Thursday, February 9, 2012

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller. Written and illustrated by Xavier Garza; Spanish Translation by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite and Carla Gonzalez Campos; El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2011. Ages 8 - 12.

When I was in junior high I was a professional wrestling FANATIC. I do not use all caps lightly so believe the intensity with which I loved my wrestling. I read the magazines. I watched about nine hours of wrestling every weekend, from the big organizations like the N.W.A. and the WWF to the smaller wrestling organizations based out of Texas and Florida. I even attended a live professional wrestling event where I managed to get the autograph of my very favorite wrestler at the time Kevin Von Erich. Yes, I still have that autographed picture in my possession. But even before that, as a child, I watched movies that featured the masked wrestler known as Mil Mascaras--One Thousand Masks! His movies took place in a world of Mexican villains and heroes, something I didn't see too much of in the American wrestling of my junior high years. 

Imagine my surprise when I first came across the work of Xavier Garza several years ago. His picture book Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask was not only like a blast from the past, but such a breath of fresh air in the world of children's books. From the red end pages covered in images of masked wrestlers and stars and into the story of a little boy who attends a lucha libre event for the very first time and ends up having an ever bigger adventure than anticipated, Garza managed to create a book for younger readers that is action packed, pitting the good forces of wrestling versus the evil, as well as a colorful feast for the eyes. Who can resist getting caught up in the excitement and cheering on the technicos (good guys)?

Now Garza has done it again. In Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel Xavier Garza has created a unique middle grade novel that pays homage to the Mexican tradition of masked wrestlers. Maximilian is a fan of lucha libre and especially of the Mexican luchador known as the Guardian Angel, one of the technicos who fights rudos (bad guys) like Vampire Velasquez and Diablo Rojo. One day he has the good fortune to attend a wrestling event featuring the Guardian Angel in his hometown of San Antonio. Like Carlitos in Lucha Libre, Maximilian unexpectedly finds himself in the middle of real life wrestling drama! 

One of the enduring mysteries of masked wrestlers is, of course, that of identity. Who is it beneath that mask? There is speculation, but not until a face is revealed does one truly know.  There is the neighbor who is convinced that under the Guardian Angel's mask is Pedro Infante, the Mexican singer and actor who died in a plane crash in 1957. But it is Maximilian (or Max, as he prefers to be called) who is about to set his eyes on who lives under those flamboyant masks, to learn family secrets, and in the process, to discover a little more about himself. 

When I think of words that describe this book I see them inside the kind of "bubbles" used to highlight action in comic books:  Exciting! Fun! Suspenseful! Pow! With his illustration style that has a sort of old school comic book aesthetic to it, I could see this as a comic book series and as the type of book that would appeal to readers of action or superhero comics. Garza draws from Mexican culture as well as that of his native San Antonio, like the legend of Donkey Lady Bridge, and weaves these elements into his story and his illustrations. 

The book, as mentioned in the subtitle, is bilingual. Spanish text is laid out parallel to the English. We don't often see middle grade novels that are bilingual and that include male Latino protagonists. Garza and Cinco Puntos Press have really outdone themselves in hitting on all of these areas that are lacking in the world of children's books. Fortunately, the Pura Belpre Award committee thought so too as the book was selected a 2012 author honor book. Here's to more books like this in the near future!

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