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2013 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner: Niño Wrestles the World

Niño Wrestles the World
Illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2013
ISBN# 9781596436046

Grades K and up

Book Review

Niño! Niño! Niño! Niño!
It’s hard to refrain from joining the cheers for this year’s Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner, Niño Wrestles the World. In this vibrant picturebook, renowned children’s book illustrator Yuyi Morales turns to her Mexican roots and the popular, high-flying sport of professional wrestling, lucha libre. Little Niño is an imaginative and indefatigable luchador in his playroom, facing successive opponents from Mexican folklore and history, such as the Guanajuato Mummy, the Olmec Head, and La Llorona. With powerful Spanish exclamations (“Zok!” “Slish!” “Pachatas!”) and cunning moves, Niño is every bit the impressive competitor he pretends to be–until he meets his ultimate adversaries, his twin baby sisters. Morales injects every page with high energy, from a narrative voice mimicking live sports commentary to digital collage graphics full of bold fonts and comic book-like action. Classrooms and families with inventive children and lively imaginations will find many connections here. A book sure to appeal to many youngsters, Niño Wrestles the World is a sheer celebration of childhood, creativity, and cultural diversity.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades K-2

  • Reader’s Theater. The fact that the text of the book is narrated as though it’s a running commentary of a wrestling event makes it ripe for reader’s theater activities. Additionally, Morales does not provide any text that are dialogue tags (i.e., “said,” “replied,””asked,” etc.) or indicate in any way how the narration or dialogue is said, which makes determining what kind of sentence each is and how it should be read aloud a worthwhile exercise for students as they prepare their reader’s theater performance. Have your students practice reading the story aloud in small groups and then perform a reader’s theater version of it in different voices and with different intonation to hear all the ways it can be read aloud fluently. You might also want to show them the YouTube video of Yuyi Morales reading aloud the book.
  • Lucha Libre. Lucha libre is a kind of professional wrestling popular in the Spanish-speaking world, characterized by colorful masks and dynamic acrobatic moves. After reading Niño Wrestles the World, share Xavier Garza’s Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask with your class for another picturebook tale about lucha libre. Have them compare and contrast the details of each picturebook. If your students are already familiar with lucha libre, invite them to be the experts on the topic and explain the cultural nuances within these books. You might even encourage them to create a multimedia presentation, if they are in older grades. If your students are new to lucha libre, have them research it online or at the school or local library to become experts on the sport.
  • Character Trading Cards. The book’s endpapers display pictures of trading cards of each of the “wrestlers” in the story. Using the endpapers as mentor texts, have your students create character trading cards for the books they’ve this year, making sure to include illustrations of the characters and information about the characters’ attributes.

Grades 3 and up

  • The Guanajuato Mummy and Company. Niño faces a series of opponents drawn from Mexican folklore and history. Divide students into small groups to learn more about each of Niño’s challengers. Use some of the websites listed below as well as resources from your school and local library.
  • Mixing Languages to Strengthen Voice. Voice is one of the most difficult writing traits for students to grasp and for teachers to teach. Voice is the trait that allows readers to develop a full sense of who is speaking the words on the page, whether it is a narrator, fictionalized character, or the author himself/herself. Yuyi Morales does a great job of illustrating exactly what voice is, as we read and hear Niño’s own Spanish language, the narrator’s sport commentary, and the other characters’ words. Engage your students in a study of how Yuyi Morales does this. What words or phrases does she choose to help readers “hear” each character’s distinct voice? Watch the YouTube video of Yuyi Morales reading aloud the book so students can really hear what she is doing in her writing. Then, have students experiment with voice by mixing in words from different languages.
  • Popular Sports Around the World. Many countries enjoy sports and sporting events that are unique to its culture and people, some that may even seem “weird” or “wacky” to others. Invite students to research some of these sports online and at your school or local library. How did the sport originate? What equipment is needed? What national or international competitions exist for the sport? Who are some of its most famous athletes? Have students create multimedia presentations to share what they learned.
  • Yuyi Morales Illustrator Study. Yuyi Morales has written and illustrated many books for children across the ages. For example, she illustrated another book we’ve blogged about recently, Georgia in Hawaii. Gather multiple copies of her books to conduct an illustrator study. Survey Yuyi Morales’s illustrations, and identify her artistic style, her artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. Gather information about her from her websites listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources.
  • The Pura Belpré Award and Principles of Illustration. Niño Wrestles the World was awarded the Pura Belpré award for excellence in illustration. What makes a picture work? After reading Molly Bang’s book Picture This, explore some of the principles of illustration with your class. As a class, model the application of these principles by dissecting the illustrations in Niño Wrestles the World. Ideally, you would examine the illustrations using a document camera to project images from the book. How did Morales create emotional impact and action through the use of color, line, page breaks, and perspective? After studying Morales’s artistic techniques, break students up into four groups; have two groups apply Bang’s principles to the Caldecott winning Locomotive and the Caldecott Honor book Flora and the Flamingo. How do the other illustrators also use some of Bang’s techniques, but to achieve illustrations with a very different mood and tone?
Critical Literacy

  • The Pura Belpré Award in Your Classroom. Although the Pura Belpré Award honors Latino cultures, that doesn’t mean the books that win it are only for Latino students. Students of all cultures can benefit from considering the windows and mirrors found in books centering specific cultures. Have students analyze their own classroom bookshelves for characters from various cultural backgrounds. What do students notice about the social locations of characters in the books read aloud, available, and that they turn to for independent reading? Do the characters they read about remind them of themselves? Do they see themselves in books? When? Are their stories missing from the shelves? If so, how can they be added to your classroom bookshelves.

Further Explorations

Online Resources
Pura Belpré Award

Yuyi Morales website

Yuyi Moralies reads Niño Wrestles the World

Lucha Libre USA

How Stuff Works – Mexican Wrestling
Websites about the Guanajuato Mummies

Websites about the Colossal Heads of the Olmec

Websites about La Llorona

Websites about Mayan contact with Extraterrestrials

Websites about Sports Around the World


Ada, A. F., & Campoy, F. I. (Eds.). (2006). Tales our abuelitas told: A Hispanic folktale collection. Ill. by S. Guevara, L. Torres, & V. Escriva. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Anaya, R. (2011). La llorona: The crying woman. Ill. by A. Córdova. Trans. by E. Lamadrid. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Bierhorst, J. (Ed.). (2002). Latin American folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian traditions. New York: Pantheon Books.

Garza, X. (2007). Lucha libre: The man in the silver mask. El Paso, TX: Cinco Punto Press.

Garza, X. (2011). Maximilian & the mystery of the Guardian Angel: A bilingual lucha libre thriller. El Paso, TX: Cinco Punto Press.

Garza, X. (2013). Maximilian & the bingo rematch: A lucha libre sequel. El Paso, TX: Cinco Punto Press.

Hayes, J. (2004). La llorona / The weeping woman (English and Spanish Edition). Ill. by V. T. Hill.  El Paso, TX: Cinco Punto Press.
Phillip, N. (Ed.). (2003). Horse hooves and chicken feet: Mexican folktales. Ill. by J. Mair. NY: Clarion Books.
Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.