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Opuestos

Chicago Tribune
It’s hard to take one’s eyes off this book, the wood sculptures are so appealing, so re-readings are probable.
Books about opposites have a surprisingly strong appeal to very young children. The concept of opposition opens up a new way of looking at everything, both what a child sees and what she can imagine as the opposite. The visual images are small, expressive Oxacan folk-art animals, carved by Quirino and Martin Santiago. “Day,” for example, shows a white dog with black spots, poised to play; “Night” is a black dog, with white streaks, howling at the moon. The words—Spanish and English—are simply placed at the bottom on the page, so there’s no confusing proliferation of places for the eyes to rest. In fact, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off this book, the wood sculptures are so appealing, so re-readings are probable.

Mary Harris Russell, professor emerita of English at Indiana University Northwest, reviews children’s books weekly for Tribune Newspapers.
- Mary Harris Russell, August 2, 2009 
Publishers Weekly
This bilingual companion to the alphabet book ABeCedarios also features images of Oaxacan sculptures (albeit from a different group of artists), but instead focuses on opposites. Wood statues of various animals face each other on each spread, colored with bright spots and stripes and set against equally vivid backgrounds. In a nod to Aesop, an orange hare (“Fast / Rápido”) is seen across from a turtle (“Slow / Lenta”), while a spotted dog and a black wolf both sit beside chalky images of the sun and moon to demonstrate day and night. Direct and charming. Ages 2–5.
- August 24, 2009 
Kirkus Reviews
This second work by one of the authors of ABeCedarios (2007) follows its predecessor's highly praised concept and design. Pages on the left side introduce children to a word in English and Spanish, as pages on the right side present its opposite: Asleep/Dormido (a spotted dog snoozes)/AwakeDespierto (the same dog, eyes wide open and tail sticking up).

Concepts are illustrated with photographs of unique hand-painted animal carvings created individually by Oaxacan artists Quirino and Martin Santiago. The contrast between the text colors and the bright background combines with the imaginary dialogue that children can establish with the vivacious folk-art figures to make this bilingual edition another outstanding entry in the First Concepts with Mexican Folk Art series. On some pages an external element-a sun or a moon, for instance-expands on such concepts as Day/Día and Night/Noche.

A great selection for bilingual storytimes at preschools, elementary schools and public libraries. As a work of art, its display will enhance art exhibits and cultural programs as part of Hispanic Heritage Month or Children's Day/Book Day celebrations. (Picture book. 3-7)
- July 15, 2009 
Blue Ribbon 2009, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books is pleased to announce at Cynthia Weill’s Opuestos is on its list of 2009 winners of the Blue Ribbon Award.
Blue Ribbon 2009, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books is pleased to announce at Cynthia Weill’s Opuestos is on its list of 2009 winners of the Blue Ribbon Award.

“Another year, another angst-filled deliberation and consideration of issues new and old and the delicious dilemma of choosing the best from a selection of the very fine indeed. We’re certainly pleased that this year has brought a satisfying variety of texts from the standpoint of audience age, and there are stellar titles within realms—beginning readers, concept books—that don’t always reach Blue Ribbon levels of excellence. Add to that a wide range of subjects—war and witches, archeology and animals, snow and scientific inquiry and school silliness—and we’ve got a list containing delights for many different readers. We hope they—and you—enjoy.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
- January 1, 2010 
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3–Oaxacan folk art in the form of hand-carved wood sculptures abounds in this bilingual concept book about opposites. Contrasting concepts include inside and outside, high and low, and left and right, to name a few. At the turn of each page, readers see brightly painted wood characters set against equally vibrantly colored background pages that effortlessly convey the concept the author sets out to teach. On each spread, the English and Spanish words for a single concept face the opposing concept. This attractive volume conveys the concept in a unique and inviting fashion and provides youngsters with an introduction to some Mexican art in the process.
- September 15, 2009 
Midwest Book Review
Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill (beautifully illustrated with wood sculptures from Oaxaca by Quirino and Martin Santiago) is a charming educational book that teaches opposites through pictures of colorful Oaxacan animal wood carvings.

Each page presents a carefully photographed figure or figures to illustrate the opposite concept, which is a word written in both English and Spanish. Humorous animal expressions and brilliant use of color and detail heighten the impact of each page.

Opuestos is cultural immersion education philosophy at its most creative level. Designed for preschool to kindergarten age levels, Opuestos will appeal to a wide variety of interests and tastes.
- August 7, 2009 
San Antonio Express News
Book utilizes symbols to teach basics of Spanish

A is for apple. Scratch that. Armadillo. That's pronounced ar-ma-dee-yo in a set of vibrant books that use Mexican folk art to teach basic concepts of Spanish. The first book, AbeCedarios, published in 2007 by Cinco Puntos Press, focuses on the alphabet. Each letter is represented by an animal carved and painted by the Jiménez family of Oaxaca. In the process, English speakers can learn, for example, that P is for penguin, or el pingüino.
Book utilizes symbols to teach basics of Spanish

A is for apple. Scratch that. Armadillo.

That's pronounced ar-ma-dee-yo in a set of vibrant books that use Mexican folk art to teach basic concepts of Spanish.

The first book, AbeCedarios, published in 2007 by Cinco Puntos Press, focuses on the alphabet. Each letter is represented by an animal carved and painted by the Jiménez family of Oaxaca. In the process, English speakers can learn, for example, that P is for penguin, or el pingüino.

The small, independent El Paso-based press has just published the second book in the series. (A third will focus on colors.) Opuestos, which means opposites, builds on what we learned in the first book, teaching simple terms that are, well, as different as night and day.

For "day," or día, a spotted dog, perhaps a Dalmatian, sits up and begs for a treat, basking in a bright yellow background. Across the page, a black coyote croons in the dark of "night," or noche.
The imaginative figures for Opuestos were carved from the wood of the flowering jacaranda tree and painted with natural dyes by artists Quirino and Martín Santiago from the village of La Unión Tejalapan in the state of Oaxaca.

"The books are aimed at three audiences: kids, people interested in folk art and educators," says Opuestos author Cynthia Weill, who wrote Abecedarios with K.B. Basseches. "I want a teacher to be able to use the books not only for concepts but also to educate about Mexican culture.

"I am also hoping that these books bring recognition to the artisans and Oaxaca's amazing folk arts. Handicrafts are an important livelihood for families in the poorest state in Mexico."

Ironically, the artists Weill has worked with on the books didn't always get the concept initially, pointing out a basic cultural divide.

"When I was working on AbeCedarios' and finally had all of the pieces photographed, I laid them out on the ground to show the entire Jiménez family," Weill says. "(Carvers) Moises and Armando were completely confused. They said, 'We thought this was a book about us.' After a long discussion I realized that they had never owned any children's books. As children, stories were passed through the oral tradition. They never understood until the end of the project what we were doing. It explained a lot."

Generally, says Weill, an educator and art historian who has lived in Asia, Europe and Latin America, the relationship between artist and author required routine maintenance.

"The relationship takes a lot of patience on both sides," she says. "Ready-made pieces are never quite what I am looking for, so all work is commissioned. Intercultural issues and just general misunderstanding do affect things.

"Often the figures they gave me were too large, or the wrong color, or the piece was beautiful but was too sophisticated artistically for a young child to appreciate. Our senses of time conflicted, naturally, being American I wanted everything as soon as possible and the artisans had a different internal clock. To my total chagrin my work would be set aside to complete another order or sometimes even 'accidentally' sold.

"It could be a little frustrating. Still I loved every minute of working with the artisans. Hopefully, they felt the same way about me."

For a full interview with Opuestos author Cynthia Weill, visit Express-News book editor Steve Bennett's "Fine Print" book blog at
http://blogs.mysanantonio.com/weblogs/fine_print/2009/08/fabulous-folk-art-books-teach.html#more
- By Steve Bennett - Express-News, August 23, 2009 
The Picnic Basket
The Picnic Basket is an online forum where teachers and librarians share reviews of books for children and young adults. Click here to read their enthusiastic reviews of Opuestos.
- October 19, 2009 
Tucson Citizen
Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill with wood sculptures from Oaxaca by Quirino and Martin Santiago (Cinco Puntos Press, $14.95)

In this sequel to ABeCedarios, the first title in the First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art series, figures made from the wood of the flowering jacaranda tree are used as bilingual teaching tools. (Ages 5-7)
- Larry Cox, August 5, 2009  Visit Website
Dwight Englewood School
Award-Winning Author’s New ‘Work of Art’ Delights Children, Young and Old Capturing the imagination of young readers is never easy, yet Cynthia Weill, celebrated author of the award-winning and visually-stunning book, Ten Mice for Tet, has done just that with her latest book, OPUESTOS: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish (Cinco Puntos Press; Bilingual edition; August 1, 2009).

An art historian and Mexican folk art aficionada, this clever and highly creative D-E middle school faculty member came up with the notion of using the delicate carvings of Oaxacan artisans to teach early readers basic concepts; the end product, OPUESTOS, is a win/win for children and the Mexican artisans whose work she seeks to celebrate and promote.

“OPUESTOS means opposites—right and left, up and down, asleep and awake,” says Cynthia, who explains that she traveled to La Union Tejalapan to collect work from brothers Quirino and Martin Santiago and others to illustrate the opposites that kids -- and adults -- experience in their every day lives. “I was fascinated by the whimsical carved alebrijes and instinctively knew children would be too; these colorful carvings have the power to delight both the new learner and the collector of Mexican folk art,” says the author.

OPUESTOS is not the first time that Cynthia has used Mexican folk art to engage early readers; the first book in her “First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art” series, AbeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in Spanish and English, featured magical hand-carved animals created by artisans from the town of Arrazola to represent the Spanish and English alphabets. It drew rave reviews as a colorful and inventive way to teach young children their ABCs.

Cynthia says her love of Mexican folk art began more than a decade ago when she taught in Mexico City courtesy of the Fulbright exchange. Today, she says crafts are an economic lifeline for many Oaxacans, and she’s proud and delighted to have found an educational use for the work.

“Ideally, my books will help promote the sustainability of the craft and aid in the overall economic well being of the artisans,” she says.

To read more about Cynthia’s work, visit www.cincopuntos.com.
- September 17, 2009 
Library Media Connection Zero Stars
This exuberant bilingual book actually makes use of chunking, the cognitive learning theory that groups separate pieces of information into connected units to improve retention. Whimsical creatures carved by artisans in the Mexican state of Oaxaca demonstrate the meanings of each pair of opposites in Spanish and English. The pages are brightly colored with large easy-to-read print. The creatures, ranging from dogs and bulls to a moth, are cheerfully painted. The last page of the book shows a picture of the author with artisans from Oaxaca, which lends a sense of respect for the art that gives life to the words. Though this book clearly target the youngest of audiences, it could easily be used in a Spanish language classroom to teach vocabulary in a manner which would actually stick with the students. This book could also be used in an art class unit about folk art. This is the second in the series: the first was ABeCedarios. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children
Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish depicts contrasting concepts on opposing pages (“asleep / dormido” and “awake / despierto”), sometimes depicting the same animal (“inside / adentro” and “outside / afuera” the frame) and sometimes showing a different animal or insect: The opposing concepts “high / alto” and “low / bajo,” show a butterfly on the upper left corner of the left page, while a dog, on the center of the right page, looks hungrily up at it; in another spread, two almost identical dogs, one with a “long / larga” tail faces one with a “short / corta” tail.
Oaxaca has had a wood carving tradition since long before first contact; the products of this tradition—from sacred to practical to whimsical—have taken the forms of religious statuaries, cooking utensils, household instruments, children’s toys and the like. Fast-forward to the 1950s, when a shepherd named Manuel Jiménez from the town of Arrazola was carving little wood animals while grazing his sheep at Monte Albán. When a white guy who owned a folk art shop in Oaxaca City “discovered” Jiménez and offered to buy everything that he could produce, others started to imitate Jiménez’s style, and the craft spread to San Martín Tilcajete and La Unión.

At about the same time, the opening of the Mexican span of the Pan American Highway brought to Oaxaca an influx of tourists, whom folk art dealers realized would happily purchase both replicas of old carvings and work that had no longstanding cultural traditions. This beginning of the folk art woodcarving practice has brought construction of paved roads, schools and hospitals to the area, and has been an important source of cash income for the woodcarvers and their families. And it’s one of the crafts that have made the state of Oaxaca world famous.

Weill, an English teacher who is fluent in Spanish, spent a Fulbright Teacher Exchange year in Mexico City and travelled to Oaxaca on weekends. Initially drawn to its abundance of crafts, she later enrolled in a doctoral program, researching intercultural collaboration in folk art production—and what would result if artisans created what pleased them rather than what might appeal to potential buyers. She also wanted a platform, as she told me, to showcase the work of the artists and artisans in ways that would recognize their unique talents.

Weill’s academic work eventually became a cross-cultural collaborative art project with several folk art producing families in Oaxaca. If a project were to be collaborative as well as cross-cultural, Weill would find out, she would have to give up a lot of control and become “joined at the hip” with the families with whom she worked. And everyone would have an equal voice.

One of the results of this collaboration is a series of five adorable bilingual concept books that introduce the littlest learners to the alphabet, colors, counting, opposites, and animal sounds. Anyone who is able to sit still for a moment will thoroughly enjoy the brightly colored- and -patterned wooden animalitos, on highly saturated backgrounds that bring to mind the texture of plastered walls.

ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art in English and Spanish
By Cynthia Weill, with artists Armando Jiménez and Moisés Jiménez

The first in the series, ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art in English and Spanish, features well known animals (“the Elephant / el Elefante”), and rare (“the Quetzal / el Quetzal”), and imaginary ones (“the Unicorn / el Unicornio”), and one that is as yet “undiscovered” (the mysterious “X / el/la X,” a winged creature that breathes fire); as well as animals for which there are uniquely Spanish sounds (“el Chapulín” to demonstrate “ch,” “la Llama,” to show “ll,” “el Ñu” or “gnu,” and “el Zorro,” to depict “rr”).


Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish
By Cynthia Weill, with artists Martín Santiago and Quirino Santiago

The second work, Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish, depicts contrasting concepts on opposing pages (“asleep / dormido” and “awake / despierto”), sometimes depicting the same animal (“inside / adentro” and “outside / afuera” the frame) and sometimes showing a different animal or insect: The opposing concepts “high / alto” and “low / bajo,” show a butterfly on the upper left corner of the left page, while a dog, on the center of the right page, looks hungrily up at it; in another spread, two almost identical dogs, one with a “long / larga” tail faces one with a “short / corta” tail.


Colores de la Vida: Mexican Folk Art Colors in English and Spanish
By Cynthia Weill, with artists Rubí Fuentes, Efraín Broa, María Jiménez, Jesús Sosa, Angélica Vasquez, Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, Eleazar Morales, René Mandarín, Eloy Santiago, José Miguel Pacheco Agüero and María Jiménez

In the third librito, Colores de la Vida: Mexican Folk Art Colors in English and Spanish, the animals—done in different techniques this time—are mostly displayed on background colors that correspond to the animals themselves. So, for instance, two purple bunnies (with orange carrots, which add some contrast and realism) sit on and opposing a “purple / morado” background, and a glorious orange lion (with a full mane and what appear to be actual orange slices as ears and eyes) sits on an “orange / anaranjado” background. I especially like the question at the end (with a cow and her calf on a green background and the lettering on a blue background): Can you say all the colors in Spanish? / ¿Puedes nombrar todos los colores en inglés?

Count Me In! A Parade of Mexican Folk Art Numbers in English and Spanish
By Cynthia Weill, with artists Guillermina Aguilar, Josefina Aguilar, Irene Aguilar and Concepción Aguilar

Unlike the others, Count Me In! A Parade of Mexican Folk Art Numbers in English and Spanish features all humans, decked out to participate in a festival called “Guelaguetza,” which is Zapotec for “to share.” Except for the initial two-page spread, which shows a line of people beginning the parade (Here comes the parade! / ¡Aquí viene el desfile!), all of the other illustrations (along with captions that will entice the youngest of listeners) land on the right-hand pages on solid backgrounds with only the numbers 1-10 in English and Spanish. Opposite “four / cuatro,” for instance, is this: The giants are my favorite! See the person wearing the costume peeking through from inside? / ¡A mí me encantan los gigantes! ¿Ves a la persona que lleva el disfraz mirándonos desde adentro?


Animal Talk: Mexican Folk Art Animal Sounds in English and Spanish
By Cynthia Weill, with artists Rubí Fuentes and Efraín Broa

And finally (for now), there’s Animal Talk: Mexican Folk Art Animal Sounds in English and Spanish. Here, probably the most beautiful and detailed animals and insects in the series demonstrate how sounds from everyday animals and insects (roosters, kitties, fish, goats, tigers, cows, horses, dogs, frogs, piggies, lions, snakes, turkeys, and owls) make sounds that may or may not be pronounced differently in two languages. For example, Roosters say Cock-a-Doodle-Doo. Can you? / Los gallos dicen Ki-Kiri-Ki. ¿Puedes tú? But fish say “glub-glub” in both languages. And the humor is sometimes slyly tucked in for the benefit of children who may be bilingual: Turkeys say Gobble Gobble / Los pavos dicen Gordo Gordo (!) The back cover, which may be my favorite, clearly and hilariously demonstrates how and why this all works: Sometimes they’re talking to you. / A veces me están hablando a mí.

Bilingual, colorful, inviting, absolutely adorable—and definitely child-centric—these libritos will capture and hold the attention of the littlest to the biggest kids (and adults alike—I keep coming back to them, and I’m known to be hard to please). All are highly recommended.

Reviewer's note: I want to share with readers some information about how this project's collaborative plan becomes a reality. Cynthia Weill and the artists work together for between two and four years to produce each book. (Cynthia mentioned to me that her role often includes babysitting so that the artist families can concentrate on their craft.) She pays the artists market rate for their work, which she then donates to the Field Museum of Chicago. After each book has been produced, Cinco Puntos Press gives each artist family 100 copies of the book that features their work.
- Beverly Slapin, June 1, 2016  Visit Website

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