Monday, June 1, 2009

Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha ...

...Beautiful muchacha, won't you be my wife?"

That's the cry of Martina's many suitors in this delightful retelling by Carmen Agra Deedy of an old Cuban folktale, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach/Martina, una cucarachita muy linda. Martina's wise abuela tells her to use the "coffee test" on her suitors, so she can find out what they are really like. The tables are turned on Martina when the sweet, blind mouse Perez woos her, using a similar approach. "Who cares if you are beautiful?" Perez asks.

The book's narrative received a Pura Belpré Honor in 2008, and the audiobook an Odyssey Honor in 2009. We've taken to using the book in one of our afterschool programs: We read the story and then make as many cockroaches as we possibly can. I wish that I could read it the way Carmen Deedy does, but I could never pull off the Spanish-accented English.

This wonderful audiobook includes Deedy reading her story in both English and Spanish, and then (well, actually it's first on the disc) she tells you the story, as if she were giving a performance (rather than a reading). This is fascinating, as you can quickly see the difference between the two audio experiences. While the reading never sounds flat or rehearsed, there is a sponteneity in the "live" version that renders it superior. What a treat!

The publisher of the audiobook is the book's original publisher, Peachtree Publishers, and -- considering they don't do audiobooks -- it's an outstanding production. There's a brief bit of introduction telling you what's on the disc, quiet guitar music introduces each version, and then -- in an inspired decision -- the page-turn signals are "Cuban:" claves in the English version and maracas for the Spanish. What an improvement over the beep/tone!

Looking at all the Odyssey honorees this year (I haven't gotten to Elijah of Buxton yet), I think this might be my favorite!

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