________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Light Foot = Pies ligeros.

Natalia Toledo. Illustrated by Francisco Toledo.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2007.
56 pp., cloth, $17.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-789-0.

Grades 6-12 / Ages 10-17.

Review by Keith McPherson.

*1/2 /4

Reviewed from f&g’s.


Death was worried that the Earth would become too full, so she decided to clean things up a bit. She sat down under a tamarind tree and thought about what to do.

Suddenly, like a bolt of lightening, the answer came to her.

“I know. I’m going to make everyone jump rope with me. I will call all the people and all the animals. I’ll dare them to keep going  until they get so tired that they fall down dead from exhaustion. No one can beat me. They will all surely die, but I am immortal.”

And so death calls each individual creature from earth to skip rope with her. During the skipping session, death recites a four-line poem about each creature’s mortality. To Toad, she sings:

Skip, Toad, skip.
You know your fate.
Wipe that smile off your lips.
Death won’t wait.

     Unfortunately, Toad dies of exhaustion. As do Monkey, Iguana, Coyote, Rabbit, Alligator and Man. Man has the added humiliation that death takes a liking to his shoes so she steals them when he expires.

     However, when grasshopper is challenged by death, he skips 10 days without even tiring! This infuriates death so much she speeds up the skipping rope. Clever grasshopper jumps onto the rope to get a free  ride, and his blurred image makes death think he is skipping and keeping pace with her skip rope! Eventually death becomes tired, throws down her skipping rope, kicks off her shoes in anger, and stalks away in a rage, vowing never to wear shoes again. This  explains why death is said to be light footed, and why grasshopper has never stopped jumping.

     Francisco Toledo’s detailed watercolour paintings and engravings are luxuriously earthy and clearly capture and represent the Zapotec culture’s concepts of death. Each panel is a powerful piece of art that can stand alone in any art gallery and would be excellent visuals for initiating discussions with middle school and secondary  students about artistic representations of death – especially  indigenous Mexican artists’ representations of death.

     Drawing connections between and across her father’s sumptuous illustrations, Natalia Toledo attempts to craft a story about the nature of death. Unfortunately, the resulting story seems disjointed, forced, contrived, and it lacks the development of narrative tension. For example, death always wins over living creatures, which, in turn, keeps narrative development static and leaves no room for narrative tension to build. Furthermore, the development of the ‘just so’ connection between death’s forsaking of Man’s shoes and the concept of death being ‘light footed’ is unclear and awkward. Similarly, the point of the story is obscure as each creature dies off leaving us to conclude that grasshopper is the only creature left on earth.

     The publisher rates this book as appropriate for 6 years or older. Although Natalia Toledo includes some very catchy four-line verses that would appeal to primary aged children, the sophisticated illustrations and concepts involving death, immortality, and dying will be a struggle for most primary children to comprehend. In this manner, this book is more appropriate for middle school and secondary students.

     Light Foot is written in Spanish and English. Black ink and red ink separates the two languages on the page, making it easier for readers to track and read one language at a time. Teachers of Spanish/English bilingual students living in Spanish speaking families/communities, or teachers of students with Zapodec cultural backgrounds, may relate more clearly to this story’s content and structure.

     Whether it is because of difficulties translating from Mixe and/or Spanish to English, the unique cultural characteristics of Zapotec storytelling, or the author’s inability to weave a convincing story across her father’s existing artwork, the resulting story seems disjointed and static. Although the paintings and engravings in this book are visually stunning, they alone do not rescue the accompanying story from its textual limitations.

Not Recommended.

Keith McPherson has been a primary and elementary teacher and teacher-librarian in BC since 1984 and is currently the coordinator of the Language and Literacy Education Research Centre at the University of B.C.

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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.