Characters, illustrations and language in the children’s picture book, “Chato and the Party Animals,” mix for a spicy taste of barrio life in East LA.
There is Chato, a sassy, good-natured tabby with a gold tooth, baggy pants and penchant for parties. His best buddy is Novio Boy, a tomcat who sports his bandana low across his forehead. His fun-loving exterior belies the pain of his pound-kitty past, which explains why he does not like birthday parties.
The tomcat, for instance, bemoans, “I don’t know when I was born. I never knew my mami (mother). I never even had a birthday party, or nothing.” Novio Boy is complaining to Chato during a birthday pachanga (party) for a neighbor, a stubby-legged dog named Chorizo (sausage).
The author, Gary Soto, a professor of creative writing, is quick to say his characters are not friends or family but “pure fiction.” He also liberally sprinkles the 32-page tale with Spanglish, enough that the book includes a glossary.
“It’s a book about knowing who you are and where you came from,” Soto says. “It’s also about friendship.”
San Francisco artist Susan Guevara boldly illustrates the story in broad colorful brush strokes, as she did for Soto in 1995’s “Chato’s Kitchen,” his first picture book.