After observing the roosters in his artist grandpa’s backyard, seventh-grader Joe López can’t get enough of these indomitable avians.
His sketchbook is filled with them, and soon his art teacher encourages him to enter one of his pieces in the county fair, but he is distracted by a girl from his past, Kiki, and the school bully. Kiki supports his creativity and backs him up when he decides to emulate the courage of a rooster and finally confront Martín. Things take a turn for the worse, however, as his nemesis swears revenge on Joe for foiling a lunch-money shakedown. Grandpa Jessie teaches Joe about the power of standing his ground, and when the students unite against their tormentor, he runs away and everyone cheers for “Rooster Joe.” Garza’s bold, black-and-white illustrations reflect the age level of both the protagonists and the target audience—preteen Latino boys. This bilingual chapter book (organized into English and Spanish halves) aspires to be inspirational and empowering, but it comes across as plodding and didactic. The voice vacillates between middle schooler and adult: “there are rules in middle school and what [Gary] is suggesting is just plain taboo. A seventh grade boy has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting an eighth-grader to be his girlfriend.” In addition, Joe’s narration is constantly sidelined by hard-to-chew chunks of preachy exposition. The story lacks focus, and the message’s delivery is heavy-handed. Garza’s Maximillian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel is a far superior effort.
Well-meaning but a miss. (Fiction. 10-12)