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Renowned Latina author Julia Alvarez recreates the legend of Dominican folk character ''La Vieja Belen" in this delightful bilingual rhyming story, beautifully illustrated by Dominican artist Ruddy Nunez. Alvarez's retelling keeps the magic of the traditional account while contributing a down-to-earth, timely moral: ''Of all the gifts you can give, your time is the best gift.''
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Kindergarten-Grade 3–This bilingual picture book is an original story about the Dominican folk character who delivers toys to poor children in the Dominican Republic the week after Three Kings Day. LaVieja Belén is an old woman who is always busy doing housework and caring for guests. One evening, three kings arrive at her doorstep on their way to find a king who was born in a stable a few days earlier. The Vieja feeds them a wonderful dinner of empanadas, fruits, and tamales. Although the story mentions that the men are looking for the king of the poor, the story is not religious and only hints at the Nativity tale, and Jesus' name is never mentioned. The gentle colored-pencil and watercolor illustrations depict an authentic Dominican country home complete with a straw shopping basket hung on the wall, a table with a popular tablecloth pattern, a big manual coffee grinder, and a wood-burning stove. The story is told in rhymes similar to that of Clement Clarke Moore' The Night Before Christmas. The poetic verses flow equally well in Spanish and in English, and the Spanish vocabulary is authentic to the region. The book concludes with an interesting essay about the origin of the folk character. A fine addition to any collection, but particularly a boon to Dominican-American communities.–Rebecca Hickman, Sherman Library at NSU, Fort Lauderdale, FL
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