"Are," a delicate, smart butterfly-girl, is flying on a huge leaf named “Vicky,” through various kingdoms, hoping to seek revenge on the evil "Taya," a greedy man who used his magic computer to eliminate all colors from the world.
No, this is not the premise for a new video game or blockbuster movie that requires 3D glasses. This is the plot of ¿Quién se robó los colores? (Who Stole the Colors?), a children’s book based on a pre-Columbian myth about the origin of the first man on earth.
Written by Dr. Alister Ramírez Márquez, associate professor in BMCC’s Department of Modern Languages, ¿Quién se robó los colores? takes the reader on Are’s adventures through a magical, but somewhat haunting, world.
“This is really an enchanting story. I got the idea because when an English book is translated to Spanish, it’s usually a Disney book and not based on any Colombian culture,” says Ramírez Márquez, who grew up in Armenia, Colombia and emigrated to the United States twenty years ago. “This book is a reference for Colombian history and I wanted to use material from my own culture."
Ramírez Márquez wants his book to better educate children who are not first-generation Americans to “become multicultural and move between cultures.”
In ¿Quién se robó los colores?, the first magical land Are encounters is the Reino Verde, the Green Kingdom. Are meets and befriends a huge flying leaf, Victoria Regia, (“Vicky”) who transports her to the other color kingdoms, including orange, yellow and blue.
The final kingdom is violet, but unbeknownst to Are, it is Taya’s territory. Are, the book’s heroine and protagonist, is constantly challenged by Taya. However, in all their confrontations, she emerges the victor.
The book is illustrated by Colombian artist Martha Ruiz, and readers can either color the pictures or “really tap into their imagination on an educational level” says Ramírez Márquez. ¿Quién se robó los colores? is used in some U.S. schools to teach children Spanish, so teachers might ask their students to write their own adventures for Are.
Drawing inspiration from Colombian folklore and culture
“I always spend lots of time researching before I write my final draft,” says Ramírez Márquez of his literary works. “For this story, I read many textbooks on Colombian flora and fauna. The characters in this story come from names of Colombian animals and flowers.”
For example, Victoria Regia was inspired by a real Colombian aquatic plant found in the Amazon basin, which is believed to have the largest leaves in the world.
The name Are comes from Muzo Indian mythology; Are was a spirit of shadow that appeared in the beginning of the world.
The character of Are is a monarch butterfly-girl, (“La Monarcha”) and these types of butterflies are native to Colombia. In fact, Ramírez Márquez’s hometown of Armenia houses a famous butterfly garden.
“Taya, who possesses a bad energy in the story, is named after a dangerous Colombian snake,” says Ramírez Márquez.
Cleverly, Ramírez Márquez included a map of Colombia in the story. “I grouped different regions in Colombia into different colors. The Green Kingdom represents the Colombian Amazon and jungle, which borders Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil and Peru,” he says.
The yellow kingdom represents the Colombian desert; orange is a metaphor for the very flat—and very hot—plains of Colombia called “Los Llanos”; Violet represents the west coast of Colombia where, according to Ramírez Márquez, “it rains a lot, all year long” and blue represents the Caribbean Sea.
Readers relate to modern-day concepts
Modern concepts, such as the use of a computer, are woven into the theme of ¿Quién se robó los colores? because, according to Ramírez Márquez, it makes “perfect sense” to children that the ‘bad guy’ would use a computer to cause world chaos. “When I mention that Are pushes a computer key to liberate all the colors from Taya’s computer, children immediately get the reference. After all, their generation grew up with computers and iPods.”
Ramírez Márquez’s mixing of both past and present metaphors educates readers in a creative way about Colombia—the mystical, the magical, and to some...the obscure. For example, in one illustration, large ants are carrying a sleeping Are. “This is interesting, but true. In one region of Colombia, people eat ants. So in the book, the ants are carrying Are away because they want to eat her,” says Ramírez Márquez. “Are also encounters some pink dolphins, and in Colombian rivers, we do have pink dolphins.”
In one scene, Are encounters a bear, which is loosely based on a now-extinct breed of bear that lived in Colombian mountain ranges. “Everything in ¿Quién se robó los colores? has a tie to Colombia,” explains Ramírez Márquez. “I wouldn’t put a deer in the story or anything like that because there are no deer in Colombia—it just wouldn’t work.”
Strong traditions travel from generation to generation
Ramírez Márquez says that growing up in Armenia, Colombia, he learned about many myths that emphasized strong ‘life lessons.’ “Just like the strong traditions I studied, that have a European influence, in order to accomplish her mission, Are transforms from a butterfly to a girl, than back to a butterfly,” says Ramírez Márquez. “Like a circle of life, a message that in life we grow, we move on.”
¿Quién se robó los colores?, is available for purchase online, including at Amazon.com, and is Ramírez Márquez’s fifth published work of fiction. He hopes to works with BMCC students on an animated version of Are’s journey.
“With this story, I want children to know they can use their own heritage and culture to say something,” says Ramírez Márquez, “and educate others.”