culture, folktales, mexican, social studies

Author Spotlight – Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh was born in Mexico City in 1984 to an American father and a Mexican mother. Duncan’s family moved to the States when he was a teenager, and he finished high school in Massachusetts. Growing up, Duncan was drawn to the vibrant art of comic books and anime. This inspired him to make his own comics and prompted his exploration of art. In high school, he took up painting and claims his most significant influences to be Vincent Van Gogh and Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele. In college, Duncan began studying Mixtec art, the painting style found in indigenous Mexican art of the Oaxaca and Puebla peoples. This art style is the core influence in the children’s books Duncan writes & illustrates. It’s his way of reviving an old art form in a contemporary context that tells relevant stories to children.


Dear Primo (Harry N. Abrams)

For ages: 4-8
The premise of Dear Primo are the letters sent back and forth between two cousins. One lives in Mexico and the other in the United States. The two boys are interested in how their lives are the same but also where they differ. Both boys love food, holidays, and hanging out with their respective friends. They have never met, but this exchange inspires them to want to make the journey and see each other face to face. Tonatiuh’s Mixtec inspired are beautiful compliments to the story, using colors that would be predominant in the traditional artwork. Bold Mayan blues and Indian reds intermix with earthy browns, grays, and blacks. The style would be a fantastic surprise for readers who may be more familiar with the current Disney/Cartoon Network-inspired art styles in contemporary American picture books.


Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (Harry N. Abrams)

For ages: 5-9
Working in a rural school district in the American Southeast meant I had the honor of teaching many children whose parents were migrant workers. Some crossed the border following procedures, and others came over without permission. Still, both types of parents were striving to provide for their families. Pancho Rabbit is the telling of one of these stories through the use of animals seen in traditional folktales. Pancho wants to find out what happened to his Papa after the elder rabbit headed north for work. Based on the people who promise to guide refugees across the board, the coyote is a nasty character, tricking the poor boy and taking his food. The book works as both a classic fable but older readers can undoubtedly go deeper and make connections between socio-political events at the States’ border with Mexico. 


Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Harry N. Abrams)

For ages: 6-10
One of the most poisonous sentiments of the current fascist wave of revisionism in American schools is the idea that white children are made to feel guilty when children of color are allowed to know their history. I read this text to several classes, and that was never a takeaway. Instead, I saw my white students grow outraged that their classmates might have been treated like this once upon a time. Tonatiuh relates the fight against segregation in Western states to Black people fighting in the South simultaneously. Sylvia Mendez’s parents refused to allow their child to be marginalized and given less of an education because they were not white. Many Mexican-Americans were afraid to “rock the boat,” but Mr. Mendez inspired them when he filed a suit, rightfully claiming that his daughter’s rights were being violated. There are some great resources in the backend of the book to keep the learning going.

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