El Chupacabras

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
El Chupacabras Book Poster Image
Entertaining bilingual book plays with legend and language.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Excellent language practice for both Spanish and English. Brims with Spanish vocabulary and constructions. Visual information about Latin American culture: dress, architecture, etc.

Positive Messages

Implicit message that language learning is fun and manageable. It's interesting to read the legends of different cultures. Girls are capable, smart, mechanical, and brave. People can work together.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young girl Carla is brave from the beginning, hopping on her bike to search for the missing goat, even though she knows the goat sucker might be the culprit. She also has the idea to fetch el chupacabras when the goats turn into destructive giants, and fearlessly rides off again to find him. She's mechanical, pictured with a tool box, repairing her bike. The flower lady is helpful, and everyone works together for the good of the farm and the town.

Violence & Scariness

The images of the deflated goats could be scary or disturbing. Though el chupacabras is a "tiny gentleman," he does suck the air out of goats.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin (Dragons Love Tacos), illustrated by Crash McCreery, is a bilingual book written fully in both English and Spanish in ways that make it fun and easy to read and translate in both languages. Written as a legend about a mythical creature "a long time ago," it's based on relatively recent reports (1990s) originating in Puerto Rico about a strange scaly creature attacking livestock. In this book, el chupacabras ("the goat sucker") targets a goat farm, leaving the goats alive but flat and floppy as pancakes. The images of the floppy-skinned goats might be unsettling for some kids, but it's played for laughs, with bemused, comical, expressions on the goats' faces, who get restored to full plumpness by a bicycle pump.

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What's the story?

In EL CHUPACABRAS, when a goat disappears from the farm and is found deflated though alive, Héctor, the farmer, knows that the culprit is el chupacabras, the goat sucker of legend. A woman with a flower cart offers him magic dust to protect his herd, but instead of sprinkling it sparingly, he empties the bag, and the goats grow into giants who start to chomp on the buildings in the town. Héctor's resourceful daughter Carla saves the day. She hops on her bike to find el chupacabras and brings him back to suck the nose of each giant goat, deflating the herd to their former size. The town is saved, the flower lady helps her father rebuild, and "Carla spent many happy years on the farm with her father and his new friend."

Is it any good?

This fun, faux legend about a mythical creature, written in both English and Spanish, delivers the translations in such clever, creative ways that language learning feels like play. Most bilingual books have either a sprinkling of words in the foreign language, or provide separate blocks of text for each. But in El Chupacabras, the lines are translated in various ways, and many are half English, half Spanish, then flip-flop the order in the translation below. For example, "What she found fue una tortita de cabra./Lo que encontró was a goat pancake." This ingenious arrangement encourages the reader to actually read both languages, while ensuring that translation is easy and the meaning clear.

It's set in an unspecified Latin American landscape, and the faces of the farmer and others are brown and weathered. The subject matter can seem a little unsavory -- a goat sucker terrorizing a farm -- but the art clues us in to take the scary parts lightly. Illustrator Crash McCreery was plucked from Hollywood, where he's developed characters for major films, and for el chupacabras, he created a monocle-wearing, gentlemanly gnome who likes to dip his churros in hot chocolate. The skin of the deflated goat has folds like a comfy fuzzy blanket. And among the funniest pictures are the endpapers, where goats are seen chomping on the paper, destroying this entertaining book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the various ways El Chupacabras is translated into both English and Spanish. Could you understand both languages? Why do you think the author sometimes chose to mix the two languages in one line? What other sorts of translations did he do? Which ones did you like reading the best?

  • Have you read other stories that have mythical creatures or are written like legends? What parts of the story make it seem like a legend?

  • How does the art help you know how to feel about the story? Were you frightened by el chupacabras? How did the goats feel?

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