Featured Stories

Here are two stories that can fit into any season:


Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban FolktaleMartina the Beautiful
Carmen Agra Deedy (author), Michael Austin (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2007

Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha has reached the age when  a cockroach looks for a spouse. Martina’s grandmother gives her some very surprising advice for meeting her suitors – spill coffee on their shoes. Young and old  alike will be terribly curious about happens when she follows her grandmothers advice.

While some might look at you askance for bringing cucarachas into a sanctuary, even cute ones in story form, this Cuban folktale holds some powerful truths worthy of entering a worship space. The story affirms that the most important thing in a relationship is being understanding and kind even when someone spills coffee on our shoes.

Every religious tradition worth its salt calls us to treat other human beings with compassion and kindness – and this story encourages our children (perhaps especially our girls) to expect kind treatment even when they might spill a little coffee. When recent study tells us that 1 in 10 adolescents report experiencing violence in a dating relationship, its time to make sure this lesson is taught in our worship communities.

Fortunately, the lesson is wrapped in a folk tale with a strong narrative structure that lends itself particularly well to telling. There is a nice pattern of repetition that will make learning the tale easier, and distinct characters that the teller can have fun with. If the story is being read rather than told, the illustrations are bright and lively. They tend to be a little over-caricaturized, and my preference is for telling rather than reading, but it is a good picture book to share as well.

Themes: Kindness, Forgiveness, Respect, Mistakes, Difference, Dating, Anti-Violence,

Motifs: Animals, Cockroaches, Rooster, Pig, Mouse, Grandmother, Coffee, Spill, Spanish, Cuba

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story


The Story of FerdinandThe_Story_of_Ferdinand
Munro Leaf (author), Robert Lawson (illustrator)

You know a book did something right if it was burned by the Nazis and banned in Franco’s Spain.  Who would have thought that the sweet classic book about the Bull who liked flowers more than fighting could raise such a fuss?  And yet, published in 1936, just around the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, it became an instant success and just as instantly controversial. Ferdinand became know as the “peaceful bull” and the book was understood by many to be a criticism of the anti-Republic coup that would soon break out in Spain.

Though this children’s book’s relationship to its political context is fascinating, you don’t need to know anything about the Spanish Civil War to see the charm and beauty of this book. Through a twist of circumstances, the gentle, flower-loving Ferdinand is mistaken for an angry and ready to fight bull.  He is taken by cart to the city to be entered in the ring of a bull fight.  Ferdinand is far more interested in the flowers on the ladies hat than in the red cape of the matador.This book speaks to themes of peace, non-conformity, the breadth of gender expression and perhaps even the fair (or unfair) treatment of animals.

The cruelty of bull fighting is treated very lightly in the book, which helps it to be non-traumatizing for younger children.  However, it left me feeling as if something more needs to be said. One way that I deal with that is to offer a simple, age-appropriate statement about bullfighting when I introduce the book. For example, I might say: “I am no fan of bull fighting.  I think it’s mean to the bulls.  I am a fan of The Story of Ferdinand the Bull, though.  It’s been a classic for over 75 years now.  I hope you like it too.”

Themes: Peace, Non-aggression, Non-conformity, Gender Identity, Differences,

Motifs: Spain, Bulls, Fighting, Flowers, Bees

Reviewer: Kristin Maier
Author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story


 Remember to come back next month to see timely tales
on our Featured Stories page.

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