|Salsa by Jorge Argueta, ill. Duncan Tonatiuh|
“In my house / there is a stone bowl. / It’s black as the night / and stands on three little feet. / It’s called a molcajete.” So begins this most crave-worthy of books. Bilingual poetry instructs the reader on how to make red salsa; metaphors and similes connect the cooking process to music and dance (salsa dancing, naturally). Since I am not a competent Spanish-speaker, I review only the English.
The first-person narrator (who does the cooking) has a child's voice, and teaches readers about the history and culture embodied in red salsa. "[M]olcajetes were / our ancestors' / blenders", the narrator tells us, and later references Nahua, Aztec, and Mayan ancestors (who Tonatiuh also includes in the illustrations). Music lives in the text and illustrations, both in the salsa dancing and in the metaphors to a symphony of flavors (“I am ready with four tomatoes. / They are bongos and kettledrums. / My onion is a maraca. / Cloves of garlic are the trumpets, / and the cilantro is the orchestra conductor / with his shaggy, green hair”).
The big family in Duncan Tonatiuh's illustrations clearly loves food, music, dancing, and each other. Tonatiuh's art draws on Mixteca techniques and is a joy to behold. Figures are flat silhouettes and highly stylized; red splashes through the book both in the ingredients and in characters' clothing. The vegetables in the recipe (tomatoes, onions, peppers) line the tops and bottoms of pages.
“I squeeze a river of lime into the salsa, / and we stir / with my saxophone spoon.” With its musical language and expert use of poetic devices, Salsa could be useful to poetry teachers, chefs, or enjoyed on its own. Beware subsequent cravings--you may wish to stock up on ingredients before you read the book.
Reviewed by Allie Jane Bruce