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Martina Has Too Many Tías by Emma Otheguy

Emma Otheguy shares Martina Has Too Many Tías (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), a lively and magical bilingual picture book that reimagines the beloved Caribbean folktale "La Cucaracha Martina."

Listen along:

About the book: Martina Has Too Many Tías by Emma Otheguy; Illustrated by Sara Palacios. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

A quiet girl overwhelmed by her rambunctious family finds a magical land of solitude only to discover what truly makes a home a home in this lively and magical bilingual picture book that reimagines the beloved Caribbean folktale "La Cucaracha Martina."

Martina does not like parties. Parties are full of tías with their flashy fashions and boom-and-bellow laughter that's too much for quiet Martina. At least with all that noise, no one notices when she slips away. She finds herself in a magical place: a warm, familiar island where she can finally play in peace and quiet. Martina is home at last--or is she?

Episode Transcript:


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.

I am a teacher, a librarian, a writer, and a fan of kids. 

ANd I have allergies right now and you can hear it in my voice.

My friend is back on the show! I first spoke with today’s guest back in 2017 when she made her picture book debut with Marti’s Song for Freedom. We connected again in 2020 and were joined by Adam Gidwitz to share book 5 of the Unicorn Rescue Society: The Madre de Aguas of Cuba. And although it took me a minute to get this interview published because of… well… life, I am overjoyed to share with you a conversation about her most recent picture book.

Today I welcome Emma Otheguy back to the podcast.

Emma’s latest picture book, Martina Has Too Many Tías (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), is a lively and magical bilingual picture book that reimagines the beloved Caribbean folktale "La Cucaracha Martina." It’s illustrated by Sara Palacios. In the story, a quiet girl overwhelmed by her rambunctious family finds a magical land of solitude only to discover what truly makes a home a home.

Let’s step into my conversation with Emma Otheguy. Ready? Here we go.


Emma: Hello, my name is Emma Otheguy. I am the author of several books for kids. And most recently, I am the author of Martina Has Too Many Tias.

Matthew: Let's go! Emma, how would you describe Martina's family? And, follow up question when, when you're there, I'd love to know how her family is similar or different from yours. I don't know that I know, so yeah, fill us in.  

Emma: Martina has a big family. She has a big family and a loud family. Specifically, her family has a lot of tías.

Tías is the Spanish word for aunts, and so Martina has a So many Tias, she thinks she has too many of them and they are people who love to party, who love to have a good time, they take up a lot of space, they make a lot of noise. That's what Martina's family is like. And that is a lot like what my family is like.

My parents both come from both, both come from both big families. They both have many siblings. Their siblings also like to have a good time, also like to have a lot of noise, make a lot of noise. So when I was growing up, I always felt like there was just too many people all the time taking up all the space wherever I was.

Matthew: That's fabulous. Did you also need a, a retreat space, a quiet? Did you find yourself as a child doing that as well? 

Emma: Yeah. And that's actually part of the reason I became a reader and somebody who really likes to go to the library and read is I found that One of my favorite tricks to survive being in my family and to feel okay sometimes when there was all of this noise and hulabaloo like all around me was to, to read.

And so I would always have a book out from the library with me. And I started reading a lot and I started just escaping sometimes during family parties, um, to read a little bit. My family loves to dance and Sometimes that wasn't always my thing. And so I would often just like get a book out of, I would keep a book in my mom's purse often and get it out of my mom's purse if we were out or, um, you know, at somebody's house and then find a corner to read.

And sometimes that was behind the couch. Sometimes that was, you know, just on the floor somewhere, but I always kind of wanted a little bit of space for myself. 

Matthew: It's just, I'm just delighting in knowing this about you. I just didn't know this about you. It's so great. It's so great to know that like, yeah, I'm basically the character in the book.

Emma: Yeah, it's true. It's, it's very much true. This is a very true to life book. 

Matthew: Okay. So Emma, you, um, wrote the story as a retelling to La Cucaracha Martina. I, I wonder, I guess, first I wonder, is this a story A folktale that you heard growing up. Did you know this story of Martina? Um, and for those kids that don't know it, I did not grow up with the story.

I remember reading it. I remember reading a picture book of it. as a librarian. So I was in like at least teacher school, if not library school. Um, could you please share briefly what the original folktale is generally for kids that don't know about it? 

Emma: So I grew up reading, not reading, I grew up hearing my mother tell the story of La Cucaracha Martina because La Cucaracha Martina is a folktale.

So even though you can probably go to the library and find a picture book that tells that story in a book form, The way the story of La Cucaracha Martina is really shared and the way it's been perpetuated is by people actually telling it out loud to one another. So my mom does the best version of the story of La Cucaracha Martina.

She does all of the animal voices. It's really fun. So that's the version that I grew up with. I also didn't see a book of La Cucaracha Martina. Same as you, I probably didn't see a book of La Cucaracha Martina until I was in college, I would say, or maybe even after, until I got seriously interested in children's books.

I had only ever heard my mother tell it aloud. And this is how the story of La Cucaracha Martina goes, at least the way my mom would tell it. There is a little cockroach and her name is Martina. And one day she's sweeping. So if you read Martina has too many tias, you'll see Martina sweeping. And in the dust that she sweeps up, she finds a gold coin.

And so she goes to the store with that gold coin and she buys herself powder to make herself pretty. So she buys herself makeup and she's all dressed up in her makeup and she goes and she sits on her steps. And as she's sitting on her steps, All of the animals come by and they're all like, you know, they all tell her, Oh my gosh, Martina, you look so beautiful.

And, uh, you know, they ask her to marry her. And she says, well, what sound do you make? And then the animals make their sound. They go and whatever animal they are, they make their sound. My mom would always do them in a really funny voice. And as soon as she hears the voice, the noise they make, she would always go, I don't trust us.

How can you scare me? And so she doesn't marry any of them until one comes along, and it's a little mouse. And his name is El Ratoncito Perez. And he's a little mouse, so he doesn't make any noise. And so Martina agrees to marry him. And then this is where the story goes off the rails a little bit, in my opinion, which is that they get married, And then Martina one day is making, uh, her little mouse husband dinner, she's making him a pot of soup, and she tells him don't get too close to the pot of soup, uh, because you could fall in.

And the mouse doesn't pay attention to her because the soup smells so, so, so good and he falls in to the soup. So that's the horrible ending to the story in the version my mother trolled. I did not think this would make a very good ending for a picture book, so I took some of the elements of that story and I reworked them.

So instead of the story ending with the mouse falling into a pot of soup, tragically, I made it so that Martina falls into a pot of guava paste because that seemed, for me, nicer than a pot of soup. and she gets carried away to a magical land where she meets all of these animals. And that sort of happens in the beginning of the story, so it's less of a tragic ending and more of an exciting beginning.

Matthew: I want so bad for you to record your mom telling this story. 

Emma: I really just want to hear her now. I know. I really should actually, like, as a part of the writing of this is like, I want to have a record of it just for myself. I mean, I can hear her voice saying, like, so perfectly, but 

Matthew: you grew up with your very own Porter Bell Prey in your house.

This is a terrific thing. I did not grow up with my house. It's a great thing that you had that. Um, okay. So, um, I would love to know, I hear how the story took shape, but I wonder why this book, how, what was the seed of the idea that, Oh, this should be my next book. I should pursue writing this. Um, the moment or idea that just inspires you to go, you know, it'd be a really fun thing to do is to write it this way.

Emma: Yeah, you know what's interesting is that I didn't set out to write a retelling of La Cucaracha Martina. I, I didn't sit down at my desk and say, you know, it would be a good idea to like do my own version of the spoke tale. What I really did is I started by wanting to write a book that was a little bit magic.

I love picture books that have a magical element and one of the things I, I, I don't see a lot of picture books, particularly picture books that have Latino characters that. necessarily have that hint of magic, and I've always loved picture books that take me to another world, that sort of have that kind of whiff of fantasy to them.

So that's what I set out to write, but I think it's interesting that when you hear a story like that from your over and over again in your childhood, it sort of becomes a part of you. So as I started writing it, those images from the story of La Cucaracha Martina just popped up in my imagination. The image of, you know, falling into the pot of water, the image of, um, of the animals making the noises.

And then the thing I really kept coming back to is Why, why is Martina so determined to marry someone quiet in, in the original telling of the folktale? Like, it's sort of always, in the way my mom told it, it was always a part of the story, but it was never explained. Like, you know, it's not obvious that anybody wants to marry someone quiet.

Some people want to marry somebody who makes a lot of noise, right? So I was like, why does Martina want to marry someone quiet? And that's when I came to the idea of Maybe she comes from a family like mine, and maybe she's just looking for, like, just a little bit of space to herself, a little bit of peace and quiet, and that's what attracts her to the ratoncito, the little mouse who doesn't make any noise.

And so, I really went with that idea of trying to answer the question of why, why is Martina looking for an animal that doesn't make a lot of noise? 

Matthew: The house is too noisy. You escape into this magic pot and still the animals are noisy. So like, good. Just give me the quiet. Um, I won't on the recording, um, spoil the ending, but I feel like you have a really natural, beautiful probably hint.

I didn't know that I'm saying that because you do have a really natural, beautiful way out of this story, which is. I think probably true to your, your family as well. It's certainly true in my family where it's even for all that I feel like they might be too much or just not. Not the right match for me all the time.

You're whatever for mine. It's that in my family. It's that I recognize like how Emotionally intelligent I am and very in tune with my emotions and my emotions drive a lot of a lot of my decisions and connections and my family just is not that way and it's very hard for me to be like Are we literally just going to small talk all the time, all the time?

I need some substance, but I feel myself, um, wanting to come back to them though, because they are my family and there is a familiarity to, even though we're not quite the same. You're still my people. I love, Emma, that that's what brings Martina back is that, no, this noise is still, this is my life. This is, these are my people.

I like that. 

Emma: And I think it was important for me as a storyteller because I, I find that when I think about what it is to have a really loud family, as somebody who is more reflective, as somebody who does like to write and to read, how great is it to have a whole family of people who just love to talk and who like want to hear you?

And so for me, that was, uh, it was such a nice experience for me to write this story and to show Martina coming back and what brings her back is the sense of like, she still belongs here and There are people to hear her stories and that's, that's what it is for me. 

Matthew: Yeah, that's exactly it. And it fuels her stories to be able to listen, fuels your stories to just be able to listen.

Would you mind reading to us?  

Emma: Yes, I would love to read to you. So this is Martina Has Too Many Dias, written by me, Emma Otheguy, and illustrated by Sara Palacios. Martina suffered from too many dias. There was Tia Susana, a grand salsa dancer, Tia Leonor, who dressed in the flashiest fashions, and Tia Alberta, whose laughter was the boom and bellow kind.

They gave Martina a pounding headache. When Mami said, your tias are coming, Martina 

Matthew: Roand. Tell, tell us about the art that Sarah has done. What do you see when you look at Sarah's art? Uh, take us there for those, uh, kids that haven't had a chance to see it yet. I'll also make sure, Emma, that I include some, um, sample spreads in the, in the, uh, show notes.


Emma: I love the art from Martina Has Too Many Tias. I mean, I just, I love the colors and I think there are two things that really stand out to me about Sara Palacio's art for this book. The first is that if you look at the background of each spread of art, you're gonna see that The background is actually telling part of the story.

For example, when Martina is with her big, loud aunts, there's a lot going on in the background. There are a lot of colors, there are a lot of curlicues and flowers and musical notes popping out. When Martina is imagining, when she's in her own imaginative world, the background is calm, it's kind of plain, there's less happening there.

So you can really feel the story through the background. And then the other detail that I love that Every kid in the world, if you get your hands on this book, please go through and find every single fairy that Sara Palacios has illustrated for this book because there are all these adorable teeny tiny fairies throughout the book and they are so cute.

They have little flowers in their hair. They have like a little tiara. And what I love about them is that there's a certain stereotype of how we often see fairies illustrated. And in this book, the fairies are all different. They're every different color of skin. They have all different types of hairstyles.

Some of them have pink hair. So I think it's just, they're really cute. And I know I would have had a great time looking for all these little fairies in the illustration if I were a kid. So I encourage kids to do that. 

Matthew: Yeah, they're just, I love, I love when a thing just sort of pops up in the art and you're like, I wonder what that's there for?

And it's there just for you to notice. It's there. It's a wink, right? It's a wink. 

Emma: Well, I think it like, it makes it clear that this is like a little bit magical. 

Matthew: Of course. My friend, I get to ask you my favorite question, which is that I'll see a library full of children tomorrow morning. Is there a message that I can bring to them from you? 

Emma: Um, yeah, it's so funny.

Every time you ask me this question, I really struggle with what to answer. And I, I think I thought of any, I like brainstormed an answer before we met. And then I, I don't know that I love what I want to say. Um, I'll say this in the spirit of Martina Has Too Many Tias. One of the things that drove me to write Martina Has Too Many Tias is that I often felt like I had to fit into my family in a very specific way.

I thought that to fit into my family I also had to be a great dancer and love music and, um, have a really loud voice and really just be somebody who, who fits in in a big crowded party. And I, I never, I never really felt like I could, but what I learned as I grew up was that I actually can, a family is a very capacious place.

You know how Katie Camillo uses the word capacious. So I think a family is a very capacious place as well. Um, or it is a place with a lot of capacities, I guess how I would put it. Matthew, I'm assuming you're going to edit out this preamble. But the message then that I would leave is that there are a lot of different ways to fit in and to find your place.

And so if you are like Martina and you are not really feeling like you fit in in the way that seems obvious, There might be another way that you can find your role, you can find your place, you can find a way to belong. And for Martina, that was learning how to tell her stories to her family who loved talking and loved her and loved listening to what she had to say.

It might be something different for you, but I think that I think that there are often ways to fit into spaces, and there are kind of, there's a place for a lot of different types of people, and that's kind of what I, I hope kids will take from Martina Has Too Many Tias. 

Matthew: Yeah, I think that's, I think that's a wonderful message for any of us to be walking through the world holding on to.

Emma, where can people find you online? 

Emma: Yes, anybody can find me at EmmaOtheguy. com. I always tell people my name is a little bit tricky. It's O T H E G U Y is Otheguy. But if you can spell Otheguy, you can find me at Emma Otheguy anywhere. You can find me at my website. You can find me on most social media platforms.

You can email me. You got it, I will


Matthew: Thank you to Emma Otheguy for joining me on The Children’s Book Podcast. 

You can pick up your own copy of Martina Has Too Many Tías wherever books are found. Consider supporting independent bookstores by shopping through You can also use my affiliate link by clicking on the book’s name in our show notes.

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And on that note…

Be well. And read on.

End Of Episode

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