¡El Cucuy!

A Bogeyman Cuento in English and Spanish

By: Joe Hayes
Illustrator: Honorio Robledo
Everyone hears at least one teasing reference to the “bogeyman” when they’re growing up, but not everyone knows him by name. In the Southwest and much of Mexico, he’s known as el Cucuy. (Pronounce it coo-COO-ee: draw the second syllable out like the hoot of a lonely night bird.)


Everyone hears at least one teasing reference to the "bogeyman" when they're growing up, but not everyone knows him by name.

In the Southwest and much of Mexico, he's known as el Cucuy. (Pronounce it coo-COO-ee: draw the second syllable out like the hoot of a lonely night bird.)

With his humped back and his big red ear, el Cucuy was once a standard part of child rearing. Many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans will tell you, "I grew up with el Cucuy." And there are plenty of stories of lazy, disobedient children whose feet were set back on the straight and narrow path by an encounter with this ogre.

Although today's parents no longer think it appropriate to rely on threats of calling the local bogeyman to come and carry their children away, the young still delight in tales of bad boys and girls, ones who are much worse than they are, getting the good scare they deserve from el Cucuy. Of course the best tales, like this one, always have a happy ending.

Todos en el suroeste de los Estados Unidos y la gran parte de México han escuchado del Cucuy.

Con su espalda jorobada y su gran oreja roja, el Cucuy fue una vez una parte estándar de la crianza de los niños. Muchos mexicanos y mexicoamericanos te dirán: "Crecí con el Cucuy". "Y hay muchas historias de niños perezosos y desobedientes, que sus pies fueron puestos en el camino recto y estrecho por un encuentro con este ogro.

Aunque los padres de hoy ya no piensan que es apropiado confiar en las amenazas de llamar a el Cucuy, para que venga y se lleve a sus hijos, los jóvenes aún se deleitan en historias de niños y niñas malos, que son mucho peores que ellos, recibiendo el buen susto que se merecen de El Cucuy. Por supuesto los mejores cuentos, como este, siempre tienen un final feliz.

Watch Joe Hayes tell ¡El Cucuy! in this free, online video, part of the Joe Hayes Storytelling Collection.

7 reviews for ¡El Cucuy!

  1. Críticas
    It’s no wonder that Hayes has a reputation in the Southwest and beyond as a premier storyteller. This is a tale that is meant to be read aloud with a group (and maybe even in the dark). Although the author acknowledges that the bogeyman tale is a bit harsh for modern sensibilities, he defends his choice to keep the authentic and scary elements of this traditional folktale. In it, two little girls are seen by their long-suffering father as being lazy and disobediant. Although he threatens repeatedly to call the Cucuy to take them away, they scoff at the threats and even escalate their bad behavior. When the Cucuy does come and carts them away roughly to his lair in the mountains, the girls are horrified and frightened. Robledo does a great job of making his illustrations scary with wild rolling eyes, fierce dogs, and an appropriately hideous bogeyman. The prescribed happy ending comes when a shephard finds the girls in a cave and reunites them with their grieving father. The authentically regional Spanish text reads very smoothly. Recommended for public libraries and bookstores.

  2. Booklist
    Known for his bilingual retelling of the ghost story La Llorona, the Weeping Woman (1987), Hayes now delights with his bilingual version of a tale featuring southwestern bogeyman el Cucuy. With his big, red left ear that can hear when children are misbehaving, el Cucuy comes down from his mountain to carry away bad children. A father calls el Cucuy on his two daughters who are tormenting their little sister, but the disbelieving girls mockingly holler, “Cucu-u-u-uy, Cucu-u-u-uy!” El Cucuy, “his big red ear glowing in the evening light,” carries the sisters away to the deepest, darkest corner of his mountain cave. The regretful father searches for his daughters, but it is a young goatherd who eventually reunites the family. And, in Hayes’ classic conclusion: “From that day on those two girls were the most polite and helpful girls living in that little town.” Robledo’s primitive-style illustrations done in expressive swathes of garish colors are gleefully nightmarish, featuring frightened children and monstrous dogs. Not the book for truly timid tots, but this masterfully told story belongs in the hands of those scoffing, hard-case customers who challenge you to find them a really scary story.

  3. School Library Journal
    This bilingual retelling is a welcome addition for Spanish speakers who may recognize the bogeyman as el Cucuy. He is described as a gigantic old man with a humped back and a large, red left ear that can hear everything (on the cover el Cucuy’s right ear is shown as red and huge). The legend goes that “Sometimes he comes down from his cave in the mountains to carry bad children away.” A father, troubled by his two eldest daughters’ disobedience and laziness, calls out toward the mountains “‘¡Cucuy! ¡Cucuy! Baja para llevarte a estas malcriadas.’ Come and get these bad girls.” The girls make fun of their father’s belief in a bogeyman, and what happens next is not surprising—el Cucuy comes to get them and carries them away to his cave. In the end, the remorseful girls are reunited with their father. The vividly colored illustrations add much to the tale, especially the characters’ large eyes, which give an eerie feel to the story. The note at the end is a wonderful resource on the history of this folktale.

  4. Children’s Literature
    Remember stories about the bogeyman and how he was going to get you? Well here’s one from Hispanic culture retold by Joe Hayes. This cautionary tale unfolds with strong, descriptive language in both Spanish and English. After the mother’s death, a man must raise his three daughters alone. The youngest does all the work around the house because her two older sisters are too lazy and full of mischief. When their tricks go too far, the angry father calls out to the Cucuy (pronounced coo-COO-ee) to come down from his cave in the mountain and carry them away. The girls think this is just an idle threat until the Cucuy arrives and hauls them off. The poor girls are stashed deep in a cave where they truly regret their misdeeds. Father also regrets calling the Cucuy and spends his time searching for them. Finally the girls are rescued when a goatherder hears their cries. Once again united as a family, the sisters promise to be good. Bold colors in primitive style artwork add to the impact of the story. In the endnotes, the author admits that the story seems harsh in light of today’s sensitivities. But his retelling has just the right touch.

  5. Publishers Weekly
    Respected raconteur Hayes (La Llorona, The Weeping Woman) offers a forewarning in the guise of a potentially scary story featuring a familiar figure in the folklore of the American Southwest. His easygoing, bilingual narrative first introduces el Cucuy, a gigantic bogeyman with a crooked back and a large, glowing red ear who is known to come “down from his cave in the mountains to carry bad children away.” Readers then meet two lazy sisters who play all day and refuse to help their younger sibling clean house and cook for their widowed father. After warning the delinquent duo that he is going to call the bogeyman on them, the father makes good on his threat and the ominous creature snatches the girls from the dinner table and brings them into the deepest part of his spider-filled cave. Robledo’s shadowy, stylized paintings with background shadings reminiscent of El Greco’s works capture the terror of the wide-eyed sisters. Their captivity allows them time to reflect on the error of their ways; and when a goatherd rescues them, they discover that their father and sister were searching for them. Kids will appreciate this chilling cautionary tale, best enjoyed during the daylight hours.

  6. Horn Book
    Illustrated by Honorio Robledo. Because two of his daughters are lazy, a widower calls for el Cucuy, the bogeyman in Spanish-speaking cultures. El Cucuy takes them away to his mountain cave; they’re rescued by a shepherd and return polite and helpful. Expressive folk-art-like paintings root this didactic, bilingual cautionary tale in the Mexican countryside. An author’s note is appended.

  7. Book Talk
    In the Southwest and in Mexico, it was once common to scare disobedient children with the threat that “El Cucuy” would come and take them away if they didn’t behave. Although we no longer use such threats, the tale is still a fascination to children. After a good scare, children will delight in the happy ending!

Only logged in customers who have purchased this product may leave a review.