Author: Pat Mora
Title: The Rainbow Tulip
Illustrator: Elizabeth Sayles
Publication Date: 1999
Her name is Estelita at home and Stella at school. She speaks Spanish at home and English at school. Stella loves colorful clothing and fits in well at her English school, unlike her shy, quiet mother who wears dull colors like brown, no makeup, and speaks only Spanish. Although Stella loves her mother, she is ashamed of her. Stella wishes her mother were more like the other mothers with their makeup and short dresses. She wishes her mother could speak English, too.
When Stella finds out that she gets to dress like a tulip for the upcoming May Day celebration, she decides that she wants to be a rainbow tulip. On the day of the celebration, Stella’s mother goes with her to school to watch the festivities, although she stands off to the side by herself since she cannot talk to the other mothers in English. Stella nervously looks around at all the other girls in their dresses of one color, blues, pinks, and yellows. Stella is the only rainbow tulip. Although uncomfortable as people point at her, commenting on her dress, Stella remembers every step of the dance. When she sees her mother smile, she knows that her mother is proud of her. Later, her mother tells her it is hard to be different. Instead of being ashamed of her mother, Stella now understands and asks to know more about her grandparents.
The Rainbow Tulip is a gentle story that will appeal to younger girls who enjoy being different. It is centered on a simple plot from which a lesson is learned. When Estelita/Stella chooses her dress for the upcoming May Day celebration, she chooses to be different. She wants a dress with “colors that sing and dance,” unlike her mother’s dresses which are quiet black, brown, gray, and sometimes light blue. From that choice, Estelita/Stella learns how hard it is to be different from those around her, just like her mother is different in dress, manners, lack of makeup, and language from the other mother’s in the neighborhood. Although proud of her costume, when she sees the other girls in their single-color dresses, she feels “quiet as a snail inside.” The oil-pastel illustrations add depth to Stella’s character and her emotions through body posture and facial expressions. Learning to accept and enjoy your differences is a good lesson for younger children, especially for the bilingual students who are learning to adjust in schools that are predominantly White.
Within the story, details of Estelita’s home life are included which draw the reader into her world. At home, Estelita is given thick, yellow cod liver oil every morning because her mother thinks “a strong desert wind could blow me away.” A contrast between her house and the outside world is established. One of the differences is her name. At home, she is Estelita, but at school, her name is Stella. Another difference is the language she speaks. “My brothers and I speak English outside the house and Spanish inside the house. My father says, “Hija, this house is a piece of Mexico.”” Their house is also “a quiet house” where their father likes to read; running and shouting is for outside. Her father was a judge in Mexico; “he never yells, but when he looks at you, you behave.” Even the pictures provide contrast. The illustrations of her home are in muted tones, like the clothes that her mother wears. Outside the home are the brighter tones of reds, pinks, yellows, purples, and greens. In her aunt’s home are “rainbows of threads and clouds of cloth.”
Spanish words are scattered throughout, just like a bilingual child may speak. Because Estelita/Stella tells the story, the use of Spanish words in the English text adds to Estelita’s cultural background. Most of the Spanish words depend on context for interpretation, but occasionally a side-by-side interpretation is provided like when Estelita’s Tia Carmen tells her “that I will be the most beautiful tulip, el tuipan mas lindo, in the whole world, en todo el mundo.” This is awkward but necessary for the statement to be understood by English-only readers. All Spanish words and phrases are printed in italics.
Booklist (November 1, 1999) “What many immigrant kids will enjoy is the bicultural experience.... Estelita/Stella comes to value her dual heritage, even though it is hard to be different.”
Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 1999) “With warmth and directness, Mora celebrates diversity, but provides a balanced view of assimilation as well.” (5-9)
Children’s Literature (1999) “The sensitive, muted watercolor illustrations suit the story’s mood, while the charming facial expressions help the characters come alive in this timely book.” (Ages 4 to 8)
School Library Journal (1999) “Based on a story from the author’s mother’s childhood, and perfectly extended by soft, warm pastel drawings framed in white, this tale of family love and support crosses cultural boundaries and may remind youngsters of times when their families made all the difference.” (K-Gr 3)
Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award Nominee 1999
Growing Up Latino in the U.S.A. list (ALSC American Library Association) 2004
Kaleidoscope, A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8, Fourth Edition (National Council of Teachers of English) 2003
Texas Reading Club (State of Texas booklist) 2004
Extend The Rainbow Tulip by Pat Mora with an exploration of other holidays in May that include dancing. May Day written by Jeffrey Kent (2008) is a nonfiction book that includes two titles issued back-to-back and inverted: May Day -- Lei Day. This book introduced children to the holidays of May Day and Lei Day and describes why they are celebrated, what traditions are associated with each, and how they differ. Further information on Lei Day can be found via several websites including http://www.leiday.net/ and http://www.honolulu.gov/parks/programs/leiday/history.pdf. This is a fun way to introduce some of the Hawaiian culture.
Add some dances from Mexico by studying Cinco de Mayo, another May holiday that is celebrated in Mexico and in the United States. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with the Mexican Hat Dance by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Marcela Gomez and David Silva, and translated by Joe Hayes and Sharon Franco (2006) also comes in its original Spanish-only version, Celebra el Cinco de Mayo con un jarabe tapatio. In this picture book, a teacher introduces her students to the Mexican hat dance in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. It includes details on the holiday's history and traditions. Include a nonfiction book about this holiday such as Cinco de Mayo by Aurora Colon Garcia (2008). Here you will find information on how Mexican-Americans celebrate their heritage with parades, music, dancing, and festivals, in honor of the freedom they won on May 5, 1862, in a battle against the French army.
Have a day of dance! Find dance troupes to demonstrate a variety of dances. Find parents or neighborhood volunteers to teach the students some of the dances you have read about. Dance your way into spring!