La Llorona

The Weeping Woman

By: Joe Hayes
Illustrator: Mona Pennypacker / Vicki Trego Hill
Have you ever heard the story of La Llorona, the ghost woman they say is crying and crying for her children? Some people say she cries along the river, while others think they’ve heard her in the desert, or down an alley right near their house. But almost everyone agrees that La Llorona is not a lady you want to meet late at night, when you’re out past your bedtime. Then you might learn more about her than you ever wanted to know!


La Llorona (yoh-ROH-nah), the ghost story to end all ghost stories.

Joe Hayes' spine-tingling telling of this legend has sold close to 100,000 copies. Have you ever heard this story of the weeping woman, the story of La Llorona, the ghost woman they say is crying and crying for her children? Some people say she cries along the river, while others think they’ve heard her in the desert, or down an alley right near their house. But almost everyone agrees that La Llorona is not a lady you want to meet late at night, when you’re out past your bedtime. Then you might learn more about her than you ever wanted to know! It is truly the best known and most popular cuento of Hispanic America. It appears at first to be only a frightening story filled with mysterious events that causes children to sit wide-eyed, to huddle together and listen spellbound. Yet, it's the simple, universal wisdom at the core of the story that finally works its magic in their hearts.

Awards and Accomodations

Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award / Best Children's Picture Book (Bilingual)

9 reviews for La Llorona

  1. Kirkus Reviews
    The most beautiful young woman of her small town, Maria disdains the local youths as beneath her and uses her wiles to attract the handsome son of a wealthy landlord. After a while, however, the headstrong husband loses his interest in Maria and speaks of putting her aside for a wealthy replacement. In rage and madness, Maria throws their children into the river and becomes “the weeping woman,” who guiltily haunts the waterways and may even snatch away careless children who stay too long outside at night. Hayes’s version is perhaps the classic American version of the classic Latin American folk tale and has been available in its earlier form for 20 years. This new edition features much larger, full-color illustrations destined to make the story even more popular, as well as the direct narration in both Spanish and English. This belongs in every folktale collection, and libraries serving Hispanic children, especially those of Mexican descent, can easily justify purchasing multiple copies.

  2. Crítitcas
    A colorful new bilingual edition of award-winning storyteller Hayes’s classic retelling of this Mexican folktale is now available for the next generation of young readers. The tale of La Llorona is part of an oral tradition in which many versions of the story have emerged. Hayes, who has spent the last 20 years recording and bringing stories like this one to youngsters, claims that this traditional ghost tale stands out because so many “will swear that it is true.” The tragic tale follows Maria, the most beautiful girl in her village, attempting to woo the handsome, wealthy ranchero who often visits her town. Once she succeeds, she finds that her new husband’s affections often turn to other women. Maria retaliates by drowning their two children in the river. The next morning, she is found dead on the banks of the same river.

    Hayes explains how, even today, people can hear Maria’s cries for her children, and are often chased by her weeping spirit. The illustrations by mother-daughter team Hill and Pennypacker add depth to the story through their depictions of traditional pueblo garments. Landscapes of the southwestern desert are dotted with tile-roofed adobe houses, sandy soil, bits of green, rolling hills, and pale-blue mountains. Deeper colors are used to depict the couple and infant children in happier times. Shaded pictures and silhouettes add to the feelings of deception, desertion, and despair that came later. Best if read aloud. Recommended to all libraries and bookstores.

  3. School Library Journal
    This legendary tale is not only a spine-tingling ghost story, but also a cautionary tale about a breathtakingly lovely, working-class girl. All of the local gallants have their eyes on María, but she feels that she’s destined for better things. Accordingly, she holds out for a wealthy and dashing young ranchero who lives nearby. She plays hard to get, and the ploy is successful. Marriage and two children follow, but her husband is increasingly disenchanted with her. He even “talked of setting María aside and marrying a woman of his own wealthy class.” María vents her jealousy and anger on her own children; she pushes them into the river, where they drown. Her remorse is immediate and useless. She cannot save them, and she dies of her grief. But her ghost lingers on, crying for the youngsters and willing to take any stray child she finds by the side of the river alone. Textually simpler than Joe Hayes’s longer version of the same story in The Day It Snowed Tortillas/El día que nevaron tortillas, this story packs a punch in both English and the author’s fluid Spanish translation. The earth-tone, pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations make use of cross-hatching to create an eerie, almost graphic-novel sensibility that extends the story ably. A solid retelling of a classic tale.

  4. Multicultural Children’s Literature
    In this classic folk story from Hispanic America, the once proud, beautiful Maria becomes enraged at her husband’s infidelity. She turns her rage onto her children, throwing them into the river. Realizing her fateful deed, she attempts to find them, but she is found dead the next day on the riverbank. Soon after, villagers begin hearing crying in the night, that of a weeping woman crying for her children. At this point in the tale, children are admonished to be home before dark, or La Llorona (the weeping woman), may think the children are hers and take them away. This story is presented in both English and Spanish, and has a companion audiocassette. The richly detailed illustrations in brown hues capture the town, its residents, and their clothing.

  5. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
    The traditional Latino story of a cast-off wife who drowns her children, dies of grief, and spends each night thereafter stalking the riverbank as a wailing ghost finds corporeality in this bilingual picture book. Hayes’ sentences are compact but evocative; he limits the ghostly effects, making this telling more suitable for timid youngsters than creepier versions, but there’s still plenty of pathos in the drama. Each page tells the story in English and Spanish, the English paragraphs leading, and the languages read in close parallel; appropriate figures of speech are used in each version, widening the potential audience and opening doors to cross-cultural sharing as the differences in word choice are noted by readers and listeners.

    Graceful compositions stand out (most notably the lemon and violet spread of the protagonist at the river) and the stipple and hatch textures lend a subtle patina. For such a widely told folktale, this story is rarely published in picture-book form, and this is a solid and effective retelling that will resonate strongly with children who have heard the story at home and serve as an evocative introduction for youngsters unfamiliar with the legendary weeping ghost. A brief overview of the Hispanic storytelling tradition introduces the tale; the last page answers the question “Is the story really true?”; and a three-paragraph “Note to Readers and Storytellers” gives background information.

  6. Children’s Literature
    In rural Mexico, long ago, there lived a young woman so beautiful and vain that she refused to have anything to do with the men in her village. Since they were not nearly good enough for her, she thought, she would wait until a wealthy, handsome man desired to marry her. Maria, the young woman, got her wish, but her life turned out much differently than she expected. Her husband began to grow distant and eventually replaced her with another woman. In a fit of anger and jealousy, Maria threw her children in the river, only to fall dead with grief over the atrocious act she had committed. Following her burial, her ghostly form continued searching for her offspring along the banks of the river. This popular Hispanic legend is told here in both Spanish and English and warns children about the dangers of venturing out past their bedtimes. Teachers and librarians may have to push this book since the cover illustration shows Maria as anything but beautiful; however, exposure to this story will expand students’ knowledge of storytelling and oral traditions and the role they play in Hispanic culture. This book would be useful in multicultural and/or language arts lessons. Although the text of this picture book is easily comprehendible, the theme may frighten some young students, and the author himself states in a note at the end that he avoids telling the story to children younger than nine or ten unless they are already familiar with the story.

  7. The Santa Fe New Mexican
    Cinco Puntos Press has brought back La Llorona, the woman who haunts Mexican and Mexican-American legends. La Llorona: The Weeping Woman is the version Joe Hayes tells. In an afterword, he describes how he adapted it from the tales he heard growing up in Arizona “with some of my own inventions thrown in, of course, such as the names of the characters. I also give the tale a more logical structure than it had in renditions I heard in my youth…” Even though this is a printed book, you can imagine Hayes telling the story aloud, surrounded by kids in a shadowy room, perhaps with only a blazing fireplace for light, and as he concludes the tale, the kiddies shiver and move a little closer…

    Hayes first published this version in 1987, but Cinco Puntos went all out for this one. The book is large format and the text is in both English and Spanish. Vicki Trego Hill did the illustrations, some of which appeared as black-and-white drawings in the ’87 version. She modified a couple and drew a few more, then her daughter, Mona Pennypacker, did the coloring. The pictures evoke a dusty Southwestern or Mexican village, presided over by the haughty María, who manages to catch the eye of a rich and handsome ranchero. They marry, have two children and everything is fine until the ranchero’s eye wanders and Maria, in a fit of jealousy… Well, we all know what happens, don’t we? —Terry England

  8. McAllen Monitor
    Everybody knows the story of “La Llorona” and many have passed it on to new generations. Joe Hayes is considered one of the authorities on the story and has retold it countless times. He’s also authored a version recently reissued in hardback, which tells the infamous story in both Spanish and English.

    “My version is largely based on things I heard about La Llorona when I was a boy in Arizona, with some of my own inventions thrown in, of course,” he writes in an addendum to his book. I give the tale a more logical structure than it had in the renditions I heard in my youth, but I leave some loose threads untied for future speculations,” he writes.

    Hayes thinks there is a timeless quality and a geographical resonance to the story. “I think the secret of La Llorona’s success as a ghost is that she’s always local. Wherever you are, she’s seen right around there. It’s also a deeply moralistic story. And it combines shocking and outrageous deeds done in the past (sensational in the way contemporary news stories of mothers murdering their children are) with a present and imminent threat. And, of course, that threat is made real by all the reports of people having seen or heard her,” he writes in his version.

    How about the burning question of whether or not he really believes in La Llorona? “What I tell children who ask me that is I don’t think the things really did happen, but if you think about the story you find a lot of truth in it,” he said.

  9. El Paso Times
    Cinco Puntos recently rolled out a colorful hard- cover edition of Hayes’ bilingual version of “La Llorona”, the best-known legend among Hispanics and particularly of interest to anyone who would dare disobey his or her parents. How many of us didn’t grow up imagining that La Llorona lurked at the next dark corner waiting to whisk us away?

    Hayes has earned a national reputation for telling stories that borrow from the Hispanic, Native American and Anglo cultures. His live performances in English and Spanish always captivate children and their teachers and parents. In “La Llorona,” Hayes re-tells the universal story of the woman who threw her children in the river after she got the impression that her husband had rejected her. No surprise ending here. Every child who ever heard the tale of La Llorona knows that she is still out there, wailing and looking for her children — or maybe someone else’s.

    Young readers with a vivid imagination can’t go wrong with a Joe Hayes storybook. He is a good read any time of year. You don’t have to wait for ghosts to come knocking or howling.

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