Juan Hormiga is not your stereotypical hard-working ant; he is a master napper who can doze off up to ten times in one afternoon. Fortunately, he also has a talent for storytelling and the other ants often gather around to listen as he recounts his grandfather’s daring exploits. The ants are somewhat surprised, though, when their lazy co-worker announces that he is setting off in his grandfather’s footsteps in order to create tales of his own.
Interestingly, when Juan Hormiga departs on his travels, the story does not directly follow him. Instead, the ants he has left behind imagine what he is doing, their ideas informed by Juan Hormiga’s grandfather’s adventures. Says one ant:
Maybe he’s going down into the ravine, hanging from a spider’s thread. His grandfather did that too.
As the day passes and the weather worsens, the ants build Juan Hormiga up into a hero – strong, brave and determined – and likely swept away to his death by a raging current. Until a passing mosquito informs them otherwise. The ants scuttle along to help their courageous friend, convinced Juan Hormiga must be exhausted after his many trials and tribulations. But is he, you might wonder? Or is the mighty ant unconcerned and unscathed? You won’t find the answer here! Let’s just say that past performance can predict future behavior . . .
Juan Hormiga is a picture book written and illustrated by Gustavo Roldán from Argentina and aimed at children ages 4-8. The neat translation into English comes courtesy of Robert Croll, who is credited on the book’s cover. Another plus point: the decision to keep the title in the original Spanish. (To my mind at least, John Ant doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.) The author’s afterword is also reproduced in Spanish with the English translation alongside it. I may be mistaken, but these seem to be deliberate choices that acknowledge and celebrate that this book has come to us from another language. A commendable approach!
Croll’s English translation is sprinkled with old-fashioned phrases such as “traversed lands beset with the greatest dangers” and “set forth upon his march” that lend an almost epic flavor to the story. A great way to enrich young readers’ vocabulary, too! Dialogue is distinguished from narrative by different colors, red for the former and black for the latter.
It was only on a repeat reading that I realized color distinctions are also important in the illustrations. Juan Hormiga is the only red ant in the story; the others are all black. This is handy when you are trying to spot the heroic protagonist on a page full of black ants, and you may notice that he is far less busy than the others.
My verdict on this picture book: f-ant-astic!
Juan Hormiga was originally published in 2012 in Spanish under the same title by A Buen Paso.
Note: I read the Kindle version of this book.
Awards: Los Mejores de Banco del Libro, Infantiles Originales, Venezuela, 2014 (Spanish edition)
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT and IBBY Australia. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com