A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) Feature

Nino Wrestles the World
Yuyi Morales
(A Neal Porter Book) Roaring Brook Press, 2013

Sometimes, when I write these reviews, I’m tempted to go ahead and label it “award winner” in my categories. When I’ve really been convinced in the past, I’ve been right! (Let me refer you to Chime, Inside Out and Back Again, Code Name Verity, and Bomb to name a few…). In addition to my “gut” on this one, I should point out that Neal Porter Books/Roaring Book Press has a pretty good track record in recent years for Caldecott winners/honors: A Sick Day for Amos McGee, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, My Friend Rabbit, Green, Grandpa Green, First the Egg.

So, am I going on record to say that Nino Wrestles the World will win at least a Caldecott honor? No. But I’m betting that between the Caldecott and awards like the Pura Belpre, this book has a fighting chance at award status come January. So, consider yourself forewarned. I’m not the only who thinks so; it’s appearing on mock Caldecott lists such as the one at Calling Caldecott over at Horn Book.

I’ll confess right up front that this cover, while it made me chuckle, also made me inwardly groan: there’s a boy in his underwear on that cover and all I could think of was the likes of Captain Underpants. C’mon people, is this what we’re descending to? But so many people were raving about this book. I took the plunge and checked it out from the library. Lo and behold, I liked it enough to feature it in a PBOW and go on record to say that it’s got big time award potential. What won me over?

Book Design: no question, here. This book has some stellar design. Endpapers show very cool extra information that is not hidden by those library book jacket flaps. In fact, if you read this book in order and don’t immediately check out the back endpapers like I did, you won’t recognize what’s coming at the end. I like the heavy quality of the paper, the bold typeface, the superhero “Spak” and “Taka” moments, the whole package.

Palette: I’m a sucker for a good palette. I admit it. Soft, bold, monochromatic, whatever–no real preference except that I like to notice it. It needs to look intentional and really contribute to the book. And the palette here is perfect: bold colors with heavy black lines add to the retro superhero feel and also echo the Mexican feel (you’ll recognize the same colors from your favorite Mexican restaurants: orange, red, yellow, splashes of bright blue, etc.).

Details: Notice those “toys” there in the opening pages? You’ll see them again–in the Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) matches with Nino.

Composition: Notice that each time Nino is meeting his latest opponent, the opponent looks larger than life? He or she dominates the spread. As soon as Nino starts wrestling, though, the opponent shrinks to manageable size. This holds true until Nino meets his final two opponents. (I won’t spoil it for you.)

Text: The words have to work for me. I’ve seen picture books with great illustrations but lackluster words, and I move on. Here, the text is sparse and works well with the bold illustrations. I love the overall plot and the total lack of feel good text at the end (again, I won’t soil it for you…). In addition to this, the Spanish is worked in expertly. There are so many bilingual books out there where the book feels like a book-to-teach-awareness-of-Hispanic-culture. (sigh) But Nino Wrestles the World is simply a great book that also happens to raise awareness of Mexican wrestling and the Spanish language.

What do YOU think of this book? Like it? Not? Why?

Next week’s PBOW, in case you want to track it down, is Flora’s Very Windy Day. This was published a year or so ago, so you should find it easily in libraries. But it’s a fantastic fall book for this season!

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