Niño Wrestles the World

author: Yuyi Morales
illustrator: Yuyi Morales
Roaring Brook Press, 2013

Anyone who has seen, and therefore viscerally participated in, a Lucha Libre Mexicana, knows that the luchadores are more than “just” performance wrestlers, competing for trophies and money. As they enact the battles between good and evil, the audience is well aware of the political and social realities that the performances signify.

Sometimes, these confrontations are real, and the luchadores themselves organize their communities, fighting for social justice rather than trophies. In the amazing documentary, “Super Amigos” (2007), for instance, five mask- and costume-wearing luchadores are actually anonymous grassroots superheroes, who organize in the streets of Mexico City. And their battles—“Super Barrio” v. “El Casero Collero,” “Super Gay” v. “Homofobía,” “Super Animal” v. “El Matador,” “Ecologista Universal,” v. “Depredador,” and “Fray Tormenta” v. “Misería”—sometimes seem to be never-ending.

In Yuyi Morales’ beautifully crafted little picture book, we meet Niño, the three-year-old luchador who wears a red mask, orange and yellow sneakers, and blue-banded tighty-whities. No opponent is a challenge for our young hero’s skills, as he quickly demolishes the competition, the “rudos” of his little world. They are: “La Momía de Guanajuato” (the Guanajuato mummy, who has been chasing people since 1865), “La Cabeza Olmeca” (the mysterious Olmec Head), “La Llorona” (the Mexican ghost who abducts children to replace her own), “El Extraterrestre” (who hovers the earth in his flying saucer), and “El Chamuco” (the devil who tempts little kids into doing bad things).

Rather than using violence to defeat the “rudos,” our smiling little hero uses the “weapons” of his childhood: his skill at tickling, a jigsaw puzzle challenge, a doll decoy, a game of marbles, and scooters, Lego pieces, and a melting popsicle.

Pero, finalmente—¡aye, que no!—Niño is challenged by the worst, the most dangerous rudas of them all: “Las Hermanitas,” his twin baby sisters, who have awakened from their naps. Will they be the ones to defeat the great Niño? Will they render our champion luchador powerless? O, ¿tendrá una idea nueva?

Using the technique of digital collage, Morales loads each double-page spread with bright, bold watercolors, inks, block prints, and even salt; and announces each of Niño’s foes with typeface reminiscent of exciting Mexican Lucha Libre posters. Plus, Niño’s moves—“FWAP!” “SLISH!” “BLOOP!” “WHUNK!”—virtually leap off the page. As in her other picture books, there are details here that fans will notice—such as the image on the jigsaw puzzle cover: it’s from her book, Just a Minute.

Finally, master storyteller that she is, Morales seamlessly incorporates Spanish words and phrases into the sparse English text without the need to translate them, so young hablantes and English-speakers can enjoy the story—and action—together.

Last year, I had the good fortune to attend a reading of Niño, during which Morales held a large group of mostly preschoolers both mesmerized and cheering. She’s an international treasure, and Niño Wrestles the World is irresistible. Highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 12/26/14)

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