Pancho’s Piñata

authors: Stefan Czernecki and Timothy Rhodes
illustrator: Stefan Czernecki
Hyperion, 1992
preschool-grade 2

On the last page of Pancho’s Piñata, there’s this: “The tale of Pancho and his piñata is so old that no one knows whether or not it is true.” It is not.

One Christmas Eve in San Miguel, a boy named “Pancho” hears the faint cries of a small falling star that had flown down to listen to the village merriment and gotten stuck on a giant cactus. Boy rescues star, and star gives him a “wondrous gift”—“some shimmering stardust that had drifted quietly down to earth.” Boy becomes an old man, who is poor but happy because he remembers the star’s “wondrous gift.” Old man spends the few coins he has saved and makes what becomes a piñata, so that the village children can receive “wondrous gifts” and be as happy as he is. The term “wondrous gift” is used four times. In some stories, repetition is a good thing. Here, it’s annoying.

“[T]his enchanting story of Pancho,” the cover copy says, “reveals the true meaning of Christmas.” I looked several times; couldn’t find it. Rather, this totally boring story, “inspired by the Diego Rivera mural La Piñata and the Procession (1953),” is one of those “original legends” that make me gnash my teeth.

Czernecki's gouache art, with flattened perspective and bright borders on a palette of dark blues and greens, warm browns, pale pinks and deep reds—and the details, such as braids of chili and garlic, a large olla, and an altar to La Virgen de Guadalupe—mimic some facets of Mexican art, but, combined with that anthropomorphic little star, they're as uninspiring as the story.   

A quick look at the author’s and illustrator’s bios reveals that Czernecki’s work “is greatly influenced by Latin American culture [sic],” and that Rhodes “has become an avid collector of folk art, especially that from Mexico and South America.” Oh.

Pancho’s Piñata is not recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 5/20/13)

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