A CHILD’S GARDEN OF LUCHA
My daughter and I are notorious Target shoppers. Watch outfor us when you go. We invade the toy aisles and push all the buttons to makecar engines rev, wookies roar, and babies cry. If there is a Hulk mask, I maybe wearing it. And waving at the poor kids at the end of the aisle who don’tknow what to think. We’ll declaim the merits, and lack thereof, of the currentholiday flavors of M&Ms. We’ll groan at yet another direct to dvd Batmanflick and try to figure out what Robin is Red Robin is Nightwing is the ghostof Jason Todd and might just be Batgirl as well. It’s hard sometimes. And thebooks. Don’t kid yourself, we’re loud in used bookstores and in the Barnes& Noble, but the Target three aisle special, if you’re lucky it’s that biganymore, is by far the loudest, most boisterous section for us. We read thetitles of the young adult books and marvel at the newest iterations of vampiresand witches. But the real fun, the real excitement, is with the children’sbooks. We take turns reading them aloud to each other. Often over the aisles.Over several aisles. With appropriate voices. With occasionally inappropriatevoices. We declaim. We act. And we laugh. Children’s picture books seem to bein a real renaissance of the odd and the loveable at the moment. I almost wishmy daughter was younger so that I could buy more of them.
Last trip to Target I did make an exception however andbought one immediately. NIÑO WRESTLES THE WORLD by Yuyi Morales. It follows anapparently typical day with Niño as he disrobes to his chonies y máscara andwrestles his way through adventures against a myriad of foes. Starting with anaverage boy Niño amidst his toys, Morales quickly unfolds into the mind ofNiño, his toys becoming his obstacles. But not just any obstacles, they becomehis opponents, in a world very much like those you would find on lucha libre ontelevision. This isn’t the WWE, or even the CMLL, this is the world of Santo yBlue Demon y Mil Máscaras. It’s a cousin to the world of ¡MUCHA LUCHA! Only foran even younger set. Niño appears to be 5 or 6, and yet his knowledge isformidable. He fights of la Llorona, the crying woman. He takes on las momiasde Guanajuato, and beyond. Aliens. Giant Olmec Heads. The devil. One starts towonder what toys Niño may have in his toybox after all. The drawings, however,are not scary in the least. The momias are more goofy than frightening withtheir muted grey skin and Vicente Fernández moustache. La Llorona is deftlysketched out in a floating will-o-the-wisp white floating caricature. You knowyou’ve been around too much when your “Ay, mis hijos…” sounds justlike la Llorana in SANTO Y MANTEQUILLA NAPOLES EN LA VENGANZA DE LA LLORONA, butit seemed to play in the Target just fine. I really respect that Morales doesnot dumb down the obvious Latino, more specifically Mexican, culture of thebook. This is lucha libre for the kids, period. It does give you endnotes onthe adversaries Niño faces, and a brief history of lucha libre, but you won’tneed them to enjoy the book.
Morales art is vibrant and sharp, the lines tight. Thecharacters are stark against the mostly white backgrounds throughout. Theexpressions and the character design are allowed to shine. I think the giantOlmec head was my particular favorite, its dark grey mass blocking out thepages it is on. The simple realistic faces of Niño’s sisters as they appear arerichly evocative and filled with expression. The dose of loving your familythat peppers the story is well done, without overdoing it. After all, yoursisters will always be rudas for all the love they have for you, and you forthem. That’s how family is. In some sense, the writing, the flow, the familyethos, NIÑO reminded me of the SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, and that’squite the compliment, the original SKIPPYJON books are one of the guideposts ofbooks bought for my daughter when she was young. And still buy for her as ateenager now. Morales captures that same children of all ages feel here. I’mnot familiar with Morales other works, her other children’s books, but I amcurious to see what they read like, how they work page to page. The writing inNIÑO is sparse and quick moving, as our intrepid hero goes from match to match,facing greater and greater odds. It inspires the imagination in the youngreader, as Niño uses increasingly inventive and ridiculous methods of defeatinghis foes. Collectively, it makes for a fun book for those learning to read andgetting all the niños interested in life.
NIÑO WRESTLES THE WORLD is part of the Target First BookProgram, a non-profit that provides books to children that would otherwisewould not have then. To raise funds, they release books like NIÑO for a limitedtime in other forms, in this case a paperback of NIÑO where only a hardcoverhad been available previously. Check out their website at http://www.firstbook.org/ to learn more.Books, and having books to call one’s own is a big deal. I believe it helpscreate a real joy for reading in all children, and with that a love of words,and a belief that words can be theirs.
Yuyi Morales can be found at http://www.yuyimorales.com/ with examplesof both her writing and her art, for children, and her adult stories as well.And she has some lucha máscaras you can print out and wear around the house inyour chonies. Be your own Niño. Enjoy!