The Golden Flower: A Taíno Myth From Puerto Rico
An enchanting English-language picture book that recreates the indigenous legend of how Puerto Rico became an island.
by Nina Jaffe
Illustrations by Enrique O. Sánchez
Published: 31 May 2005
Imprint: Piñata Books
The syncopated prose of Nina Jaffe draws the reader to the island of Puerto Rico, back before the Spaniards arrived. The island was inhabited by the Taínos, and they called their beloved island, Boriquén. This is their story of how Boriquén came to be.
In the beginning, there is only a giant mountain above a dry plain without water or plants. When a child walks over the flat land below the mountain, he finds seeds dancing in the wind. When he plants the seeds on the top of the mountain, a forest grows on the crest and in that forest, a large golden flower appears. Soon, the boy and his community reap benefits that they had never before imagined.
A joyful creation myth about the evolution of a beautiful island habitat, this picture book, originally published by Simon & Schuster, is also a celebration of the young boy’s quest, which encourages young readers, ages 4-8, to respect the gifts of the winds and the cycle of nature that bears fruit for the whole community.
Jaffe’s adaptation of this traditional folktale common to indigenous peoples of South America and the Caribbean stemmed from her encounter with a Spanish-language text by Carmen Puigdollers, “Como se formó la bella isla de Boriquén,” and research in Puerto Rico.
Afterword from Nina Jaffe:
I first encountered this magical tale of the Taino people in a Spanish text by Carmen Puigdollers*. I began to retell it in schools and libraries. In 1993, Lilian Ayala, a Spanish teacher in New York City, told me that she remembered hearing her mother tell this same story at family gatherings, when she was growing up in Puerto Rico. In my research, I learned that stories in which the sea was hidden inside a pumpkin calabaza) were common among many of the native cultures in South America and the Caribbean.
The Taino called this island home Boriquén ( bo-ree-KEN),which means “”land of the brave lord.”” They were a peaceful people who survived by hunting and fishing in the rich tropical forests and planting in their own fields. Their houses, called bohios (bo- EE-ohs), were made of wood and cane rooted with straw. The Taino chief was called a cacique (kah-SEE-kay), and it was he who told the myths and legends during the areito (ah-RAY-toh) ceremonies.
After Columbus landed his ships on the islands’ shore in 1493, the Spaniards conquered Boriquén. The Taino were enslaved. Most of them died. Despite the destruction of their people, many words in Puerto Rico today come from the Taino language. Taino foods are still cooked, Taino instruments are still played, and Puerto Ricans still proudly call their island “Borinquen” in honor of the Taino heritage that is such an important part of their history and culture.
*Puigdollers, Carmen. “Como se formó la bella isla de Borinquen” in Presencia Taina. Cambridge, MA, National Assessment and Dissemination Center, Lesley College, 1979.
Named a 1998 Pura Belpré Honor Book by the American Library Association
“Glowing colors, stylized figures, and overlays are the hallmarks of the eye-catching art, while the spare, clipped prose makes this a folktale beginning readers can tackle.”—Booklist
“The story is told in a simple, lyrical style that will quickly involve young listeners in the myth . . . A welcome addition to the folklore shelves.”—Kirkus Reviews
NINA JAFFE’S acclaimed retellings of world folklore include The Golden Flower: A Taíno Myth from Puerto Rico (Piñata Books, 1998), named an Honor Book in the 1998 Pura Belpré Awards; La flor de oro: Un mito taíno de Puerto Rico (Piñata Books, 2006); The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition (Henry Holt and Co., 1998), a PJ Library selection; and Patakín: World Tales of Drums and Drummers (Cricket Books, 2001). Cited in Best Books for Children as “among the very best in the field” of authors who draw on oral traditions, her books have been honored with the Sydney Taylor Award and Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and have been named a Smithsonian Notable Book. Recent publications include Tales for the Seventh Day: A Collection of Sabbath Stories (Scholastic, 2000) and Wonder Woman: I Am Wonder Woman (HarperFestival, 2004). Nina is on the graduate faculty of Bank Street College’s education department and lives in New York City.
Learn more at ninajaffe.com.
ENRIQUE O. SANCHEZ is a talented fine artist and an accomplished illustrator with several books to his credit, including Big Enough/Bastante grande by Ofelia Dumas Lachtman (Piñata Books, 1998). He also owns an extensive drum collection. A conga player as well as an artist, he shares his passion for art and music with his son, Aron, who is also a musician and an artist. Sánchez lives in Vermont, with his wife, Joan, a modern dancer.
ATOS Interest Level: Lower Grade
ATOS English: 3.7
Accelerated Reader Quiz #: 70338