by Karla Arenas Valenti (Author) Dana Sanmar (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

The turn of a card could change your destiny... The Phantom Tollbooth meets Coco in this captivating magical realist adventure based on the Lotería card game. 

A perilous game of chance. A journey among myths and monsters. A girl whose fate hangs in the balance... It is the hottest hour of the hottest day in Oaxaca City when Life and Death walk into town, ready to begin a new game of la Lotería. But first, they need a pawn, a child whose fate will be determined by the winner of the game: a long and prosperous life or an untimely death. Fate finds this child in a robin-egg blue house, tucked beneath a massive jacaranda tree.  And so, the game begins. Every card reveals a new twist in Clara's fate: a tree, a scorpion, a fateful arrow, a mermaid, a deer, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she'll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.

Author Karla Arenas Valenti weaves an adventure steeped in magic and mythology, exploring the notion of free will in a world where fate holds all the cards

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review

"And so it was that the fate of a child... hung on a pile of beans and a deck of cards." In Oaxaca City each year, Life and Lady Death come together for 36 hours to play Lotería, a game of chance that will decide the future of one human being without their knowledge or consent. After arriving on a hot summer day, Life and Lady Death let loose their magic, which chooses as its next target Clara, a steadfast 11-year-old who draws fantastical creatures. But when the consequences of the game and grief drive Clara’s eight-year-old cousin Esteban to enter the perilous Aztlán through a nopal cactus, Clara must go after him-and face dangerous obstacles awakened by the Lotería cards-to keep a promise. From the first line of this philosophical debut, Arenas Valenti demonstrates a gift for interweaving immersive, sensory-rich storytelling ("Life sauntered into town on a wave of heat") with a thoughtful discussion of fate vs. determinism. Fans of Coco will savor this tale and Sanmar’s occasional illustrations, which visualize Clara and Esteban’s journeys and the Lotería cards as the game progresses. Ages 8-12.

Copyright 2021 Publisher’s Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 3-6-Life and Death have met up for their yearly game of Lotería and the silver strands of fate have chosen Clara this year, a seemingly ungifted dark-haired girl born into a family of gifted people in Oaxaca, Mexico. She does not know that she is being watched, but her prescient cousin Estaban foresees something bad about the happen. And bad things do happen and keep happening. When Clara's aunt dies suddenly, Estaban is blinded by grief for his mother and walks into the dangerous kingdom of Las Pozas where the Man in Red kidnaps him. Clara must follow to save her young cousin before he is trapped there forever by the king. She must learn the rules of this kingdom and begin to trust her talents. All the while, Life and Death play their game to determine her next obstacle and finally, which one will claim her in the end. The discussion of our lives being controlled by fate or free choice appears throughout and while all gets resolved and final choices are made, part of the beauty and brilliance of this tale is making readers comfortable with the concept that life or death can be equally important, and even fulfilling, destinies. The magical realism employed adds a warmth and imaginative quality to the world-building that is only enhanced by the rich feast of language Valenti offers up. Readers will be able to smell the chocolate in Clara's family's restaurant and feel the plants in her aunt's garden. The illustrations that are interspersed as partial and full-page spreads add another access point to this world full of Mexican mythology and characters; detailed imagery of each round of Lotería cards is a powerful tool to see where we are in the game. The use of Spanish is prevalent throughout and is always translated or explained so it can certainly be understood by readers not at all familiar with Mexican culture or mythology. Additionally, the explanations of characters and stories referenced in the back of the book make this story even more meaningful and accessible. VERDICT A magical, philosophical tale rooted in Mexican lore that will hold readers from beginning to end with its verdant language and setting.

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Karla Arenas Valenti
Karla Arenas Valenti writes stories for and about kids, taking readers on journeys steeped in magical realism and philosophical questions. Her storytelling is heavily influenced by her Mexican heritage and layered with ideas and concepts she's picked up in her many travels around the world. She currently resides in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three kids, two cats, and hundreds of books. Karla writes picture books (she is the creator of the My Super Science Heroes series). Loteria is her debut middle-grade novel.

Dana Sanmar is a Colombian illustrator and graphic designer currently established in Atlanta, USA. Her love for illustration started from a early age due to her parents' love for books. And her early exposure to arts and crafts by her mother nourished her love for creating things by hand, while her dad showed her how to work with different materials and the importance of being resourceful. Following these influences, she got a B.F.A in Graphic Design in her home country. She recently graduated from her M.F.A in Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design and currently works a a freelance Illustrator.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
September 20, 2021
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, 07/01/21

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