13th Street Series

Book 1: Battle of the Bad-Breath Bats

Book 2: The Fire-Breathing Ferret Fiasco

Book 3: Clash of the Cackling Cougars

Book 4: The Shocking Shark Showdown

author: David Bowles

illustrator: Shane Clester

Harper Chapters, 2020

grades 1-3 

(Mexican American)

In this fast-paced action series, young readers join Mexican American cousins  in South Texas—Malia Malapata, Dante Davila, and Ivan Eisenberg—as they engage with ghoulies and ghosties in the strange and dangerous world of “13th Street.” Malia’s la fregona—the boss, Dante’s the computer genius, and Ivan’s the bookish, sensitive one.

“Progress bars” mark the completion of chapters, and at the end of each story, young readers see how many chapters, pages and words they’ve read. Suggested activities (“Think! Feel! Act!”) encourage youngsters to work together in community.

Appearing as a barely visible safety check, a mysterious elder named Doña Chabela Aguilar kicks off and ends every story. In the fourth book, readers find out why she sends Malia, Dante and Ivan to alternate worlds to battle monsters. 

Book 1: Battle of the Bad-Breath Bats

In Battle of the Bad-Breath Bats, Malia, Dante and Ivan—while visiting their aunt Lucy for the summer—get lost somewhere on “13th Street.” As they work together to escape from the street that doesn’t exist, they must (with the aid of a friendly skeleton) battle a swarm of Snatch Bats—the “bad breath bats”—who can be defeated only by water guns firing “minty-fresh” streams of mouthwash.

Book 2: The Fire-Breathing Ferret Fiasco

In The Fire-Breathing Ferret Fiasco, the three cousins are back in their hometown, Nopalitos. When their school bus takes a wrong turn, everyone winds up back on 13th Street (the street that doesn’t exist), where they, together with the driver and their friends, brother Robby and his sister, Susana, encounter giant, fire-breathing ferrets from another dimension. Hiding inside a vacant warehouse, they meet a friendly nuclear family of Mictecah—Undead Folk, or zombies—who lead them to safety and a time portal to the past.

Book 3: Clash of the Cackling Cougars

In Clash of the Cackling Cougars, the cousins, on a ski trip, are sucked through another portal and accosted by joke-telling cougars: “Why did the human put its money in the freezer? It wanted cold, hard cash!” The cougars’ loud laughter and  horrid jokes sicken the cousins. Literally. But as they soon find out, the laughter also is a weapon of mind control.

Saved by a green elf with a glowing stone that heals Ivan’s heart and stops the revolting laughing echoes in his brain, Ivan rejoins his cousins, trapped in the Underworld with zombies, ghosts and skeletons. Using catnip powder to control the cougars, they escape, but must go back to rescue Micky’s dog, Bruno.

Book 4: The Shocking Shark Showdown

In The Shocking Shark Showdown, Doña Chabela reveals that she’s been sending our courageous young trio down the magical portals to rescue her grandson, Mickey—the “Quiet Prince”—who is trapped on 13th Street and needs their help to find Bruno and open the return portal. They have to figure out when and how to get there.

Finding themselves under 13th Street, they navigate a stinky sewer filled with a menacing Shiver of electric sharks until Bruno shows up and menaces them. Then they meet a bunch of raccoon-like talking pikos who play tumbling games in the water. (As everyone knows, sharks hate pikos and pikos hate sharks, and since Bruno’s been around, much of the Shiver seems to have gone elsewhere.)

It will all be over soon, thinks Malia. Mickey will return home with Chabela. No more 13th Street. 

But first they have to disable the sharks by salinating the water. Guided by a rhyming pico named Pecki, the trio of humans climbs through a manhole into an abandoned grocery store, fills sacks with salt, and gets menaced by razor-clawed rats whom they escape by finding an “impossible room” whose floor somehow “glitches” out of existence.

Back in the sewer, the trio encounters a boat that looks like the upside-down skull of a giant dragon, crewed by little elves called chaneks, and, standing at the front is—Mickey Aguilar.

Hinting at the next books in the series, Mickey tells the others that he’s called the Quiet Prince because “this place has a noisy queen, and she’s stealing human children.” 

And back through the portal, back into the world Mickey had left behind, go our heroes. Except for Malia, who first has to escape another shark attack before she returns to the aquarium to meet her teacher and class.

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Shane Clester’s digital black-and-white images, drawn on an electronic tablet, give these books a graphic novel appearance. Especially impressive is Malia’s expression as she’s about to vomit, nauseated at the cougars’ terrible jokes. 

Capitalized comic-book noises abound (“The bats couldn’t stop themselves. One by one they smashed into the closed door! BOOM! BAM! BASH!”). Or words are spaced to slow down the reader (“Lightning    flashed    overhead”) or italicized for creepy cultural capital (“¡Uy, cucuy!”).

There are giant doses of snark. For instance, Dante muses, “What’s most important is in our hearts,” to which Malia answers, “Gimme a break!”

There are biological and cultural impossibilities, such as “a calavera with friendly eyes” (uh, skulls don’t have eyes…) whose “bones made weird marimba sounds as he walked.”

And what would a series like this be without fart jokes?

Young readers will get wrapped up in Bowles’ and Clester’s creepy and hilarious 13th Street series, which continues. 

*Highly recommended for all home, classroom and library collections.

—Beverly Slapin

(published 2/21/20)

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