Leo wants to be able to help her family prepare for the Dia de los Muertos festival. Leo’s family owns a bakery in Rose Hill, Texas. Every year, her family spends days preparing for the big celebration. This year, when Leo is told that she is once again too young to help, she sneaks out of school and into the bakery. She soon discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have been keeping a secret from her. They’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.
Leo is determined to test her magical abilities, even when her sisters tell her to wait until she is older. When her best friend Caroline has a problem, Leo is confident that she can craft a spell to solve Caroline’s problem.
A Dash of Trouble is the first book in a series about a Mexican-American family that lives in a diverse Texan town. The fantasy includes Spanish vocabulary that is easy to understand in the context of the book. The story brings the Mexican traditions for Día de los Muertos to life.
Even though Leo doesn’t always feel appreciated by her family, her family clearly loves her and wants what is best for her. Readers will be able to relate to Leo’s desire to be treated more like an adult (even when she doesn’t act like one) as well as her desire to help her friend.
Leo spies on her family, makes promises she does not intend to keep, and practices magic against her family’s wishes. When Leo accidentally shrinks a boy from her class, his mother is frightened and calls the police. When Leo is able to reverse the spell, her family is proud of her for figuring out how to solve the problem. The boy covers for Leo, saving the family’s magical secret. Leo’s story is entertaining and filled with humor. A Dash of Trouble would lead to a good discussion on the importance of honesty.
Drugs and Alcohol
- On the Day of the Dead, some people put alcohol on their family’s shrines.
- The females in Leo’s family are witches, and they have a spellbook that has been handed down for generations. Leo’s sister explains, “But we’re not just any kind of witch. Brujería is practiced by lots of people in lots of different ways, and our special family power comes from the magic of sweetness; sweetness from love and sweetness from sugar.”
- In Leo’s family, “each group of sisters gets magical talents based on the order in which they were born. Second-borns, like Mamá and me have the power of manifestation, which means we can produce objects—small ones, for the most part—whenever we need them.”
- Another one of Leo’s sisters has the power of influence. “They make . . . suggestions. They can change a person’s feelings, make you happy or sad for no reason.” In one part of the book, she tries to influence Leo’s feelings.
- Leo uses a spell to make pig cookies fly. They fly around and make a mess out of her room.
- Leo’s sisters have the power to channel the dead, which they do during the Day of the Dead. “Belén spoke again, but it wasn’t her voice that came out. It was a man’s voice, and it came out of Belén’s throat.” Leo thinks, “. . . Day of the Dead was invented as a way to talk to people who have passed away, to remember them and show them that you still loved them. If messages helped people do that, they couldn’t be so scary.”
- Leo’s sisters explain, “We can see and talk to any of the ghosts who are hanging around, no problem. It’s calling them, or channeling them so other people can hear, that takes extra effort.” The twins can see their abuela, or grandma, who hangs around because “she still has so much love tying her to the world of the living. The older ghosts get a little more . . . scattered, and then sometimes they stop showing up altogether—“
- Leo’s sister, Marisol, tells her not to mess with magic, especially “big spells. They can have terrible consequences . . . And the more complicated the spell, the more one tiny experiment can mess things up, big-time.”
- Leo makes cookies with a spell in the hopes of making a boy named Brent like her friend, Caroline. The spell does not work correctly. Instead, Brent begins writing love notes to all the girls in his class. He also tells several girls that he loves them “more than anything in the world.”
- Leo accidentally shrinks Brent. “Inside the jar was a person. A tiny person unmistakably. The person was curled up and suspended in the honey, eyes closed and hands folded as if he were enjoying a nice nap.” With the help of her sisters and her dead grandmother, Leo is able to reverse the spell.
- Leo’s abuela appears. “Sitting—no, actually, standing in the center of the bed, her body from the waist down disappearing through the mattress, was Abuela.”