Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blasting Into The Cosmos

It was in the summer after college graduation when I owned my first car, a forest green Chevy Nova.  Up until that point, I walked or rode my bicycle everywhere.  Having had years of practice in the fine art of hand car washing (My dad never used an automated car wash in his lifetime), my automobile shined on the inside and on the outside.  Dad even made sure I could change the oil in my new set of wheels all by myself.  That car was my pride and joy.

Even today I can appreciate the sight of an elaborately detailed automobile or the throaty rumble of a finely tuned engine.  With this in mind I was excited to begin reading Lowriders in Space (Chronicle Books, November 4, 2014) a new graphic novel written by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raul The Third.  Hang on folks; you are in for a ride out of this world!


Three friends, an octopus, El Chavo Flapjack Octopus, a mosquito, Elirio Malaria, and an impala, Lupe Impala, are off to their jobs at a car dealership, stopping for breakfast as Lupe rides a bicycle transporting them all.  Each excels in a particular area.  None can beat the mechanical talents of Lupe, the shipshape soap and shine cleaning skills of Flapjack or the exquisite line work of artist Elirio.  Six days a week the trio work for another; wishing they had a garage of their own.

Nearly all their conversations also include the dream of having their own car, a first-rate lowrider.  The threesome feels as though this is clearly wishful thinking until they simultaneously notice the posting for a Universal Car Competition.  First prize is a carload of cash and a solid gold steering wheel but there is the problem of needing a car.

Do not worry readers.  A found hunk of junk has potential.  In their hands the magic can happen.  In search of spare parts, los amigos visit an abandoned airplane factory.  Leaving, discouraged at what they find, their feline companion, Genie, unexpectedly points them to a box of rocket parts.  Working every possible minute, they turn nothing into something. Will it run?

Holy hubcaps!  Not only does this engine hum, moving the car low and slow, it roars transporting the pals into outer space.  They move from one interstellar point to another with extraordinary results.  A tense-too-close-for-comfort brush with a black hole nearly foils their return trip home.  

Spectators and contestants gaze skyward as Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria cruise in for a landing at the competition already in full swing.  Judges make their marks as they pass from each outstanding entry to the next. Be prepared for an astounding display and results that will have you cheering.

This graphic novel conceived and written by Cathy Camper, a blend of her desire to combine science, the Spanish and English languages, and the Mexican-American lowrider culture, flows from start to finish.  As soon as you meet the characters you know this book is going to be unconventional in a very good way.  It's not often an impala, a mosquito and an octopus are best friends.

Their personalities shimmer in the good-natured dialog.  The use of both Spanish and English in their conversations supplies a rhythm to the reading.  A team approach to every decision made, along with their positive support of one another, cements our wish to know as much as we can about them.

In the narrative Camper uses language peppered with alliteration and simile.  Another technique she employs is to tie three sentences together with tasks each are completing.  All these things contribute to an upbeat story.  Here is a sample.




There is no denying the wow factor of the dust jacket.  Your mind is immediately filled with questions and possibilities.  Who are these characters?  Why are they riding a car rumbling among the stars and planets?  It's a given they are happy to be there; faces smiling and hands high-fiving each other.

The book case has been designed to resemble a notebook with lined paper in keeping with the heart of this book.  The illustrator, Raul The Third, (and Cathy Camper) wants readers to realize the importance of drawing with limited supplies at hand, notebook paper and pen.  His opening and closing endpapers are a marvelous cosmic swirl of stars and planets, lines framing lines framing lines.

Matte-finished paper in the same pale tan shade as the book case supplies the background for the illustrations done entirely in black, blue and red pen. Every page turn is a welcome surprise in layout with panels of varying sizes; some placed on the top of other larger images.  Dialog is distinguished by placing it in speech bubbles.  The narrative and explanatory translations of the Spanish are framed in black lines.

I cannot say enough about the details in this graphic novel.  They are amazing!  Every time you read this you will see something new.  Lupe has a pail attached to her bike to carry El Chavo Flapjack, a frog who recently ate at a local restaurant is breathing fire standing on the sidewalk outside, Lupe has her name etched in her tools (just like my Dad did his), Genie has a heart shaped patch on the front of her fur and all the clothing and accessories worn by each character are a reflection of their personalities.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of the friends make some adjustments after visiting two particular spots in space.  Their ingenuity and knowledge makes their cosmic car dip and hop like none other.  Without spoiling it for you, the illustrations nearly jump off the page, loaded with action.  You can feel the speed and hear the engine sing.

Lowriders in Space written by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raul The Third is a super-charged remarkable ride.  Three friends follow their dream no matter where it takes them.  Fortunately they decide to take us readers along on their journey.  We are enthusiastically glad they do.

Please visit the websites of Cathy Camper and Raul The Third by following the links embedded in their names.  They both share extras.  John Schumacher, teacher librarian, interviews Cathy Camper on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  A quote from the interview is 

Art has the power to change people.  People's actions are influenced by what they see and read, but also, people are often encourage to write and create art themselves, by what they read and the art they see.

Raul The Third is interviewed by teacher librarian, Matthew C. Winner on his Let's Get Busy Podcast, Episode #108.  I enjoyed the entire chat but this line by Raul set the tone for the entire listening experience.

...something that you know you were born to create."

LITPICK conducts a question and answer interview with Raul The Third.  A favorite thought is

I love how artists are linked to one another across time and space and that we are each adding to the conversation with every new work we create.

Lowriders in Space has its own website.  Here is a link to a common core aligned teacher's guide generated by the publisher.  Raul The Third is interviewed at School Library Journal.  In answering one of the questions he includes this in his reply.

I want to inspire our future artist from all walks of life that can see our book and realize that you don't need anything other than their dreams and hard work to realize their dreams.

Cathy Camper is interviewed at Huff Post Books.  I like these sentences in response for how the idea of the book came to her.

Daydreams.  I'm a prolific daydreamer, and all my books start with stories I tell myself.

Matthew C. Winner also interviewed Cathy Camper on his Let's Get Busy Podcast Episode #95.  One of my favorite parts is

I have to say that both Raul and I really love comics and we really love the possibility that comics give you...


  1. Yup. I never would have guessed! Looks, literally, like a wild ride!

    1. It's one of my favorite graphic novels of the year Carrie. It's truly a ton of fun.