The Three Little Tamales by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Valeria Docampo



Kimmel, Eric A. The Three Little Tamales. Ill. By Valeria Docampo. New York: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009. ISBN 9780761455196

Plot Summary

In this southwest version of the three little pigs, three tamales escape from a restaurant before they can be eaten. The first tamale settles in the prairie and builds a home of sagebrush because she likes the smell. The second tamale built a house of cornstalks because he liked the rustling sound of them. The third tamale built a house of cactus because she thought the thorns would protect her. One day, the big, bad wolf, Senor Lobo, comes knocking. He banters with the first two tamales before huffing and puffing like a “Texas tornado” and blowing each house down. The first two tamales end up in the third tamale’s cactus house and manage to trick the wolf to fall into a pot of boiling water. The wolf, not wanting be a tamale himself, escapes back up the chimney and runs away, never to be seen again. The tamales celebrate by having a fiesta with their friends, the runaway tortillas.

Critical Analysis

Kimmel and Docampo team up to provide an entertaining version of the three pigs story that highlights elements of a southwest/Spanish culture in the Texas plains. Readers who have enjoyed any version of this tale can easily follow and predict the plot, but the fresh take on characters and building materials, the Spanish words sprinkled in, and the wolf’s refrain “I’ll huff and I’ll puff/like a Texas tornado/and blow your casita/from here to Laredo!” make it anything but boring. Docampo’s oil on paper illustrations give movement, breath, and life to the characters and the story. The first two tamales have simple desires: the sweet smell of sagebrush and the melody of the cornstalks. The third tamale, the traditionally wise character, is portrayed as a female in this rendition, providing a strong model for young girls. When Senor Lebo comes calling, each tamale has a rhyming exchange with him that begs to be chanted by a classful of youngsters.

The unique and clever take on this time-honored tale is an enjoyable read and lends itself to class participation. One of the tamales even encourages children to resist running away and hiding from their problems! Each encounter leads up to the final showdown between the tamales and the wolf wherein good once again triumphs over evil as the tamales outwit the wolf and are rid of him for good. It is a little ironic, perhaps, that what finally convinces the wolf to flee for good is the tamales’ threat to make him into a wolf tamale. The amusing illustration of the wolf picturing himself as a tamale, however, erases any uneasy feelings the reader may have about the tamales’ suggestion of eating one of what they are.

Review Excerpts

Volunteer State Book Award


 “Docampo’s oil-on-paper illustrations add dimension to the story and bring the three little tamales to life. An excellent addition to collections of fairy-tale retellings. Grades K-3.” –Shauna Yusko, Booklist, June 2009

 “ The tamales have got character, as shown in Docampo’s motion-filled oil illustrations…Kimmel’s text is eminently readable, as usual.” — Horn Book Guide, March 2009

 “The colorful artwork combines with a text brimming with humor and sound effects (“Ay! Ay! Ay!”) for a delightful parody sure to satisfy readers’ appetite for fun.” –Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library (in School Library Journal), June 2009


Read other imaginings of the three little pigs tale:

  • The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas, Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury ISBN 9780689815287
  • The Three Pigs by David Wiesner ISBN 9780618007011
  • The Three Little Javelinas by Susan Lowell, Illustrated by Jim Harris ISBN 9780873585422
  • The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark by Ken Geist, Illustrated by Julia Gorton ISBN  978-0439719629
  • The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara, Illustrated by Mark Fearing ISBN 978-0375866890

Compare and contrast these other books to The Three Little Tamales.

Create a reader’s theater script; have students create costumes and props as art projects; assign parts and act out the story.

Have students build their own versions of the three houses with three different materials and do science experiments to see which ones withstand a fan being blown on them to simulate the big bad wolf.

Image from, accessed February 12, 2015. Cover art by Valeria Docampo


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