¡Vamos!

Cover of Vamos¡Vamos!: Let's Go to the Market by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay was on the Horn Book’s 2019 Fanfare list and received a starred review in the Magazine. Sometimes these decisions involve debate and discussion. Other times — like this one — consensus is clear: Yes!

Beginning with the cover, we can infer a lot about the story. 1. It’ll be friendly. Wolf Little Lobo, with his warm smile, bright eyes, and inviting wave, is not of the big bad variety. 2. It’s set in a desert or someplace arid and near mountains. 3. There’ll be Spanish. The main title, including punctuation, is in Spanish, and the house in the background (“mi casa”) foreshadows the story’s inventive vocabulary labeling. 4. It’ll be weird (e.g., flying insect-looking creature in cowboy garb). 5. It’ll be energetic — ¡Vamos! Let’s go! as the characters, all moving toward the right, pull us eagerly into the book. 

(I could rhapsodize about the endpapers and title page for a while, because those are awesomely thought out, but let’s get to the story!)

Little Lobo runs a delivery service, bringing supplies from the warehouse near his house to the market. He checks his list, loads his wagon, and sets off, accompanied by his dog, Bernabé. There’s sooo much to see along the way, and panel illustrations pace these early scenes to get viewers acclimated. As we get closer and closer to the mercado (oh, that market!), the pages become more and more populated, showing unusual-looking creatures going about their ordinary day. Amidst the hustle and bustle begin to emerge eye-pleasing patterns and details, Latinx cultural references, and storylines to follow, including one about luchador El Toro’s missing mask. Throughout, unobtrusive red labels in italics indicate vocabulary words in Spanish.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of ¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market.]

What Raúl the Third does in these illustrations — and the cumulative effect the illustrations have — is spectacular. For one thing, with all those tiny details, all the variety in format (comic panels, spreads, full pages, split pages), the speech bubbles, the labels, the main text — the pictures must have taken so much work. But there’s such a comfortable ease about the imagery, with everything in its place, that it makes the art seem effortless. (Raúl, we know it wasn’t!) These pages are jam-packed — but they manage to fool viewers’ brains so we’re not overwhelmed by it all. The brilliant choice in color palette — many dusty, subdued hues, leading to a gorgeous purple-y sunset — helps enormously (huge props to Elaine Bay, the book’s colorist), as do the occasional lightly textured backgrounds that recall pop art and are somehow relaxing to the eye. 

If you haven’t seen the book, this might all sound like a mess. Instead, it’s an exciting, invigorating, wholly original creation. (Comparisons to Richard Scarry’s Busytown, while fine shorthand, come nowhere near capturing its originality.) There’s an appended glossary, but the book doesn’t make assumptions about its audience’s background knowledge. English and Spanish appear naturally in the main text and in conversation and all throughout the images; and inside jokes and cultural specifics are left tantalizingly and playfully (and clearly deliberately) unexplained. 

¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market was on the debut list of Houghton’s Versify imprint, curated by Kwame Alexander, and there are more entries to come. (We have Book Two in the office — it looks delicious.) ¡Vamos! is LOUD. ¡Vamos! is FUN. ¡Vamos! is BUSY and JOYFUL and WELCOMING. ¡Vamos! is a strong Caldecott contender, and I hope it takes the prize.

 

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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