Review of Octopus Stew

Octopus Stew
by Eric Velasquez; illus. by the author
Primary    Holiday    40 pp.
9/19    978-0-8234-3754-2    $17.99

With love and humanity — and humor — Velasquez (Looking for Bongo, Grandma’s Gift) once again affirms young Black Latinx boys’ identities and family experiences. Inspired by her cape-wearing grandson’s painting of an octopus superhero, Ramsey’s grandmother decides to make pulpo guisado, an octopus stew. Together they go to the market to find the perfect octopus for their dish. Back home, Grandma starts prepping for the stew — and suddenly, strange things start happening in her kitchen. With the exaggerated detail of a tall tale and the pacing and sound effects (“Bloop, Bloop, Bloop, Brrrr”) of oral storytelling, Velasquez depicts an intergenerational tale filled with food, family, laughter, and love (fans of Looking for Bongo will find some familiar characters). The oil-paint illustrations effectively convey the story’s larger-than-life supernatural elements as well as the protagonists’ affectionate relationship; the many shades and features of Afro-Latinx families are displayed, including in a central foldout spread that contains a humorous and effective narrative surprise. An author’s note, a glossary of the “non-standard Spanish” used throughout the story (and that Velasquez’s own family used at home), and an octopus stew recipe are appended.

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Sujei Lugo

Sujei Lugo is a former elementary school librarian at the University of Puerto Rico Elementary School and currently works as a children’s librarian at the Boston Public Library, Connolly Branch. She is a doctoral candidate in Library and Information Science at Simmons University, focusing her research on anti-racist children’s librarianship.

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