Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament

Cristina Franco is a curandera, a Latina natural healer, in training. She and her brother Enrique live in the colonial Mexico province of Santander in a steampunk reality where dirigibles and robots coexist with mythical creatures. When Cristina is attacked and killed by a parliament of witch owls, Enrique cannot accept her death. He repairs her body with robot limbs and restores her to life. Enrique’s actions use a combination of Islamic alchemy and other magic and prove controversial to the very Catholic community. Cristina must hide her robotic limbs as she continues to fight the witch owls. Meanwhile, she attracts the attention of Matteo, a shapeshifter who wants to both help her and court her. Enrique’s backstory shows him in love with a fellow male student prior to immigrating to the new world. This first volume of Clockwork Curandera sets up the brother and sister to face off against many forces in their world as the series continues.

End-matter includes an all-text prequel which describes Cristina’s training as a curandera. This helps explain the background of that profession, especially for those unfamiliar with it. An author’s note follows which relates the author’s experience with these healers during his childhood on the Texas-Mexico border. He shares how this experience birthed the idea for a story a la Frankenstein, where a curandera has become a cyborg and must deal with the implications of her connection to nature being disrupted. Also included in the end-matter are in-process sketches of Raul the Third’s art for the book. 

The art is pen and ink style with occasional red accents. This has the striking effect of highlighting certain elements such as the scar on Cristina’s cheek or her robotic arm. The illustrations are meant for a more sophisticated reader, as a great deal takes place in the images. They can be a bit difficult to interpret. The witch owls do not closely resemble actual birds, nor do some of the other elements look extremely obvious. The largely black tone makes the whole universe of the book seem rather dark. The pages are given a parchment look to fit the time period, as well. 

Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament is a story which raises many interesting questions. What does it mean to be human? What types of intervention in the natural world are acceptable? What role should religion play in our lives? These are questions a mature reader will contemplate while reading this book. However, the book isn’t accessible to everyone. It is definitely meant for a sophisticated reader with an appreciation for the graphic novel as an art form. For those who take the time and effort to engage with Cristina in her quest, the rewards are many, and the reader will look forward to future installments in the series.

Clockwork Curandera: The Witch Owl Parliament Vol. 1
By David Bowles
Art by  Raul The Third
Abrams, 2021
ISBN: 9781620145920

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Mexican-American,  Character Representation: Mexican,

Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story

Jessica Cruz has a lot to be anxious about. Her life with her Mexican parents in Coast City could be upended at any moment if their status as undocumented immigrants is revealed. She knows this because she sees Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents take people away, never to be seen again. She has a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal application to complete, but she is losing hope for her future. The local mayoral race includes candidate Francesca Villamontes, whose platform includes harsh rhetoric against undocumented immigrants. “I’m tired of pretending everything is okay when it’s not. I’m tired of dealing with people who live with blinders on,” Jessica laments.

There are reasons to hold on, though. Jessica and her classmates begin a club at school about immigrant rights, including having an immigration lawyer visit to discuss student rights. Her aunt Melody is a calming, mature influence. Her school’s guidance counselor helps her talk through her feelings, too. Jessica has friends in her neighborhood with whom she can freely swap between English and Spanish. A student internship at the museum alongside cool classmate John Stewart provides purpose and perspective. Things take a turn for the supernatural when a couple of Aztec gods on display at the museum speak to her in visions, not unlike an angel and devil on her shoulder. Chalchiuhtlicue, Goddess of the Jade Skirt, offers encouragement, telling Jessica to reach out to her friends and share her truth so that she can find support. By contrast, Tezcatlipoca, God of the Smoking Mirror, explains that anger and outwardly wielding power are the only ways to make things right in the world.

Maybe this sounds like a whole lot of story, but writer Lilliam Rivera and artist Steph C. find a winning balance through most of the book. The color palette signals Jessica’s alternating states, with green representing moments of calm and confidence while yellow represents anxiety and fear, as well as red for outright anger. These patterns of color are especially effective during a scene in which Jessica’s father is detained by ICE—her house and father are initially bathed in green, but in his absence, yellow light takes over the house while Jessica finds fleeting comfort in her mother and neighbor. Likewise, Jessica’s attitude towards her friends influences the color scheme, as comfortable bonds can turn to suspicion and anger during a microaggression or display of privilege. Jessica’s surreal visions of the Aztec gods influence whether she confides her vulnerability to them or simply concludes that “they will never understand” her fear and anxiety.

Wait a minute! Aren’t Jessica Cruz and John Stewart Green Lanterns, the colorfully cosmic guardians of the cosmos? When do they get their rings, already? Alas, this is not Green Lantern: Legacy, and the willpower-based feats are more metaphorical and driven by personal effort instead of bestowed by an external source. Jessica does find her father’s green ring, though again, it’s more a source of personal strength in the context of the story. The closest this book gets to ordinary superheroics is how many characters are drawn with uncommonly broad shoulders, plus a scene of trapping and outfoxing a malevolent ICE agent. A rather hasty ending sees a brief attempt to lend depth to Villamontes and the ICE agent, though the core message of choosing how one responds to adversity shines through.

Hand this to fans of Rivera’s previous works such as Goldie Vance and prose novel The Education of Margot Sanchez, as well as Green Lantern: Legacy and Nubia: Real One. DC’s standalone graphic novels for younger readers have been averaging more hits than misses in my book. The tilt toward real-life issues in the YA books in particular has been a welcome hook when booktalking. Jessica Cruz is a great character within DC’s pantheon of heroes, and this is a great introduction to her for new readers and a fresh take for anyone familiar.

Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story Vol.
By Lilliam Rivera
Art by  Steph C.
DC, 2021
ISBN: 9781779500519

Publisher Age Rating: T

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Mexican, Puerto Rican-American
Character Representation: Mexican, Mexican-American,  Anxiety

Onion Skin

“The onion serves to season and enhance the flavor of other foods. I guess sometimes people are like onions. We complement each other and bring out the flavors that make us who we are.”

Onion Skin opens with food flying across the page as a food truck flies through the page chased by motorcycles. Then we meet Rolando. After an “accident” at work, Rolando has lost direction. He soon meets Nera who lives in a non-working food truck in a junkyard. One thing leads to another, and despite their lack of knowledge or know-how, Rolando and Nera fix the truck and start cooking. Their food truck, the Dawgburger, quickly grows a large following as they travel through Mexico, thanks to seasoning from two plants left to Nera by her grandmother.

Onion Skin, by Edgar Camacho, was originally written in Spanish and published in Mexico in 2016, where it won the first National Young Graphic Novel Award. This book, which celebrates the cuisine of Mexico in muted colors, was a hit there, and I imagine will be a hit here as well.

Camacho’s distinctive loose sketch style is worthy of praise, and I was often drawn to the unique details of the page that I might have overlooked in a more traditional tight comic illustration. One image in particular toward the beginning of the book struck me. The panel illustration shows a plate of half-eaten chilaquiles. In front of the plate sits Rolando’s discarded glasses, and in the reflection we see his frustration and tears.

Camacho also twists the traditional use of panels with the occasional word or limb that escapes the border or the use of multiple panels to break up a single image. These moments were as much of a treat as the delicious illustrations of food.

However, I was most intrigued by his narrative style. Much like onion skin, this story is told in multiple layers. The narrative alternates between two transitional moments in their relationship – the events leading to their first run in the food truck, and the events that eventually lead to the dramatic chase from the beginning of the book. The alternating scenes end in alternating panels. Each layer is different but parallel.

As the story progresses and action builds, the alternating scenes build tension and feel fast-paced, sure to capture the reader’s attention. At the same time, by creating parallels in the narrative, we are also given the opportunity to explore the evolution of character and relationships.

Onion Skin is a recommended purchase for any public library or high school library collection, especially collections where narrative graphic novels are popular.  There isn’t any content in the book that regulates it to adults, but the target audience is adults, and it would fit in the adult collection of a public library. However, this story about breaking free, exploring new ideas, and traveling the country will also appeal to teens who are ready to do the same. 

Onion Skin
By Edgar Camacho
Top Shelf Productions, 2021
ISBN: 9781603094894

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Mexican,
Character Representation: Mexican,

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide

Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide is famous for her haunting black and white photos. Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena have created an enthralling graphic novel in which Iturbide’s story and photographs are brought to life for a generation who may be entirely unfamiliar with their groundbreaking work. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is an important graphic novel for the current culture. Mexican stories need to be told. Graphic novels like this are a reminder that the history and culture of Mexican art and artists is vast and rich. This graphic novel may be a few years old but its review is crucial.

The story opens at an art gallery with photographs on display. A group of young people ask the photographer about their style and methods. That photographer is Graciela Iturbide. She explains her methods and motives to the young attendees while the story fades into the past. The story moves through time—back and forth—from the Sonoran Desert and Mexico City to India and Frida Kahlo’s bedroom. It covers her most famous photographs as well as her childhood and relationship with her father. Graciela appears to explain in her own words what was going on at the time, the inspirations for the photographs, and her own thought process.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is uniquely illustrated. The artist painstakingly recreates Graciela’s history and photographs through similar yet powerful black and white illustrations. The actual photographs accompany the illustrated versions. It’s refreshing to see artwork and photography depicted in this way, particularly in a graphic memoir. It is one thing to see an illustrated version of a piece of art, but to see it held up against the real thing is entirely different and adds great depth to the story. The attention to detail is astounding and the artist made the right decision to keep color out of the book. Graciela’s medium was black-and-white and her biography should be the same.

The writing itself feels a bit stilted and that may be entirely based on the translation. It’s hard to feel a rhythm while reading. The author includes an interesting use of a second person point of view. The author addresses the reader in short snippets of text before each chapter break. These breaks in the fourth wall are a way to introduce the reader to where the story will take place next. It’s helpful in a way, but also a bit distracting. Graciela’s descriptions are poetic and imaginative while these breaks feel unnecessary. Graciela is more than capable of telling her own story in her own way. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is a fascinating look into the life of a prolific and iconic Mexican photographer. Their work resides in many museums around the world. This graphic novel cannot tell Graciela’s story in its entirety, but it does a great job of introducing readers of all ages to her life and her work.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide is appropriate for readers 13+. It is enjoyable to readers of Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Pénélope Bagieu’s Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, and Liana Finck’s Passing for Human.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
By Isabel Quintero
Art by Zeke Pena
ISBN: 9781947440005
Getty Publications, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T

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Character Traits: Latinx

Bone Parish, Vol. 2

When you’re offered the chance to bring your dead child back to life, to see through his eyes, even if just for a few hours, would you be able to refuse? Bone Parish, Vol. 2, hit the shelves in September 2019, taking time to ask more serious questions and understand more about the motive to create and distribute Ash, a drug made from the cremains of loved ones. Cullen Bunn’s second trade volume further develops the story of a family dominating the New Orleans drug market, taking time to give old and new characters more back story and to consider further implications of selling the experiences of those dearly departed.

The comic opens with a wedding march through the streets of downtown New Orleans, where the beauty and life of the ceremony is contrasted with a skull-masked man silently toasting the promise of the couple’s reunification after death in heaven. From there the panels take on more color, bringing us to the present and the funeral of Wade, who died at the hands of a cartel who sought to take over the family business. The comic picks up pace and visits the two competitors—a family from Mexico and mafia from New York—who are intent on either buying out the family or recreating the drug themselves. Such attempts at recreation have resulted in terrific horror, with manifestations of the dead seeking life and struggling to emerge from the flesh of users. Attraction across enemy lines complicates as Mrs. Winters continues intrigues with Simon from New York, while son Brae sleeps with Leticia from Mexico. Meanwhile, Mrs. Winters is intent on further developing their compound, providing users with an interactive experience with their loved ones, rather than just reenactment of the deceased’s memories.

I found the first volume to be a bit formulaic in terms of hot new weird drug + family empire = cartels + mafia. This second volume has given me more back stories, which makes me more invested in the characters. The opening wedding scene with its long benediction about being partners in life and in death gave me more reason to care about Mrs. Winters using the last of her husband’s Ash to commune with him over the death of their son. Whereas the first volume portrayed the use of Ash primarily to get high on the experiences of creative geniuses and legends, this volume considers the possibility of being able to reconnect with loved ones after death. The Winters family could develop a drug that is a gift and a balm; it just happens to be a gift that will bring them great profit.

The art in this volume seems more intentional, especially in the use of color. A pink-blue gradient against sepia tones in the chapter pages indicate people coming into contact with the drug. Sickly greens and tans reveal mutant bodies, while teal blue inundates the detective’s struggle with whether to sell out to the Winters. The absence of text in many of the pages allows artist Jonas Scharf to tightly control building emotion, especially in the scene where Detective Herron faces Ash made from her 7-year-old son. The use of the Dia de los Muertos makeup and the skull mask on the mysterious lurking man emphasize the thin line between life and death that is drawn throughout the comic.

This horror comic is for teens and older who are enjoy crime comics with a touch of the supernatural. This volume, like the first, features some nudity and a fair amount of gore. In my review of Bone Parish, Vol. 1, I recommended waiting on purchasing until volume two was out. With its further developing story lining and continually improving art, I hereby support the purchase of both volumes.

Bone Parish, Vol. 2
By Cullen Bunn
Art by Jonas Scharf
ISBN: 978-1684154258
Boom!, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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Character Traits: Black, Mexican,



Hell hath no fury like a pre-teen’s angst, and Raina Telgemeier once again captures the range of relatable emotions and experiences that make her such a reader favorite in Ghosts.

Catrina (or Cat) is about to enter sixth grade, and her parents are moving to Bahia De Luna on account of her younger sister’s health. Maya was born with cystic fibrosis, a severe condition that affects breathing and digestion and for which there is no cure. Maya isn’t that much younger than Cat, but both Maya and Cat are at that age where being a few years apart makes them as close as Earth is to Neptune. Maya is still innocent enough to assume the world is filled with wonders; Cat is experienced enough to know that bad luck can lurk behind any corner. This recurring motif is established early on in the story as Cat admonishes her sister for running ahead to pet a black cat that crosses their path.

Soon after their move, Maya and Cat meet a new neighbor, Carlos, who offers to take them on a ghost tour of their new town. According to Carlos, ghosts enjoy the foggy, accommodating climate of Bahia De Luna. While Maya is thrilled by the idea of ghosts, Cat remains uncertain. Cat’s uncertainty is perfectly befitting to her age: as an almost sixth-grader, she is too young to be rational about the possibility of meeting a ghost, but too old for the haunted house-style of ghost entertainment. 

And yes, the ghosts in this book are real. Like humans, they love attention, comfort, and company. They thrive on the opportunity to feel connected to others. And they love orange soda. Furthermore, how characters approach the ghosts parallels how we welcome the strange, the uncertain, and the unknown in our lives. As Cat learns to embrace the presence of ghosts, she is also learning to embrace her new friends, her deceased grandmother’s Mexican heritage, and the ultimate uncertainty of her sister’s illness.

For a book about death, this book is alive with the stench of adolescence, and Telegemeier is nearly unparalleled in capturing the small moments of those tween years we all cringe to remember. This includes Cat poking critically at her neighbor’s homemade flan to watch it wiggle while her sister devours it and Cat’s decision to comfort her bedridden sister by blasting music and getting in bed to spoon her.

Telgemeier has shown growth, in her capture of setting and mood, as an artist and writer in Ghosts. To convey a sense of enchantment and sadness in this Northern California town, she sticks with a color palette of mostly blues and purples, which lead to an attention to color in the most delightfully small places, like Cat’s purple Chuck Taylors, her purple barettes, and the purplish cast of her cosmetics against an open window in the middle of the night. Telgemeier also cuts back on dialogue to let the setting do some of its talking, whether the talking be the rush of dark waves at the coast or the overwhelming sensations at the town’s Day of the Dead celebration.

For Cat, growing up means more independence, more confidence, and more friendships. For Maya, growing up means her degenerative disease only becomes worse. Telgemeier marks Maya’s slow descent into her incurable disease by giving her an oxygen tube about halfway through the story that started off as temporary but begins to feel permanent towards the end. Maya’s movements also become more and more restricted: at the beginning of the story, she was the one racing ahead, and by the end, her mother is telling her she’s not in a good condition to be outside trick-or-treating.

Rather than amplify the tragedy here by allowing Cat to fully realize her sister’s deteriorating condition, Telgemeier decides to leave Cat—and, I believe, most younger readers—blissfully unaware of this subtle decline. By giving us a happy ending short of a cure, Telgemeier is declaring her primary allegiance to elementary readers who might otherwise find this story too upsetting. As a middle school teacher who often feels that middle school readers are overlooked, I can’t help but feel that the emotional heft of the story deserved a more emotionally weighty ending where the significance of Maya’s deterioration played a more central role in Cat’s coming of age. That said, I bet the popularity of this book will outlast one, if not two presidential election cycles among elementary and middle school students. Readers, you’re in for a treat.

by Raina Telgemeier
ISBN: 9780545540612
Scholastic, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Lowriders in Space: Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, Book 2

low“You’ve GATO be KITTEN me!”

Genie, a purr-fect orange cat, has disappeared after a series of earthquakes. Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Octopus must close their garage and follow tiny paw prints to track down their missing furr-end. Along the way they discover more than they bargained for: a giant corn maze, a tricky coyote, a weeping mother, and Mictlantecuhtli: the Aztec god of the Underworld. The Lowriders must rely on their mechanical skill and creative thinking to outwit their latest foe.

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is the punny, adventure-filled sequel to Lowriders in Space. The series follows the adventures of three best friends/mechanics as they navigate their world in their tricked out ranfla, or lowriding car. Spanish phrases are seamlessly integrated into the text, adding cultural flavor and making the story more fun to read. Readers may well find themselves reading out loud—I certainly did! Translations for the text are offered at the bottom of each page, while a handy glossary of all terms and phrases can be found at the back of the book.

I love puns and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is full of ‘em. English puns, Spanish puns, and BILINGUAL PUNS! Camper does an excellent job of writing dialogue that seems naturally bi-lingual; it’s never awkward or forced. Conversations feel authentic and characters are well developed. Science and cultural history are also interwoven into the story. While the three mechanics are on their journey, they encounter geology lessons, Aztec myths, Mexican wrestling, and a Day of the Dead celebration. The narrative almost resembles a Magic School Bus plot, albeit one that is hipper, a little edgier, and infused with Latino culture.

The coolest thing about the artwork is that it was created using a humble material: ballpoint pen. Raul the Third’s drawings have great detail and a street art flair. Some of the coolest panels combine Aztec imagery with Mexican wrestling Lucha Libre costuming. The colors are simple and effective; blue, red, and black pop off of the cream colored pages. The drawings are stylized like notebook doodles but sophisticated enough propel the story forward. Young readers might be inspired to create their own ballpoint comics!

Teachers and librarians might be interested in sharing the downloadable activity kit that accompanies Lowriders to the Center of the Earth ( The kit includes a Spanish language activity, drawing activity, and comic creation activity. Put some printouts on a table with pens and paper and you have an instant activity station!

“Bajito y suavecito” (low and slow) might be the way Lupe, Elirio, and El Chavo travel, but it’s not the way this graphic novel reads. Although Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is a sequel to Lowriders in Space (2014), the story can stand alone, leaving readers furiously flipping pages to find out if these amigos will rescue their gato and get their ranfla back to the garage!

Lowriders in Space; Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, Book 2
by Cathy Camper
Art by Raul the Third
ISBN: 9781452123431
Chronicle Books, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

Lowriders in Space, volume 1

lowriders-in-spaceIt’s always a busy day at Cartinflas Used Cars/Carros Usados. Lupe Impala (mechanic extraordinaire), Elirio Malaria (small, winged, and talented detailer), and Flapjack Octopus (fastest car washer north of the Salton Sea), exemplify teamwork in all that they do and the customers appreciate it; too bad that their boss is a jerk. They hope someday to save enough money to open their own shop. And they want a car to get around in—”They’d seen some cars blast by fast…and others that could shift and drift… but they wanted a car that would go low and slow…bajito y suavecito.” They don’t get paid a lot, so their best chance, as they see it, is to to use their teamwork, talents, and free resources to win the Universal Car Competition, “the most mechanically inventive, exquisitely detailed cosmic car wins!”

In Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third’s world, the streets are filled with dust, faded signs, and anthropomorphic creatures. The pages of Lowriders in Space are textured and faux stained by coffee, setting up a base layer of worn-in atmosphere. The panels and characters are drawn in shades of black, blue, and red, like a tri-color ballpoint pen wielded by a very imaginative and car-obsessed Mexican-American dreamer. It’s gritty and hopeful, sparkles shine out from under a layer of dirt, and street art and old-school handpainted billboard art inflect style that matches the tone of the tale.

Throughout the book, Lupe, Elirio, and Flapjack joyfully code-switch, and their Spanish phrases are translated in footnotes and a glossary at the back. The friends have to travel far beyond their streets to find the key to winning the Universal Car Competition. In search of the perfect steering wheel they embark on a cosmic journey through the universe, powered by old rocket parts found in an abandoned airfield. Their lowrider whooshes and flames, and they meet every small bump in the road with a smile and a can-do attitude.

The joyfulness of Lowriders in Space, partnered with its matter of fact embrace of Mexican-American culture, makes it a shoo-in for younger readers who want to read something with some diversity and a great sense of fun. They’ll have a blast taking in all the details of the cityscapes, learning some Spanish vocabulary and phrases beyond what they got in Dora, and maybe have an urge to help wash the family car afterwards. And as the title page states that this is Book One, hopefully this is not the end of Lupe, Elirio, and Flapjack’s adventures.

Lowriders in Space, volume 1
by Cathy Camper
Art by Raúl the Third
ISBN: 9781452128696
Chronicle Books, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 8-14

La Perdida

La Perdida recounts the story of Carla, a girl who goes to Mexico to explore her Mexican roots.  In Mexico, Carla stays with an American ex-boyfriend, Harry, until his disregard for her determination to pursue her Mexican heritage annoys them both to the point where frequent shouting matches erupt.  Carla moves out, to a less safe part of the town, but still struggles with the fact that she can never be Mexican enough to satisfy her anti-imperialist Mexican friends, who think of her as a good person, but nonetheless a representative of wealthy upper-class capitalist society.  When Carla’s brother arrives for a visit, his presence makes her re-examine the doubts she has about Mexico: can Harry and his ex-pat friends be people worth associating with, even if they don’t care deeply about the country they’re living in?  If her Mexican friends are really the shining figures of cultural consciousness she originally saw them as, why do they seem to spend most of their time getting high and associating with drug lords who see her as nothing but a sex object?  Carla’s worries about how she should be living her life are brought to a head when she learns that Harry has been kidnapped . . . and that her Mexican boyfriend and a number of her other friends were involved in the kidnapping. Jessica Abel’s black and white line drawings add to the atmosphere of harshness and reality in La Perdida.  Her characters are portrayed more realistically in very emotional scenes, which demonstrates to great effect how art in a graphic novel can be used to set the scene of the story. This 256-page tome is a book for people who want their comics to read like fiction–a great book to draw novel readers to the graphic novel. This book was written for an older teen/adult audience–there are frequent mentions of sexual situations, as well as discussion and portrayal of drug use.

La Perdida
by Jessica Abel
ISBN 9780375423659
Pantheon, 2006