The Native Americans have the wily coyote. African tales feature Anansi the spider. There are Irish stories about mischievous leprechauns. And apparently, high in the Andes Mountains, there is a guinea pig that can outwit a fox.
From the first page, Cuy the Guinea Pig is faced with danger. Tmo Antonio the Fox has him cornered. But this quick-thinking South American trickster convinces the fox that the sky is falling. When the sky doesn't fall, the fox is determined to get little Cuy, but this unusual critter stays one step ahead of his opponent.
Cuy, being a clever guinea pig, has big plans. He puts on a hat and poncho and volunteers to help a farmer with his alfalfa fields. Cuy works hard all day but then eats all night until the farmer catches him. He ties him to a tree, planning to eat him for dinner the next day. It looks like the end for Cuy, but when the fox comes along, Cuy thinks fast once again. He tells the fox that he has a big problem, the farmer's daughter wants to marry him but she eats roast chicken every day, an idea that repulses Cuy. As he expected, the idea entices the hungry fox. Tmo Antonio, drooling over "love and roast chicken," falls for Cuy's trap. Unlike most of the guinea pigs in the Andes who do get eaten for dinner, Cuy goes free.
Trickster tales are loved worldwide. They all feature an underdog type who uses brains to compete against bigger, stronger enemies. It's heartening to see the smaller person win, especially for children who often feel like the little guy.
As both author and illustrator, Knutson knows just what details are needed in her dynamic woodcut-like illustrations. She keeps the look simple, but it's highly effective. Bold blacklines, mixed with strong watercolors, create a perfect high mountain landscape. She makes Cuy a playful character, especially when he's dressed in his poncho.
The author's specialty is writing multi-cultural folktales. Among her previous books are "How the Guinea Fowl Got Her Spots: A Swahili Tale of Friendship," and "Sungura and Leopard: A Swahili Trickster Tale," which won the Picture Book of Distinction Award from "Hungry Mind Review."
It's clear that Knutson takes her work seriously in this well-researched story, complete with author's notes and a list of Spanish words. She also understands how important these kinds of tales are for all children to read. They provide a deeper understanding of other parts of the world, along with a delightful sharing of familiar characters. Teachers and children will treasure this book, not only for its inviting illustrations but also for its universal theme. (September)
Horn Book Magazine (11/01/2004):
In this delightfully sly Peruvian folktale, Cuy the Guinea Pig twice tricks Tio Antonio the Fox to avoid being eaten; afterward, not wanting to push his luck, Cuy (pronounced kwee, Quechuan for guinea pig) heads down to the valley to keep out of the fox's way. Disguised in a poncho and hat, devious Cuy is hired to tend an alfalfa field ("'What a small man,' thought the farmer"). It's the perfect scheme: Cuy plans to work by day and gorge himself on alfalfa by night. But the farmer has a trick of his own -- involving a sticky gum doll (cousin to Brer Rabbit's tar baby) -- to catch the alfalfa thief. The plot twists and turns energetically; in the end, Cuy saves himself from becoming dinner by fooling Tio Antonio yet again. Knutson's robust prints, characterized by heavy black lines and subdued colors, are remarkably effective in conveying expressions and humor. An author's note discusses sources (Knutson says she "combined and rearranged my favorite versions"), and a glossary/pronunciation guide translates the Spanish words and phrases that infuse the narrative. As the farmer says about Cuy, Que tramposo! What a trickster!(Copyright 2004 by The Horn Book, Incorporated, Boston. All rights reserved.)
PreS-Gr. 2. With echoes of "Tar Baby" and other African American trickster tales, this lively yarn from Peru and Bolivia focuses on Cuy, a wily guinea pig that uses its brain to outwit a hungry fox and a powerful farmer. The dramatic wood-block artwork, with thick black lines and bright watercolors, first shows tiny Cuy, high in the Andes Mountains, in search of something to eat. Along comes the fox Tio Antonio hunting Cuy, who escapes by convincing the fox that the sky is falling and tricking him to hold it up with a rock. Later, after being trapped by a farmer's sticky gum doll and marked for the farmer's dinner, Cuy deceives the fox into taking his place. Knutson, who has lived in Peru, includes an author's note as well as a glossary and pronunciation guides for the Spanish and Quechua words that are part of the text. An appealing tale of a trickster being tricked, this has solid child appeal.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2004, American Library Association.)
School Library Journal (11/01/2004):
K-Gr 4-Cuy, a clever guinea pig, manages to escape three times from a hungry fox. In their final encounter, Cuy, trapped by a sticky doll and tied to a tree by a farmer, talks T'o Antonio into switching places with him. The plot moves along smoothly and is punctuated by humorous dialogue. An author's note includes a simple map of the region, an explanation of a trickster tale, and several sources for the story. A glossary provides a pronunciation guide for the Spanish and Quechua words incorporated into the text. Knutson's boldly outlined, vibrant woodcut-and-watercolor artwork captures the mischievous nature of the guinea pig. Observant children will delight in the visual and cultural details and in the energy of these illustrations. A thoroughly enjoyable tale that deserves a place in most libraries.-Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI Copyright 2004 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Hornbook Guide to Children (01/01/2005):
The plot twists and turns energetic