Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Too Many Tamales

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Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto and illustrated by Ed Martinez is a story about a little girl named Maria, who is helping her mother and father cook tamales for their Christmas party.  It begins with Maria and the mother kneading the masa, and Maria being very proud of herself for helping her mother cook.

“She felt grown-up, wearing her mother’s apron. Her mother has even let her wear lipstick and perfume.”

As they were kneading Maria’s mother placed her diamond ring on the kitchen counter. Without her permission, Maria wears her mother’s ring and then later loses it while making tamales. Once their family starts arriving, Maria is so excited to see her cousins, she forgets about the ring.  They run upstairs and start cutting out pictures from newspapers and magazines of all the presents they want for Christmas. As Maria cuts out a picture of a pearl necklace she thinks, “The ring!” Needless to say, all the cousins eat their fair share of tamales in search for the ring.  They have no luck, so Maria is forced to tell her mother what happened. She is very upset and scared to go to her mother, but she knew what she had to do.  Maria’s mother, wearing the ring, knew exactly what Maria was about to tell her.  She already knew Maria had learned her lesson from wearing her ring, so without punishment, Maria’s mother let her know that is was OK. The story ends with the entire family cooking a second batch of tamales for their family Christmas party.

Curriculum Connections
This book is a great example of authority and power.  It allows you to introduce authority and power as vocabulary words in your classroom.  Maria knew she had done wrong by losing her mother’s ring, and was forced to tell her what happen.  Even though Maria’s mother had the ring, she knew by not letting Maria know that she would learn her lesson. The mother is the one with the power and authority, she is the one who sets the rules for their house. When using this book in a classroom, you can explain to your students why certain rules are made, and how they are there to protect you. Maria’s mother has a set of rules for her house to protect their property and themselves. By using this book in your classroom, it allows your students to see an at-home situation that they can relate to.  The class discussion about power and authority in their homes could then lead into a discussion about power and authority at school. As the teacher you explain to the students who has the authority at school (i.e. principal, vice-principal, and teachers). This allows the students to connect the story to their own classroom and school (SOLs K.8, 1.10).

Additional Resources

  • Too Many Tamales activities This website has it all! It has activities, lesson plans, unit plans, all using this book. You can find plenty of great ideas here.
  • 3rd Grade Unit Plan Even though I recommended this book be used in kindergarten and first grade, here is a website that allows you to bring this book into the third grade. There are great activities in this website that allow the students to use their thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Civic Responsibility and Education Here you will find an article written by Chak Sopheap. This is his reflection after visiting an elementary school in Japan.

Book: Too Many Tamales
Author: Gary Soto
Illustrator: Ed Martinez
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: 1993
Grade Range: K-1
ISBN: 0-399-22146-8