Tales Our Abuelitas Told
Cuentos que contaban nuestras abuelas


Lit­er­ary Guild Medal
Kirkus Best Books, Kirkus Review
A Parent’s Choice Rec­om­mended Book
Best Books of the Year, Books for a Global Soci­ety SIG – Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion
Best Folk­lore in Best Books of the Year, Nick Jr. Mag­a­zine
Fea­tured Book of the Month, Col­orín Col­orado Web­site, Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers
List of Best Books for 2006, New York Pub­lic Library


Twelve sto­ries from var­ied roots of His­panic cul­ture come together in a col­or­ful col­lec­tion that includes talk­ing ants, magic bag­pipes, danc­ing goats, and fly­ing horses. In some cases the tales empha­size a moral, such as look­ing for the good in any bad sit­u­a­tion as in “Catlina the Fox.” In oth­ers, the story illus­trates the impor­tance of friends, as in the case of “The Bird of One Thou­sand Colors.”

The authors seek to trace the ori­gins of the sto­ries through per­sonal source notes, cit­ing vari­ants of the orig­i­nal story and the his­tor­i­cal themes behind the tales. Of note is a tale of Juan Bobo that is included in this col­lec­tion. Juan Bobo has enter­tained chil­dren and adults for more than five cen­turies with his antics and absent-mindedness. While Juan Bobo is well known by many, “The Bird of One Thou­sand Col­ors” is a story that Alma Flor Ada was unable to trace to an orig­i­nal source, although she remem­bers being told the story by her grandmother.

Through­out the col­lec­tion, cul­tur­ally accu­rate illus­tra­tions catch the eye with vivid col­ors and intri­cate details that con­vey aspect of the story. Each story leads nat­u­rally to the next, keep­ing alive the oral tra­di­tions of a rich cul­ture that spans the continents


This book was written with my mother’s voice in my heart. She had brought to me these stories while I was growing up, and I was bringing them back to her on her last days here on Earth, as a way to be together, united by words and stories, from two distant consciousness and continents. She was more than an “abuela”, she was a “bisabuela” and as such I dedicated this book to her.

Tra­di­tional tales open our hearts to old voices and new worlds, to won­drous adven­tures and ever last­ing feel­ings. Words like Había una vez or Érase que se era, hold for the lis­tener or reader the magic promise of enchantment.

The sto­ries retold Tales Our Abueli­tas Told or, in the Span­ish ver­sion Cuen­tos que con­ta­ban nues­tras abue­las, reflect the diver­sity of our cul­ture: some devel­oped in Latin Amer­ica from Indige­nous roots, oth­ers had their ori­gin in Africa or in var­i­ous regions of Spain and go back to the Hebrew, Ara­bic or Basque traditions.

Their set­tings may be Mex­ico or the South­west, Puerto Rico, Cuba or the Ama­zon among many oth­ers. They all keep chil­dren spell-bound. Sto­ries like these enriched our child­hood and left our imag­i­na­tion for­ever open to new dis­cov­er­ies, to the dar­ing pos­si­bil­ity of dream­ing bet­ter worlds. Words like ¨hap­pily ever after¨ got trans­formed into lives in search of under­stand­ing and com­pas­sion, lives devoted to pro­mote access and equal­ity for all, social jus­tice, and peace.


School Library Journal
“The intro­duc­tion to this delight­ful col­lec­tion explains clearly how sto­ries develop and change over time; in fact, the two sto­ry­tellers heard most of these amus­ing tales when they were chil­dren and have retold them many times since in their own unique styles. Each retelling is accom­pa­nied by a brief descrip­tion of its ori­gin. Included are tales about danc­ing goats, a tur­tle that out­wits a deer, and a bee­tle that declares war on a cow; all of the selec­tions are pep­pered with ener­getic dia­logue and witty detail. Chil­dren will rel­ish their humor, espe­cially if read aloud, and teens will also enjoy this lively pre­sen­ta­tion. Tra­di­tional story begin­nings and end­ings are pro­vided in Span­ish and trans­lated into Eng­lish, includ­ing one fore­bod­ing open­ing: In a land where you will go but from where you will never return. Four Latino artists pro­vide an inter­est­ing vari­ety of illus­tra­tion. Fea­tured images include a large goat head in a veg­etable gar­den, a large farmer on a very small burro, and a wolf and fox all decked out in fin­ery danc­ing together. The last page pro­vides infor­ma­tion about the authors and illus­tra­tors. Many libraries may already have Lucia M. Gonzalez’s Señor Cats Romance (Scholas­tic, 2001), but only one tale is com­mon to both col­lec­tions. Make room on your shelves for this excel­lent book.”

“The long chatty notes are as inter­est­ing as the 12 folk­tales in this anthol­ogy of sto­ries retold by Ada and Cam­poy and illus­trated by well-known Latino artists. The authors cel­e­brate His­panic cul­ture and its many roots–indigenous, African, Span­ish, Arab, Hebrew–assembling tales from as far afield as Spain and Idaho, and show­ing how the tales have trans­formed and influ­enced one another, and even how Ada and Cam­poy have changed them. The folk­lore uni­ver­sals are here: the kid who defeats his mean older broth­ers; the huge mon­ster routed by an ant; and more. In “Blan­caflor,” the evil king’s daugh­ter and the young prince ful­fill three tasks together and prove the power of love. The spa­cious book design will work well for both inde­pen­dent read­ing and read­ing aloud, and each story is illus­trated with one or more full-page pic­tures in styles that match the stories–from busy and filled to burst­ing to light and airy.”

Children’s Lit­er­a­ture
“A six-page intro­duc­tion wel­comes read­ers and offers his­tor­i­cal back­ground into the ways that folk­tales orig­i­nated and inter­min­gled in all cul­tures. The twelve His­panic tales actu­ally have roots in many ancient tra­di­tions. The con­ver­sa­tional tone con­tin­ues into the retelling of the selected tales rang­ing in length from three to sev­en­teen pages (includ­ing at least one full-page illus­tra­tion for each). A few of the tales will seem some­what famil­iar. “Dear Deer! Said the Tur­tle” is rem­i­nis­cent of “The Tor­toise and the Hare.” “The Cas­tle of Chuchu­rumbe” has a rhythm sim­i­lar to “The House That Jack Built.” Catalina the Fox could be related to Brer Rab­bit. Other tales bring fresh, new per­spec­tives. Pedro saves his family’s corn and, even­tu­ally, finds great hap­pi­ness because he befriends a lit­tle horse of seven col­ors and fol­lows its advice. A caliph and his son dis­cover the source of true hap­pi­ness in unex­pected places. Research and explana­tory notes fol­low each tale. Col­or­ful illus­tra­tions cap­ture the mood of the nar­ra­tive, often con­tribut­ing to under­stand­ing of the text and adding humor. The artists are given indi­vid­ual recog­ni­tion in the table of con­tents. A list­ing of tra­di­tional folk tale begin­nings is pro­vided in both Span­ish and Eng­lish in the front of the book. A sim­i­lar list­ing of end­ings appears in the back. The large-style for­mat lends itself well to both indi­vid­ual read­ing and group sharing.”

Reseñas/Book Reviews Berke­ley Pub­lic Library
“An illus­trated col­lec­tion of lively sto­ries – reflect­ing ele­ments of Span­ish, Ara­bic, Celtic, African, Jew­ish, and Mex­i­can roots – retold by the dynamic Ada and Cam­poy duo. The cuen­tos include sev­eral from Cuba, oth­ers from var­i­ous regions of Spain such as Gali­cia and Andalu­sia. Also reflected is Spain’s diverse pop­u­la­tion: farm­ers in the North and Cal­ifs that once ruled the South of Spain. The selec­tions hold uni­ver­sal appeal, employ­ing themes com­mon to many folk­lore col­lec­tions. Accom­pa­ny­ing the entries are cap­ti­vat­ing illus­tra­tions from four out­stand­ing artists, each using his/her unique artis­tic style to cap­ture the reader’s atten­tion. The authors’ his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge of the sto­ries is evi­dent in the notes that intro­duce this vol­ume. With a few minor prob­lems relat­ing to the orig­i­na­tion of the sto­ries, this is a won­der­ful book.”

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2006 (Vol. 74, No. 16))
“These lovingly collected and beautifully presented tales take in a wide swath of history and cultures, from Spain, long a crossroads between Europe and Africa, to North America and Latin America, with their own rich heritages. Several of the tales, familiar to the authors since childhood, were actually told by their abuelitas. Each tale is followed by an often-detailed note on its origins and the decisions the authors made in their retellings. The wonderfully varied stories range from the very short “The Castle of ChuchurumbT” from Mexico, to the elaborate “The Little Horse of Seven Colors,” set in New Mexico. The gentle “The Happy Man’s Tunic,” retold by Ada, is given “the Arabic setting of Al Andalus.” The stories are introduced by a listing of Spanish phrases traditionally used to begin a story, such as “Había una vez . . . ” (Once upon a time . . .), and conclude with a sampling of ending phrases. An unusual and worthwhile collection, beautifully illustrated. 2006, Atheneum, 128p, $19.95. Category: Folktale anthology. Ages 5 to 10. © 2006 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.”


Simon Brooks:
I have gone into the stu­dio to begin record­ing what is most likely to be called “More Second-hand Tales.” I know, amaz­ingly orig­i­nal, isn’t it? For those who saw me over this sum­mer, you might remem­ber me telling the story ‘The Goat from the Hills and Moun­tains.” This tale was new to me this year and I have fallen in love with it. It is based on an His­panic tale I found in a mar­velous book called TALES OUR ABUELITAS TOLD by F. Isabel Cam­poy and Alma Flor Ada, pub­lished by Atheneum. I could not find an orig­i­nal source for the story, or any other ver­sion of it, so I approached the authors for per­mis­sion to con­tinue telling the tale and also for per­mis­sion to record it, on this soon-to-be-made sec­ond CD. After a few emails with both writ­ers I have per­mis­sion to con­tinue to tell the story AND record my ver­sion of Alma Flor Ada’s ver­sion of this story which appears in the book. The book is won­der­ful, and there are many other great sto­ries in there. If you are look­ing for a hol­i­day gift to give some­one this com­ing win­ter sea­son, be it Christ­mas, Chanukah, Quanza, or any other hol­i­day, or birth­day even, then look this book over. It is not a ‘dry’ folk­lore book, but a book filled with the life and vital­ity which makes His­panic sto­ries so won­der­ful. It is also illus­trated in a style that cap­tures the tales in a unique way that kids love. I know this as we have a copy of it at my library. Many thanks to Isabel and Alma for gra­ciously allow­ing me to take this tale and put it on my sec­ond CD.


Tales Our Abueli­tas Told is a lovely col­lec­tion of His­panic folk­tales from many dif­fer­ent cul­tures, written/retold by F. Isabel Cam­poy and Alma Flor Ada. Abueli­tas is an endear­ment in Span­ish for “grand­moth­ers,” and these tales, full of life lessons, are told with the lov­ing care of our grandmothers.

These sto­ries have jour­neyed far — over moun­tains, deserts, and oceans — car­ried by wind, passed on to us by our ances­tors. Now they have found their way to you.

A sly fox, a bird of a thou­sand col­ors, a mag­i­cal set of bag­pipes, and an auda­cious young girl … A mix­ture of pop­u­lar tales and lit­er­ary lore, this anthol­ogy cel­e­brates His­panic cul­ture and its many roots — Indige­nous, African, Hebrew, and Spanish.

In the intro­duc­tion to the book, the authors explain the his­tory of His­panic folk­lore, which I found fas­ci­nat­ing. Twelve tales are retold and beau­ti­fully illus­trated, each one end­ing with a brief expla­na­tion of the dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the story and the authors’ con­nec­tions to it. My favorite was “The Happy Man’s Tunic,” a story brought to Spain most likely by the Arabs. In the story, a caliph was too busy to spend time with his kind and lov­ing son. When his son became ill, the caliph con­sulted many physi­cians. But when none of them could find the right cure, and he despaired, an old woman came to him and told him that all his son needed to get well was to wear the tunic of a man who is truly happy. The search was on, and a young shep­herd was finally found who proved to be a truly happy man. The prob­lem was…he didn’t own a tunic! It’s a fun story with an impor­tant mes­sage, but I won’t give it away here.

The authors also included a fun list of tra­di­tional begin­nings and end­ings to sto­ries told in Span­ish, side by side with their English-language equivalents:

Había una vez…
En los tiem­pos e la abuela…
Hace mucho tiempo…
…y col­orín col­orado, este cuento se ha acabado.

Once upon a time…
In Grandmother’s time…
A long time ago…
…and, my many-colored feath­ered friend, now the story has found an end.

It’s excit­ing to find a book of folk­tales that is done so nicely. This is a lovely book, beau­ti­fully writ­ten and illus­trated, and it would be a great addi­tion to a family’s col­lec­tion of folk­tales, and a won­der­ful book to use as a teach­ing tool in school for any age group. –Christine