This Top Shelf Review originally appeared in the July 19, 2012, edition of The Monitor
Timeless Tales with a Modern Twist
René Saldaña, Jr., is a Peñita...moreThis Top Shelf Review originally appeared in the July 19, 2012, edition of The Monitor
Timeless Tales with a Modern Twist
René Saldaña, Jr., is a Peñitas native and award-winning author. Known for the striking, poignant realism of his Young Adult stories centered on life in the Valley, Saldaña has also tried his hand at middle-grades detective fiction with his fantastic Mickey Rangel Mystery series. His latest collection, Dancing with the Devil and Other Tales from Beyond, takes his readers deep into the world of Valley urban legend, riffing in six fantastic stories on the cuentos our abuelas and tías would tell us when we were little.
In “La Llorona Sings a Happy Song,” the story of two boys being chased by the legendary wailing woman is interwoven with a retelling of her origins from the perspective of one of her sons. “Louie Spills His Guts” explores the old admonition that children shouldn’t play with knives without their parents’ permission lest their intestines end up snaking their way out through the cut they’ll invariably receive. “Dancing with the Devil” recounts the famous urban legend, setting it at a middle-school and narrating it from a jilted boyfriend’s perspective. One of the strongest stories in the collection is “God’s Will Be Done,” in which a young girl, set on meeting up with a boy her parents don’t approve of, mocks our ubiquitous si Dios quiere, insisting that she’ll get her way even if God doesn’t will it. The consequences of her rebelliousness and the lesson she learns make for compelling reading. I was reminded of the old Twilight Zone series when reading “Have I Got a Marble for You,” the story of Felipe, whose desire to be top dog at the Peñitas Marble Championship leads him to make a deal that he will forever regret. The final piece, “All Choked Up,” gives aGoosebumps-style twist to the story of la mano pachona.
Dancing with the Devil has been published by Arte Público Press as a bilingual flipbook. The Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura deftly captures the wonder and horror of the original English. Perfect for middle grade readers and young adults, the collection will make a great addition to the growing corpus of high-interest Hispanic fiction. I heartily recommend its use in classrooms to engage struggling readers. Boys in particular will delight in these gruesome but delightful tales. Saldaña has outdone himself, and I eagerly await his upcoming projects, which include a children’s book and an anthology of short stories and poetry he’s editing.(less)
Subtitled "& Other Proverbs, Folk Beliefs, Tales, Riddles & Recipes," Glazer’s essential text applies the methods of anthropological research...moreSubtitled "& Other Proverbs, Folk Beliefs, Tales, Riddles & Recipes," Glazer’s essential text applies the methods of anthropological research to local legends, beliefs and customs. But none of the scientific coding of these myths and legends (drawn from actual informants in our community) detracts from their communal value. Some of my favorites are “Godmother Death,” in which la Hueseda makes a deal with a kind man; “The Legend of ‘La Llorona,’” a powerful version of that tale; “The Hitchhiker (the Nun),” in which a truck driver picks up a mysterious nun; “Devil at the Dance,” the famous story of how Satan visited a local discotheque in April of 1979; “The Black Dog,” a variant of the cadejo myth; and “The Legend of the Black Rider.” Featuring great art by Señorina Véliz, David Olivárez and John Jett, these stories (included in both English and Spanish) never fail to engage me, no matter how often I read them.
Glazer's seminal collection has proved very influential in the thinking of many authors and educators throughout south Texas, especially the Rio Grande Valley, and it provides a great starting point for all sorts of explorations of the Mexican-American mythos. I’m always impressed at how many people I speak to have read Flour from Another Sack, often as students in the classes Dr. Glazer once taught at UTPA. The collection still appears in the on-line catalog of the UTPA Press. (less)