This story looked cute and it was a Newbery Medalist, so it instantly went into my buggy when I was shopping at America’s Thrift Store last October.
Corn is the life of Tigre and his family – they plant it, they grow it, they harvest it, they eat it, and they sell it to buy whatever else they need. But this year, Tigre’s father has met with an accident and has broken his leg. He will not be well again until the time when they should be harvesting the corn which they have not yet planted. What to do!
Mother’s idea is to send for Pedro Paat, Tigre’s uncle, to help them. But Tigre is determined that he should be the one to provide while his father is sick, and Great-Grandmother agrees with him. So, early the next morning, he goes out into the fields to prepare their plot for their corn. Ai, it is hard work for a twelve year old!
Will Tigre be able to provide for his family? And when rains and drought alternately threaten the crop, will the corn still grow ripe?
There were several points that pleased me greatly in The Corn Grows Ripe. The first was that, although his parents spoil him a little bit and don’t make him work, Tigre wants to do better, to help his father with the household tasks, and go out into the field with him. And later, when his father is injured, Tigre volunteers to do his work. Although the work proves more difficult than he could have imagined, he sticks to it.
And then there was the religious aspect of the story. The book begins by relating the Mayan creation account. It goes on to reference corn gods, rain gods, deer gods, jungle gods, all kinds of gods! Credit is given to these gods when bad things happen, credit is given to these gods when good things happen, credit is even given to these gods when nothing happens! Here is a typical passage from the book.
“The bush dominated the thinking of the people. From the bush came life – corn, animals, healing herbs, wells with water. And from the bush came death. Not only the corn gods and rain gods lived in the bush. Evil winds, carrying sickness and bad fortune, lived there too, and witches and giants and all manner of supernatural beings that Great-Grandmother sometimes talked of around their fire at night. Buried in the bush were the ancient stone cities. [pg. 16]
Father’s injury is blamed on the fact that the corn gods are offended with him and that he has “crossed the path of a Balam.” [pg. 30]
When Tigre goes to burn down the brush in his field, he must appeal to the wind gods to spread the fire.
“He began to whistle, uncertainly at first, then stronger, surer—the Whistle of the Milpa, as his people had whistled it through the centuries, calling the wind gods to come and carry the fire…
And the wind gods came. With a roar the winds swept down upon the milpa. They picked up the flames and carried them running and leaping from pile to pile over the field.
Great joy filled Tigre. All though the bush, he thought, men are burning as I am burning.
He began to shout, his voice hoarse in the smoke-filled spaces. The winds had come. He had called them and they had come in answer to his whistle. He was working with fire and wind and with the gods. [pgs.50-52]
The strange thing is that not only do the Mayas believe in these pagan gods, they also seem to believe in some sort of Catholicism. They have an entire three-day celebration in honor of “the day of Holy Cross.” However, their faith has no firm foundation, and it crumbles when a drought hangs over the people and threatens to ruin their crops.
Several times the sky clouded over, but winds came up and carried the clouds away, and with them the saving rain.
“The Sprinklers are angry,” Great-Grandmother said. “Men are being punished because they no longer make all the old prayers and ceremonies the gods require.”
Six more days went by without rain.
Everyone was burning candles to the santos, making offerings of tortillas and pozole to Holy Cross. There were services in the church, and prayers and chantings. All over the village, in every house, candles burned on little altars.
Mother and Great-Grandmother sacrificed a hen.
Nine days went by, and it did not rain. Ten days, and the rain did not come.
“The drought is a fever of the milpa,” Great-Grandmother said. “The land is being punished too because men forget the Chacs.”
Twelve days passed, and there was no rain.
There was a novenario in the church, nine consecutive evenings of prayer to Holy Cross. The whole village was present, even the very old and sick. The altar blazed with candles and men offered pozole and tortillas.
A little rain fell but not enough to save the threatened corn.
There were more prayers and offerings to other saints, and prayers to San Diego, imploring his protection from the drought.
But the drought persisted. Rain did not come. And at last the people turned to the old Maya gods. [pg. 72-74]
The people then go on to conduct a ‘Chac-Chac’ ceremony in which a medicine man chants and animals are sacrificed to the gods. Several boys, including Tigre, are chosen to play the role of frogs in the ceremony (?!?!?). They each stand tied to a corner of the altar and while the medicine man chants, they croak. (?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?)
There are many more instances of pagan practice from the book, but I don’t have room for them all. You get the general idea, anyway.
Conclusion. As a story to provide exemplary role models and religious teaching to your children, I would not recommend this book. As a folk tale or legend to go along with history studies, it’s okay. However, as I mentioned before, every page is covered with Mayan religion.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret