Angel’s Kite / La estrella de Angel

author: Alberto Blanco
translator: Dan Bellm
illustrator: Rodolfo Morales
Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 1994
grades 2-5

At first, I was excited to pick up Angel’s Kite. Alberto Blanco is a prominent Mexican poet, and I was intrigued to see a children’s book, written in fluent, gorgeous Spanish by a Mexican author, published in the US. However, I almost immediately began to have my doubts.

In this poetic, mystical story, a young kite maker’s passion and determination result in the return of the town’s missing church bell, which had disappeared for no known reason. Although there are complex implications about the loss of the bell—Was it stolen by the priest and sold to a foreign collector (which implies both dishonest clergy and colonialism)? Or, could it have been stolen by the “revolutionaries” and melted down for cannons (which implies something about the relationship between the church and the Mexican Revolution)? Or, could it have disappeared by magic?—there’s no exploration of any of them.

While the rest of the townspeople get on with their lives, Angel creates his most beautiful kite ever—holding the image of the entire town, including the missing bell. The kite escapes and is found—without the bell—which magically reappears in the church tower.

Although the Spanish rendition is beautiful, I’m just not sure whether young children would relate to a story about a young man who expresses his agency, not through confronting the corrupt clergyman or organizing his community around creating a new church bell, but through making a kite.

Bellm’s English translation is clunky and awkward. On one page, for example, the Spanish reads: “Hasta que una tarde, para sacudirse la nostalgia por la campana desaparecida, Angel decidió hacer el papalote más bonito del mundo. Lobo, Chino, y Rabito, sus tres perritos, sus inseparables compañeros, estaban a su lado.”

The literal English translation would be this: “Until one afternoon, to shake off his nostalgia for the bell that had disappeared, Angel decided to make the most beautiful kite in the world. Lobo, Chino, and Rabito, his three dogs, his inseparable companions, were at his side.”

This is Bellm’s translation: “One day, to shake himself out of missing that lost bell so much, Angel decided to make the most beautiful kite in the world. His three trusty dogs named Lobo, Chino, and Rabito were at his side. (Their names meant Wolf Dog, Curly Head and Little Tail.)”

Rodolfo Morales was an amazing artist, firmly rooted in the land, culture and mythos of Oaxaca. His collages—made of silk, lace, silver stars, found objects—are world famous. But the same collage art technique just does not make a positive impact in this children’s book. Rather, the people look like they’ve been beaten up: their noses and eyes are black, their faces are distorted and expressionless, their bodies are weirdly out of proportion. 

In Spanish, Angel’s Kite / La estrella de Angel alludes to a rich history and uses magical realism to portray a certain time and place. I believe that students in, say, a Latin American literature class, might enjoy reading and discussing it. But as a children’s story, Angel’s Kite comes off as weird and unappealing. Not recommended.

—Grace Cornell Gonzales
(published 9/2/13)

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