Imagine a bilingual Richard Scarry Busytown crossed with The Magic School Bus. Mix in Mexican culture with an old-time comics flair. Add several large tablespoons of zaniness and a quart of cleverness… and you’ll still be missing the secret sauce that makes Raúl the Third’s ¡Vamos! picture book series so fabulous.*
The first, ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, came out in 2019 and was a Pura Belpré Honor book, an award given for Latinx children’s literature. The second, ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat, was released in 2020 and won the Pura Belpré Illustrator Medal. In both, the text defines some of the words along the way; others are clear from context or in the glossary at the end.
Written and illustrated by Raúl the Third (Raúl Gonzalez) with his wife Elaine Bay as colorist, both ¡Vamos! books bustle with the culture of Tex-Mex border life. In ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, wolf Little Lobo, his sidekick, rooster Kooky Dooky, and Little Lobo’s dog Bernabé have a list of supplies to deliver to the sellers at the mercado. At his final stop, not only does Little Lobo meet his hero, lucha libre star El Toro, but after El Toro signs his comic book, Little Lobo even gets to give his hero a ride home in his wagon.
In ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat, the three zip through traffic again with their bike-plus-sidecar. This time they pick up lunch orders from hordes of food trucks for the luchadores, who are training at the coliseo for the big show that night. When Little Lobo and friends arrive with the food, El Toro invites them to watch the match as a special guest.
While the books are perfect for their target readers age 4-7, adults will enjoy the sly wit, including sneaky allusions to Picasso, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera. Even the most diligent reader is sure to miss something in an initial read-through: with all the fantastic details, multiple readings are a must. And every reader will be hungry by the end of Let’s Go Eat.
These books are amazing! The third in the series, ¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge is due out in September 2021. I can’t wait.
*Kudos to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new imprint, Versify, for publishing this marvelous series. Curated by award-winning children’s writer Kwame Alexander, Versify seeks to publish “innovative creators with fresh and varied voices…that can celebrate the lives and reflect the possibilities of all children.”
Awards: 2020 Pura Belpré Honor Book; 2021 Pura Belpré Illustrator Medal
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of 60 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, German, and Spanish into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her recent translations, Luisa: Now and Then and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Her most recent translations are For Justice: The Serge and Beate Klarsfeld Story, The Sisters #7: Lucky Brat, Chloe & Cartoon, Brina the Cat #2: City Cat, LGBTQ manga, Alter Ego, and A House Without Windows, which she also assisted in editing.