One more late addition to Latin@ week! Lowriders to the Center of the Earth was a Cybils finalist this year, and I thought I’d read this first Lowriders book while waiting for the second to arrive at my library.
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third. Chronicle Books, 2014.
This book is a love song to the Mexican-American lowrider culture (with which I was utterly unfamiliar), with kid-friendly animal characters. Three best friends, all working together at an auto shop, plan to win a car contest so that they can open their very own shop. They will make a beautiful lowrider that will “go low and slow, bajito y suavecito.” Lupe Impala is the “mechanic extraordinaire” who will take the old rust bucket that’s all they can afford and make it hum. El Chavo Flapjack Octopus does the cleaning and polishing, while Elirio Malaria the mosquito is the detail artist.
The plot here is definitely third place behind the world-building and characters: the friends fix up the car using rocket engines, which take them to space and help make their car even cooler. There are plenty of Spanish words mixed in to the dialogue, all defined at the bottom of the page where they’re used. I saw some reviewers complaining that the definitions are overly simplistic. My Spanish is rudimentary at best, but I will note that they use the word “Órale”, which Stef Soto, Taco Queen specifically called out as a word with many shades of meaning, as just “let’s go.” I still loved seeing the Spanish, especially the poetry of rhyming phrases like the oft-repeated bajito y suavecito. The art, done in three colors of ballpoint pen on brown paper, made me work a little harder than the bright digital colors that are so common now, but packs in lots of detail and expression. It ultimately succeeded in drawing me in and emphasized the homegrown artwork the book is about.
I’m so not a car person – to be honest, I resent the local car industry for doing away with robust public transportation in my state – so I wouldn’t have picked this up on my own. The love of our characters for each other and for their cars is so joyful that I couldn’t help but be won over in spite of myself, and the notes at the end helped me appreciate the many details built into the book. This is perfect for car-loving kids. I’m now very curious to see the second book.