Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila

Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish

By: Joe Hayes
Illustrator: Mauricio Trenard Sayago

Like the green island of Cuba, these thirteen tales are full of warmth, laughter, magic and wisdom. These folk stories teach the deep-hearted wisdom of the Cuban people. These tales will sweep your imagination away to the tropical island of Cuba.



A bilingual middle grade collection of playful folktales from Afro-Cuban tradition in side-by-side English and Spanish text, featuring ingenious human, animal and magical protagonists.

Did you know that fire first came from an old sorceress? Cuban folklore teaches us about how she selfishly kept it for herself, until two clever twin boys who “could play their drums as if they had magic in their hands” tricked the hechicera into sharing it with the world. Whether or not you grew up hearing the story of Obbara the Orisha, who gained his special power by appreciating even the humblest gift, or of the three resourceful baby herons who used their song Tin ganga o, tin ganga o, yo mama ganga reré to find their parents— this folktales collection will charm you with its humor, magic, and wisdom.

In this Aesop Prize-winning book, reformatted for middle grade readers, folklorist and storyteller Joe Hayes shares stories he learned after years visiting Cuba and listening to local storytellers. He first visited Holguín, Cuba, the sister city of his hometown, Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2001. He fell in love with the island and began to look for opportunities to meet and listen to Cuban storytellers, and to share the stories he knew from the American Southwest. He returned year after year, establishing a rich cultural exchange between U.S. and Cuban storytellers. Out of that collaboration came this fun collection of thirteen Cuban folktales. Joe gives context to the collection with an introduction and an all-important Note to Storytellers. In the Note, Joe goes over some of background of each of the tales included—what culture these stories originate from, some of the cultural meanings of elements in the stories, previous collections these stories have been included in, or other relevant storytelling and anthropological information.

This collection is a wonderful resource for anyone trying to learn about the unique blend of Spanish, African and Caribbean influences on Cuban culture; for intermediate students of Spanish or English; storytellers looking to expand their repertoire; or anyone who enjoys a good folktale. Have fun reading and re-telling these stories yourself!

“A captivating collection of thirteen folktales with influences from the Caribbean, Spain and Africa; Hayes has captured the essence and diversity of Cuba. Creation myths, legends and Pataki comprise this fascinating folktale anthology.”—REFORMA

Includes these 13 tales:

  • Yams Don't Talk / Los ñames no hablan
  • The Fig Tree / La mata de higo
  • The Gift / El regalo
  • Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila
  • The Lazy Old Crows / Los viejos cuervos perezosos
  • Pedro Malito / Pedro Malito
  • Born To Be Poor / El que nace para pobre
  • Young Heron's New Clothes / La ropa nueva del joven garza
  • We Sing Like This / Nosotras cantamos así
  • Buy Me Some Salt / Cómprame sal
  • The Hairy Old Devil Man / El diablo peludo
  • Compay Monkey and Comay Turtle / Compay Mono y Comay Jicotea
  • You Can't Dance / No baila
  • Notes to Readers and Storytellers

Watch Joe Hayes tell Dance, Nana, Dance in this free, online video, part of the Joe Hayes Storytelling Collection.

Joe Hayes’ bilingual Spanish-English tellings have earned him a celebrated place among America’s storytellers. He began sharing his stories in print in 1982. In 2005, Joe received the Talking Leaves Literary Award from the National Story telling Network, an award given to members of the story telling community who have made considerable and influential contributions to the literature of story telling. His books have received the Arizona Young Readers Award, two Land of Enchantment Children’s Book Awards, four IPPY Awards, a Southwest Book Award, a Skipping Stone Honor, an Aesop Prize, and an Aesop Accolade Award. They have been on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List twice, and his book Ghost Fever was the first bilingual book to win the Bluebonnet Award.

Mauricio Trenard Sayago was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1963. He was raised by his family and society to believe in the power of art to educate and transform the individual and society. This environment strongly influenced him. His goal is to use his work to simplify, exaggerate or change how we see our current realitites so that we can make the world a better place. Mauricio came to the United States in 2000 and lives in Brooklyn, making his living as an artist and using painting not only to create new images, but also to explore himself in his new cultural context.

Awards and Accomodations

Tejas Star List
Skipping Stones Honor Book
Bank Street's Best Children's Books of the Year, 2009
Anne Izard's Storytellers' Choice Award
Américas Book Award Honor Book
Críticas Children's Best Books of 2008
Aesop Prize, American Folklore Society

8 reviews for Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila

  1. Críticas
    These 13 bilingual folktales introduce readers to Cuban classics, which are, in turn, heavily influenced by Spanish, African, and Caribbean cultures. The entertaining collection present readers with a variety of colorful characters, such as a blue bird with gold wings, a yam that terrifies the bravest man in the army, an old lady who can dance for days, an old devil who leaves hairy footprints as he walks, a boy who can never remember what his mother wants from the store, and the man who “had never done a day’s work in his life.”

    Hayes’s language is characteristically expressive and descriptive in both languages. Some of the tales have a musical verse or two that will encourage listeners to join in during storytelling sessions. A bold pastel illustration that beautifully celebrates Afro-Cuban culture accompanies each story. The book includes an introduction, table of contents, and on the back pages, helpful notes to readers and storytellers, as well as background information on the stories. In this last part, the author provides connections to stories told by the Grimm brothers and Native Americans, as well as to African and Latin American folktales.

    A great acquisition for upper elementary and middle school libraries, and an excellent resource for storytellers.

  2. Kirkus Reviews
    Lively, often funny and sometimes a bit scary.

    Known for Mexican and Mexican-American stories, Hayes reaches beyond his usual borders and finds a strong new source of tales in Cuba. Thirteen stories are told on opposite pages in English and Spanish, ready to read aloud or to be tucked into storytellers’ repertoires. They are lively, often funny and sometimes a bit scary. Many different types appear: “Young Heron’s New Clothes” is related to the Anansi stories, “The Fig Tree” has elements of the Grimms’ “The Juniper Tree” and “The Gift,” a patakí, is a myth about the Orishas, the holy figures of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. The excellent notes at the end include references to the stories as they are found in different cultures. Sayago, a Cuban artist now living in the United States, provides bold paintings that appear to be done on textured paper and portray most of the human characters as Afro-Cubans.

    Eminently tellable, all the stories have refrains and songs sure to get audiences joining in.

  3. World Wide Work Bulletin
    A lively bilingual collection of 13 folktales from Cuba with the type of vivid color illustrations books from Cinco Puntos Press typically include.

  4. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
    Renowned storyteller Hayes retells thirteen Cuban folktales in both English and Spanish, with facing pages presenting the English version on one side and the corresponding Spanish on the other. Folklore fans will find many of the stories’ elements familiar: tricksters abound, characters both good and bad receive their just rewards, and families are happily reunited. Elements more specific to Cuban culture are also present, as in the stories that feature the Orishas, the holy ones of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería. The accessibility of Hayes’ vivid but streamlined language coupled with rock-solid structure of the stories themselves (replete with the repetition and building of tension that tellers and listeners rely on) make this accessible both to young readers and to storytellers and other adult readers-aloud.

    Humorous characters or situations (particularly evident in the last story, “You Can’t Dance”) further extend the entertainment value of the stories; brief songs appear in almost every story, and in his introduction Hayes encourages tellers to invent their own melodies for them. Sayago’s full-page paintings (one per story), painted in rich, saturated colors on what appear to be textured surfaces, offer stylized depictions of the tales’ featured animals and people. There is no bibliography or glossary, but there is a useful introduction in which Hayes describes his motivation and the general processes he used to collect and adapt the tales; unfamiliar words are defined within or at the end of each story, and lively notes for each story appear at book’s end.

  5. Review of Texas Books
    Unique and Entertaining Folktales

    Joe Hayes, in the introduction of his book of Cuban folktales Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila, writes, “the most important thing is to have fun reading and telling stories.” Indeed, readers will have fun doing both with these unique and entertaining stories.

    Each folktale in the collection is written in English and Spanish and illustrated by Cuban born artist Mauricio Trenard Sayago, who now resides in the United States. A full page illustration precedes each of the thirteen folktales and provides readers with a perfect visual reference for the stories that Mr. Hayes has taken care to retell in the Cuban tradition.

    Mr. Hayes has also included a section at the back of the book titled “Notes to Readers and Storytellers,” which gives a short background for each retold story in this rich collection.

  6. Tucson Citizen
    This collection of Cuban folk tales is a delicious mix of stories passed down for generations. Hayes, who first visited Cuba in 2001, fell in love with the island and its people and that love is reflected in his delightful book. These are stories that are even better when read out loud.

  7. REFORMA Newsletter
    A captivating collection of thirteen folktales with influences from the Caribbean, Spain and Africa; Hayes has captured the essence and diversity of Cuba. Creation myths, legends and Pataki comprise this fascinating folktale anthology. Sayago’s illustrations are a visual feast adding to the cultural details. Helpful features of the book include the short Spanish glossary after each tale and the brief annotated bibliography. Perfect for teaching bilingual students or units on world myths in the classroom. Recommended.

  8. American Folklore Society
    This colorful bilingual anthology of thirteen Cuban folktales has sabor, the flavor of the Caribbean, bringing the rich mixture of Spanish, African and American influences to his readers. Cuban folkloric wisdom and wit fill these pages. There is a rhythmic quality to the linguistic expression in both the English and Spanish narratives, reminiscent of the importance of rhythm in the Cuban way of life.

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