Juan the Bear and the Water of Life/La Acequia de Juan del Oso
(Paso Por Aqui Series on the Nuevomexicano Literary Heritage)

by Enrique R. Lamadrid

Available from Amazon Books

La Acequia del Rito y la Sierra in the Mora Valley is the highest and most famous traditional irrigation system in New Mexico. It carries water up and over a mountain ridge and across a sub-continental divide, from the tributaries of the Rio Grande to the immense watershed of the Mora, Canadian, Arkansas, and Mississippi Rivers. The names and stories of those who created this acequia to sustain their communities have mostly been lost and replaced by myths and legends. Now, when children ask, some parents attribute the task of moving mountains and changing the course of rivers to Juan del Oso, the stouthearted man whose father was a bear.

From the mountains of northern Spain to the Andes in South America, Spanish-speaking people have told ancient legends of Juan del Oso and his friends. In this children's tale, agriculturalist Juan Estevan Arellano and folklorist Enrique Lamadrid share a unique version of a celebrated story that has been told in northern New Mexico for centuries.

Reading level: age 10 years and up


The legend of the stouthearted man who moved mountains and rivers to create the most famous acequia in northern New Mexico is retold in both English and Spanish for a new generation of young readers.

From School Library Journal

Grade 3–5—According to New Mexican folklore, the region's acequias, or irrigation canals, were created by Juan del Oso, the product of an unusual union between a woman and a curious, gentle bear. Their son's supernatural strength let him move mountains and redirect rivers so the Southwestern deserts could blossom. The English and Spanish versions of this engaging tall tale sit side by side. Córdova's bold colors and brushstrokes evoke the rustic folk-art styles of the Southwest. Insets on some pages of text highlight an image from the narrative and the illustrations opposite, giving readers visual cues about important ideas in the story. This book may resonate most strongly among Latino families with roots in Mexico and the American Southwest. However, children of all ethnic backgrounds will enjoy this story about animals with human characteristics. A prologue explains the region's unique history and legends. The glossary is especially noteworthy because it identifies certain expressions in the text as Southwestern regionalisms. A good choice for public libraries that serve bicultural families, and for school libraries where folklore is part of the curriculum.—Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY

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