October is a month full of monsters. And I love ‘em! But not the terrifying, rip your throat out kind of monsters. Please, no! I prefer my monsters to be civil and harmless and with a full range of curiosity and empathy. And it doesn’t hurt if they are easy to look at, too.
El Cucuy is Scared Too!, by Donna Barba Higuera and illustrated by Juliana Perdomo, is a book with just such a monster.
El Cucuy (pronounced el ku-koo-ee) is a monster in Mexico and the SW United States that scares children. It is also know as the Mexican Boogeyman. Mothers and grandmothers have raised the specter of it to get their children to behave for generations. Sometimes they live in closets, sometimes they hide behind a large cactus. Even if you don’t see him, he is till there.
In this book, Ramón can’t sleep and doesn’t seem to be afraid of El Cucuy behind the cactus anymore. He is too worried about other things. El Cucuy can’t sleep either because Ramón is no longer scared. At least he’s not scared of El Cucuy.
It turns out that Ramón has recently moved to a new house and will start attending a new school. He misses his old house and his old school and his old friends. He is afraid that things will be different in the new school.
El Cucuy is scared as well. He’s scared of all the noises in the new town. He is scared of the new school, too. Will there be enough dark places for him to hide? Will the kids even be afraid of him?
Ramòn and El Cucuy share in their fears and reminisce about earlier days when the little monster would scare Ramòn. They bolster each other for the coming day at a new school. IN doing so they figure out that each of them has his own kind of brave. And a new friend.
Perdomo lives in Bogota and as a child in Colombia grew up with a version of El Cucuy called El Coco. Her illustrations for this book are lovely. She uses a flat, saturated palette scattered with understated textures. Here characters are simple basic shapes but very expressive. El Cucuy is hardly terrifying. More like terrifyingly adorable.
This is a fun read, a great open door to folklore I was unfamiliar with. I went down a rabbit hole on the Internet learning more about El Cucuy. I am always fascinated with myths and legends that are new to me. Especially about monsters!