Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns

Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns
Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Legend has it that the Mesoamerican gods had considerable bother creating humanity.

During the first tonatiuh their effort resulted in mountains, the second, fish and having modified the process, the third attempt was close, but the humans were disrespectful of their creators and so were turned into tree-dwelling monkeys.

Attempt number four produced kind-hearted, respectful beings but due to their laziness, the gods turned them into birds.

Enough! The gods were weary and ready to give up entirely, all except Quetzacóatl – the Feathered Serpent and god of knowledge. Gathering his staff, shield, cloak and good luck shell he set off to Mietlán – the underworld – to recover the bones his fellow gods had given to the lord of the underworld for safe keeping.

To reach his destination, Feathered Serpent travels through nine daunting regions,

but aided and abetted by Xolotl the dog spirit guide, he finally reaches his destination and is able to speak to the god of the underworld.

After he’s explained his mission, Mictlantecuhtli gives him one final test and Feathered Serpent finds himself on the end of a trick. However, he manages to out-trick the keeper of the bones and is given the sacred objects. Mictlantecuhtli hasn’t finished with him yet though; but Feathered Serpent finally escapes, wounded and bleeding, recollects the bones and returns.

Once there, he smashes them to a powder, mixes in his own blood and that which the other gods provide, to make a paste

and from that finally creates humanity.

Despite being a complex story, Tonatiuh’s telling is captivating and readers aloud can certainly give it a highly dramatic presentation. His superb, flat, hand drawn, digitally collaged scenes successfully conjure up pre-Columbian art, and after his enthralling rendition, to help with the historical context  there’s an author’s note on the symbolism behind the myth, a glossary with Nahuatl pronunciation guide and a select bibliography.

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