El Cucuy Is Scared, Too!

author: Donna Barba Higuera

illustrator: Juliana Perdomo 

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021, preschool-grade 3

In Spanish-speaking countries, everyone knows El Cucuy. He comes in many forms, all of them horrible. He kidnaps disobedient children—especially little kids who don’t stay in bed at night.

A cucuy lives with Ramón and his single mom in their new little house in the US. This cucuy shares a pot along with a cactus, and on the cover and title page, young readers will see him—black, gray and white—peeking out of the large clay pot. This cucuy is not scary—he’s scared.

As Ramón sits next to the potted cactus, his mom warns him to go to bed, or El Cucuy will come and get him. But Ramón can’t sleep—and neither can this cucuy, who jumps out of the pot and noisily knocks over Ramón’s table lamp and vase of flowers. 

Both Ramón and his new friend miss their old casita in Mexico, and, Cucuy adds, “the desert wind and the coyotes singing.” He’s especially afraid of the night noises which, Ramón tells him, are “only the new sounds of where we live now.” The place called “school” is different as well. There’s no quiet place for Ramón to read and there’s no “small, dark place” where Cucuy can hide. But Ramón is protective of his new friend, offering to ask a teacher or librarian to show them a safe place should his friend need one. As Ramón worries about not fitting in—something that worries all immigrant kids—Cucuy worries about not having any amigos, and that no one will know to be afraid of him.

When they get home, Ramón consoles his little monster-friend: “Eres fierce…and brave,” and tells him that he will have to show the other kids that he is “strong and valiente.” The two think about the times that each was afraid of the other, and how they worked out their fears in order to become fast friends. 

Perdomo’s digitally created illustrations are bright and appealing, with each double-page spread having its own background color. The dialog between boy and monster is honest and engaging as well, with touches of Spanish words and phrases seamlessly woven in (and not defined or italicized). This warm story of two friends—one human, one monstruo, sort of—who share their immigrant experience, is highly, highly recommended.

—Beverly Slapin

(published 6/20/2021)

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