The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent | Irene Vasco


The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent written by Irene Vasco, illustrated by Juan Palomino, and translated by Lawrence Schimel

Coming October 10th, 2023 from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; 40 pages

About the Author: “Irene Vasco is a Colombian children’s writer, translator, and educator. For many years, she has conducted reading workshops and programs in remote Indigenous and agricultural communities. In 2021, the Colombian Ministry of Education recognized Irene’s career with its “Life and Work” distinction” (Bio from The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent).

Find Irene Vasco on the following platforms:

Find Juan Palomino on the following platforms:

About the Translator: “Lawrence Schimel has written or translated over 200 books, including Niños, 9 Kilometers, and the Batchelder Honor Book Different (all Eerdmans). His works have received many awards, including a PEN Translates Award and the GLLI Translated YA Book Prize Honor. Lawrence lives in Madrid, Spain. Follow him on Twitter @lawrenceschimel” (Bio from The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent).

Find Lawrence Schimel on the following platforms: 

“The young teacher loved the cloth books. If the rain ever wets them, they’ll be dry again soon. Just like what happens with this lovely land that guards so many mysteries and legends, along the largest river in the world.”

When a young teacher gets assigned to teach in the remote village of Las Delicias located in the Amazon rainforest, she is filled with excitement. Looking forward to teaching the children of the community geography, science, and math, she is puzzled by the amount of superstition that occupies the indigenous people’s minds – particularly the tale of the great serpent which is said by the children to come during intense floods and storms. The young teacher finds the tales complete nonsense, believing that the only real knowledge comes from her books rather than legends. The young teacher, however, will come to discover that there is wisdom in ancestral stories. 

The words “cultural humility” and “transcendent power of stories” that the description from The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent relates perfectly describe the massive impact this story had on me. The picture book illustrates a collision between the old and new ways, but instead of focusing on the friction that traditions and modernity can have, The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent does the exact opposite. Irene Vasco and Juan Palomino weave symbolism through their narrative and art to show the value of differing perspectives. A mutual acknowledgment of cultures is depicted when the villagers take an interest in the books that the young teacher brings and the young teacher engages with the elders’ enchanting storytelling. An open mind is shown as a byproduct through the creation of the cloth books by the elders of the village that are based on the stories and lessons the teacher tells. The picture book is not only interactive and fun to read, but it shows a part of the world, the Amazon Forest, that is both beautiful and filled with endless possibilities.

The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent releases on October 10th, 2023.

Pine Reads Review would like to thank Eerdmans Books for Young Readers for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.

Tereza Rascon, Pine Reads Review Writer, Social Media and Website Manager