Chupacabra book coverI picked up this book because of its striking illustrations and I liked what I believed was a made-up funny-sounding nonsense polysyllabic word. As it turned out CHUPACABRA is for real!

  • Title: The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra
  • Author: Marc Tyler Nobleman
  • Illustrator: Ana Aranda
  • Reading level: 5-8 years
  • Date published: March 7, 2017
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Country: USA
  • Country printed in: China
  • Eco-friendly Printing: None specified
  • This book bought at Kinokuniya bookstore in Dubai

The thing about the need for ethnic and cultural diversity is that it’s relative. The United States may need greater visibility, inclusion and representation in mainstream media and cultures of the Latinx communities but the same can’t be said for countries with different population demographics. Knowing this, editors and publishers ask themselves: if a story targets local or national needs, could it also have broader appeal and sell internationally? The bigger publishers that have economic scale are more likely to take the commercial risk than smaller ones. As a result, this book with its Latin American story origin found its way to Dubai. But it found its way into my hands–and I’m Southeast Asian–purely on its own artistic and creative merits.

Bottom line – good art transcends borders and cultures.

1. CULTURAL SPECIFICITIES

I found it strange that ‘chupacabra’ was the only unfamiliar word for me. If an author uses a made-up word there’d be an obvious attempt to break it down or there’d be other made-up words. So I googled it and learnt something new about a different culture: ‘chupacabra’ is a legendary vampire-like creature in the folklore of parts of the Americas; the word literally means “goat sucker” in Spanish. Learning this put the use of other words in context, like cucaracha and references to food items enchiladas and chimichangas.

2. PANTOMIME OF A PICTURE BOOK

Nobleman has given each of his three goat characters their own personalities. The book says they’re: nervous, clever, and practical. Put their banter and wordplay together in the face of the monster and the result is a pantomime of a picture book. Latin American literary and art cultures are intimate with the fantastic; the region is, of course, famously the home of magical realism. Within this worldview, it’s not out of place for the chupacabra to love candelabras, or for the twist in Nobleman’s tale.

This is a read-aloud choice.

3. “FOLK” ART-ISH

I say “folk” art-ish because Latin America is so diverse, with a wealth of different folk arts. The illustrator Aranda uses an exuberant mix of colours typically associated with her native Mexico. Colours burst with each turn of the page. She draws the characters flat, in a traditional figurative style. The mythically predatory chupacabra is transformed by a garish mix of purple and orange. It has fangs so big it never manages to close its mouth and so it looks likes it’s either smiling or laughing, which is definitely not the hallmark of a dangerous goat sucker!

Note: This review expands on the original on Jul 8, 2018 posted on the Instagram @emmyloveschildrensbooks