Old Letivia and the Mountain of Sorrows

author: Nicholasa Mohr
illustrator: Rudy Gutierrez
Viking, 1996
preschool-grade 6
Puerto Rican

The townspeople suspect her of being a bruja, but Old Letivia is a curandera and uses her teas, herbs and potions—and magic—wisely. When a screeching wind arrives in town and threatens to destroy everything and everyone in its path, the desperate townspeople ask for her help. So the brave old woman (wearing her apron and a small bag of herbs, just in case) sets off into the rain forest—with her whistling turtle, Cervantes, and her little boy, Simón (whom she found in a floating gourd)—for only she knows what must be done to put the town back together.

Caveat (not really): Some of Letivia’s magic—like rubbing hot pepper powder in your eyes in order to cry and sneeze so much as to create a pool of water so you can swim through the wall of fire and land on a Peak of Fear—well, it might be a good thing to warn young readers not to try these at home.

With Spanish words defined in the context, Old Letivia and the Mountain of Sorrows is a wonderful, exciting, slightly campy story that will entrance young listeners, who will also love Gutierrez’s bright, detailed, computer-generated art. Letivia, Cervantes, and little Simón (named after Simón Bolivar, by the way) literally glow, and not just from the arrows of fire spat at them by the giant king of toads. Highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin 
(published 4/7/13)

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