________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


The Honey Jar.

Rigoberta Menchú with Dante Liano. Illustrated by Domi. Translated by David Unger.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2006.
64 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 0-88899-670-5.

Subject Headings:
Maya mythology-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Marina Cohen.

** /4

Reviewed from prepublication copy.


Mother Earth called toward the Four Corners of the Universe, “Daughters of the earth, sons of the sun, sons of the sky, daughters of the clouds and the waters!”

Her cry echoed, “Earth…sun…sky…clouds…waters!”

Father Sky called toward the Four Corners of the Universe, “Everyone’s invited to the party.  Everyone join in!”

His words resounded, “Parrrty…Everyyyyone!”

His call reached all the creatures of creation. Their heads turned toward his powerful voice and they came by air, land and water – flying, slithering, walking and swimming – toward Mother Earth and Father Sky. And they came together, and stared at one another.

The elephant was perplexed to see a mouse so small, and the mouse to see an elephant so huge.  The fly greeted his cousin the mosquito. The turtle raced with the hare. The alligator opened her huge snout, and a hummingbird approached to see what was inside. The armadillo showed off his warrior-like shell. The tiger greeted the cat and asked if, perhaps, they were related. The bee was drunk on the sweetness of so many flowers. The owl nodded sleepily in the light, and the sloth, hanging from a branch, understood him perfectly well. The songbirds conversed with the parakeets, while the parrots gave lengthy speeches as if they were politicians.


The Honey Jar is a collection of short Maya tales depicting creation myths, explanations of natural phenomena and animal stories. Written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, along with Dante Liano, the tales include features reminiscent of the ancient oral tradition. 

     The Honey Jar is interesting in its cultural detail and provides insight into ancient Maya understandings. Domi’s illustrations are vibrant and the vivid images mirror the simplicity of the text. 
internal art

     However, from a literary standpoint, the writing is overly simple for the intended audience. For example, Menchú writes, “How many things are in the universe? Lots. Lots and lots and lots.” Although repetition is often used effectively in story-telling, in Menchú’s writing it is merely redundant.

     As well, the plots lack tension and intrigue. Creation explanations represented in The Honey Jar seem to have no conflict or rising action; they merely explain how things such as stars, water and animals came into existence through the power of supernatural beings like Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun. In other tales, such as “Where It’s Told That Monkeys Are Descended from Humans…,” the plots seems to move forward clumsily with little logical consequence.

     Certainly, translation may be a factor. Each language has its own rhythm, melody and flow.  Although this work may be accurately translated, what we are left with is writing that is awkward at best.

     The Honey Jar may be of interest to those comparing and contrasting myths and legends from various cultures or those looking for evidence of oral tradition.

Recommended with reservations.

Marina Cohen has a Master’s Degree in French literature from the University of Toronto and has been teaching in the York Region District School Board for 10 years.

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

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