A Story of a Fierce Mexican Girl Illustrated by Spanish Artist Ana Juan in “Elena’s Serenade” by Campbell Geeslin

Myra here.

I have booktalked this picturebook in quite a number of my fairly-recent professional development workshops. It came as a surprise to me to find out that I haven’t reviewed this here yet. While the setting of the story is technically in Mexico, it still fits our Literatura Europa reading theme since multi-award-winning artist Ana Juan was born in Valencia, Spain and currently lives in Madrid.


Elena’s Serenade

Written byCampbell Geeslin Illustrated by: Ana Juan
Published byAtheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. ISBN: 0689849087 (ISBN13: 9780689849084).
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

A young girl named Elena wishes to become a glassblower like her father. However, when she asked her father to teach her, he claimed:

You are too little, Elenita, and the hot glass might burn you. Besides, who ever heard of a girl glassblower?

Devastated, Elena decided to channel her disappointment by traveling all the way to Monterrey as advised by her brother Pedro, because that is where the greatest glassblowers live. She was determined to learn the secrets of glassblowing, even if it means leaving her family behind, and wearing her brother’s trousers and old sombrero so that she will pass off as a boy.

Throughout her journey, Elena met a lost and lonely burro, a limping roadrunner, and a coyote whose off-key singing drives everyone away. The beautiful sounds that Elena creates on her pipe magically changed the destiny of these grateful creatures. As the coyote scampered happily away, he noted:

“If you can teach me to sing, you can do anything!”

I like how there was a gradual buildup of Elena’s confidence that provided her with the courage she needed to ask the greatest glassblowers in Monterrey to teach her. Yet, it does appear that Elena has something more within her: she is not just able to blow glass bottles…

… her affinity with music and magic allows her to create glass stars that twinkle like real stars in the skies. While generally happy with her success, she longed for the family that she left behind. Elena eventually blew a huge glass bird that carried her back home.

How she reunited with her family, I shall leave for you to discover. I like how this book features a fearless young girl who did not allow her gender (or people around her for that matter) to define what she can do. She trusted in what was inside her – blowing glass butterflies, stars, birds, and songs into the skies – simply because she can.

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