Halloween, a Day for Witches delivers a bi-lingual holiday tale

Halloween children’s book delivers a holiday tale in English and Spanish

“Halloween, A Day for Witches” by María L. Gutiérrez

Halloween is almost here and one cheerful young boy is getting more excited by the minute as he gets ready for Oct. 31.

The boy, who is not named, is the central character in the charming bilingual children’s picture book “Halloween, el día de las brujas/Halloween, a Day for Witches.”

On one page, he sees a roomful of costumes for kids who want to be clowns, princesses, ghosts and pirates.

He predicts he’ll find ghosts in darkened windows of haunted houses and that a witch on a broomstick will fly by and try to scare him.

Now it’s dark and the boy prepares to go trick-or-treating as a “fierce” pirate. He’s decked out with a black eye patch, a hook over one hand and a peg-leg.

He has a winning smile as he stands by the front door next to his mom, ready to go out into his neighborhood. Mom is also in a pirate outfit. (Why can’t girls be pirates, too?) Two jack-o’-lanterns brighten the doorway.

The author of the book is María L. Gutiérrez, a retired teacher who lives in Santa Paula, California. It’s her debut book.

María L. Gutiérrez

Gutiérrez said in phone interview that she started working as a bilingual teacher. In the early years of her teaching career, she had written little stories with holiday themes for her classes.

“They were in English. I read them in English and translated them to Spanish. I thought maybe one day these stories would become books,” Gutiérrez said.

She said she initially tried to publish them in Spanish but was told they’d need an English component.

The stories she had written for her bilingual classes have strong rhyming patterns in Spanish.

“When you try to translate that to English you lose the pattern, the beauty, the rhythm, the meter,” Gutiérrez said.

For her “Halloween” book, the rhyming is contained within each language. On some pages translations are literal.

The first page of the book, which is in Spanish, has three of the four line endings rhyming: “Es el día de las brujas y me voy a divertir./Ni monstruos ni brujas me lo van a impedir./Divertir, divertir, te lo tengo que advertir./Es el dia de las brujas… ¡hoy es Halloween!”

None of the line endings rhyme in the English translation on the facing page, but the sentiment is the same: “Oh, what fun, it’s Halloween!/No witches or monsters can stop me/from having fun this Halloween!/It’s bewitching, exciting Halloween!”

On another page, the boy seems creeped out by a dark house he’s approaching. His face shows some unease, no doubt thinking the house may indeed be haunted. He declares that all he really wants is candy.

He’s relieved – and rewarded – when a happy-faced youngster in a Dracula mask and costume steps forward, waves at the boy and offers candy.

Readers view a number of costumed children trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. Later, as the boy is carrying his growing bagful of candy, he spots one child in a charro costume.

The book describes what the boy observes: “A Mexican cowboy comes our way/with funny-looking boots on display./Shiny silver spurs jingle-jangle/as he turns and jumps to wrangle/as much candy as he can handle.”

This is the Spanish translation: “Ahí viene un charrito/con botitas tan curiosas,/plateadas espuelas brillosas./Da media vuelta y un saltito,/pidiendo dulces pronito.”

The book ends with the boy back at home and heading for bed. He’s now having “sweet dreams” of witches because he no longer dreads them.

Halloween, like Christmas, sparks the imagination of younger children, Gutiérrez said, noting, “They still have the magic of childhood.”

The target audience of the book is ages 3 to 8.

When the school district did away with bilingual education, Gutiérrez became a reading teacher and in that role incorporated bilingual concepts.

She believes that children – and adults as well – can find benefits from being bilingual. Among bilingualism’s values Gutiérrez’s cited are helping with problem-solving skill, aiding memory function, enhancing creative thinking, sharpening minds, improving attitudes toward the new language, boosting confidence and introducing other cultures.

If you’re learning to be bilingual, why not be a polyglot?

Nicole Montenegro created the book’s illustrations showing a joyful boy in a pleasant, friendly neighborhood. She is a North Carolina-based children’s book illustrator.

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