Relajo en la cocina is a Mexican story that I read to my children when they were little. It is published by CONAFE (Consejo Nacional de Fometo Educativo) and is now available online in the Biblioteca Digital del ILCE (This is an amazing resource. If you have not checked it out, be sure to take a look).
I loved reading this short, rhyming story with my kids and still use it with students. In terms of language learning, it is a great story because it has rhyme, rhythm, the repetition of one structure and images to support the text.
Relajo en la cocina also has lots of cultural content. Because it takes place in the kitchen, there are many elements of Mexican food culture. Also, the end of the story shows the important cultural value of community and cooperation.
Children will find Mexican food culture in both the text and the illustrations. There are pictures of classic ingredients like ajo and chiles, even when they are not mentioned in the story. Other typical foods – el coco, el queso, la rosca, la calabaza and la tortilla – appear in both the text and the illustrations. The pictures here are key. For example, you can see that the cheese is a rueda de queso and the calabaza is not a pumpkin, but the typical calabacita, or zucchini, used in so many Mexican dishes. The rosca is shown with other typical pan dulce and the tortillas are shown with ears of corn; they are traditional tortillas de maiz. Also, the cooking utensils in both the text and illustrations – el metate, la olla, la cazuela – are typical of Mexican kitchens.
In Relajo en la cocina, the speaker comes home from el mercado (another cultural reference) to find the kitchen a mess. There are animals and objects in strange places: un grillo en el cuchillo, un ratón el cajón, un gato en el plato, etc.
What do we do when things like this happen? We turn to the community for help. The story ends: Ante tal desastre me serví de la amistad de la comunidad que me ayudó a poner todo en su lugar. Kids can see from the picture of the clean kitchen that we can count on our community to help when life gets complicated. It is a clear illustration of the importance of cooperation and community – a defining value of Mexican culture.