DiscoverMiddle Grade

Toro

By

Must read 🏆

Run with the bulls in TORO by Andrew Avner, and your heart may grow noble y bravo too, like Alicía and Diego's.

Synopsis

Alicía Catalina Cortés is a fast and fiery Spanish cow who desperately wants to run with the bulls in Pamplona—but since she’s a cow, tradition forbids her to partake in the fiesta of San Fermín. Through her journey, Alicía learns that to be noble and brave, she must follow her dream and her heart, even if it means defying tradition.

The tale is a pocket testimonial to the female protagonist’s fight for equality and empowerment.

TORO is set in the colorful backdrop of Pamplona, Spain during the fiesta of San Fermín and the running of the bulls, famed as one of the most exhilarating, dangerous, and spectacular events around the world. Ultimately, it’s a heartfelt, coming-of-age fable told from the cattle’s point of view. Like CHARLOTTE'S WEB, THE JUNGLE BOOK, and FANTASTIC MR. FOX, anthropomorphic talking animals drive the narrative.

Toro by Andrew Avner is a wonderfully engaging adventure calling to mind Watership Down and the Redwall series. It centers around the Fiesta of San Fermín, also known as Feria del Toro, or the Festival of the Bull. On the surface it is about friendship and the courage to follow one’s dreams, but deeper down it is about being brave and noble enough to face our fate with the knowledge we might be able to recast tradition—with a little luck, and the help of loyal friends.


Alicía Catalina Cortés comes from a long line of brave and noble bulls who have run in Feria del Toro. She longs to participate in the encierro alongside her brothers—and runs much faster than they—but she is a cow and cows are not permitted to run in the festival. Diego Del Toro also comes from a brave and noble family. He is a young bull fated to run in the encierro, yet he only wants to join a Wild West rodeo. The two friends vow to help each other succeed in their dreams, with assistance from their sidekicks, Doña Madonna de Doñana, a lynx who counsels Alicía, and Jesús, a hog who intends to manage Diego’s rodeo career and help him audition for the rodeo with the American cowboys in town for Fiesta San Fermín. To complicate matters, Alicía has been promised in marriage to an old bull and veteran of the encierro, Don Julián Hernández. Because of Diego’s friendship with Alicía, Don Julián now sees him as a rival—for marriage and for running with the bullsand he will play dirty to stop his rival. The reader will cheer for Diego and Alicía and wish for the demise of Don Julián. Twists and turns keep the reader’s interest right until the satisfying end. 


I love the names of the characters as well as the sprinkling of Spanish terms throughout to enhance the setting. Background details about the festival and its customs are smoothly woven into the story. Though I was surprised to find the viewpoint of a few human characters (the rodeo cowboys), they don’t converse directly with the animal characters and their dialect is fun, providing Western flavor. Their storyline adds interest and humor to balance some of the intense realities of encierro. This is perfect story for middle grade readers (ages 8-12) but even lower young adult may find it appealing. 

Reviewed by

I have two blogs; one on writing and one for children's book reviews & activities. I’m currently reviewing secular books with Catholic characters, rated to aid parents in selecting titles. I'm the author of over 30 books for children and teens and over 1500 articles. I also enjoy cooking and nature.

Synopsis

Alicía Catalina Cortés is a fast and fiery Spanish cow who desperately wants to run with the bulls in Pamplona—but since she’s a cow, tradition forbids her to partake in the fiesta of San Fermín. Through her journey, Alicía learns that to be noble and brave, she must follow her dream and her heart, even if it means defying tradition.

The tale is a pocket testimonial to the female protagonist’s fight for equality and empowerment.

TORO is set in the colorful backdrop of Pamplona, Spain during the fiesta of San Fermín and the running of the bulls, famed as one of the most exhilarating, dangerous, and spectacular events around the world. Ultimately, it’s a heartfelt, coming-of-age fable told from the cattle’s point of view. Like CHARLOTTE'S WEB, THE JUNGLE BOOK, and FANTASTIC MR. FOX, anthropomorphic talking animals drive the narrative.

Noble y Bravo

Bright rays of sun bore down on sharp young shadows at the break of dawn. The light soon found its way through an old cave in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of southern Spain. Painted upon the stone walls were faded drawings from long ago.

“This is your family,” said a voice, clear and strong. “This is your fate.”

Don Murciélago Cortés, a gray Spanish bull who weighed six hundred kilograms, slowly trotted deeper into the cave. His voice echoed with pride. The scars around his neck and his hind leg limp passed largely unnoticed, for he carried himself like a mighty king with his horns held high. He was followed by his eight bull-calf sons and only heifer-calf daughter, who had been named after her mother, Alicía Catalina Cortés.

“This is our tradition,” Don Murciélago continued as his children looked at the imagery, “a sacred and time-honored tradition.”

Alicía pored over picture after picture of the most magnificent cattle she had ever seen. Their hooves and humps and horns were extraordinary. Alicía’s large brown eyes widened with awe, and the drawings seemed to come to life when her father went on, “Each summer, the city of Pamplona hosts the fiesta of San Fermín, also known as Feria del Toro—the Festival of the Bull—which is held in our honor. The celebration always begins at noon on the sixth of July and lasts for nine days and nights.”

Soon Alicía turned to a painting of the city’s Old Quarter by Plaza Consistorial in front of the town hall where swarms of people gathered for an opening ceremony.

“The heart of the fiesta and our rite of passage is the encierro,” said Don Murciélago, “the running of the bulls. It’s one of the most exhilarating and spectacular events around the world.”

Alicía stared at drawings of hundreds of men dressed all in white with red waist sashes. They waved pañuelos, red scarves, over their heads as they ran alongside a herd of charging bulls hurtling through Pamplona’s narrow cobbled streets.

“The running of the bulls is the greatest of all 800-meter marathons. It’s your heritage, inescapable and written in the stars. For a long time, the House of Hernández had prevailed at the races, then our ancestors—the Cortés caste—had come to find victory, but in recent years the Del Toro bloodline has proven triumphant.” Don Murciélago trotted ahead, his hooves clacking steadily in his wake. “Every summer six bulls are chosen from our ranch to run with the men in Pamplona. I hope that one day you, my children, will restore glory and honor to the Cortés family name.”

Alicía now faced another work of art, a strange sight that she had never seen; a sand-covered ring, encircled by a red wooden fence called a barrera. Cheering crowds filled two tiers of stands in a circular structure that surrounded the open central space. Carved columns and railings separated the upper and lower levels of Plaza de Toros, the famed bullring in Pamplona.

“After the event, there’s a grand ball—an age-old tribute to our lineage—set in a giant ring of sand where we dance with matadors,” said Don Murciélago, his voice deep and stately.

Matadors?” asked Alicía, who was far more enthralled than her brothers.

“Men dressed in lavish suits of lights,” replied Don Murciélago and, for the first time, he noticed his daughter. “What are you doing here, Alicía? I told you to remain in your stable.”

“I’ve already eaten all the grain I could eat today. I wanted to be here with you, Papá.

Don Murciélago shot Alicía a sidelong glance and continued, “Following the festival, most bulls go to a great ranch in the sky where they live out their days on an evergreen pasture with their forefathers, heroes forever praised.”

“What about you, Papá?” asked Alicía. “You once ran in Pamplona and won the event.”

“I am a rare exception, my child. I’m one of few bulls who had been returned home to raise my family.”

“How come?” she wondered, but her question lingered unanswered and her tiny ears lowered as her father brought his attention back to Alicía’s brothers.

“To be noble y bravo is the best we can hope for in this life,” he said. “A fast bull with good breeding who gracefully accepts his fate, always maintaining strength and fearlessness, willing to charge forthrightly, and rising with honor to face whatever challenge presents itself … that’s what it means to be noble y bravo, which is noble and brave.”

Don Murciélago gazed over his children, all with sleek gray coats identical to his own, and he prayed that his sons would one day run as he had in the past, noble y bravo. Only he failed to see the longing on his daughter’s face or the desire born in her eyes.

About the author

Andrew Avner graduated with honors from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Television. He's currently writing and producing short films for The Walt Disney Company while penning his next novel. view profile

Published on September 17, 2020

Published by Black Rose Writing

30000 words

Genre: Middle Grade

Reviewed by

Enjoyed this review?

Get early access to fresh indie books and help decide on the bestselling stories of tomorrow. Create your free account today.

or

Or sign up with an email address

Create your account

Or sign up with your social account