Vicente (The Case of the Three Kings/El caso de los Reyes Magos, 2016, etc.) invites readers to experience the daily life of an elementary school anti-bully vigilante in this quirky bilingual tale.
Puerto Rican fourth-grader Lance García is Mister Malo, mysterious recipient of “Malo Mail” and defender of the bullied who ask for his help. His current mission involves an innocent falsely accused of farting. Lance, who knows what it’s like to be bullied, must strategize the best course of action and in so doing learns a little something about how everyone has their own complex history and motivations. Lance is endearingly earnest, and Vicente does a great job of focusing on kid priorities, but the writing is clumsy, sentimental, and heavy-handed, containing more message than story and certainly not enough Mister Malo shenanigans. The book doesn’t deliver on the promise of its first chapter, meandering from scene to scene with little tension and uneven success. Still, the bilingual element is unusual and fills a gap. And while the book is only vaguely Puerto Rican in texture, that very lack of focus serves to present Latinx experience in a matter-of-fact and open way.
The educational possibilities will appeal to parents and teachers, and the hint of Greg Heffley will draw young readers in. (Fiction. 8-12)