Otherwordly adventures await young readers with“13th Street,” the newest work by Dr. David Bowles, UTRGV associate professor of English. A series of books for children, it tells the tales of three Latinx youth in South Texas and their mysterious adventures filled with zombies, monsters, ghouls and skeletons.
Bowles’s literary adventure began in 2018 with the approach of publishing giant HarperCollins with the concept of “13th Street,” a chapter book series for ages 5 to 9.
“I liked the idea and immediately saw ways to make it my own and write about things that matter to me,” Bowles said. “These three kids, son primos (they’re cousins), and they’re living in the small fictional Texas town of Nopalitos. They get the chance to go from their hometown – which I imagine to be somewhere near Alice or Falfurrias – to the bigger, fictional Gulf City. And then they get swept up in adventure.”
Drawing from cultural diversity of his own family, Bowles wrote each of the main characters as blended Mexican American and other heritages. Their moms are sisters and each have spouses from a different culture.
The main characters are cousins. Malia Malapata has a Dominican American father. Dante Dávila’s father is Mexican American and Ivan Eisenberg father is Jewish American. While the cousins haven’t spent much time together in their young lives, all that changes during the summer trip to Gulf City.
Malia is fearless and assertive, but with a feminine side.
“Es una fregona” (she’s a boss),” Bowles said. “She is not necessarily afraid of things, she takes charge. She is definitely the leader of the group.”
Dante, the beauty, is the handsome momma’s boy with hazel eyes. He is smart in his own way but he has many fears.
“He is kind of a ‘scaredy cat.’ He’s got lots of different phobias that kind of come from his mom being overprotective,” Bowles said. “He’s smart in his own way, always cracking jokes along the way as comic relief. His main arc is finding courage along the way, to stop being so vain because he’s been spoiled, and to stop being so cowardly about things.”
Ivan, the brains, is a Mexican-Jewish American who loves to read, and also has difficulty believing in faith and intuition.
“If it’s not in a book or backed by science, he has a hard time trusting it,” Bowles said. “He doesn’t really work on faith very well, yet he is put in positions where he sets aside the things he has learned and has to trust his instincts and trust his cousins. It is hard for him, but he learns.”
A Series of Monster Events
In the first book, Battle of the Bad-Breath Bats, the cousins head to visit their Aunt Lucy for the summer. While venturing over to the water park, a mysterious old woman, Doña Chavela, deliberately sends the children to 13th Street. Here, only children can access the portals into this alternate world.
“Later in the series, you find out why this sweet old woman sends children to an alternate world to fight monsters,” Bowles said. “She shows up in every book. She is an important character and her reasonsClash of the Cackling Cougars for sending the kids are key to understanding ‘13th Street.’”
In each book, the children go into this other dimension. Here, they must defeat a group of monsters to open a portal that brings them back to the regular world.
“Until they defeat them, they are stuck. Every book is a different group of beings,” Bowles said. “There are a bunch of characters who live on 13th Street and become allies to the children and help them defeat the monsters. In the final book, a lot of the allies come together.”
The publishing of Battle of the Bad-Breath Bats came simultaneously with the following two books in the series. The Fire Breathing Ferret Fiasco and also hit the stands July 7.
The books, with illustrations by Shane Clester, feature unique activities and progress bars to motivate the reader to continue reading.
Additionally, Bowles includes Spanish words to connect the bilingualism of South Texas.
“For example, Dante’s catch phrase in the books is ‘uy cucuy’ when something scary happens,” Bowles said.