Review (Plus): “The Lightning Queen”
The Bookstore Blurb: If you enjoyed The Princess Bride, you will enjoy this book–a love story spanning generations featuring great storytelling by the grandfather to his 11-year-old grandson.
The Book Review by Ms. America:
I adored Fred Savage balking when his grandfather, played by Peter Falk, showed up to take care of him while he was home sick from school in the initial scene of the 1987 film The Princess Bride. It was a generational disconnect of a grandpa taking time to read to his middle school-aged grandson who, of course, doesn’t appreciate the gesture, but within the first few pages of the story is hooked and wants to hear the story of the undying love between the Farm Boy and Princess Buttercup.
This is how I felt while reading The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau. It is about a young boy who journeys to Mexico to visit his grandfather; while there, the boy is told the tale of his grandfather, Teo, and his childhood friendship with Esma, Queen of Lightning. A few times the audience is brought to the present by interruptions, but it doesn’t alter the telling of the story; it even made me want to get back into the story. I enjoyed this type of storytelling, which I later learned was based on true events.
Teo is an Indigenous Mexican–called a Mixteco–and lives without running water, electricity and modern day facilities. After the death of both his father and sister, Teo’s mother was too emotionally distraught to take care of him, so he is being raised by his grandfather, who is a healer and a wonderful man constantly encouraging Teo to aspire for more than what the little village offers.
A band of traveling Gypsies come once a year to Teo’s village to show a movie and tell fortunes. With this group is Esma, who sings beautifully enough to bring the dead back to life. Her charismatic personality arouses life in the faltering young Teo. He has experienced too much grief for one so young, so when Esma’s grandmother reads Teo’s fortune and it tells of a lifelong friendship with the one the Gypsies referred to as ‘Squashhead’ –the ever-beautiful and charming Esma–he is enthralled with the possibilities of a friendship for life.
The friendship evolves over the next few years to give both children hope to find something beyond the despair they live each and every day. Teo is encouraged to go to the nearby school with a white teacher; Esma is encouraged to become a singer. Their two paths veer and ultimately they grow apart until present day. Teo feels a longing to find his estranged friend, and he enlists the help of his grandson. Thanks to Google, Esma is discovered and the friends can reunite. (No spoilers, so I must stop now while I’m still keeping the secret!)
In the classroom:
The historical aspect of this book is phenomenal. The description of the two outcast cultures–the Romani and the Mixtec Indians–allow the reader to have a taste of what it would be like to be shunned within the world as well as within their own village. Teo and Esma form an unlikely friendship that is allowed by the grandparents and tolerated by the villagers.
This is a story allowing a platform for discussion on diversity. Use YouTube to show quick videos of different cultures. I found several videos depicting both cultures represented in The Lightning Queen. Using several different clips, have your students “analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text, or issue under study” (CCSS ELA.SL.6.2 & ELA.SL.7.2). You can go a step further and have your students discover their own clips and present them to the class.
The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau (Scholastic | 9780545800846 | October 27, 2015)