Chile’s book of the month: Marcela Paz’s Papelucho

In the second edition on our series on what to read before, after or during your trip to Chile, we take a look at a one of the most beloved books in Chile.

Say “Papelucho” to a Chilean and chances are you’ll draw a wistful look and broad smile. That’s because you’ve mentioned the name of a series of books that just about everyone in Chile has read.

The Papelucho series is part of that rare breed of book that is both considered part of a literary canon and also widely treasured among everyday readers. In Chile it is famous for getting young children interested in reading – even those that regard books with the same suspicion as vegetables.

The twelve books in the popular children’s series were written by Ester Huneeus, a Chilean author, who adopted the pseudonym of Marcela Paz. In 1982, Paz was awarded the National Literature Prize – the highest honor in Chilean letters – just a few years before she passed away in 1985.

They are presented as the diary of an 8-year-old boy (who apparently never ages) living in Santiago. Papelucho’s adventures occur, for the most part, in his imagination and his moments of childhood inspiration. They include: making a sandwich for a rat with a supposed sweet-tooth, training messenger flies and creating a magazine of jokes. His adventures are rarely understood by the books’ grown-up characters.

First published in 1947, the series stands out for its lack of a moral agenda, prevalent in much of children’s literature at the time. Instead Papelucho is a simple tale of the joys of childhood, told in the colorful language of a young boy.

Papelucho’s success is not confined to Chile – the series has been published around the world, and translated to various languages. The first French edition came out in 1951 and was republished in that country with new illustrations in 1980. It has also been cherished in places as diverse as Japan, Italy, Greece and the Middle East.

An English edition is available, however the beauty of this book is that its simple language makes it accessible for those who are interested in learning Spanish. In 2006, a Spanish-English edition was also published, making it the perfect option for the Spanish beginner who is interested in delving deeper into Chilean popular culture and literature.

For more in our Chilean book club series, check out our review on Isabel Allende’s La casa de los espíritus (“The House of the Spirits”).