translator: Edna Ochoa
illustrator: José Ramírez
Piñata Books / Arte Público Press, 2005
A long, long time ago, before the Spring of Creation, before humans inhabited this world, there were many, many animals; and all of these many, many animals went about doing what they knew how to do: “Frogs did what frogs do. Turtles did what turtles do. Armadillos did what armadillos do.” And then, one day, a helpless, two-legged creature—a baby human—appears, and no one knows how this kind of cute, smiling thing will ever survive in this world. The others know that this strange creature is not going to be as strong as the bear, or as fast as the deer. They know it is not going to be able to fly like the birds, and it certainly isn’t as beautiful as the butterflies.
The animals just don’t know what to do with this strange creature. While they’re all debating, the frog reaches out with its little hand and begins to rub the creature’s belly. When the baby human’s response is to fart and laugh and fart and laugh some more, the animals decide that this poor defenseless, skinless creature that isn’t strong, can’t run and can’t fly, was probably put here to—fart and laugh, fart and laugh, and bring the world together. And if they protect this creature, they decide, maybe someday it will grow into something beautiful.
A delicious breeze blew and the grass began to dance, the flowers smiled, the trees sang, and the rocks laughed. For here, in the Spring of Creation, everyone present had finally agreed on how to handle the confusing situation.
“It is true,” the story goes. “Mother Nature does not make mistakes. So humans must have been put on earth for some good reason, other than being selfish children full of gas!”
(Reviewer’s note: Now it’s up to us, the descendants of that human baby, to get our act together and stop farting around.)
Victor Villaseñor writes that, as a young child, when he wasn’t feeling well, his mother would rub his forehead or belly and sing to him, “Sana, sana, colita de rana, saca un pedito y sanarás mañana,” and then his father would tell him the story of how the frog saved humanity.
In The Frog and His Friends Save Humanity/ La rana y sus amigos salvan a la humanidad, Villaseñor’s thoughtful—and hilarious—written version of the traditional Oaxacan tale he learned as a child maintains the pitch-perfect rhythm and cadence of a well-told oral story. I can all but guarantee screams of laughter when children listening to this story hear the word “fart”—and quite possibly fart-noises as well.
José Ramírez’ luminous paintings, in brightly colored and thickly layered oils, remind me of the early Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Each double-page spread, with a background of yellows, oranges, reds, purples or greens, wraps around the text on the left-hand side; and on almost every spread, Ramírez has embedded an iconic image of the human baby. As the story progresses, the baby grows as well, and youngest listeners will enjoy finding it and identifying each animal and Mother Earth.
Edna Ochoa’s Spanish version of this story is superb—far from the clunky, literal translations that too often inhabit bilingual children’s books.
The Frog and His Friends Save Humanity/ La rana y sus amigos salvan a la humanidad is a treasure that young children—listeners and readers, hablantes and English-speakers—will ask for, over and over. Highly recommended.