Niño Wrestles the World written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
The quality of the illustration by Yuyi Morales is superb. The art is fun and handles the scarier elements well. The drawn sound effects are also a nice touch. It appears there is a mix of mediums used for the illustration like watercolor, pastels, acrylic, or charcoal. Not only is it colorful enough to capture the attention of children but the art style is very reminiscent of Mexican Lucha Libre events. The first page of the story shows Niño in his room among his toys. What stands out here is the type of toys in his room are all the types of toys Mexican children would play with. The Trompo or spinning top is a toy that most Mexican children traditionally enjoy. The Mask on the floor and the wrestling set are also important markers for Mexican culture. Lucha Libre is a wrestling sport that was founded in the 1900s and remains a huge part of Mexican culture. The colorful outfit Niño is a replica of outfits Lucha Libre wrestlers wear. The most important aspect, the mask, is spot on. The mask in Lucha Libre plays an important part in their storylines and is entwined with the wrestler’s identity. The contenders in the book are Mexican characters that are very much at the core of Mexican culture. The best part of this book I think and where it adds a lot of value is the little cards with information on the contenders Niño wrestles. These contenders are very real things in Mexico that kids are often scared of and the book does a good job of teaching some facts in a fun way while also showcasing that monsters can be beaten. The interesting thing is that the way Niño beats the monsters is very culturally tied since Lucha Libre often uses storylines of good vs. bad.
The artwork alone tells the story well even if you can’t read the words. Morales expressed her idea for this book came from her childhood fears growing up in Mexico. She wrote a story that was personal to her but also about conquering those childhood fears. The unique style and colors used by Morales soften the scariness of the contender characters. The writing matches up with the art style as it’s written like a comic book with written sound effects. Spanish words are strewed throughout. I had to look up a few of them because I wasn’t familiar with the expressions. These aren’t just words easily translated either but actual Mexican expressions that are used to express joy or alarm. Having the digital edition I didn’t see any translation in my copy but that could have been an ebook publishing oversight. I think a small section to explain or translate these words would have been helpful but not incredibly hurtful as Google works just fine. Perhaps this engages children in a little bit of research as well. The Spanish used in this book is refreshing as often books written in English about Latin-American characters offer very little in terms of new words in Spanish. This offers a real teachable moment as kids look to learn more about the culture and how these words or expressions are used.
The characters were depicted well and not like caricatures. You can tell that they were illustrated by someone who personally had experience with them. They resembled their real-life counterpart or folklore description. The illustration of the characters showcases a lot of who they are and why Niño would want to wrestle them. Something I found interesting was the use of different colors for the sibling’s skins and it seems the hair textures too. This is often something that happens within families and a real representation that even siblings can look different. There aren’t many characters but they all have very unique looks. Even the dolls Niño uses to defeat La Llorona show diversity in skin and hair color.
Judging a book on cultural accuracy is difficult when you don’t belong to that culture and even married to a Mexican-American I feel unqualified to judge cultural accuracy but I’ll do my best. Having studied some Mexican folklore and history while working towards my anthropology degree, having visited Mexico, and having married a Mexican, I can say that the small part of Mexican culture that is shown is accurate to my knowledge. I don’t believe the book to be offensive, stereotypical, or a caricature of the Mexican culture. Every aspect shown from the toys to the colors used is reminiscent of what I know to be part of Mexican Culture. The clothes used are also appropriate and not heavily exaggerated. While the contenders and Lucha Libre are not the only marks of Mexican culture the book does a good job of educating alongside the fun. My favorite part is that it showcases the things Mexican children fear which shows the strong divide within cultures of what is seen as scary but also what is similar in our fears across cultures. As a Puerto Rican my fear as a child was El Chupacabra not the mummies or El Chamuco but I can empathize with them because I know a similar fear. This book celebrates Mexican culture in a fun and unique way framed in the cultural sport of Lucha Libre and it does it in a child-friendly way.
Yuyi Morales was born in Xalapa, Mexico and migrated to California. She says in an interview that her stories are very much inspired by the real stories she was told as a child growing up in Mexico by her parents and other relatives. This book was inspired by her childhood fears as she says in a guest lecture. In her guest lecture, she goes over her life story which she also wrote a book about called dreamers and it is something I encourage all to watch or listen to. As a cultural insider, she did a fantastic job both telling and illustrating this story to showcase part of her culture.
Only one critique was made about this book possibly influencing violence but it was not by someone within the culture. While I can see the concern this does create a teaching moment. most of the moves Niño uses to defeat his foes are not violent except for when he battles the Cabeza Olmeca which he headbutts. I think this is a great moment for discussion and speaking to children about how much this may have hurt and why it maybe wasn’t such a good move. Most of the reviews I did find from within and out of the culture were positive even if they didn’t rate the book 5 stars or the equivalent. Most reviewers found the book fun and imaginative in its depiction of Lucha Libre and Mexican culture. The book received a Golden Kite Honor Award in 2014 for its illustrations and its easy to see why.
It’s a fun book for kids that showcases some aspects of Mexican culture without any harm, stereotyping, or offensiveness. On the contrary, the use of real Mexican words and characters are indicative of cultural realness. From the color to the textures, the art style reminds me of some of the graffiti that you can find in Mexico. Reading this book you can tell that Yuyi Morales not only belongs to the culture she writes about but cherishes it. It’s a great story about conquering your fears but also giving in when necessary. The end is a tribute to conquering sibling rivalry in the best way. If you can’t beat them, join them. Everything from the design to the presentation is done flawlessly and in an appealing way for children. It is a great book for children to use not only to learn a little bit of Mexican culture but to compare and contrast with their own. The history, folklore, and culture in this book can open up a gateway to additional learning about these things and more.
Top 5 Latinx-American Illustrated Children’s Books
- Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald No Combina written by Monica Brown and Illustrated by Sara Palacios
I love this book because it showcases interracial relationships and a child that is more than one thing. Marisol isn’t just American or Latina she is so many things and embraces that with a fierce passion that it’s sad when she decides to match for a day. This book does a great job of teaching children diversity in a different way, within themselves. This is about more than community but about being yourself and embracing the fact that you don’t have to match or conform to be your best self. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match won the 2012 International Latino Book Award and the Pura Belpre Honor in 2012 as well as being recognized in 2012 as an ASLC Notable Book and was the Junior Library Guild Selection in Fall of 2011.
- The Day of the Dead/ El Dia de Los Muertos written by Bob Barner translated by Teresa Mlawer
You can’t escape the day of the dead decoration during Halloween here in America and this book does a great job of explaining what it is exactly and why it is celebrated. This is a lovely book that shares culture in a colorful and respectful way. My favorite part of this book is that it is both in English and Spanish which is great because it doesn’t alienate English only or Spanish only speakers as it walks through the Dia de Los Muertos celebration. While it hasn’t won any awards or been recognized as a bestseller this is a must-read book during Halloween time to teach children about what exactly Dia de Los Muertos is. In the back of the book, further explanation is offered as well which is great as it opens up a dialogue for children and their caretakers about a different culture.
- Lucia the Luchadora written by Cynthia Leonor Garza and illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez
Lucia the Luchadora was considered one of the best books of 2017 by NPR, name the 2018 ALA’s Amelia Bloomer List and has been praised by Kirkus, Chicago Public Library and the School Library Journal. After reading it, it’s easy to see why. Lucia is a feminist icon in a male-dominated genre. The story revolves around Lucia who dreams of being a superhero. She inherits a mask from her grandmother who tells Lucia all about what it takes to be a luchador. While Lucia doesn’t know at first what a Luchadora is she quickly learns just what it takes and that she certainly has a luchadora’s soul. This is refreshing because Lucia received her cultural knowledge from her grandmother instead of automatically knowing what a luchadora is. This diversifies the types of Mexican heritages in America and how their realities are different.
- Grandma’s Gift written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Velazquez has a unique way of storytelling about his time with his grandmother and its glorious. Grandma’s Gift won the Pura Belpre Award for illustration and it is well deserved. The art is realistic and sometimes nostalgic as Eric and his grandmother prepare for their traditional Puerto Rican Christmas Celebration. Celebrating both culture and the bond between a grandparent and grandchild this book is a definite must-read. I also recommend his other book Grandma’s Records which is equally is good.
- My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz / Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Along with culture exists icons of culture and Celia Cruz was definitely a Latin American icon across many different cultures. Though she was Afro-Cuban her music touched many and this is book does a great job of celebrating her life and talents. Celia Cruz was vibrant and never lacked colorful costumes and this book does a great job of illustrating her life with the vibrancy she lived it. A glimpse into her childhood showcases a different culture and does a good job of portraying the differences and similarities of the characters in Celia’s life. It is no wonder the book has won a Pura Belpre Honor for Illustration and Americas Award for Children’s Literature.
- Sonia Sotomayor
- Xavier Garza
- Rafael Lopez
- John Parra
- Meg Medina
- Yuyi Morales
- Georgina Lazaro
- Susan Guevara
- Pura Belpre Award
- International Latino Book Award
- Americas Award
- Tomas Rivera Book Award
- Vamos a Leer – https://teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.wordpress.com/
- Meg Medina – https://megmedina.com/
- Yuyi Morales –http://www.yuyimorales.com/2.htm
- Latinos in Kid Lit – https://latinosinkidlit.com/
- Pura Belpre – http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/belpremedal/belpreabout
- Americas Award –http://www.claspprograms.org/pages/detail/37/Americas-Award
- Tomas Rivera Book Award – https://www.education.txstate.edu/ci/riverabookaward/
- Digame un Cuento / Tell Me A Story – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/pubs/bilingual/index.html
- Reforma – https://www.reforma.org/
- SOL (Spanish in Our Libraries) – http://www.sol-plus.net/
- Colorin Colorado – http://www.colorincolorado.org/
Lists of Recommended Books:
- Teaching Books Latinx Collection – https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?go=1&adv=title&culturalArea=LAT#
- 15 Picture Books That Celebrate Hispanic Heritage – https://www.readbrightly.com/picture-books-celebrate-hispanic-heritage/
- Reading Recommendaciones by Vamos a Leer – https://teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.wordpress.com/category/reading-recomendaciones/