Honesty is a good policy, right? I should be honest with you right from the start then. Ladies and gentlement, I feel no shame when I tell you that I worship at the hallowed shrine of Eric A. Kimmel. Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s not such an unusual thing to say. Consider the following situation: You’ve a class of itchy, hot, sticky, whiny third graders who want to be anywhere but your Story Hour Room listening to picture books. You know and I know that they will like these books once they get into them, but for a group this finicky you’re going to need some real show stoppers. Picture books that wow them right from the get-go and don’t release their grip until the kids are on their way home. To whom do you turn in your hour of need? What name leaps immediately to your lips? Sweet Eric A. Kimmel, of course. You whip out your copy of Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, and voila. Instant happiness and calm. There’s something about Mr. Kimmel that can turn folktales, both classic and original, into readaloud pleasures. Now he’s set his sights on that old Billy Goats Gruff tale but with a South American twist. The result is "The Three Cabritos" and a nicer addition to my storytime revue I haven’t seen in months.
So there are these three cabritos, yes? Musical boys that they are, Reynald is small and fast and plays the fiddle. Orlando is the middle child and he plays the guitar. And Augustin is their big friendly brother, and he’s good with an accordion. Everything is all peachy keen until the three hear about a fantastic fiesta that’s being held in Mexico. The brothers are gung ho to go, in spite of their mother’s warning to beware of the big, scary, infinitely hungry Chupacabra that lives under the bridge of the Rio Grande. Being the fastest, Reynald meets the creature first, but persuades it to wait for his older brother, rather than eat him. Orlando does the same, and when Augustin arrives he proves to be more than a match for the dance prone bridge dweller. A quick Author’s Note and Pronunciation Guide for Spanish terms round out the story.
Well OF COURSE a Chupacabra would eat the three billy goats! What do all the legends of the Chupacabras say they eat, after all? Goats! So kudos to Mr. Kimmel for writing an alternative billy goat gruff story that makes perfect sense. I’ve seen versions done where the goats live in the inner city and where they are animals other than goats. To me, keeping the goat aspect of the story seems central to maintaining a connection to the original. Kimmel’s also in lovely form with this book, keeping the tone light and the story hopping. The words and pictures are so cheery, in fact, that you remain completely oblivious to the whole "take my brother" aspect of the story. So well done there.
Illustrator Stephen Gilpin grew on me considerably too as I read through this tale. At first glance, I may have dismissed his pictures as being too computer graphicky. I was under some kind of impression that they were the slick byproduct of a series of ones and zeroes. On closer inspection, however, I could see that they were nothing of the sort. Gilpin works primarily in graphite. The colors are put in later with computers, yes, but the essential structure is hand-drawn and mighty appealing. He’s also one of those illustrators that can draw the vertical pupils in a goat’s eyes without making the critter look evil or possessed. As for the Chupacabra, he’s rather cute. A gigantic blue furry guy who, when he dances (and he seems to do that a lot) looks positively impressed with his own hot moves. I wouldn’t worry too much about your kids getting scared off by the villain in this book. If anything, they may have too much sympathy invested in the bad guy to cheer on his demise.
Authors have a variety of choices when it comes to working a little Spanish into their titles. As I see it, you’ve one of two choices. You can pluck out little words here and there and translate them into Spanish (ala The Bossy Gallito/El Gallo de Bodas or Chato and the Party Animals). There’s that. Or you can just translate the whole kerschmozzle on the opposite page of a story and go entirely bilingual. Kimmel opts for the former, which is fine. The world certainly needs more bilingual books, but at this point we will take what we can get. Speaking of choices, I wonder if Kimmel took into special consideration whether or not the three brothers would be escaping the Chupacabra to get from the U.S. into Mexico rather than going from Mexico to America. That would just lend all kinds of interesting layers if it was the other way around, don’t you think? Treatises, college papers, and who knows what all could be written interpreting this little picture book and its take on the current border situation with our southern neighbors. For simplicity’s sake, the book doesn’t veer in that direction. Still, it would have been something to talk about otherwise, no?
With the possible exception of the unlikely appearance of a magical accordion (a detail that rankled just a tad), I’m a wholehearted promoter of this title. You may wish to think about pairing this book alongside fellow partially bilingual title Número Uno by Arthur Dorros. Or perhaps you want another story from the same folktale but with an entirely different look? Consider Three Cool Kids by Rebecca Emberley. As for this book, it features a mighty fine pairing of author and illustrator. A folktale deviation well worth investigation.
MISC: I should note too, while I’m at it, that I am a sucker for any illustrator who names his online shop something like Stephen Gilpin’s omnibus of fine vendibles.