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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Gustavo Roldan
Age Range: 6-8
Argentinian-born Barcelona-based Gustavo Roldán’s Juan Hormiga has been translated into many languages since it first appeared in Spanish in 2012 but not in English until this stylish Elsewhere Editions title.
Juan Hormiga is a lone red ant among thousands of black ants, but what sets him apart from the rest of the colony is his indolence which is second to none. Juan just loves to take a nap – “Well, I should say naps, for he took six or seven every day. And that's just if it was a normal day. " If the weather is bad, then it can be as many as ten! While the other ants busy themselves with collecting food or digging tunnels, Juan Hormiga is always somewhere else having a peaceful nap.
The ants tolerate Juan’s laziness because he does have another special talent. He’s also a born storyteller and his hypnotic stories of his intrepid grandfather’s adventures out in the big wide world make the other ants forget about their work as they listen to the tales of daring-do.
Juan Hormiga decides he wants to experience his own adventures and to re-enact the brave feats of his ancestor, so one day he announces his departure and sets out from the anthill. As the hours go by the ants speculate on Juan’s adventures, where he is and what he is doing. When a flash flood occurs, the ants seek higher ground and begin to worry about Juan and his fate fearing the worst. He could not possibly have survived the rising waters, or could he?
Juan Hormiga, translated by Robert Croll, has a fable-like quality and Roldán explains in an author’s note at the back of the book that it is his answer to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which his mother read to him when he was a child. He was also following the tradition of his father, who told him and his sister stories of his childhood adventures. Roldan’s clever storytelling builds the narrative tension as well as providing rich a humour within the text which appears in a mix of red and black type. The whimsical cartoon-like black pen and ink illustrations dotted with splashes of red, green, and yellow, often set against a vast white background, are striking and there is a lot of comedy in the depiction of the ants.
Juan Hormiga is a delightfully quirky and fun book to read and one that can be dipped into again and again.