March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Spotlight on Spanish-language Fantasy | Libro por libro

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Fantasy and Science Fiction for children and young adults is a genre that can bridge language and cultural barriers (although not without some translation challenges), and find popularity throughout the world. Authors from the U.K. and the U.S., such as J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Suzanne Collins, have all been widely translated, and certainly the Spanish versions of their books have been wildly successful and are familiar to Latino children here in the United States.

But what about the authors writing in this genre in Spanish? In fact, Spain and Mexico are developing fine fantasy and science fiction writers, some of whom I would like to introduce in this month’s column. If your Spanish-speaking readers love to read Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or the “Hunger Games” books in translation, then why not direct them to some of the following authors, who wrote originally in Spanish? The books by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Laura Gallego García are available in both Spanish and English editions. The others have not yet been translated into English. All of them are valuable additions to Spanish-language collections.

Laura Gallego García

Laura Gallego García is one of Spain’s brightest young writers, best known for her hugely successful trilogy known as “Memoirs of Idhún.” Two of her novels for young readers, including La leyenda del Rey Errante, have won the Barco de Vapor prize, one of Spain’s top literary awards. The two books reviewed here are her only titles that have been translated into English, but I would recommend her entire output for a Spanish-language fiction collection. Of course, the Idhún books would be the first priority. Gallego García’s 2013 title, El libro de los Portales, or the “Book of Portals,” has also been well received. It revolves around the Academy of the Portals, whose artists are the only ones who know how to draw the extraordinary travel portals that constitute the network of communication and transportation for the land of Darusia. In the meantime, here are two of her most accessible books for young readers.

GALLEGO GARCÍA , Laura . La leyenda del Rey Errante . Ediciones SM. 2003. pap. $18.95. ISBN 9788434888180.

––––. The Legend of the Wandering King . tr. from Spanish by Dan Bellm. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2005. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780439585569.

Gr 6-9 –Walid is a prince who fancies himself a poet. Each year he enters a competition, but for three years in a row, he is beaten by an unknown carpet weaver. In a fit of jealousy Walid curses his rival, giving him the impossible task of creating a carpet showing the history of the entire human race. The poet achieves this task, but dies in the effort. The enchanted carpet is said to have the power to drive men insane. When it is stolen, Walid embarks on an obsessive quest: to find the carpet and to prevent further damage from occurring. He hopes that by so doing he might be forgiven for his youthful errors. This story has an epic sweep reminiscent of a movie like Lawrence of Arabia, and also reminds me of one of my very favorite books of all time—Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy’s Seven Daughters and Seven Sons (S & S, 1982), which is also an epic quest, with a historical Middle Eastern setting.

GALLEGO GARCÍA , Laura . El valle de los lobos . Ediciones SM. 2006. pap. $13.85. ISBN 9788467508895.

––––. The Valley of the Wolves . tr. from Spanish by Dan Bellm. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2006. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780439585538.

Gr 6-9 –Dana has a friend named Kai who is visible to her alone. That is, until a character known as Maestro arrives with a proposition that gives her the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. This is not an opportunity that Dana is going to dismiss lightly, especially since Maestro can see Kai as well. Arriving at Maestro’s tower, Dana is given some simple rules by which she must abide. She can’t be out in the forest after dark for fear of attack by the wolves. Secondly, she must be strictly obedient. She discovers that Kai is not the only unseen person with whom she can communicate. She also realizes that she has inherited fearsome magical powers. To understand these mysteries she of course breaks all of the rules, and sets out into the woods where she will find both answers and wolves.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a Spanish novelist who came to fame with his adult novel, The Shadow of the Wind. First published in Spain in 2001, an English translation was released in the United States in 2004. While it was this book that gave Zafón an international profile, he has also written a series of popular and award-winning young adult novels. They are all grounded in the real world, and have realistic settings. But in each of them, the supernatural and fantastic intrudes into the world we know. They also share in common narrators looking back wistfully on childhood events. Ruiz Zafón is a versatile author, equally at home writing ghost stories and mysteries as well as his adult gothics. Little, Brown has published English translations of Zafón’s YA work, most recently The Watcher in the Shadows, making it accessible to an American audience.

RUIZ ZAFÓN , Carlos . El príncipe de la niebla . Planeta. 2007. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9788408072805.

––––. The Prince of Mist . tr. from Spanish by Lucia Graves. Little, Brown. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780316087674.

Gr 6-9 –This one is a classic ghost story, with spooky chills that are tailor-made for a movie adaptation. In 1943, Max’s father abruptly moves his family from a large city to a small coastal village, explaining that it is for his family’s safety and will allow them to forge a new life. The family moves into their new house, but as is the case with horror stories, the moment they move in, strange things begin to happen. Max becomes friends with a local boy named Roland. As they explore the town together, Roland tells Max the stories of a local legend about a malevolent spirit known as the Prince of Mist. Max begins to think that Roland’s tale is connected with his house and that some mysterious movies he has found appear to have been filmed there. Roland, Max, and Max’s sister, Alicia, are soon carried into an adventure that involves, among other things, a lighthouse, sunken ships, and an enchanted stone garden. And of course, the Prince of Mist makes an ominous and nearly deadly appearance.

RUIZ ZAFÓN , Carlos . Las luces de septiembre . Edebé. 2005. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9788423671267.

––––. The Watcher in the Shadows . tr. from Spanish by Lucia Graves. Little, Brown. 2013. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316044769.

Gr 6-9 –Like the family in The Prince of Mist, Irene Suavelle’s family is in transition and has to move. Her father, Armand, has passed away, and her mother takes a job as a housekeeper for a mysterious toymaker, Lazarus Jann, who lives on a large estate with the Brontesque name Cravenmoore. Once they arrive, they can hardly believe their good fortune. But soon they find that all is not as it appears. Jann’s mansion is full of creepy automatons. Hannah, a 16-year-old girl who works for Jann as a cook and a maid, is found dead in the woods, at the end of a path that seems to have been created by something not human. There are clearly secrets here that don’t wish to be uncovered. In the meantime, Irene has fallen in love with a local boy named Ismael, and their relationship is tested by the supernatural events that they experience. Irene and Ismael’s blossoming romance is one of the best things about the novel, which is bookended by letters between an adult Ismael and an adult Irene shared many years later, which give the story a very poignant sense of loss and memory.

RUIZ ZAFÓN , Carlos . El palacio de la medianoche . Rayo/Planeta. 2006. pap. $21.99 ISBN 9780061284373.

____ . The Midnight Palace . tr. from Spanish by Lucia Graves. Little, Brown. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316044738.

Gr 6-9 –This book begins right in the middle of the action. In a vividly evoked Calcutta, Lieutenant Peake fights to get a set of newborn twins, Ben and Sheere, somewhere they will be safe. He succeeds, but loses his life in the process. The woman with whom Peake has left the children decides that the best way to protect them from the assassin who wishes them dead is to separate them, and she deposits Ben at an orphanage. That same night, a man who identifies himself as Jawahal, appears at the orphanage and asks for information about the new arrival. While the keeper of the institution refuses to divulge the information, he does reveal that children leave the orphanage at age 16. Ominously, Jawahal says he will return at that time. Fast-forward 16 years. Ben has formed a secret society with six of the orphans, who meet in an abandoned mansion known as The Midnight Palace. As his birthday approaches, readers learn about the mysterious threat from which the English soldier was trying to protect Ben. Sheere also comes back into his life, and along with their friends, the reunited twins confront the evil that has dogged them since birth.

Other Fantasy Writers to Watch

CARDONA CURY , Karime . El pequeño gran héroe: en al ciudad de los héroes eternos . Ediciones B/Grupo Zeta. 2012. pap. $20.95. ISBN 9786074802320.

Gr 5-7 –Cardona Cury is a Mexican author from the Guadalajara area. El pequeño gran héroe is her first novel. “There is no magic greater than the magic of destiny” is the pronouncement with which the story begins. Readers are introduced to Alex Pendra, who on the surface seems no different from any other teen—he’s not doing well in school, he fights with his schoolmates, and his sister Valeria is quite annoying. It is his sister whom he is destined to save when she is kidnapped by beings from the Kingdom of Shadows and taken to a world inhabited not only by legendary heroes, but also by terrible demons. This book is full of all sorts of mythological creatures that will appeal to Spanish-speaking readers who are looking for something like the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books. Cardona Cury’s second novel, Magika, which was published this year, has just won the Editorial Norma prize.

VALVERDE, Mikel. Rita y el sueño del alquimista. illus. by author. Macmillan. 2012. Tr $13.95. ISBN 9788479429096.

Gr 3-5 –Valverde began his career as a comic artist, and, through his art, was introduced to the world of children’s books. He lives in Vitoria–Gasteiz, in the Basque region of Northern Spain. This is his ninth book in a series about a nine-year-old girl with lots of character. Rita lives in an unnamed city with her parents and her brother, Oscar. The other main character is Rita’s Uncle Daniel, a college professor who regularly travels the world to do research. Daniel has a very special relationship with his niece and often takes her on his trips. In this book, Uncle Daniel has invited her to spend some time with him in Prague. He explains that he is searching for the diary of a famous alchemist, which may hold the secret of transforming common metals into gold. Rita and her uncle embark on a grand adventure to find the alchemists’ formula, during which she is mistaken for a witch, dons a disguise to enter the alchemists’ laboratory, and is attacked by menacing statues come to life. Valverde’s illustrations are an extra treat. Reminiscent of the style of Bernard Waber, the watercolors reveal him to be a world-class artist. Rita, with her large eyes and expressive features, deserves to be celebrated as one of the classic characters of children’s books, along with Ramona, Madeline, and the like. Macmillan Spain has provided teacher lesson plans and activity sheets for each of the Rita books.

BAUM, L. Frank. El maravilloso Mago de Oz. tr. from English by Rosa María Borrás Montane. illus. by Robert Ingpen. Blume. 2012. Tr $29.95. ISBN 9788498015546.

Gr 3-8 –If you are going to purchase just one Spanish-language edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, this is the one to acquire. Why? First, it is an example of quality bookmaking, printed on heavy paper stock and beautifully bound. Ingpen’s illustrations for this iconic story make readers think about the familiar happenings in an entirely different way. I love the quiet authenticity with which he portrays Uncle Henry and Aunt Em. The Emerald City becomes something quite magical and mystical, and the Wizard himself appears in several marvelously grotesque guises. There is a great deal of variety in the integration of the text with the illustrations, from full spreads to spot drawings, and it is clear that a great deal of attention has been paid to the design. And of course, the translation is excellent. This is one for the ages.

Tim WadhamTim Wadham is the director of the City of Puyallup Public Library in Washington State.



Photograph of Carlos Ruiz Zafón by Isolde Ohlbaum.

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Tim Wadham About Tim Wadham

Tim Wadham ( is a library administrator and the author of Wordplay for Kids (ALA Editions, 2015).