The first installment of Alvarado’s mystery series introduces Perla Garcia, a bilingual little girl and aspiring detective who’s determined to uncover the truth behind a local legend.
Perla and her dog, Valiente (Spanish for “brave”), live in El Barrio de Guadalupe in the south plains of western Texas. As the story’s narrator, she peppers her introduction with Spanish words, including English translations. This method is used sparingly enough that young readers will be likely to remember most terms; Alvarado also reinforces the Spanish terminology with repetition and provides a Spanish/English key in an afterword. Perla and Valiente enjoy solving mysteries, and their first case involves La Llorona (“the weeping woman”), a macabre legend about a mother who lost her babies in a river. (Caretakers and teachers should note that this story may be best for slightly older children, as the premise is rather dark.) According to the legend, the traumatized ghost of La Llorona haunts the river by re-enacting her original tragedy—stealing others’ infants and throwing them in the water. Nowakowski‘s black-and-white illustrations set the tone for this eerie story; however, the cute, cartoonlike illustrations of Perla and her friends serve to lighten the mood. As Perla bravely endeavors to solve the mystery, she learns more through her observations and various clues. Alvarado clearly explains Perla’s deductions so that young readers can make similar inferences and participate in the investigation. The story’s climax occurs when Perla, left alone by the river, believes that she sees the frightful Llorana. However, when she faces the shadowy figure head-on, her fear subsides to empathy when she realizes it was all a misunderstanding. Perla concludes the story by urging readers to investigate their own mysteries. Overall, the book’s subject matter and extensive text will work best for emerging readers.
Recommended for children who enjoy ghost stories and spooky mysteries, with Spanish lessons as an educational bonus.