written & illustrated by Yehudi Mercado
Katherine Tegan Books (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego
Meet Chunky: a hot pink, big-eyed, blue-tongued drawing come to life, courtesy of Yehudi Mercado’s vibrant imagination.
In this fictionalized version of his childhood, after a doctor recommends Hudi lose weight, his parents decide he should find a sport. Hudi would much rather develop his comedy or art skills, and it doesn’t help that he is remarkably accident-prone. He gets hit with the ball twice when he tries baseball, sprains his ankle off the field during a soccer game, and has to quit swimming when a hand injury must be kept dry.
At home, Hudi’s family is struggling financially and trying to prepare for his sister’s Bat Mitzvah. Hudi is supposed to memorize a reading for the service, but he is much more concerned with how he can make people laugh.
As Hudi’s personal mascot and biggest fan, Chunky is on hand to cheer him on or cheer him up, but most of all, he encourages Hudi to be true to himself. When Hudi begins developing a “tough guy” persona to fit in socially and becomes a “monster” on the football field, Chunky disappears until Hudi realizes that really isn’t who he wants to be.
The graphic memoir format is ideal for this story. Much of it is framed as a sports broadcast, with voice-over commentary running through the action sequences, and “postgame wrap-up” interviews with Hudi and Chunky after several of the chapters.
An author’s note provides additional context about the real-life events and people who inspired the book. Mercado describes himself as “a Mexican Jewish kid with loads of health problems growing up in Houston, Texas,” and all of these facets are authentically represented on the page. When Hudi imagines a series of movies starring himself and Chunky, he envisions posters for both “Lucha on Monster Island” and “Hanukkah Cops: 8 Nights of Danger”. Visual details such as a menorah on the hall table and a mezuzah on the front doorframe quietly indicate a Jewish household. Hudi’s sister’s Bat Mitzvah is a significant event in the narrative, with half a chapter dedicated to the celebration day.
Hudi’s efforts to fit in and yet be himself will strike a chord with middle-grade readers. Mercado offers a unique perspective in literature for this age group, and his graphic style has broad appeal. The narrative strikes a delicate balance in tone, with serious moments as well as joyous ones. In his author’s note, Mercado urges readers who feel, as he did, that they don’t fit in: “Find that thing that sparks your imagination. Find your people. Find your Chunky.”
This delightful book meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award and should be a strong contender.
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