cover image Too Many Tamales

Too Many Tamales

Gary Soto. Putnam Publishing Group, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22146-0

Snow is falling, preparations for a family feast are underway and the air is thick with excitement. Maria is making tamales, kneading the masa and feeling grown-up. All she wants is a chance to wear her mother's diamond ring, which sparkles temptingly on the kitchen counter. When her mother steps away, Maria seizes her opportunity and dons the ring, then carries on with her work. Only later, when the tamales are cooled and a circle of cousins gathered, does Maria remember the diamond. She and the cousins search every tamale--with their teeth. Of course the ring turns out to be safely on Mom's finger. Soto, noted for such fiction as Baseball in April , confers some pleasing touches--a tear on Maria's finger resembles a diamond; he allows the celebrants a Hispanic identity without making it the main focus of the text--but overall the plot is too sentimental (and owes a major debt to an I Love Lucy episode). Martinez's sensuous oil paintings in deep earth tones conjure up a sense of family unity and the warmth of holidays. The children's expressions are deftly rendered--especially when they are faced with a second batch of tamales. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)