Dorothy Rhoads' The Corn Grows Ripe
Book review by Shannon Duncan
The Corn Grows Ripe is a short children's book about a twelve-year-old Mayan boy. A Newbery Honour book, it was written by Dorothy Rhoads and first published in 1956.
Tigre was a boy born and raised in a tiny Mayan village high in the Yucatan mountains. The villagers were not ancient Mayan people, the temples and cities of their ancestors were only crumbling ruins being taken over by a living jungle, but true Mayan blood ran in their veins.
Tigre's real name was Dionisio, because that was the name of the saint on whose day he had been born. Everyone called him Tigre, meaning jaguar, because his mother said that his skin was the colour of that majestic cat's coat. He was also clever, but that didn't count for much because he was lazy, and a lazy man was despised.
He was twelve years old, old enough to help his father in the fields and around the house, but instead he would lie in his hammock until the sun had already risen in the sky. Even the younger children of the family worked harder than he did.
Suddenly everything changed when Tigre's father had an accident out in the fields. He would not be able to work for a long time. Tigre's uncle could help the desperate family, but Tigre had other ideas. He wanted to prove that he could work like a man, that his family could depend on him.
So the whole burden
of growing the family's corn and appeasing the Mayan gods fell on
Tigre's young shoulders. Will he prove himself to be a man, or
his family starve because he is unable to cope? Only time will
This is an incredibly simple story, full of the Mayan beliefs and way of life. Although the village is not an ancient Mayan settlement, traces of that great people's traditions and beliefs are seen in the villager's way of life. For them there was no distinction between the divine and the ordinary, their everyday lives were directly effected by the gods.
The whole story revolves around the growing of corn. The people cleared land for it, planted it, grew it, harvested it, ground it, ate it, drank it and sold it. Without corn there was no money, no food and no work. The religion, society and economy of the Mayans was built around their single crop.
The corn-growing process is covered in detail, which is great for young children who are learning how food is grown and about other methods of farming.
Tigre's struggle is very honestly told, in a way that will appeal to most children. They can imagine themselves there, working in the hot sun all day and coming home tired and sore.
The relatively modern setting of the story helps to bridge the gap in time between today's children and those that lived more than 1000 years ago.
The other lessons taught in this story are the effects of laziness, the value of perseverance and the satisfaction of doing something all by yourself. These lessons are skilfully concealed, a child probably will not even realise that they are learning them.
The pictures are powerful, drawn in the style of the ancient Mayan temple engravings, which are mentioned in the book. The pictures and the fact that the story is short make it suitable for young readers.
The Corn Grows Ripe is great for all young readers, it is full of life lessons and is easy to read.
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