Elena's Story

Elena lives near a small town in western Guatemala. She lives there with her mother, her younger brother, Luis, and her baby sister, Ana. Her father is far away, working on a plantation. Elena struggles to keep up in school. Her teacher says she needs to practice her reading, but it's hard to find time to read. She must help her mother with the cooking and housework, as well as the hard work of planting and weeding their garden. As the big sister Elena is also in charge of watching over Luis to keep him out of mischief. It isn't always easy and she gets impatient with her little brother. But at the end of the day, when Elena shares a book with Luis, carefully sounding out the words, she comes to better understand and appreciate her role in the family.

Format List Price Your Price Qty
$16.95 $16.95
$28.95 $28.95
Interest Level Grade 1 - Grade 4
Reading Level
Dewey E
ATOS Reading Level 2.8
Guided Reading Level
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585365289), PDF (9781410310330), Hosted ebook (9781627535328)
Copyright 2012, 2014
Number of Pages 32
Dimensions 9 x 11
Graphics Full-color illustrations

'Elena's Story' by Nancy Shaw: a multicultural story of a young Guatemalan girl

“Elena’s Story” by Nancy Shaw and illustrated by Kristina Rodanas is a touching story of a young girl, her mother and her two siblings. They live in rural Guatemala and try to support themselves because Elena’s father is off working on a plantation.

The story begins with Elena getting dressed in the morning and explaining what young girls wear. She wears a huipil, a brightly colored woven blouse, and a corte, which is a loop of fabric that is worn as a skirt with a woven sash tightly wound around the waist to hold up the skirt.

The skirt hinders Elena when she tries to keep up with her mother on the way to school, and it’s a good example of how the traditional dress worn in rural areas, while beautiful, is impractical and serves to hamper girls’ abilities to run and play like boys.

Elena is frustrated because she wants to finish her homework, but her mother says that candles are too expensive. The inference that readers will have to make is that they don’t have any electricity, which is why they must use candles to read after dark.

Elena’s mother relies on her to care for her younger brother, Luis, when her mother is cooking and caring for Ana, the baby. Luis is mischievous and difficult to watch.

Elena and her mother finally realize that Elena is most successful when she reads to Luis, and that it’s a perfect way for Elena to practice her reading and her Spanish (their native language is Mam, a Mayan dialect).

The book is one of Sleeping Bear Press’s Tales of the World books. It would be a great addition to any multicultural classroom.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, for review purposes.

A Review of "Elena's Story" in Kirkus Reviews

Elena narrates this touching story set in Guatemala, about a girl’s longing for education.

She lives with her mother and younger siblings in a rural village while the father of the family works far away. Elena attends school and is trying to learn to read in Spanish, but she finds it hard to find time to practice reading when she needs to help her mother with cooking, child care and gardening. Candles are scarce as well, so Elena is frustrated with her lack of time to study her books. She solves her problem by reading out loud to her mischievous younger brother, keeping him occupied and practicing her reading at the same time. Her mother realizes that Elena’s reading could help the whole family, so she approves Elena’s use of candles for her reading at night. A large trim size shows off the vibrant illustrations with engaging characters and authentic details in clothing and backgrounds, researched by the author in her travels to Guatemala. There are several foreign terms used in the story, and although they are defined in the glossary, it is unclear to the reader whether these terms are Spanish or Mam, Elena’s native Mayan language.

Useful for students learning about life in other countries, and an entertaining story in its own right. (author’s note, glossary) (Picture book. 5-9)

Elena's Story - Teaching Guide

Refer to download. View →

Author: Nancy Shaw

Nancy Shaw's children's books include the award-winning "Sheep in a…" series. "Elena's Story" was inspired by a trip to visit her daughter in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. Nancy lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Illustrator: Kristina Rodanas

Kristina Rodanas has illustrated many books for children, including "Flamingo Sunset" and "Little Swan". Her work has been praised for its respectful, authentic representation of people from many cultures. Kristina lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Full-color illustrations