Release Date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Owl Hollow Press
Page Count: Paperback, 256 pages
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy, Western, Hispanic Lit, Latino Lit
Appeal (in my opinion): Great for 7-13 year-old boys and girls or higher intermediate readers and up. Rare book featuring Hispanic main characters in a fantasy setting.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Bookstagrammer Bits: Unknown – just read digital ARC at this time. Western-themed props or a mace could be used. Anything with horses, especially Andalusian.
Conversations with Kids: Bloody descriptions of skinners, death of a parent, death of a loved one, feeling like an outsider/outcast.
“Ride hard, swing hard, and take out as many of those creepy critters as you can.”
Twelve-year-old Matt Del Toro is the greenest greenhorn in his family’s centuries-old business: riding down and destroying wolf-like monsters, known as skinners. Now, with those creatures multiplying, both in number and ferocity, Matt must saddle up and match his father’s skills at monster whacking. Odds of doing that? Yeah, about a trillion to one. Because Matt’s father is the legendary Javier Del Toro—hunter, scholar, and a true caballero: a gentleman of the horse.
Luckily, Matt has twelve hundred pounds of backup in his best friend—El Cid, an Andalusian war stallion with the ability of human speech, more fighting savvy than a medieval knight, and a heart as big and steadfast as the Rocky Mountains.
Serious horse power.
Those skinners don’t stand a chance.
Full of adventure, magic, talking horses, modern day knights, horrendous-looking, evil creatures, archaeological digs…. while lightly touching on the serious subjects of death of a loved one, being the odd one out, and prejudices against those we see as different, this fun, galloping adventure is told from the slightly humorous voice of 12-year-old Matt Del Toro. Set in Colorado’s southwest at the base of the mountains, the Del Toro family is part of a centuries-old business of destroying “skinners,” which are wolf-like creatures that look like “a bloodied, fresh-skinned carcass.” There are some gruesome details in destroying the skinners but just enough to add to the excitement and suspense, creating vivid images.
The characters shine in this book from the talking Andalusians each with distinct personalities, to the family dynamics between a single dad, big brother and little brother. The action starts in the very first chapter with Matt joining his dad on his first skinner hunt. There is witty banter and tender moments along with familial conflict mixed in throughout the book. It is entertaining to the end and well-paced, always keeping me wanting more and unlike any fantasy children’s book I have read before.
This synopsis for this book intrigued me, initially because it is about a Hispanic family and, as the parent of two half-Mexican children who is intentionally seeking out diverse reads, there is very little in today’s literature that has Hispanic main characters. I have never before seen a children’s fantasy book that has not only one Hispanic main character but a whole magical family that the story revolves around. Today’s Hispanic literature often focuses on the immigrant experience or touches on illegal immigration in some way. There is only one brief mention of prejudice against Hispanics and, as the spouse of a Mexican immigrant and parent of two half-Mexican children, I really find it refreshing to be able to read something with my kids where the characters are simply heroes and not defined in any negative way by their heritage. Instead, they find pride in it. The very, light mention of some common stereotypes makes the book current and accurate but doesn’t dwell on politics. I can’t stress enough how RARE that is and how IMPORTANT it is for children to see!
Why is this book SO important? It is so incredibly important because, not only is it fabulously creative and fun, but it represents such an under-served population in children’s fantasy lit.
A 2017 report by the US Census Bureau reported almost 18% of the US Population was of Hispanic Origin. Despite being the largest minority group in the United States, they have the 2nd lowest representation in Children’s Literature, Native Americans being the only ethnic group less represented.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) releases yearly statistics on the number of children’s books by and about people of color. Del Alma Publications posted an article on June 4, 2018, reporting on the current state of Latino Children’s Literature in the US and the statistics are startling. In 2017, out of 3700 children’s books published last year, only 6% had a Latino main character of was featured. Only 2% of the books were written or illustrated by a Latino.
While it is true that my Mexican husband who grew up in a small rural town (typical of many Mexicans that currently live in the US) was not read to as a child by his parents and did not grow up hearing the importance of reading, that is not reflective of the current group of Latino and Hispanic children going to school today. Studies show that children identify most with characters who look like themselves and will become more engaged in reading which encourages literacy. Diverse books are important for Caucasian children as well because research shows that consistent early exposure helps children to experience minorities as us, not them. It is important to encourage diversity in all literature, but especially children’s literature so young people in America can grow up with a life-long passion for reading and the joy that it can bring.
The Del Toro family members are proud heroes fighting off evil creatures with magical weapons and talking horses and NOT focusing on political issues or stereotypes. I still can’t believe I could read a whole fantasy middle grade novel about a Hispanic family and enjoy the magic and not the politics. The MAGIC is what gives those intermediate and middle grade readers the passion for reading and, in turn, increases literacy. Studies show that Children fall in love with characters that are like them. THAT is why this book is not only good, but incredibly important!
I received this digital ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.