________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 20 . . . .May 25, 2007


The Poet King of Tezcoco: A Great Leader of Ancient Mexico.

Francisco Serrano. Illustrated by Pablo Serrano. Translated by Jo Anne Engelbert.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2007.
48 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-787-6.

Subject Headings:
Nezahualcóyotl, King of Texcoco, 1402-1472-Juvenile literature.
Texcucan Indians-Kings and rulers-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Mexico-History-To 1519-Juvenile literature.
Indian poetry-Mexico-Translations into English.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Linda Ludke.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.



By the time Nezahualcoyotl reached his sixteenth birthday, his father was in the midst of fighting a war against the nearby kingdom of Azcapotzalco, ruled by the Tepanec leader Tezozomoc. One day, after a harsh battle, King Ixtlilxochitl was ambushed by a group of Tezozomoc's henchmen. Helpless, Prince Nezahualcoyotl hid in a treetop and watched as his father died from the attackers' blows. At dawn the next day, a faithful vassal helped Nezahualcoyotl retrieve his father's body and cremate it, in accordance with Toltec funeral tradition. This was the beginning of many misfortunes, persecutions and perils.


This illustrated biography provides a comprehensive introduction to a revered ancient ruler. Nine chapters cover key stages in Nezahualcoyotl's life, from his turbulent years spent as a fugitive prince to his rise to the throne and accomplishments as both a statesman and poet.

     Young readers might be surprised at the descriptions of the legal system of the 1400's. Nezahualcoyotl's laws meted out harsh punishment: "Traitors to the king, for example, were cut into pieces. Their houses were sacked and torn down, the land underneath was sown with salt, and their children and other relatives became slaves for the next four generations." Ironically, Nezahualcoyotl's only son was unjustly accused of plotting an assassination and was sentenced to die.

      While these laws seem harsh to us today, Nezahualcoyotl was a wise legislator, and the kingdom flourished under his rule. During a time of almost constant warfare, he brought gardens, aqueducts, temples, and libraries to his people. Renowned for his love of the arts, he was also dubbed the "Poet King." Sixteen of his philosophical poems are included.

      The Poet King of Tezcoco is attractively designed. The pages have the appearance of handmade paper, and Aztec block prints decorate the background. Pablo Serrano's illustrations aid in comprehending the text. Captions appear below the pictures and also help to explain unfamiliar words: "The tlacateo was the school for the nobility." A chronology, glossary and bibliography are included as well.

      A pronunciation guide would have been helpful. I had trouble keeping the many names straight in passages such as: "Even though it was dangerous, Nezahualcoyotl went to Azcapotzalco to plead for his uncle's freedom. Maxtla pretended to let Chimalpopoca go and then tried to kill Nezahuacoyotl, but Nezahualcoyotl managed to escape." However, this book provides a good addition to biography collections.


Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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