Corpus Christi author Diana López grew up hearing many stories of the creatures found in South Texas folklore. Perhaps chief among them was the story of La Llorona, the ghostly woman that is said to be found crying along riverbeds in search of her drowned children.
The tales told around campfires jogged the imagination of the young López, following her up to the point where the tale now serves as inspiration behind the author’s latest book: “Los Monstruos: Felice and the Wailing Woman.”
“I kind of started the book by just asking myself a ‘what if’ question,” López said. “What if one of La Llorona’s children survived?”
The book, the first in a three-part series, follows the young Felice as she journeys from her hometown of Corpus Christi to Tres Leches – a fictional South Texas town that prides itself on its many panaderías but lives in fear of many monstruos, or monsters, that live around the community. The most feared is La Llorona, who Felice learns is her mother and resolves to find her. She’s aided by her companions Rooster, the son of the Dancing Devil, and Ava, the daughter of La Lechuza.
It’s not just the folk tales of South Texas that inspired the book, but the land itself. López said the idea of Tres Leches itself came from her desire to explore the ranchlands that make up the landscape from her many drives between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley.
“Maybe to an outsider, the landscape is not the most beautiful,” López said. “It doesn’t have the mountains and the majestic trees that other places have. But, to me, it is a very beautiful landscape. I love the expansiveness.”
The author behind a Selena picture book as well as the novel adaptation of the Disney/Pixar film, “Coco,” López is no stranger to writing for young audiences. But it’s with “Los Monstruos,” aimed at middle grade readers, that López is also hoping share important lessons for children the retired teacher sees as going through a turbulent time in their lives.
“A really big part of, you know, transitioning from childhood to adulthood is looking for that sense of belonging,” López said. “And so I think a lot of young people do feel like they’re outcasts, like my characters. Each of my characters feels, in a sense, shunned by their community because they are the children of these monsters that kind of haunt the town.”
It’s a lesson that López learned from her own teachers growing up.
“I remember being a young person and one of my teachers telling me, ‘there aren’t a whole lot of people like you, but they are out there and you will find them,’” López said. “And when Felice goes to Tres Leches, she does find companions in people that are kind of going through the same struggles that she’s going through. So I really do hope that my young readers will find that, you know, it might seem like they’re alone, it might seem like they’re struggling to find somebody to connect with, but keep searching because there are people out there that will understand us and that will join us on whatever journey we decide to embark on.”
Los Monstruos: Felice and the Wailing Woman is now available from Kokila Books.