To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, MUF is featuring Charlie Hernandez & the League of Shadows, a middle-grade fantasy inspired by Hispanic folklore, legends, and myths. Talented new author, Ryan Calejo, has agreed to tell MUF blogger Annabelle Fisher about how he developed the ideas behind his magical, action-packed book.
AF:Your characters come from so many countries in Central and South America. Where are your ancestors from? Who were the storytellers among them?
RC:What an amazingly timely question! I just got the results back from an ancestry DNA test, so I’ve got graphs, pie charts—the works! The findings were as follows: 39.5% Cuban, 27% Spanish, 20.5% Portuguese, 9.3% French, and 3.7% Chullachaqui. The Chullachaqui comes from my mother’s father’s side according to the test (and some very reliable family sources).
The storytellers of the family would have to be my abuelitas (that’s Spanish for grandmothers). It was their wild and fantastical tales that instilled in me a love of stories and reading at a very young age.
AF: Your knowledge of Hispanic/Latino stories and myths is encyclopedic! How did you research the stories and characters? Did you travel, take classes, interview other authors—or live in a library? What books were most helpful?
RC: Haha! Yes, I did live in a library for a while—right between the children’s section and the gardening books, in fact. But honestly, I first heard about most of these myths from my abuelitas. As a child, I was a little . . . rambunctious, by all accounts, and my grandmothers really didn’t have any other way of keeping me under control other than to entertain me with myths and legends and then tell me that the creatures/beings from those stories would take it personally if I didn’t eat my lunch or go to bed on time or stop jail-breaking my cousins from their high-chairs. And sometimes it actually worked!
But I did do quite a bit of research at my local library. Perhaps the most helpful books were Mesoamerican Mythology: a Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America, and South and Meso-American Mythology A to Z, although there are many, many, MANY wonderful books on the subject! I also spoke with a whole bunch of my grandmothers’ friends and some of my older relatives who had grown up listening to these myths and they proved to be a valuable resource as well.
AF: Your use of humor is very effective in bringing your characters to life. Are you a funny guy?
RC: I’m definitely the clown of the family. I love making people laugh! I’m also a seasoned prankster. I believe I hold the record for “most consecutive pranks on a relative”; I’ve pranked my uncle (whose name I won’t mention here today so as not to shame the man) at every single family Christmas party since I was 11. And I’m proud to say the streak lives to this day!
AF: Did you ‘play superheroes’ as a child? Please tell us a bit about it.
RC: As a child??? I still play superheroes! But, yeah, I was a different superhero practically every day of the week. Just ask my poor mother who had to hand make most of my costumes. In fact, I still have the black cape and Darth Vader chest box that she fashioned out of a curtain chain, a crackerjack box, and a few shirt buttons during my Star Wars phase. I remember getting really upset when I would try to levitate something and it wouldn’t move, so my parents always had to be ready to toss something across the room—usually it was their car keys. I also remember one of my aunts being too embarrassed to walk into a grocery store with me when I was King Kong for a day and had shaved off most of my dog’s hair and glued it all over my body in order to give myself a nice Kong-like coat. Fortunately, my parents have always celebrated my eccentricities.
AF: Which of the mythical creatures in your book is your favorite and why?
RC: My favorite would probably have to be El Cadejo. It’s sort of a guardian angel that takes the form of a huge white dog. When I was little, one of my neighbors owned this ginormous White Shepherd I was convinced was the myth incarnate, because it would follow me around the neighborhood whenever I rode my bike. I always felt so safe! Those are some of my earliest and fondest memories.
AF: Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadowshas been compared to The Lightning Thief. Congratulations! What are some of the differences between Hispanic/Latino mythology and Greek mythology?
RC: The biggest difference I’ve found between the two is the incredible amount of variation within Hispanic/Latino myths. There are countless examples where a mythological creature is called one name in a certain region and then something completely different just two hundred miles away. Many times you’ll even find subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—tweaks to the creature’s origin story! I find that little quirk particularly fascinating, because it provides us with unique insight into the psychology and the various regional and social challenges facing individuals from that time and place. Also, Hispanic/Latino mythology tends to be a whole lot scarier!
AF: Why did you think it was important to write this book? What do you hope young readers will take away from it?
RC: I wanted to offer children of all backgrounds a glimpse into the richness and beauty of Hispanic/Latino culture in a fun and engaging way. It was also of utmost importance to me to write a book that children who are of Hispanic/Latino descent could see themselves in, while at the same time introducing them to the myths and legends their ancestors grew up with. I hope young readers will come away with the knowledge that there’s something special in all of us—even if it’s not what we expected—and that it’s up to us to embrace it.
AF: I get the feeling that Charlie is going on “to the south and beyond the sea.” Are you working on a sequel?
RC: Yes! It’s almost finished and Charlie and Violet are in for another crazy adventure! Get ready for even more myths, mystery, and funnies!
AF: Thanks for your time, Ryan. Good luck on your terrific book!
Charlie Hernandez & the League of Shadows, Ryan Calejo’s first novel, will be released on 10-23-18 from Aladdin, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing