The Unicorn Rescue Society
The Chupacabras of the Río Grande
by Adam Gidwitz and David Bowles
illustrated by Hatem Aly
Dutton Children’s Books, 2019. 202 pages.
Review written November 13, 2019, from a library book
This is the fourth book in The Unicorn Rescue Society series about some kids and a very eccentric professor helping out mythical creatures. I have read the first book, but not any others before this one, and I don’t think that hurt my understanding of this one any, so it is the sort of series that you can jump in where you are.
In this case, there’s a chupacabras on the loose – a mythical creature that sucks blood from goats. Usually, they don’t kill their victims, simply taking a drink while the victim sleeps, but a small calf has been killed, with all its blood drained, and Professor Fauna wants to take a look, bringing Uchenna and Elliot along, of course.
The adventure is light-hearted and has some silly jokes, with the inevitable bad guy trying to beat them to the magical creature adding some tension. It’s not designed to be a child’s first chapter book, but neither is it far advanced, and has short chapters and plenty of pictures.
I did like the way this light-hearted fantasy adventure ended up overlapping with a serious political issue. The creation of a border wall and border fences disrupt territories for wildlife – and that turns out to be a problem for mythical wildlife, too.
I also like that the publisher took the issue seriously and treated the people of the region so respectfully that they put David Bowles on the authorial team. I loved what David Bowles said at the back of the book about that, so I’m going to include it here:
Writing about the border brings me a lot of joy, but also some worry. This is my community, full of my people – relatives and friends on both sides of the river. Our lives overflow with two cultures, two languages, two national identities. Trust me. You’d love it here.
But it’s easy for people to misunderstand what they’re not familiar with, so this book had to be not just about an amazing adventure in South Texas, but also about how easy it is for outsiders to get the wrong impression of my community. Heck, even those of us living down here don’t always agree about how this side of the border and that one fit together.
We couldn’t just pretend that some people aren’t nervous about the border. We also couldn’t ignore the fact that many border folks don’t like the choices the government is making.
So Adam and I decided to include that disagreement in the book. We know people who feel both ways about the barrier that’s been going up along the border in bits and pieces for years now. It was important to get a good look at those two sides without assuming that either group wants to hurt anyone.
As a Mexican American, I also wanted to make sure that the bilingual and bicultural nature of my people came through loud and clear. I am proud of my heritage, my roots along either bank of the Río Grande. And that also meant taking the chupacabras — pretty recent cryptids in the long history of creepy creatures in South Texas – and finding where they fit into the larger indigenous mythology of our ancestors.
I can only hope that the low whistling I hear drifting over the water as I write these words is a sign of their approval.
I, for one, approve of the care taken in a light-hearted fantasy chapter book. All the more reason for me to recommend this series.
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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.
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