Saturday, August 8, 2009


I HATE cockroaches. They are the most disgusting bug on the planet to me! Which is why, the book I want to talk about today was offputting to me, at first.

Martina, the Beautiful Cockroach by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael Austin

I was turned onto this book by the illustrator, Michael Austin, who was kind enough to come and read to my class during Real Men Read. When you open the book and see the beautiful array of colors and impressively drawn characters, you just want to keep turning the pages. It was during this perusing of the pictures that I actually began to read the story.

The story is about Martina who is looking for a suitable mate. Martina gets some good advice from her grandmother about the temperament for a prospective husband. She originally thinks that the advice is crazy, but she follows it and soon learns that, indeed, a person's (or in this case, a bug's) true colors come about when things don't go as planned. Martina learns that the old adage, "beauty is only skin deep" is, in fact, true.

As one reads the story of Martina, one forgets that the book is about bugs and begins to think of the characters as people. Since children enjoy bugs, though, the author's use of voice combined with the illustrator's use of amazing talent to create these beautiful creatures, make this book a must-have for any school and /or classroom library.

Teaching ideas:

  • This is an obvious choice for character education.
  • This book is a Cuban folktale. Compare and contrast this story with a folktale from another country (or perhaps a Native American story) using a Venn diagram. Students can use that diagram to organize a persuasive paper on: What are the best qualities for a friend to have? or Why the advice of older people is better than that of a younger person. Remember that when writing a persuasive piece the student doesn't have to agree with the stand they take, just sell it to others.
  • Research different species of cockroaches (ewww).
  • Make a word cloud of adjectives from the book.
  • Choose one of the other suitors in the book and write an alternate ending pretending that Martina had chosen that particular suitor.

Many thanks to Michael for putting me onto this book. He is a really nice man who is super talented, and drove across Atlanta to read to my class (I didn't know him, had just found him on the internet). More talented people need to be like him!

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