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The Secret Footprints


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About the Author

Julia Alvarez is the award-winning author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, and iYo!
Fabian Negrin has illustrated Dora's Box and The Selfish Giant for Knopf.


Making her children's book debut, Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) fulfills only some of the potential inherent in her story, which is based on an intriguing legend from the Dominican Republic, where she grew up. The ciguapas are a secret tribe who live underwater "in cool blue caves hung with seashells and seaweed" and venture onto land only at night because they are so afraid of humans. Their unusual anatomy helps preserve their hidden existence√Ątheir feet are on backward, so that "when they walked on land, they left footprints going in the opposite directions." But Guapa, an especially beautiful ciguapa, does not fear humans, even after the ciguapa queen warns her that if they capture her, people "will force you to take baths and do laundry and wash your hands before meals." Guapa's curiosity nonetheless drives her to surface from the sea one bright day, whereupon an encounter with a kind boy and his family threatens to ruin the ciguapas' secret. Unfortunately, the narrative is not uniformly focused and the climactic episode lacks tension; the payoff seems small. To a large extent Negrin's (The Selfish Giant) stylized, luminous paintings compensate for the story's shortcomings. Somehow he renders the ciguapas as both elusive and earthy. Portraying the vegetation of the sunlit tropical setting as well as the ciguapas' watery, nocturnal frolics, he suggests a world lush with mystery. Ages 4-7. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Gr 1-4-The brilliant blues, greens, and yellows of a tropical island set the mood for this bit of magical realism from the Dominican Republic. It is based on a legend about the ciguapas, a secret tribe of beautiful creatures who appear to be human except for their backward feet. In this tale, Guapa, a fearless young ciguapa, repeatedly risks being discovered by venturing from the undersea caves in which she lives to explore the land. Though she tries to heed her queen's warnings, Guapa's curiosity eventually gets the best of her, and in one of her daylight forays, she is found by a family of friendly humans who think she has twisted her ankles badly. When they leave to get a doctor, she remains in the care of their son. Having learned her lesson, she manages to escape, leaving behind a seashell for the boy, who never forgets the mysterious stranger. Alvarez's language flows as effortlessly as the vivid colors in the pictures, setting a mood of ease and tranquillity echoed in the rounded forms and curving lines of the illustrations. This gentle tale, with its images of glowing color, conjures up a touch of magic.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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