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<< Back to Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush

Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

 Zero Stars
In this graphic novel based on a short story, Rosario is the small Mexican town called home by the young narrator and his cousin Jaime, who’s his partner in adolescent mischief. The town has a history of smugness, and its favorite target is Mr. Mendoza, who fancies himself the “Graffiti King” (much to the town’s annoyance) and writes pithy, sometimes perplexing maxims on whatever—and whomever—he wishes. The text is absolutely sparkling, wry, warm, and funny with a satirical edge that counterbalances the magical realism that begins as an undertone and expands into the story’s climax. The picture of the town is incisive and vivid, and the two mischief-prone young guys and their exploits have a cross-cultural authenticity that makes them kin to Richard Peck’s and Gary Paulsen’s comedic adolescents as well as Lat in his memoir Kampung Boy (BCCB 1/07). The book deftly makes Mr. Mendoza firmly corporeal while giving his aphoristic habit a haunting mystery—that is, when he’s not writing sternly moral reprimands across the boys’ bare bottoms after he catches the pair spying on skinny-dipping girls. The drafting suggests wood engraving, and the picture-book-worthy trim size gives it room to play: though strong and vigorous, the line evinces a delicacy in the designerly, regular barring that provides shading and depth. There’s a hint of a homage to R. Crumb at a few heightened moments, yet the subdued palette, with its emphasis on earthtones, keeps the visuals anchored in reality. Readers who fell under the spell of Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia (BCCB 3/09) will definitely want to book a trip to Rosario.
- September 1, 2010 

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