Review: The Adventures of Chupacabra Charlie by Frederick Luis Aldama, illus. by Chris Escobar

Reviewed by Elena Foulis

SUMMARY FROM OHIO STATE PRESS: In their debut picture book, Frederick Luis Aldama and Chris Escobar invite young readers along on the adventures of Chupacabra Charlie, a polite, handsome, and unusually tall ten-year-old chupacabra yearning for adventure beyond the edge of los Estados Unidos. Little does Charlie know when he befriends a young human, Lupe, that together, with only some leftover bacon quesadillas and a few cans of Jumex, they might just encounter more adventure than they can handle. Along the way, they meet strange people and terrifying danger, and their bravery will be put to the test. Thankfully, Charlie is a reassuring and winsome companion who never doubts that he and Lupe will return safely home.

With magical realism, allegory, and gentle humor, Aldama and Escobar have created a story that will resonate with young and old readers alike as it incorporates folklore into its subtle take on the current humanitarian crisis at the border.

MY TWO CENTS: Based on real and imagined tales, The Adventures of Chupacabra Charlie, tells the story of a young Chupacabra whose life at the border is full of adventure, if you dare to follow. Charlie lives in the attic of a Bordertown in Mexico. He tells the reader about how, although considered a monster and sometimes feared, he is a kid who is looking for adventures. He tells us about his family life, and we see and read about the importance of family, education, and creativity. For example, the author and illustrator provide a wonderful scene of Charlie’s family dinner, the long tradition of family storytelling and the importance of listening to and learning from these stories. The story provides a great, balanced view of the value of learning in formal and informal settings and of using our imaginations to solve problems. The storyline always warns us about forgetting those family values and how that sometimes leads into negative stereotypes that can affect an entire community. While this is a children’s story, the writing and illustrations help young readers see how the poor choices of a few bad apples can impact the welfare of others.

Despite some of the obstacles and negative perceptions that Charlie faces, this story is about a voyage of bravery, and the meaning of friendship, even with people who do not look like you. We can choose to share life together. Charlie’s new friend, Lupe, becomes Charlie’s partner in an adventure that provides more than a thrill for them; indeed, their mission becomes to free children al otro lado of The Wall, who have been kept in cages. This young readers’ book is refreshing in the way it incorporates life at the border, through bilingualism and storytelling rooted in Latin American traditions such as Realismo Mágico.

One thing that catches our attention is the use of Spanish. While it only incorporates a few words and phrases, it only writes them in italics once, and if the word or phrase is used again, it uses the same font as the rest of the story. This is significant, in my view, because it allows the reader—who may or may not be bilingual—to pause, but then it expects them to learn and normalize bilingualism. Indeed, much of what this book presents are topics that are often complex or controversial and frequently void of the human perspective. More specifically, in the thinking about The Wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico, accepting people’s use of Spanish as part of who they are, and the reality of family separation at the border, which includes putting young kids in detention centers that are cage-like, often times, we forget to broadly think about how real people are deeply affected by all of this. The book tackles those topics in a way that is natural and promotes acceptance and heroism, as we dare to imagine that we can all do something to make someone else’s life a little or a lot easier.

Lastly, the illustrations are detailed and complement the storyline beautifully. I like how the images pay attention to details of city and rural life, highlighting cultural and geographical markers with care, such as el paletero, los nopales, the Wall, and even the flying car and the jar of pickles.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frederick Luis Aldama is Irish-Guatemalan and Mexican Latinx. His mamá was a bilingual elementary school teacher in California. As a kid, he couldn’t get enough of his abuelita’s stories of El Chupacabra, La Llorona, and El Cucuy. Today he is a Distinguished University Professor at The Ohio State University. He is the author, coauthor, editor, and coeditor of 36 books.

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Chris Escobar is a printmaker and cartoonist currently living in Savannah, Georgia. He has an MFA in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Chris has created illustrations for the comic anthology Floating Head and editorial illustrations for Dirt Rag magazine, among other publications.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. Dr. Foulis is currently working on a digital oral history project about Latin@s in Ohio, which is being archived at the Center for Folklore Studies’ internet collection. Some of these narratives can be found in her iBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio. She is also producer and host of Ohio Habla.

 

Book Review: A New Kind of Wild by Zara González Hoang

 

Review by Romy Natalia Goldberg

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: For Ren, home is his grandmother’s little house, and the lush forest that surrounds it. Home is a place of magic and wonder, filled with all the fantastical friends that Ren dreams up. Home is where his imagination can run wild.

For Ava, home is a brick and cement city, where there’s always something to do or see or hear. Home is a place bursting with life, where people bustle in and out like a big parade. Home is where Ava is never lonely because there’s always someone to share in her adventures.

When Ren moves to Ava’s city, he feels lost without his wild. How will he ever feel at home in a place with no green and no magic, where everything is exactly what it seems? Of course, not everything in the city is what meets the eye, and as Ren discovers, nothing makes you feel at home quite like a friend.

Inspired by the stories her father told her about moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child, Zara González Hoang’s author-illustrator debut is an imaginative exploration of the true meaning of “home.”

MY TWO CENTSRen, an imaginative young boy, lives at the edge of El Yunque, a tropical rain forest whose lush vegetation is the perfect setting for daily magical escapades. A move to the city (location unspecified) leaves Ren homesick and lonely. He sees no room for magic in the urban landscape. Ava, on the other hand, is at home in the city. Equally imaginative, she delights in the hustle and bustle.

When she meets Ren, Ava is determined to help him see the city through her eyes. But her enthusiastic city tour only makes Ren more homesick and they part ways frustrated with each other. From his apartment window, Ren observes Ava, noticing she is as happy and at ease in the city as he used to be in El Yunque. When they meet up again, Ren apologizes, explaining how everything feels different to him. Ava listens first, rather than barreling into action. Armed with a new understanding of Ren, Ava takes him on yet another tour of the city. This time, Ren is able to see the magic she was trying to show him all along.

I thoroughly enjoyed A New Kind of Wild’s take on how the unfamiliar can become familiar with the help of an understanding friend. It would have been easy to simply have Ava show Ren around, resulting in him immediately seeing all the magical possibilities he missed before when experiencing the city alone. The message there would be “All it takes is a friend!” However, González Hoang’s approach is different. When Ava first approaches Ren, she eagerly bombards him with questions, so many “he thought his head would explode.” When Ren explains his discomfort with his new surroundings, “all Ava heard was a challenge.” Ava enthusiastically shows Ren her world, but it is only after she has truly listened to Ren and understood where he came from that she is able to connect with him and help him feel welcome. In a time when we are (too) slowly realizing good intentions aren’t always enough, the lessons this book imparts can be powerful and useful both at home and in the classroom.

I also appreciate A New Kind of Wild’s depiction of magic in a working class, urban setting. Often the “positives” of urban areas are all upper class signifiers, but González Hoang’s delightful watercolors show us children finding inspiration and fun in basements and on rooftops, rather than on outings to museums or large fancy parks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many garbage bags in a picture book, but I loved it. 

TEACHING TIPSA New Kind of Wild could be used to start a classroom discussion about moving, be it from one country to another or simply one type of community to another. Where would students take Ren if he moved to their community? Another possible activity is to take a photo of an everyday place (a street corner, a storefront) and have students use mixed media to overlay imaginative elements.

A New Kind of Wild releases April 21, 2020.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from her website): Zara González Hoang grew up in a little bungalow in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. Surrounded by snow, she spent her days dreaming, doodling and listening to the colorful stories of her Dad’s life growing up in Puerto Rico while trying to figure out where she fit in as a Puerto Rican Jew in a sea of Scandinavians. (She’s still figuring that out.)

These days, she lives outside of DC in a magical suburban forest with her Mad Man husband, human-shaped demon, and curly coated corgi. She still spends her days dreaming and doodling, but now instead of listening to stories, she’s starting to tell some of her own.

To learn more about Zara González Hoang, click HERE to get an inside look at her studio and HERE to for a brief Q&A as part of our Spotlight on Latina Illustrators series.

 

 

RNGoldberg-profile.jpegABOUT THE REVIEWER: Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators. Learn more at romynatalia.com