"Abuelita, Tell Me a Story": Holding on to the Cuentos of Our Childhood

Caperucita Roja"Abuelita, tell me a story." This used to be a common request from the kids in my house; we loved to have our Abuela Rigo tell us fairy tales, because she had the gift of making them come to life. Her bag of cuentos seemed endless: we shrieked at the tale of Caperucita Roja (Red Riding Hood), swooned as Prince Charming kissed Blanca Nieves (Snow White) and cried when the Patito Feo (The Ugly Duckling) was rejected by his family for looking different from the rest. Our favorite stories, though, were those Latin American fables, whose characters seemed like they really lived in the mountains of a nearby country or right under abuela's house in Puerto Rico.



The lucky fool, the "tooth fairy" mouse and the conceited cockroach

La Cucarachita Martina (Ana López Escrivá)La Cucarachita Martina (Ana López Escrivá)We loved the story of a very clean and conceited little cockroach named La Cucarachita Martina, a folktale from Cuba. It's the tale of how Martina finds a coin as she sweeps her house and uses it to make herself beautiful. She sits on her front porch and soon a slew of suitors start asking for her hand in marriage. The end of the story varies from country to country, but the moral remains the same: vanity can only bring misfortune.

The idea of changing one's fate is universal; just check out Pixar's latest animated adventure, "Brave", about a daring young princess whose desire to carve her own path causes chaos in her father's kingdom.

Juan Bobo (Joe Cepeda)And while nowadays children's stories are as modern as 3D films, the classics still hold a place in our hearts. The Puerto Rican Juan Bobo stories tell of a very lazy and not-so-bright young man who finds gold, a princess and fame through a series of disastrous experiences. Some of our favorite versions are Juan Bobo and the Cooking Pot (his mother asks him to fetch a large caldero from a neighbor, and he gets angry because the pot won't walk even though it has three "legs") and Juan Bobo and the Pig, where his mother asks him to sell their pig in the market, but to first make her look nice and clean. He in turn dresses la puerca in makeup and necklaces while the townspeople laugh at his "brilliant idea". These ageless Juan Bobo stories are not only fun, but an important part of our folklore.

Things I Learned from My Father

El Ratoncito Pérez (Olga Lecaye)El Ratoncito Pérez (Olga Lecaye)When a child loses a tooth in the US, she leaves it under her pillow and finds a coin from the Tooth Fairy the next morning. Well, in Spain and Latin America, children leave their teeth to El Ratoncito Pérez. A number of beautiful children's stories have been made about El Ratoncito Pérez (also known as El Ratón Pérez or El Ratón de los Dientes) in both English and Spanish. There's also a recent Argentinean animated movie that gives our favorite "tooth mouse" a more modern twist.

Which stories did you grow up reading? Share your comments.


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