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Baila, Nana, Baila

Dance, Nana, Dance /
Baila, Nana, Baila

The American Folklore Society: Aesop Prize commendation

This colorful bilingual anthology of thirteen Cuban folktales has sabor, the flavor of the Caribbean, bringing the rich mixture of Spanish, African and American influences to his readers. Cuban folkloric wisdom and wit fill these pages. There is a rhythmic quality to the linguistic expression in both the English and Spanish narratives, reminiscent of the importance of rhythm in the Cuban way of life. The title tale, “Dance, Nana, Dance (Baila, Nana, Baila)” celebrates the central role of music on this Caribbean island. Twin boys play drums and sing, while a sorceress cannot help but dance until she is exhausted, enabling the boys to capture fire and bring it to the people. In “The Gift (El Regalo)” Hayes retells a patakí, a teaching tale about the Orishas, or the holy ones of Santería, which is the Afro-Cuban religion. Obbara, the most humble of the Orishas, is acknowledged for his ability to reveal the true worth of whatever gifts one receives in life, even if it is concealed in something that appears to have no value.

Joe Hayes based his retelling of the tales on manuscripts Cuban storyteller and musicologist Martha Esquinazi generously shared with him. His delivery exhibits his subtle sensibility and warmth for the people and folklore of Cuba, opening the way for cultural understanding to his audience. Whether in Spanish or English, the storytelling is engaging. Because the texts in the two languages are remarkably parallel, they render reading the tales a bilingual learning experience. This consistency in expression encourages language learners to acquire new phrases as well as new cultural perspectives. The illustrations by Cuban-born Mauricio Trenard Sayago not only reflect the influence of the folk art of his native island, but also add potency to the messages of the tales. The dynamic images convey Sayago’s profound belief in the power of art and its ability to educate and transform the individual and society.

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