Marco’s Cinco de Mayo

author: Lisa Bullard
illustrator: Holli Conger
Lerner / Millbrook, 2011
grades 1-3 
Mexican American

In Marco’s Cinco de Mayo, part of Cloverleaf’s “Holidays and Special Days” series, young Marco is one of the dancers in this year’s El Cinco de Mayo celebration. He’s nervous because he’s afraid he’ll forget the steps. His cousin, Diego, tells him the story about the Mexican victory over the French in “a big battle” on May 5, 1862. Thinking about the brave Mexicans, Marco “can be brave and proud too,” and goes onstage to dance.

There’s really no story here; it appears to have been written and illustrated to give teachers a few scattered facts about El Cinco de Mayo. The series is advertised as “nonfiction picture books” that “feature kid-friendly text and illustrations to make learning fun!”

One of the things that’s left out is the basic information about the importance of the holiday known as El Cinco de Mayo, even the name of the Battle of Puebla, in which a small, poorly armed force of Mexican soldiers drove back the well-equipped French army led by Napoleon III. And the pictures here are ridiculous.

Tacos are featured prominently throughout the text and we learn that, this year, Marco “[hasn’t] even had one taco.” Which is probably why he’s excited to engage in a “taco-eating battle” with his cousin, Diego. There are pictures of tacos scattered throughout the book. I don’t know, but tacos are pretty basic these days, not exactly curious examples of Mexican culture. Plus the reader never knows how many tacos Marco and his cousin eat. I wanted this information, if only to say, “Ay, Dios mío—¡que estúpido!”

I’m not sure where the “fun” is. There are four “chapters” in 21 pages, and each “chapter” contains one or two “facts,” set off at the top or bottom of the page, for older readers (grades 2-3) who’ve managed to stay awake. There’s one craft activity, in which children can make maracas out of empty plastic bottles, masking tape, markers, and uncooked rice or popcorn. There’s a helpful glossary of words that have already been defined in the text, and additional entries, such as “celebrate,” “costume,” and “instrument.”

The illustrations, in bright, bold colors, are unattractive.

Every time I think a picture book couldn’t get more boring, another one comes along. Marco’s Cinco de Mayo is actually misinformation, trivialized by design. Not recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/6/13)

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