George Lopez and Ryan Calejo are back with a second installment in the ChupaCarter series. The illustrated middle grade mystery, ChupaCarter and the Haunted Piñata, is a little creepier but just as funny as book one.

Two months before the release date, Calejo could be found in his Florida yard contemplating his mango trees. He’s planted a variety—lemon meringue, watermelon splash, and his favorite, fruit punch.

“People down here right now are celebrating mango season. They take pictures with their trees, they invite neighbors over to their house. Mango culture’s a real thing down here,” Calejo said in a phone interview.

Although Calejo is based in Florida and Lopez grew up in L.A., the book series is set in a small fictional town in New Mexico.

Book two is a mystery built around the legend of a haunted piñata. The series’ protagonist Jorge—a smart alec who is living with his grandparents and bears a striking resemblance to Lopez—is settled into his new home in the fictitious Boca Falls. But the creepy town legend of the haunted piñata rears its foreboding head when local businesses begin catching fire.

The stakes become real when his friend Liza’s father loses the family butcher shop in a fire.

If the friends can’t find the culprit, some of the friends may leave town altogether.

The legend centers on the Blackbriar family, a wealthy family who moved to the fictional New Mexico town, Boca Falls, 40 years ago.

“They have a son, an only child, Miguel Blackbriar,” said Calejo. “A lot of the kids in the school thought him strange. He does weird things like step on lizards and stuff on his way to school, so he didn’t have a lot of friends. But he wanted friends, so he asks his parents to throw a big, massive party with jugglers and stilt walkers and a big, massive cake with candles.”

The local children come to the party but pull a mean prank. Blackbriar is so upset, he flies into a fit of rage, knocking over the birthday candles. The house is set ablaze, and the legend goes, Blackbriar’s spirit is transferred into a haunted piñata. The piñata visits the town every six years and sets fire to buildings as revenge on the town. When the fires begin again, Jorge and his friends must solve the mystery.

Ryan Calejocourtesy photo

Calejo enjoys incorporating folklore and superstitions into his written work, but in this book, the authors took a crack at making up their own folklore. The idea for a haunted piñata came from the two writers’ own brushes with uncanny party decorations.

Lopez was at a Día de los Muertos party in L.A., when he started making fun of the mylar sugar skull balloons.

“But later, when they were getting together to take pictures, one of the balloons floated right into frame and turned its grinning skeleton face directly at the camera. George said it was right there at shoulder height, like it was a real person and had been invited into the picture,” said Calejo.

Calejo’s own haunted party decoration experience happened when he was a kid.

“I actually went to a friend’s birthday party, and he had this big piñata in the backyard, and when it came time to break the piñata, my friend started hitting it with a baseball bat, but the piñata wouldn’t break. And then it came loose from the branch that they had tied it too, so it kind of fell on his head and hit him in the head.”

For years, Calejo and his friends have joked about the haunted piñata.

Book two was easier to write than book one, and the team is already close to being done with book three. The writing process has only gotten faster along the way.

“I think that working with George, we’ve kind of just developed a rhythm,” said Calejo.

The most surprising part of the first book’s reception was the response from adults.

“They really liked the book, and I guess it speaks to something form maybe their childhood. It kind of reconnects them to that, and it kind of brings back those good memories.”

The series features not one, but two characters inspired by George Lopez’s real-life childhood best friend Ernie: Jorge’s friend Ernie, who is named after the real Ernie, and Jorge’s best friend Carter the chupacabra, who provides the kind of lively guidance that the real Ernie has offered the real George.

“A lot of things that George is doing now, he likes guitar and standup, kind of came from his friend Ernie who pushed him to do those things, to go out and see a standup comedy show or to play the guitar. So, we based a lot of Carter and the way Carter kind of draws to Jorge to pull him out of his comfort zone, to try new things, we based that off Ernie,” said Calejo.

Calejo hopes readers realize the importance of friendship.

“Maybe your friend is really into mangos, but you don’t like mangos, but give them a shot because maybe you do like mangos. Share experiences with your friends.

“I remember growing up, I had some friends who were really outgoing, and we did a lot of stuff together. But then I had other friends who were a little more shy, and they never really wanted to do anything, so I feel like they missed out on some stuff that they would’ve enjoyed that they never gave it a shot.”

ChupaCarter and the Haunted Piñata is set to release May 30.