Get ready for a whirlwind tale that moves between fantasy and reality in a boy’s mind.
The reality: Ramsey is telling his family a story about a legendary, giant octopus.
The fantasy: Ramsey and his grandma have an encounter with an octopus slated to be part of salad and all that ensues.
Welcome to the world of “Octopus Stew,” in which author and illustrator Eric Velasquez is cooking up a fantastical tale that will leave you breathless – in a totally good way – as you read.
The story is based on a real experience that Velasquez and his grandmother had with an octopus who tried to escape stew life.
There are so many things to like about this book. First, it is written in what we in South Florida called Spanglish – a mixture of English and Spanish spoken at the same time, in the same thought. Second, Velasquez, who is of Afro-Puerto Rican descent, uses his boyhood fascination with superheroes and comics, to teach us how to – wait for it – cook octopus stew. The book culminates with a recipe for the dish, which is kind of a surprise, seeing how the story ends. Another bonus in the book: a glossary of “non-standard Spanish” words and phrases, which were spoken in the author’s household growing up. For instance, Abuela is the proper Spanish word for grandmother. In “Octopus Stew,” grandma is Wela.
Even the name of the character, Ramsey, is tied to Velasquez’s childhood memories, this one of his mother who considered Ramsey as his name, after Rames, the Egyptian pharaoh.
The book teaches how we can be a superhero when we have to protect someone we love. It speaks of mercy and forgiveness, too. Most of all, the book shows us that we all have a place in the family and in the world.
Afro-Latin people have said they do not know to which culture they need to side. “Octopus Stew” says, you don’t need to choose.