Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale

Carmen Agra Deedy delivers a deliciously inventive Cuban version of the beloved Martina folktale, complete with a dash of café cubano.

Martina the beautiful cockroach doesn t know coffee beans about love and marriage. That s where her Cuban family comes in. While some of the Cucarachas offer her gifts to make her more attractive, only Abuela, her grandmother, gives her something really useful: un consejo increible, some shocking advice.

You want me to do what? Martina gasps.

At first, Martina is skeptical of her Abuela s unorthodox suggestion, but when suitor after suitor fails The Coffee Test, she wonders if a little green cockroach can ever find true love. Soon, only the gardener Pérez, a tiny brown mouse, is left. But what will happen when Martina offers him café Cubano?

After reading this sweet and witty retelling of the Cuban folktale, you ll never look at a cockroach the same way again.

5 thoughts on “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale

  1. Stephanie Reavey says:

    Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is a delightful re-telling of a Cuban folktale on how to choose the best suitor. The illustrations are charming and add to the entertainment value of the tale. When Martina’s grandmother encourages her to spill coffee on the feet of potential suitors to see how they would react, Martina is unsure at first but eventually sees the benefits of doing so. The cocky rooster, loathsome pig, and sly lizard are immediately rejected after their foul reactions. At last she meets the quiet and humble mouse, Perez. This story book can be enjoyed by many at any age. Overall, this is a book well done!

  2. Gretchen Knowlton says:

    Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale retold by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin, has a format similar to Aesop’s fables and other folktales meant to guide the reader to an eventual moral of the story and this one continues in that tradition. Personally I found this story refreshing as it was one I was unfamiliar with. I especially enjoyed the intermingling of Spanish phrases in with the English text in such a way that didn’t detract from my reading. Deedy’s connection to her Cuban heritage and wish to write in order to share multiple cultural perspectives is admirable, as is her sense of humor in giving the “real Martina” or Cuban cockroach a biography on the end paper. The illustrations artfully exaggerate each of Martina’s potential suitors impending shortcomings and are focused in such a way that they frame in the story as it progresses.

  3. Kristi Schipper says:

    Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is a beautifully re-told Cuban folktale.

    On Martina’s birthday, her grandmother gives Martina advice on finding the perfect suitor. Abuela tells Martina to spill coffee on the man’s shoes. Surprised and confused by this advice, Martina goes off to find herself a husband. The first suitor she meets, Martina decides to try her grandmother’s advice and spill coffee on the man’s shoes. When he reacts with fury, Martina begins to understand why Abuela’s advice is helpful. Suitor after potential suitor, Martina is able to see the character of each man she meets. Not until she meets ‘Perez,’ a quiet and humble mouse, does she find the perfect suitor.

    When I read this book to my first grade class, they loved guessing how each potential suitor was going to act when Martina spilled coffee on his shoes. My students relied heavily on the pictures to gain meaning of the story. The exaggerated characteristics of each potential suitor for Martina made my students laugh and definitely added a playfulness to this folktale.

  4. Christina Johnson says:

    Carmen Agra Deedy tells this Cuban Folktale beautifully. I shared this story with my third graders and they enjoyed the predictability of the tale. By the end of the story they were asking Martina to marry them along with the character. They really enjoyed predicting whether or not each character would pass the coffee test and they were right with each one. However, they never expected the ending.
    I have a couple Spanish speakers in my classroom and they enjoyed how the author used both Spanish and English in this story. The Spanish words are always backed up with an explanation so meaning is never lost.
    The illustrations are beautiful. Michael Austin did a great job with his paintings to enhance the story. I never knew cockroaches could be so elegant.

  5. Robinn Van Fleet says:

    Carmen Agra Deedy’s retelling of this Cuban folktale is flavored with humor, tradition, and timeless grandmotherly advice. Martina, the beautiful cockroach, is ready to receive suitors and a marriage proposal at the ripe old age of 21 days. Abuela explains the “Coffee Test” and its never failing ability to find a good husband. Cocky rooster, loathsome pig, and sly lizard characteristically fail the test.

    Readers will enjoy repeating the poetic phrase asking Martina for her hand in marriage. The acrylic illustrations detail life under a Havana lamppost. Michael Austin’s character illustrations vividly portray the characters’ emotions throughout the story. Especially endearing is Perez, the mouse.

    Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is the recipient of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal. For more information about Martina check out the website at

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