Review of Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth

Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth
by Duncan Tonatiuh; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    40 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-4197-4677-2    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64700-154-4    $15.29

The Feathered Serpent, known as ­Quetzalcóatl among Nahuatl-speaking peoples, is a principal figure in ­Mesoamerican cosmology and often features in the origin stories of Olmec, Toltec, Mayan, and Aztec cultures. Here ­Tonatiuh engagingly reimagines ­Quetzalcóatl’s journey through Mictlán, the underworld realm of Lord ­Mictlantecuhtli, from whom he must recover the sacred bones needed to create humankind. With staff, shield, cloak, and shell ornament in hand, Quetzalcóatl descends into Mictlán’s cavernous “sacred mountains,” where his nahual (spirit guide) Xólotl brings him through its nine regions. At each, the resilient duo defies death with quick wit and creativity, employing all of Quetzalcóatl’s sacred objects as they advance to their ultimate confrontation with Mictlantecuhtli. Tonatiuh’s (The Princess and the Warrior, rev. 9/16; Soldier for Equality, rev. 1/20) distinctive illustration style draws on Nahua visual writing systems, emulating the symmetry, balanced lines, and prominent profile and aerial viewpoints found in Indigenous codices. His bold use of color and expansive spreads enhance these mythic proportions, as palettes transition from golden hues to black-and-white darkness, then return to golden shades, symbolically conveying the cyclical movement of sun eras, or tonatiuhs. The artist’s hand-drawn and digitally collaged illustrations reward careful examination as textures pop and engage the viewer. Back matter includes an author’s note, glossary, and bibliography featuring Mexican anthropological scholarship.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Lettycia Terrones

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