Classic children’s books from Peru

World Kid Lit Month continues with a guest post from Oscar Calle Elescano sharing details about classic children’s books from Peru….

By Oscar Calle Elescano

Many world-renowned Peruvian writers have explored children’s literature. They write about children who are representative of the places where the writers themselves were born and grew up. Through their writing, we travel around Peru – along coastlines, up mountains and into jungles. In each place, we witness, from a child’s perspective, the world and the culture situated within the social and political context of the time. Below, you’ll find an introduction to some mainly 20th century children’s books written by famous Peruvian authors.

El mundo de Santiago (Santiago’s World) by Ana Mayer (1986) tells the story of a boy named Santiago who lives in the Peruvian Andes. As he grows up, he takes on more and more of the agricultural tasks that form part of Andean culture. Many families in his region reject the idea of education for their children, viewing it as a waste of time. Santiago, however, is able to access public education. Through this story, Mayer portrays Santiago’s social and cultural environment, with a particular focus on the education available to Andean children and the difficulties they face, alongside the ideals they pursue in their journey to build a better world.

El caballero Carmelo (The Knight Carmelo) by Abraham Valdelomar (1913) features a boy whose older brother brings him a cockerel named Carmelo. The short story is set in a house in a rural region of Peru. The descriptions bring to life the scenery and the culture of the region. Many of Valdelomar’s books draw on his experiences living in Pisco, his hometown, and themes of pursuing one’s own dreams. El vuelo de los Condors (The Flight of the Condors) is another example – the story of a girl who becomes a trapeze artist in a circus in Pisco.

Paco Yunque by César Vallejo (published posthumously in 1951) is a short story about the life of a poor child, Paco Yunque, who lives with his mother in her boss’s house. Paco Yunque is a timid child who is humiliated and bullied by the boss’s son, Humberto. Humberto devises many schemes to torture Paco Yunque, forcing him to do his work and serve him as a slave. Remembering all the while that his mother is a servant in Humberto’s house, Paco Yunque puts up no resistance.

Agua (Water) by José María Arguedas (1976) is considered an autobiographical novel by Peruvian literary critics. The main character Ernesto is the author’s alter-ego. Ernesto is a timid child who discovers the injustices suffered by the indigenous people in the town of Lucanas. Various incidents take place where Ernesto, faced with these injustices, has to take a moral stand and stand up against those in charge, something that is sure to cause him many problems. In this story, Arguedas draws on his own  experiences of the realities of the indigenous people in Lucanas to tell a sad and moving story.

El bagrecico by Francisco Izquiero Ríos (1998). Izquierdo Ríos has a great variety of Amazonian stories, the most well-known being El bagrecico. It has been read by children across Peru and around the world and is considered part of Peru’s literary canon. El bagrecico tells the story of a catfish who, having heard many stories from an old fish, decides to go and discover the sea for himself. Before he leaves, he listens to the old fish’s advice on how to get there. Along the way, the catfish overcomes many dangers, thanks to the advice he received, and he reaches the biggest river in the world: the Amazon.

You can watch a lovely version of this story on YouTube, told in Spanish by Carlos Torres.

Los gallinazos sin plumas (Featherless Buzzards) by Julio Ramón Ribeyro (1955) is a story that deals with the history of poverty and exploitation of two brothers named Efraín and Enrique after their grandfather. The story takes us to the marginalised parts of the city of Lima where the brothers struggle to survive in the hostile city. However, in the midst of all the difficulties, an abandoned pet becomes their best friend.

Featherless Buzzards was translated into English by Dianne Douglas and included in the series Marginal Voices (University of Texas Press, 1993).

Fonchito y la Luna (Fonichito and the Moon) by Mario Vargas Llosa (2010) tells the story of Fonchito, a child of around 7 or 8 years old, who falls in love with the prettiest girl at school. In a moment of desperate love, Fonchito asks the girl for a kiss on the cheek, to which the girl replies that she will only give him a kiss if he can bring her the moon. From that point on, Fonchito’s goal is to fulfil the task given to him. One evening while he’s watering the garden, he notices the moon reflected in the water pooling on the ground, giving him a great idea! He invites the girl over and tells her that he’s worked out how to fulfill her wish.

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Oscar Calle Elescano. Lima. 1983. Educator and writer. Oscar studied Primary Education at the National Education University Enrique Guzmán y Valle “La Cantuta”, and Anthropology at the National University of San Marcos, Peru. In 2020, he published an anthology of poems entitled “Retazos”. His short stories have been published in several literary journals in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. His research areas include children’s literature, the anthropology of education and urban anthropology.

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Translated by Claire Storey, edited by Jackie Friedman Mighdoll