he tends the herds and fields for the owner, Don Ignacio. Most particularly, he cares for el manzano real -- the royal apple tree, which bears exquisite fruit of great value. When Don Ignacio argues with a neighboring ranchero, Don Arturo, and makes a bet with him, the honest nature of Juan is put to the test. He can gain the love of Don Arturo's beautiful daughter by giving her the fruit of el manzano real, or he can keep the trust of his employer by guarding his property from those who would take it. Juan makes a hard decision and faces up to the consequences; his conversation with Don Ignacio is a well-known riddle that manages to uphold his honor -- and gains him the best of both worlds!

This book is on the lower edge of Picturebooks for Older Readers, but the text is substantial enough that younger readers might lose attention before the end of the story, while a 4th- or 5th-grade class would have sufficient material for discussion -- which may center on the repetitive nature of the story's structure (much like the Three Bears, Three Little Pigs, or Rumpelstiltskin, requests are made and repeatedly denied until they reach a breaking point), what Juan's riddle means, and of course the central issue of telling the truth. Fiedler's oil paintings are reminiscent of Mexican folk art, with smaller human figures often downplayed by the sweeping vistas, and still-life representations of domestic scenes. The warm earth tones are pleasant and complement the text well.

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Media: oil paint

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