MTYT: El Cucuy is Scared Too

Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, and Deanna Day-Wiff, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Our theme for this month includes discussions around picturebooks that depict anxiety and stress in and around our world. Recently with COVID-19 and the push against immigration, this has become a more pressing concern with children being isolated within the parameters of their, forever colliding, physical and psychological worlds.

Further, lack of literacy is an historic and immediate concern for children around the world, especially girls. This is based on the concept that if you control knowledge you control the people, as women are the ones who, essentially, hold future generations in arms, thus, controlling them controls the future. In the present situation where we belong to a global society and knowledge is circulated through devices in the palm of our hands, keeping knowledge away from people in far flung areas is challenging. This has allowed people all over to wake up and try to take their lives and education in their hands. Girls are pushing back to speak truth to power, and this creates anxiety and stress in their lives. The issues presented in these books significantly address anxiety and stress in children. Children’s books are a strong avenue to frame and present issues and then subtly suggest ways to combat them.

We will be exploring in further detail four books that represent this issue:

  • El Cucuy is Scared Too by Donna Barbara Higuera
  • The Secret Kingdom by Rosenstock
  • One Girl by Andrea Beaty
  • Malala’s Magic Pencil by Mala Yousafzai

This wonderfully told picturebook celebrates the Latino culture through interweaving a folkloric boogeyman character known as El Cucuy with real world experiences of adjustments after a move/immigration.

SEEMI: This story celebrates friendship at the basic level between people that are opposites. Ramón and El Cucuy are victim and victimizer, oppressed and oppressor but they have to move to a new place where everything is altered and they both become kindred spirits trying to come to terms with the changes in their new physical environment. El Cucuy, the scarer, is now scared, making the familiar strange. I appreciate the simplicity of the text where the author brings to the forefront the stress that mythical and human creatures have in common. Ramón now becomes chief consoler, and he tries to make life more bearable for el Cucuy. They relive their lives through stories of shared experiences and Ramón promises to find places where El Cucuy would hide to scare children as his instinctive duty as a culturally relevant scarer/boogeyman.

The beauty of the tale is in both the simplicity of visual and the written text which would be appealing the younger audiences with the way the characters deal with stress of change and new places. Acceptance in a new society, region, environment would be stressful for a person on any age. Whatever the reason, it’s never easy to leave everything behind and move and children of all ages are having to go through this stress day in and day out.

DEANNA: The colorful illustrations are what stand out to me the most in this forthcoming picturebook (release date June 13, 2021). Every color of the rainbow pops off the pages, highlighting the boogeyman, El Cucuy, who is portrayed in black, gray and white. Plus, the scalloped borders and striped blanket pattern tie the illustrations together.

This book reminds me of There’s a Monster Under My Bed (Howe, 1990) or There’s a Nightmare in My Closet (Mayer, 1992), picturebooks that I read aloud to primary children when I an classroom teacher, but none of the children in these older titles became friends with their monster. Ramón’s mom in El Cucuy tells him, “Go to bed Ramón! Or El Cucuy will come and get you!” If I had told my daughter this when she was little, she would have freaked out and made bedtime even more difficult. In my Swiss German culture, I didn’t experience this bedtime tactic so I didn’t do this with my daughter either. I wonder what other cultures have this tradition?

SEEMI: I loved the colorful illustrations as well. I know my culture has this tradition in Pakistan. We used it more when we were children but when I had my own, I did not use it as much.

Title: El Cucuy is Scared Too!
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Illustrator: Juliana Perdomo
ISBN: 9781419744457
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
PubDate: July 13, 2021

Throughout June 2021, Seemi Aziz and Deanna Day-Wiff discuss picturebooks that depict anxiety and stress in and around our world. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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