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Raúl The Third brings border culture to life in books for kids

The author-illustrator, photographed at his home, just inked a deal to adapt his "¡Vamos!" series for the small screen.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Raúl The Third is a rising star in the children’s book field. The Boston-based author-illustrator has created the vibrant world of “¡Vamos!/Let’s Go!,” based on his experience growing up in the bustling border towns of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The third and fourth books in the series — “Training Day” and “Tag Team” — were just published. We spoke to Raúl the Third recently about his meteoric career, cultural representation, and adapting “¡Vamos!” to the small screen.

Q. You have such a distinctive name! How did that come about?

A. It’s simple, really. My abuelito was the First, my dad is Junior, and my son is the Fourth, making me the Third. It’s a way to keep track of all the Raúls in my family.


Q. When did you start drawing and telling stories?

A. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or telling stories. Books, television, and movies have been very important in my life and drawing is the way I became an author and illustrator. I’m very fortunate in that I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course, getting there is a whole other story.

Q. On your way to becoming a cartoonist and graphic novelist, you’ve mentioned that you found artistic inspiration in sources as disparate as Mad magazine and Rembrandt. Are there other influences to mention?

A. As a child I was always fascinated by the cartoon universes of different studios, from Hanna-Barbera to Marvel and everything — and I do mean everything — in-between. They inspired me to begin creating my own cartoon universe filled with different funny animals and superheroes, some of which made their way into “¡Vamos!”

Q. What brought you to Boston and how do you like it?

A. The love of my life, Elaine Bay, first came to Boston to study art and we’ve been here ever since. I really enjoy being an artist here. I’ve worked with and exhibited art at the ICA, MFA, and have been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. My artwork hangs in restaurants, in murals throughout the city, and decorates beer cans, all thanks to the opportunities available in an area as exciting as Boston.


Q. Your representation of the combined border towns in Texas and Mexico is a positive, lively, and fun place for adventures for kids — the opposite of some of the negative images in the press. Was that part of your intention in creating “¡Vamos!”?

A. My books are filled with references to the rich and beautiful Spanish-speaking culture that surrounded me growing up. I hope they are an antidote to the racist remarks made by some of our country’s leaders, fill Latinx kids with pride in their culture, and give a positive introduction to children unfamiliar with life on the frontera.

Q. As in the work of Richard Scarry, there’s a lot happening on every page of your books. Is this part of what drew you to books for children?

A. I grew up in a very busy city, enthralled by the sights, smells, and sounds. I love details and human interactions so I have always been drawn to illustrated books that portray the intricacies of human life. As an illustrator, I love drawing simultaneous happenings in each of my spreads.


Q. You collaborate with Bay on the artwork for “¡Vamos!” How do you feel that collaboration enhances your work?

A. Elaine Bay makes these books sing! She was also born and raised in El Paso, so she has a deep understanding of how to color these books. She is an amazing artist and her approaches to coloring using photos, printmaking techniques, and traditional methods add an exciting layer that surprises and delights me whenever I first see them.

Q. You are expanding the world of “¡Vamos!” to include books for kids of all ages, and now it’s going to be an animated television series for kids and families. Can you say a bit more about that?

A. We couldn’t be happier to be working with Silvergate Media and we are currently putting together a top-notch team to make that happen. Our goal is to make a show that is both universally appealing and loved by the frontera community that inspired it.

Interview was condensed and edited. Betsy Groban is a columnist for Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf and has worked in book publishing, public broadcasting, and arts advocacy.