Activities for Children

“‘Good is not appreciated until it is lost’ is the refrain of the introduction. This is a delicate collection of more than forty songs and stories that lets the outsider into the rhythmic world of Spanish-speaking children. Purists may arch their backs, but this is a delightful little manual for persons who want to keep a culture alive with joyous song and gentle mystery. Handing down these kinds of goods should insure against the loss of wholesome traditions.”
      —Charles W. Polzer, Books of the Southwest
      “Raised in Quay County, New Mexico, Niñez’s author has taught music in northern New Mexico schools. As an educator, Virginia Nylander Ebinger has retrieved and assembled a priceless collection of rhymes, songs and games indigenous to northern New Mexico’s unique culture. Niñez is not a book a young person will pick from the shelf. But the book’s contents will surely entertain and enrich those same young people. Its format educates the reader to the genre’s history. And while some material may not be looked upon as politically correct, it is, nevertheless, a part of northern New Mexico’s history. This book is attractive to bi-lingual teachers and to parents who remember their grandfather playing ‘Lanza Lanza,’ or grandmother singing ‘Don Gato,’ and they wish to pass on a rich tradition.”
      —Charmaine Coimbra, Southwest Children’s Review
      “‘El bien no es conocido hasta que es perdido…’ ‘The good is not appreciated until it is lost.’ With this Southwestern proverb, Virginia Ebinger introduces and sets the tone for her collection of traditional games, songs, chants and stories in Spanish. Inspired by the desire to pass on this lore before it is lost, she offers an 80-page, hand-sized volume of delightful, authentic Spanish-language pieces for children to sing, play and dramatize. Melodies are provided for songs and games. Possible instrumental accompaniments or Orff instrument settings are left to the discretion of the teacher. A treasure for teachers of Hispanic children and a valuable resource for any American classroom, the material will be most accessible for those who have a speaking acquaintance with Spanish. The pieces are in Spanish but the informative text is in English, as are the careful notes, reference sources and bibliography. Free translations are for comprehension only, not for saying or singing in English. I applaud this choice—Spanish is a mellifluous, musical language with few effective equivalents in English speech rhythms.
      “This may be an exception, and acceptable, spoken in both languages. Try this clapping chant, called “Aplaudimos” (p. 26) with any grade: ‘Por arriba, por abajo, por el lado, por el otro. Reach up, reach down, to the side, to the other.’ What a basis for rhythmic and movement games, in both languages!
      “Gin Ebinger has been collecting Spanish folk materials for many years, out of love for the culture and a wish to transmit it to the children and teachers in her classes. She has evolved into an active and fully dedicated folklorist. Collecting in the Spanish-speaking areas of New Mexico and southern Colorado yielded some material that had been passed down for generations, and her research trip to Spain revealed many roots. Ignored interview files from WPA projects in the 1930s, students, friends and family who recalled their childhood games—and Gin’s scholarship—brought this useful book, Niñez, “Childhood,” to life. The singing games are especially delightful. There are circles with one in the center, imitative tasks for others to do, leap-frog hops, arches to go under, tag and catch—ageless children’s delights duplicated in so many cultures. The Spanish words are not difficult to sing. Playing these games now can extend active and tacit proof to our children of our very basic cultural unity.
      “Yes, a few of the familiar pieces are here—Don Gato (with his background and five melodic variations), and Ambo Hato, introducing us to its dramatic cousin from Spain. Some games, really stories-with-songs, play like mini-operas; the prose stories in the last section invite dramatic development. Told in English, they give some flavor of the originals, but it would have been good to see them printed in Spanish, too. Perhaps a teacher or student in the class would like to do a translation? Many previous generations, determined to assimilate, abandoned their folkways and language; in effect, this buried a body of spoken and sung traditional lore. Gin reminds us that it will be through a revival of indigenous folklore, via the children, that we can help ensure the continuation of this rich culture. Even with the present emphasis on cultural pride, it may well be the partial responsibility of music teachers of Hispanic children to help them value their heritage. True, it’s a weighty assignment, but Gin Ebinger understands this, and with Niñez, she has given us a ‘hand up’ to begin the task, authentically, musically and gladly. ‘El destino de las culturas se lee en sus juegos.’ ‘The destiny of the cultures is read in their games.’”
      —Tossi Aaron, The Orff Echo
      “‘El bien no es conocido hasta que es perdido.’ Hopefully here the good will be recognized before it is lost, which is Virginia Nylander Ebinger’s aim in preserving Niñez: Spanish Songs, Games, and Stories of Childhood. A native New Mexican, music teacher and trainer, Ebinger pulls these songs and games from a variety of sources: her own childhood, family, friends, colleagues, and the WPA archives of the 1930s. In this book from Sunstone Press, she focuses primarily on northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, exploring the links between our mountainous regions and old Spain.
      “‘A lo escrito has de agarrarte…que las palabras…se las lleva el aire,’ as Roberto Mondragon says in the opening quote of the volume. (‘You must write it down…the air carries away your words.’) This phenomenon is strikingly evident as Ebinger tracks tunes to Spain and Mexico and back. Snatches are lost, pieces are added, the wind (and time) play with the lineage. As she presents dozens of youthful chants and games, the reader is drawn into the rhythms of childhood. I found myself remembering the steady beat of old childhood games, as we hopped in and out of the jump rope, or over the cracks in the walk. Ebinger describes one movement research theory, that hearing a steady beat early in life will enhance a child’s later motor skill development. In any case, such a beat runs through most of these juegos, making them easy to remember and connect with, even for those whose first language is not Spanish. But it is for those whose first roots are Spanish that Ebinger primarily writes. She sees in the children a turning point, the survival of the culture. And songs such as these nurture both the roots and the memories.
      “There are also a good number of cuentos, including Don Cacahuate and Pedro Urdimales. One story features San Isidro as a bean and chile farmer, trying to get in his plants on May 15, San Isidro Day. An angel appears, telling him that God doesn’t like him plowing on a feast day, and threatening him with hail. San Isidro says he’ll make the best of the hail, he is late in getting these plants in. Another angel comes with the same message from God, threatening hoppers and worms. Isidro is undaunted and says, ‘Tell God I’d be pleased not to be annoyed by any more young angels.’ Yet a third angel comes, this time with the message, ‘God will send you a bad neighbor if you don’t stop.’ Isidro halts. ‘All right. Tell God He wins. To have a bad neighbor is too hard to bear even for a saint.’ This compact paperback is easy to read, easy to follow, and well-researched. It includes music scores for about half the tunes, with variations in many cases. The Sources and Bibliography offer ample opportunity for further exploration.”
      —Amadea Morningstar, The Santa Fe New Mexican