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Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper

Lowriders in Space written by Cathy Camper
and illustrated by Raul The Third (Raul Gonzalez III)
(Chronicle Books, 2014; paperback $9.99, hardcover $22.99, Ages 8-12)

✩Starred Reviews – Kirkus & Publishers Weekly

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Last month I met the editor of Lowriders in Space at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers an Illustrators) event and her enthusiasm about this new graphic novel was contagious. I couldn’t wait to read it and find out what all the buzz was about.  Now I know and intend to spread some serious bajito y suavecito (translation: low and slow) love your way! Lowriders in Space worked for me on so many levels, but I’ll start with Camper’s creative storyline since that’s what will capture kids’ attention and it’s what drives this novel forward.

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Interior artwork from Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raul The Third, Chronicle ©2014.

Middle grade readers will easily get on board with Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria, the three amiable and unusual main characters whose impressive automobile-related skills help them reach new heights. The trio are eager to leave the used car dealership where they work and in order to do so they decide to enter the Universal Car Competition. With its grand prize haul of  “… a carload of cash and a solid gold steering wheel,” winning the UCC would provide the seed money needed to open their own garage. They immediately get started with a broken down shell of a car, ” … so slow it didn’t even go.” Then, utilizing their individual expertise (Lupe’s a self-taught auto-mechanic – YES, she fixes cars like a girl, Elirio’s a detail artist, and Flapjack’s an eight-armed cleaning marvel), they make a plan of action. The three contribute whatever funds they can muster up and find spare rocket parts at an old airplane junkyard. Will the resulting lowrider be special enough to win first place?

Camper’s tale is unique and engaging. It’s obvious she had a blast writing it. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it with anything but Raul’s original artwork and the impressive interplay between text and illustration. His ballpoint pen illustrations in black, blue and red on a yellowy-beige background are going to grab readers (even the most reluctant ones), pull them in and keep them thoroughly entertained. He’s created a retro feel that joyfully took me back to my youth, when buying comic books with my allowance was a much anticipated weekly outing. This book deserves multiple visits to pick up the many details included, so read, observe and admire.

Another highlight for me was how Camper’s incorporated many Spanish words and phrases for the reader to learn. Whenever there’s an * readers can find the translation below, plus there’s a glossary in the back with Mexican-American slang, car and astronomy terms (oh and don’t miss this section because there’s more to read afterwards and readers can get their appetites whet for Book 2).  So, in addition to having a strong Latino female character who repairs cars, Lowriders in Space also introduces readers to the culture of lowriders, it mixes in facts about outer space, and is equally accessible to reluctant readers as well as those simply seeking a rollicking ride that’s totally cosmic and caliente. In other words, this lowrider delivers!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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