Childrens Book Review of Too Many Tamales: Christmas Eve Story by Gary Soto

by DerdriuMarriner

Twenty-four tamales are cooked for December 24. Their delicious contents ensure that they will be appreciated. If they all get eaten, will making 24 more be way “Too Many Tamales”?

Tamales are an ancient, traditional Mesoamerican dish of:
• Belize;
• Costa Rica;
• El Salvador;
• Guatemala;
• Honduras;
• Nicaragua.

The edible brings dough and fillings together into a husk or leaf. The dough generally calls for the considerable starchiness associated with corn. The filling can involve:
• cheeses;
• chilies;
• fruits;
• meats;
• vegetables.

The wrapper typically comes from:
• banana or plantain tree leaves;
• corn husks.
The dough gets spread onto the wrapper. The filling goes into the center.

After being folded firmly together, the ensemble is boiled or steamed in a large pot. The wrapper keeps the fragrance, heat, and taste in until the tamale is to be eaten. It superficially seems like there can be no such thing as “Too Many Tamales”!

Making tamales

"¡Ya está la masa!"
"¡Ya está la masa!"


On the day before Christmas, Maria’s mother allows her to:

  • Apply adult lipstick and perfume;
  • Don the best apron;
  • Help make masa (corn-based dough) for tamales.

Maria’s mother answers the telephone and takes the call outside the kitchen. Maria espies her mother’s diamond ring on the counter. She fits it onto her thumb. Maria and her mother get the dough finished. Maria’s father gives the center of each dough-covered husk meat. Each dough-covered, meat-filled husk has to be folded securely before being dropped into the steaming pot. In her bedroom, Maria is the pre-dinner hostess to cousins Danny, Dolores, and Teresa while Aunt Rosa and her husband and Maria’s grandparents remain downstairs with Maria’s father and mother.


In "Too Many Tamales," Maria's last view of her mother's diamond ring is on her own little hand as she prepares tamales, working masa as filling for corn husks.

diamond ring
diamond ring


Maria and her cousins cut newspaper pictures of toys which hopefully are inside the boxes under the Christmas tree. Maria decides to cut out a pearl necklace. She quickly exits screaming about a ring. The cousins follow Maria to the kitchen. Maria gets help devouring 24 tamales. Eating two each goes fine. But everyone has over-full stomachs by the time that only one tamale remains. The cousins each have careful bites before Maria eats the last bit of the twenty-fourth tamale. Teresa is sick to her stomach while Danny claims to have swallowed something hard. Adults and children join to make Christmas Eve’s 24 tamales after Maria sees the diamond sparkling as usual on her mother’s finger.  


Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto ~ illustrated by Ed Martinez

Maria was feeling very grown-up on Christmas Eve as she helped her mother prepare tamales for Christmas dinner. When she slipped her mother's diamond ring onto her finger, she only meant to wear it for a minute. But suddenly, the ring was gone.
Mesoamerica-themed stories



Too Many Tamales benefits from the expertise of:

  • Patrick Collins as book designer;
  • Ed Martinez as illustrator;
  • G.P. Putnam’s Sons as publisher;
  • Gary Soto as writer;
  • South China Printing Co. Ltd. as printer.

Typeset in Berkeley Oldstyle, the text cooperates with parents, readers, and teachers seeking resources amenable to:

  • Cultural enrichment;
  • Educational entertainment;
  • Holiday customs;
  • Literary analysis;
  • Spanish language-learning.

Librarians and teachers generally give for Too Many Tamales a literacy classification of:

  • Ages 4 – 8+;
  • Grades preschool through third grade.

But the timelessness and timeliness of the storybook’s characters, dialogues, plot, and setting go beyond its original publication in 1993. The deep truths regarding familial interactions and the gentle humor respecting holiday temptations indeed have universal applicability.


Auntie Reads Too Many Tamales

Published on YouTube on November 19, 2013 by LetsRd2Gether ~ URL:



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


In "Too Many Tamales," tamale making is a family affair, with Maria's father steaming the tamales:

Tamales: filling is spooned into center of wrapper prior to boiling or steaming in large pot. Tamalera is special large pot for steaming tamales.
Christmas tamales mexicanos
Christmas tamales mexicanos

Sources Consulted


“Making Inferences, Too Many Tamales.” TeacherVision: Teaching Methods and Management > Teaching Methods and Strategies > Lesson Plan. Boston, MA: Family Education Network. Retrieved December 12, 2014.

  • Available at:

Soto, Gary. 1993. Too Many Tamales. Illustrated by Ed Martinez. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

“Too Many Tamales.” Reading Is Fundamental: Literacy Resources > Booklists > Multicultural Books > 2011-12 Multicultural Booklist (Grades Pre K-5).  Retrieved December 12, 2014.

  • Available at:

“Too Many Tamales!” The Stacks. Scholastic Inc. Retrieved December 12, 2014.

  • Available at:


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Nature - Caribbean Treasure: tie dye t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/02/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 12/15/2014

cmoneyspinner, Bravo for beginning a tamale tradition (along with chili and black-eyed peas)!

cmoneyspinner on 12/13/2014

Three things I look forward to during the holiday season in Texas: chili, black eye peas, and tamales. Not popular in Miami, Florida where I grew up. But it's a tradition I was happy to begin! :)

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