Lowriders to the Center of the Earth
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

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Lowriders to the Center of the Earth

by Cathy Camper; illustrated by Raúl the Third

It’s such a treat when incredible illustrations, buoyant text, and well-researched cultural references all come together in one book, and Cathy Camper and illustrator Raúl the Third have done it twice now, first with with Lowriders in Space (BCCB 1/15) and now with Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. This second outing sparkles with the same mix of zippy bilingual dialogue, cool car references, and visual surprises that made the first graphic novel so impressive. Antelope Lupe is the mechanic, Flappy, the octopus, cleans everything, and Elirio paints with his mosquito bill, and in the last outing they finally (after a brief jaunt into space) achieved their dream of a garage of their own to work on those sweet, sweet lowriders. Now they’re reaping the benefits of their new garage, at least until their missing cat sends them off on a remarkable adventure to the center of the earth. There they encounter the legendary Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the underworld, who says they can have their cat back—if they make it through the Wind of Knives, which strips people to their bones so they can stay in the realm of the dead as skeletons. It’s a challenge that pushes Lupe, Flappy, and Elirio to their limits, but, of course, they ultimately emerge triumphant.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact that the artwork has in this book—it elevates everything while also remaining accessible. The artist’s low-tech approach to drawing (three colors of pens applied to a creamy, off-white background) reminds readers that it isn’t necessary to have expensive art software to produce brilliance. The spirited linework is detailed but never crowded, with intricate backgrounds contrasting with the high-action, speech-balloon-rich foregrounds. Panels change size according to the drama needed, occasionally giving way to full-page spreads that invite readers to stay a while and soak in the rich details, many of which don’t even pop up in the dialogue. The result is undeniably edgy and hip but also warm and welcoming, matching both the high-energy adventure and cozy “we make our own families” message of the text.

The book offers both footnote translations and an extensive glossary in the back of the generous Spanish. It’s clear throughout that bilingual is the name of the game here and that these are characters who live their lives straddling Spanish and English, and many readers will be able to relate to the imperfect, complex, and entirely authentic blending of two cultures, languages, and identities. The inclusion of Coyote, La Llorona, and Mictlantecuhtli, easily identifiable characters to readers familiar with Latino culture, will likely spark some research on the part of readers who don’t know these references; what they’ll find will add depth to the story, but Camper effectively introduces enough context so that they stand alone.

As in the last book, the real point is the fun of traveling with Lupe and her gang; there may be characters with more worldly goods, but it’s the ones with community who succeed in the end. It’s a nice takeaway, as is the secondary message about cleverness and determination trumping might and brute strength. Indeed, these are solidly uplifting graphic novels that still offer plenty of comedy, adventure, information, and magnificent art. One can only hope another outing comes along soon. (See p. 568 for publication information.)

--April Spisak, Reviewer

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth

Cover image from Lowriders to the Center of the Earth copyright
©2016 by Raúl the Third and used by permission of Chronicle Books.

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This page was last updated on July 1, 2016.