Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Fabulous Fare Everywhere

In college on Sunday evenings, our food commons were closed.  My roommates and I rarely had enough cash between us to get a single pizza.  We would lie in bed on those nights calling out our favorite foods and dine on an imaginary feast.

For far too long, for millions and millions of people around our planet, these same thoughts occupy the minds, on a daily basis, of those without food, incomes or the ability to leave their homes in safety to shop at markets.  Now it is an enormous global phenomenon with the numbers climbing daily due to the impact of the pandemic.  Yet, when they are able, people are posting on social media a plethora of recipes and anecdotes about creating home-cooked meals and baking from scratch.  And in the midst of this a book radiating pure bliss, brimming with color and a cast of enduring characters, is published.  VAMOS!: Let's Go Eat (Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 24, 2020), companion to VAMOS!: Let's Go to the Market, written and illustrated by Raul the Third with colors by Elaine Bay is the newest adventure of Little Lobo, his dog, Bernabe, and their friend, Kooky Dooky. It's a mouth-watering exploration of their community's enticing edibles told using a melodious mix of Spanish and English language.  

Check out my new
bike, Bernabe.  Now
we can make our
deliveries faster.

Little Lobo! Un
mensaje importante 
from El Toro!

An important 
message from
El Toro!

With these opening phrases Little Lobo, Bernabe and Kooky Dooky are riding toward el Coliseo, the arena where a wresting event will unfold this evening featuring El Toro and his friends.  The trio join a procession of food trucks, also en route to el Coliseo.  When they arrive, El Toro and other wrestlers practicing for the performance reveal their hunger for an array of favorite cuisine.  Quickly jotting down their requests Little Lobo and his dos amigos get right to work.

All the food trucks are parked nearby, each one focusing on a specialty.  These mobile restaurants, for the most part, make their food fresh and hot on the spot.  The Painted Burrito is known for its signature salsa.  At Kimchi Kiosko Mexican and Korean cooking generates a pleasing flavor for their tacos.

Vendors share ingredients; unnecessary corn husks are useful to a tamale maker.  An elder with a gift for fashioning tortillas sells to makers of quesadillas and burritos.  Look at the size of that burrito!  Little Lobo gathers fresh fruits and vegetables from Pato Peeko to deliver.  She sells more to another who blends them into large fruit and vegetable drinks.

The crowning glory of Little Lobo's gathering is the desserts.  Pastries are piled into a basket.  Their wagon now loaded as high as possible with fabulous fare is held in place by Bernabe.  Kooky Dooky dozes in the side car.

Returning to el Coliseo, El Toro and his wrestling friends, Little Lobo and Kooky Dooky rush inside shouting about La Comida. It's hard to exceed the enjoyment of sharing a meal with friends, but it does get better.  El Toro rewards the efforts of the threesome as only he can.

You can feel the excitement and your cravings for each item of food and beverage growing page by page in this story.  Raul the Third masterfully tells this tale using an artful blend of dialogue and narrative. His mix of Spanish and English guides readers, regardless of their command of one language or the other, perfectly with a pleasing purpose.  In this respect the audience of readers (and listeners) is enlarged and a bridge between worlds is formed.  The short definitive sentences convey cheer throughout the book.  Careful readers will notice informative text on buildings, signs and vehicles.  Here are two passages.

Kooky Dooky leads them
to the back of el Coliseo.

Right this way!

Suddenly they feel a rumble
beneath their feet.


Que es eso?
What's that?

Every detail on the book case is significant.  Every detail says to the reader, join us.  Every detail welcomes us to learn about Little Lobo's community, their customs and food.  The bright yellow food truck supplies a sunny background for all the characters.  Bernabe is enjoying his stick.  Kooky Dooky is about to savor a buttered ear of corn.  Little Lobo will soon be tasting a taco.  Do you notice the little bug is back?  What is it holding?  The tattoo on Joe's arm educates us on the Spanish for carrot.  The characters and text are varnished.

To the left, on the back, is an introduction, words you might find on the front flap of a dust jacket.  Additional text sings the well-deserved praises of the first title and gives readers information about Raul the Third and his wife, Elaine Bay.  On the opening and closing endpapers on a sandy-colored canvas are words in Spanish and English for many of the wonderful foods found in this book.  They are colored in shades of green, yellow and red.

On the title page, Kooky Dooky is running down a sidewalk shouting out the title in a speech bubble.  The publisher text is cleverly placed on the edge of the sidewalk near the road.  Above a mailbox are the names, Raul the Third and Elaine Bay.  

The illustrations in this book were done in ink on smooth plate Bristol board with Adobe Photoshop for color.  

Hand lettering was done by Raul the Third.  The images span single and double pages.  Sometimes panels will be placed over an existing larger visual.  What readers will find captivating, and at the same time astonishing, are the multitude of marvelous details.  Every single line creating an element is done with intention.  

The facial features on all the characters, familiar and new, are spirited and highly animated.  You feel compelled to pause on every single page.  Each one is a study in imaginative brilliance.  You'll read this once and then again and then again, noticing something new each time.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a panel over a single-page picture.  In this scene Kooky Dooky, on the right, is holding a quesadilla in his hands (wings).  The other portion of it is in Bernabe's mouth, on the left.  The queso, cheese, is stretching from Kooky Dooky's piece around a pole to Bernabe.  Little Lobo is striding toward Kooky Dooky in amazement.  In the lower, left-hand corner is the Lobo's Delivery wagon, partially filled.  The ever-present bug is running with a burrito in its grasp.

This book, VAMOS!: Let's Go Eat written and illustrated by Raul the Third with colors by Elaine Bay, is a tour de force.  It is a visual and verbal joy from beginning to end every time you read it.  Readers will savor every page.  Listeners will ask you to read it repeatedly.  This is a title you will want on your professional and personal shelves.  On the final page is a lengthy Food Glossary, but in a note, readers are encouraged to look up the definitions of words not listed.

To learn more about Raul the Third and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Raul the Third has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  The VAMOS! books are discussed in a Publishers Weekly article.  This title is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before BreakfastRaul the Third was recently a guest at Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Draw Every Day with JJK video art lesson.  At the publisher's website you can download an Activity Kit and watch several videos, one of which appears below.

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