Under the Cottonwood Tree: El Susto de la Curandera

North Fourth. Dec. 2019. 166p. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781733773003.
Gr 4-8–It’s 1949 in the New Mexico desert, and young Carlos Lucero has a knack for finding trouble. On Carlos’s day out with older brother Amadeo and Native family friend Monree, the trio go to the Rio Grande Valley forests, near the house of the local curandera, an outcast healer. Biting into a cookie swiped from the curandera’s home transforms Carlos into a calf, and the boys run off in search of magical help to make Carlos human again, with the curandera hot on their trail, eager for revenge. The authors draw heavily on the culture and traditions of New Mexico’s Spanish past. Text in italics indicates regional Spanish dialogue alongside intermittent translations from the characters. The story is fast paced and exciting, but the overuse of exclamations distracts at times. Brilliant linework creates texture and dimension, along with beige desert landscapes, soft but bright blue open skies, and glowing golden hues. The Pueblo tribe and their adobe homes make an appearance, and the Lucero family is Latinx, but this representation is somewhat tainted by stereotypes of Latinx people as lazy (Tío José) and Native Americans as wise. Back matter includes a glossary of Spanish vocabulary and a short history of curanderas.
VERDICT This beautifully illustrated tale makes some missteps but will nevertheless resonate among fans of action-packed fantasy.

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