Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Spirit of Utuyu

I met a boy in Oaxaca. He was in a novel I discovered there. And he was everywhere on the city square, called the zocalo, where people eat, sing, dance, peddle toys, balloons, cakes, and handmade crafts. Many of the peddlers are children, no older than the boy, Utuyu, in The Balloons of Oaxaca, who is six years old.

For a realistic contemporary story about indigenous children of Oaxaca, read Utuyu’s story, by Barry Head, illustrated by Noel Dora Chilton. Utuyu has been cared for by different people in the mountains where he was born, but by the time he’s six, he travels down the mountain paths to the capital city, Oaxaca, to learn to take care of himself.

At the city square where he is hungry and has none of the funny balloons or crafts that others are selling, he finds that people sitting at outdoor restaurants around the zocalo, love to hear the songs he leaned in the mountains.

“Utuyu didn’t move. He stood right there with his hands on the people’s table and began to sing.” He begins to collect coins from people who listen to his songs.

“What felt empty now, instead of his pockets, was his stomach. The next time he sang to a table of people, he pointed to the food they were eating, and one of the people gave him a big piece of flat bread. On the bread were pieces of cheese and avocado and tomato and chicken.” (I saw this many times, children gathered around people's tables, sharing their food.)

With many confusions and near tragedies along the way, Utuyu grows into a successful street kid. He is brave - with the spirit of the meaning of his native Indian name, sky. But the author, Barry Head, doesn’t leave him on the street. Utuyu has a guide and has the greater courage to leave the street and go to school.

Mr. Head lives in Oaxaca and New York and dedicates the book “in loving memory of Fred Rogers” with whom he worked for 30 years on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. He donates book royalties to Centro de Esperanza Infantil/ Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots

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