Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth Book Poster Image
Stunning art, epic adventure of gods' quest to make humans.

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Educational Value

This is a great introduction to Mesoamerican mythology, and it gives kids a more diverse cultural knowledge base. Text uses words from the Nahuatl language (spoken by ancient Aztecs and surviving Mesoamerican indigenous groups). Informative author's note and helpful glossary with pronunciations and meanings of terms. 

Positive Messages

While on an adventure or quest, it's important to persevere and stay determined, but you'll also need to rely on the support of wise and helpful companions. Even powerful beings like gods must practice to reach their goals. Mistakes are not failures; they can serve other purposes and help us learn to do better the next time.

Positive Role Models

Main character Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent god of knowledge, shows cleverness and resourcefulness on his quest to create humanity. He accepts help from Xólotl, the god of dusk, and he's relentless in his pursuit of his goal. Gods are all presumed male.

Violence & Scariness

Quetzalcóatl faces dangerous river crossings, skin-slicing volcanic rock, snowy mountain passes, and a rain of arrows, among other things, as well as a bloody fall, but text and pictures depict characters' resourcefulness in enduring these trials, which de-emphasizes their scariness, and they're not graphic (blood is represented by a light red halo in the dirt around a body).

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh, tells the epic story of Quetzalcóatl's quest to create humans. The god of knowledge is not prepared to give up after he and the other gods fail to create humans as they intended. He collects some special items for luck and sets out on the long journey to the underworld to collect the sacred bones of creation. He faces scary obstacles, such as swimming through water hiding an ancient monster and suffering a bloody injury in a fall, but pictures and text emphasize resourcefulness and lack even implied gore. Typical of heroic quests, positive messages emphasize determination and perseverance. This book will enrich the diversity of any kid's love of mythology and adventure stories.

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What's the story?

FEATHERED SERPENT AND THE FIVE SUNS tells the story of the five Tonatiuh, or ages of creation, during which the gods of Mesoamerica try four times to create humans but fail. (Mesoamerica extended from what's now central Mexico through what's now the countries of Central America. The Olmec, Aztec, Maya, and Inca civilizations there created mythologies thousands of years before the Christian era and the arrival of Columbus in the New World.) The feathered serpent Quetzalcóatl is the only god who doesn't want to give up, but in order to try to again, he must first collect the sacred bones of creation from the god of the underworld, Mictlantecuhtli, which requires a quest of epic proportions through nine different and dangerous landscapes. Quetzalcóatl brings with him his staff, cloak, shield, and a shell ornament for luck, and is joined by Xólotl, the faithful and protective dog god. Will Quetzalcóatl and Xólotl survive great rivers, mountains engulfed in blizzards, and a storm of arrows? And if he can get the bones of creation from Mictlantecuhtli, will he make it back to the dwelling of the gods to figure out how to make the humans they have intended? Don't miss the Author's Note provides background information, and the glossary has pronunciations and meanings of Nahuatl words.

Is it any good?

This captivating tale about a hero's quest to bring forth humanity has all the elements of an epic myth.  There's a clever hero pure of heart, impossible obstacles to overcome, and an adversary who nearly ruins it all. And with Tonatiuh's stunning, Aztec-inspired, hand-drawn and digitally collaged pictures, Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns will be loved by young and older readers alike.

Though there's certainly expert storytelling at play, it is the art that really shines here. True to what's seen in ancient Aztec ruins, the pictures have the familiar clean symmetry and characters in profile, and author-illustrator DuncanTonatiuh's characters and landscapes really come alive in this retelling. Each spread reflects the mood of the text with warm, inviting colors on the pages of attempted creation, and starker, cooler colors dominating as Quetzalcóatl approaches the underworld. The art is immersive and a delight to revisit. The clarity and economy of the text commands appreciation, and along with the wonderful illustrations, makes Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns an instant classic.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Quetzalcóatl's journey to the underworld in Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth. What's his goal? What (or who) helps him on his quest? What character strengths does Quetzalcóatl show as he makes his way to Mictlán?

  • Talk about the art in Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns. What do you think of the flat style of the characters that reflects the look of ancient Aztec art? Try drawing a picture of people and animals in that style. 

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  • How does this story compare with other creation myths or stories you've heard of, perhaps including Greek or Roman gods? What does it mean to be a hero in a myth? What qualities are common to all heroes? How is your life like or unlike a heroic quest?  

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mythology and stories of Latinx culture

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