Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Module 3: Just a Minute

Morales, Yuyi. 2003. Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811837580.

Plot Summary
Señor Calavera, death, comes for Grandma Beetle, but she is not ready to go. Grandma Beetle says, "Just a minute, Señor Calavera, I will go with you right away, I have just ONE house to sweep." This phrase continues on each page, but with an increasing number of tasks to complete in preparation for her own birthday party. Señor Calavera helps with the tasks and joins in the party alongside Grandma Beetle's grandchildren. In the end when Grandma Beetle is ready to leave she finds a note from Señor Calavera saying that he enjoyed the party and to expect him again next year.

Critical Analysis
Just a Minute was wonderfully written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. The text does not include many cultural markers, but most every aspect of the illustrations reflect Mexican culture. The book also serves as a counting book and each number is presented in both English and Spanish in a large, bold font so that children can easily recognize the number in each language.

Grandma Beetle is preparing for a birthday party so the items mentioned in the story represent foods and activities that would be found in a Mexican birthday party. On one page Grandma Beetle says she is going to make tortillas. On another page she says she needs to fill piñatas with candy. The other foods are not specifically listed, so from the text alone they do not necessarily represent a specific culture. It is the illustrations that indicate what types of fruit and pots of food are being prepared. The only names used are Grandma Beetle and Señor Calavera, which translates to Mr. Skeleton. The name Grandma Beetle does not suggest a specific culture, but the use of Señor Calavera indicates a culture that uses skeletons to represent death.

The bright, colorful illustrations add a lot of depth to the story. Grandma Beetle and her grandchildren have a brown skin tone, some with lighter skin and hair than others. Grandma Beetle's hair is gray. Grandma Beetle wears an apron over her dress, and Señor Calavera wears an apron as well in one of the pictures. The grandchildren dress in a way that any child can relate to with shirts, pants, shorts, dresses, sandals, dress shoes, and sneakers.

Aspects of the house and other items in the illustrations portray Mexican culture. There is a colorful striped rug at the front door, a crocheted doily on a table, and colorful tiles and pictures with engraved metal frames are on the walls. There are seven colorful piñatas and each one is different. Most are animals, but there is even a van piñata. Some of the cooking items were used in the past, but may still be used today. The tea is boiled in clay pots. A comal is warming up on the stove, while corn is being ground in a molino. In one picture the stove is very busy with tamales cooking in a very large pot, other foods cooking in a pot and metal pan, and cake pans in the oven. In the same scene Señor Calavera is adding in a modern feature by using an electric mixer.

More is discovered about the foods in the illustrations. Sliced apples are added to the tea. The fruits being sliced are a watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, and papaya. White cheese rounds are melting on the comal. Tamales are peeking out of a large pot. Various types of individually wrapped candies and suckers fill the piñatas.

At Yuyi Morales shares information on Just a Minute and her own life. She grew up in Veracruz, Mexico and now lives in California. Morales says, "When I was a child, I had a grandma just like Grandma Beetle: plump and strong, and loving. And like Grandma Beetle, she was a trickster too." She also explains that the birthday parties her mother gave her when she was a child were just like Grandma Beetle's birthday party. The inspiration for Señor Calavera comes from The Day of the Dead skeletons. Morales says "if you could jump into the book and meet Señor Calavera in person, you would find that he is made of crystallized sugar, just like the decorated sugar skulls that children eat during The Day of the Dead celebrations."

Review Excerpts
"This story is a delight. Morales's personification of death is never forbidding or scary, but rather a simple matter of fact. This deceptively simple read-aloud treat has as many layers as an onion, and is every bit as savory." -School Library Journal

Use Just a Minute for a skeleton themed story time. Other books that can be read for this story time are Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler, The Skeleton in the Closet by Alice Schertle, and Boogie Bones by Elizabeth Loredo. For a craft children can decorate a skeleton mask or put together a skeleton that has move able arms and legs. The templates for these crafts can be found on Yuyi Morales's web site at They just need to be copied onto card stock and cut out ahead of time.

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