George Lopez and Ryan Calejo Mix Latin Folklore and Laughs in New Novel

Friends come in all shapes and sizes, but “ChupaCarter,” a new mid-level novel, takes that idea to the extreme. 12-year-old Jorge’s best friend is a seven-foot-tall furry monster named Carter.

The book was written by George Lopez and Ryan Calejo. Lopez is a well-known comedian and actor. One of his favorite roles, he said, was the voiceover of Papi, the brave chihuahua in the movie “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” Calejo writes Charlie Hernández’s fantasy novels for young people.

“ChupaCarter” — fast and funny, with lively illustrations by Santy Gutiérrez — is a great choice for Hispanic Heritage Month. It features characters from Latin folklore, including Carter, a chupacabra with a “goofy, fangy smile”. Humans and dangerous mythical creatures are on the hunt for the easy-going Carter, and as they close in, Jorge and his pals must find a way to save their hard-to-hide friend.

Inspirational abuelas and abuelo

Lopez, who is Mexican-American, often drew inspiration from his childhood for the book, he told KidsPost by phone from Los Angeles, where he was recording a new TV show, “Lopez vs. Lopez.” Her adult daughter Mayan is her co-creator and co-star.

Like Jorge in the book, Lopez made some of his best childhood reflections on the roof of his grandparents’ house in Southern California. “I would sit there and look at the moon and think, ‘Who am I going to be?’ ” he said.

His grandmother and step-grandfather, who raised him, are the models for Jorge’s strong and tough abuelo and soft abuelo.

Although her abuela didn’t throw empanadas at her, like Jorge’s grandmother does, she “throws other things,” Lopez said with a laugh.

Calejo’s abuelas told him stories of scary chupacabras and other legendary creatures to entertain him and keep him from getting into mischief, Calejo said by phone from his home in Miami, Florida.

These tales inspired the first story he remembers writing in elementary school. It was a protective dog spirit known as el cadejo.

Another important Latinx inspiration for Calejo, whose parents emigrated from Cuba: Lopez, whom he watched on television as a child.

“I wanted to replicate my hero, George,” he said. “In middle school, the teachers even let me stand in front of the class before class and tell jokes. [like Lopez in his comedy routines] as long as I promised not to tell jokes during class.

Says Calejo: “Seeing George succeed, I felt I could succeed too and dream bigger.”

Being able to work with his idol on the book was fun, Calejo said. Because it was written primarily during the coronavirus pandemic, all planning and conversation had to be done over the phone or video chat.

“We would pass ideas back and forth,” Lopez said. “It was a real meeting of the minds.”

Lopez often thought of his childhood friends during the book-writing process, especially one named Ernie who, like Carter does for Jorge, pushed him to try new things. Together, they go to see comedians and buy their first guitars at 15.

“I was shy and poor as a kid,” Lopez said. “Everything I do now I owe to Ernie. Carter is Ernie to me. (There is also a human character named Ernie in the book.)

If you’re wondering what might happen next to Jorge and his friends, Lopez and Calejo create the second book in the series.

“It’s a haunted piñata,” Lopez said, “and it controls who gets the candy.”

A reminder from the KidsPost team: Our stories are for ages 7-13. We welcome discussions from readers of all ages, but please follow our community guidelines and make comments appropriate for this age group.

Irene B. Bowles