The story is based upon a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, who was a young Zapoteca poet who spent years collecting the oral traditions of his people. The Zapotecas are great storytellers and the tale of Lucia Zenteno comes from that grand tradition. In 1986 he published his version of this story as a poem and was later killed in 1987 while organizing the Zapotecas to regain their lost water rights.
The story is about a legendary character, Lucia Zenteno. When she arrives at the village, people were afraid of her because she was different and seemed to have magical powers. The elders told the village people to respect her, but they did not listen to them. They called her cruel names and tried to cause her harm until they drove her out of the village. When she left, the river left with her. Then there came a drought to the village and the people realized that they had mistreated her. They asked for her forgiveness and Lucia returned alond with the river. She asked everyone in the village to treat each other with kindness.
This story has a strong, underlying moral message about treating each other with kindness. I actually used this story with my third grade class and prior to reading it, we brainstormed ways that people honor nature, such as by keeping the Earth clean, conserving energy and resources, and appreciating the gifts of forests and rivers. The students recorded their responses in a web and then worked in groups to create a mural illustrating the ideas in the web. I then did a picture walk of the book with my students in order to preview and predict what they thought the story was about based on the colorful illustrations.
Stages of Social Justice:
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun explores many of the stages in social justice education including self-love and acceptance, respect for others, and exploring issues of social justice like the forms of cruelty that she incurred at the hands of the village people. It can be used to celebrate differences and tolerate differences by identifying the tolerant and intolerant behaviors in the story.
In the Classroom:
Speaking/Listening: Tell the students to pretend that they are one of the elders in the village giving the townspeople a presentation on how to persuade Lucia to come back. Have each student tell his or her reasons to the class.
Explore Setting Words: Explain to students that in the story a number of words give information about the setting. The word iguana, for example, indicates that the story probably takes place in a hot dry place because that is the environment in which most iguanas live. Invite students to work in pairs to locate other story words that give information about the setting.