North America – Hispanic
Hayes, Joe. 2001. Juan Verdades: The man who couldn’t tell a lie. Illustrated by Joseph Daniel
Fiedler. New York: Scholastic Inc.
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥ (out of ♥♥♥♥♥). (Cover photograph taken from Amazon.com).
Summary: “A wealthy
rancher is so certain of the honesty of his foreman that he wagers his ranch” (Hayes, CIP page). The foreman does not
let him down.
Characters: The characters
are one-dimensional, but the hero has a little more depth than most folktale heroes. Juan Valdez is a good, humble man who
cannot lie. He is loving, clever, and eager to please the heroine. Araceli, a rancher’s daughter, is loyal, clever,
and good. The two ranch owners are proud men who keep their promises.
Setting: The exact setting
is not clear from the text. In the illustrations, the architecture looks Mexican, and all the characters have Hispanic names.
The book jacket says that the tale is set in the old Southwest, and the author writes that two versions of the tale were found
in New Mexico. Without this information, I would have guessed that the tale
is set in Mexico. The text also is not clear about the time
frame. Readers assume the story is set in the past because Hayes uses the past tense. The only time reference is “One
late summer day” (unpaged).
Plot: I have read similar plots in other folktales. Two wealthy ranchers have different views of human nature
and bet their fortunes on their beliefs. Don Ignacio thinks his ranch foreman is incapable of lying. Don Arturo
believes anyone can be made to lie under the right conditions. Using his daughter as "bait,"
Don Arturo tries to trick the employee into lying. The employee falls in love with the daughter and acts
irrationally. However, he chooses to tell a true riddle rather than to lie to his employer. Don Ignacio wins, and when the
foreman marries the daughter, everyone is happy. In his notes, Hayes writes that
this is a variant of a popular folktale type, “The Faithful Servant.” He says that the origin of the tale is European,
with versions found in Spain as well as New
Mexico (Hayes, unpaged).
Themes: One theme is that
there are some people who are intrinsically good regardless of circumstances. Another is that goodness has its rewards. A
final theme is that life and plans are unpredictable. Araceli’s clever plan includes one big surprise: she falls
Rating Considerations: Hayes
captures readers’ interest with his colorful narrative, dialogue, and plot. He skillfully integrates Spanish words and
phrases with the English text. The illustrations complement and extend the story, and several are breath-taking.
Illustrations: Buckley writes,
“The full-page paintings capture a distinct landscape and costume and convey the quiet drama of the story. The dark
jewel tones lend a brooding atmosphere, in keeping with the midsection of the tale” (SLJ, 2001). Fiedler provides many perspectives, from an aerial view of the landscape to a beautiful close-up
of apples and hands. His paintings are well-researched and well-executed, and they contain many Hispanic symbols and designs.
In one illustration, the daughter seems like a Madonna figure.