Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Remember those book dioramas you used to make in a shoebox when you were little?  They were 3-D book reports, really, and I loved them.

Well, come to find out, they still live! And they’re bigger and more interesting than ever.

Check out details from an amazing display case created by Vicki Barbre and Jane Anderegg, librarians at Cherokee High School in Canton, Georgia, where I was a guest speaker last month. The school bought copies of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass for their English classes.  The librarians collected stuff for weeks, plucking out themes and details from the story. I’m told they make one for each of their guest authors during the year – an amazing program run and managed by teacher Dennis Jolley. This takes a ton of planning and digging around, so wow.! Thank you, Cherokee HS!

Salon Corazón!

Salon Corazón!

recreation of Piddy's locker

recreation of Piddy’s locker

Ma's piano!

Ma’s piano!

The essay Piddy writes during detention

The essay Piddy writes during detention

Looks real, but it's American  Girl doll-size

Looks real, but it’s American Girl doll-size

The kittens, and hair rollers and other beauty products Lila might love

The kittens, and hair rollers and other beauty products Lila might love

Paddy's elephant charm

Paddy’s elephant charm

 

 

You haven’t lived until you’ve done a conga line to the strains of Miami Sound Machine with a bunch of happy librarians. That’s precisely what I did during the dance party/dessert reception at the fifth annual REFORMA national conference in San Diego last week.

757799_c6a406e46c834299bba5a0f4540a55de.png_srz_p_913_281_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzI’ve mentioned REFORMA here before. That’s the arm of ALA dedicated to library services to Latinos – and a partner in the Pura Belpré award, along with ALSC. This year about 300 librarians, authors, teachers, and community leaders – many sporting pins with slogans like Sí – hablo español – gathered to share ideas and best practices.

Photo via Sonia Bautista

Photo via Sonia Bautista

It had a lot of the usual conference fare: panels, keynotes (mine at the pool on a broiler of a day). But the event had the unmistakable feeling of friends coming together for support and fun, too. Maybe that’s what Ana Elba Pavon meant when she called it “time with my REFORMA family.”

Look, you can’t blame me for being a little giddy about going to San Diego, land of the eternal sunny-and-low-70s weather, especially after this winter. But I got a lot more than a few days in the sunshine.

I was surprised to run into Teresa Mlawer, who has been duking it out with the translation for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, which she says is the hardest book she’s ever had to translate. (She’s done quite a few, like classics, Where the Wild Things Are and Caps for Sale.) She’s trying her best to keep the voice and idioms, all while making the book sound not like a translation, but as though it was originally written in Spanish. She promised to come on this blog – or sit on a panel with me some time – to talk about this tricky process. All translations are not equal. All Spanish is not the same. It’s a minefield, I tell you.

Selfie with librarian Jennifer Lawson.  Hey, same glasses!

Selfie with librarian Jennifer Lawson. Hey, same glasses!

Another fantastic surprise was the morning I spent at the Girls Rehabilitation Facility through a program called the Juvenile Court Book Club. Thanks to librarian and board member Jennifer Lawson of the San Diego County Public Library, I spent the morning with girls, all under 18, who are  incarcerated, but who have earned privileges for good behavior. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be walking into an entire room full of Yaqui Delgado’s?  What I found was an incredibly engaged teacher named Yolanda (originally from Philly) and a smart group of girls with good questions. So little separated them from the middle and high school girls I meet everywhere else.

If you’ve read Yaqui, you know that it takes a look at living through violence, making mistakes, and finding the strength to regroup. The girls at the center have probably felt lost in the face of all they’ve seen. Their mistakes or lousy circumstances have cost them dearly. But here they are, strong girls trying to find a new way to see themselves. It felt like a gift to spend time with them, and I am very grateful to Candlewick, my publisher, for donating copies of the book that they could keep.

Encinitas branch of San Diego Public library

Encinitas branch of San Diego Public library

Nice entrance to the library

Nice entrance to the library

Take a look at the Encinitas branch of the library where I did a small panel with Mary Pearson (The Adoration of Jenna Fox, among other titles) and Stephanie Diaz, who, at age 21, is about to publish her third book in a sci-fi trilogy with St. Martin’s Press. Amazingly, Stephanie wrote her first novel and query letter at age thirteen. Check out her website and share it with every kid who tells you they’ve got their novel ready. All things are possible.

With Mary Pearson and Stephanie Diaz

With Mary Pearson and Stephanie Diaz

Then it was off to REFORMA. I took in a few sessions, including one about DIA celebrations. I’ve done DIA events in the past (Paint Me a Story, remember?), and I’ve tried to be part of the diversity celebration every year since then. ALA has recently referred to Dia as Diversity in Action, to include all cultural groups. But in California, where they’ve been celebrating April (especially April 30) for ten years or more, they largely still call it Dia de los niños/dia de los libros as it was originally conceived by the legendary Pat Mora.

I think a missing piece is still DIA programming for teens. As luck would have it, the Dia day that I’m part of at the Library of Congress YRC at the end of the month is geared to parents, librarians and teachers of middle grade and high school youth. Here’s the invite: DIA UPDATED INVITE

The authors on the panel are all middle grade and YA authors representing a range of cultures. It’s a good start, but now my wheels are turning (uh-oh) on how to tap into diverse authors, especially YA Latino authors, to do a month-long Teen Dia something-or-other. (I can already imagine my writing friends reading this and trying to figure out how to put email blockers on me.)

Dancing based on Aztec storytelling at Noche de Cuentos.

Dancing based on Aztec storytelling at Noche de Cuentos.

The conference also had evening events at the San Diego Downtown library, which is a spectacle of a building with enormous glass book sculptures, and architectural wonders that make a book geek’s head explode. It even includes a school inside. Go visit.

Folkloric music from Mexico at the dessert reception.

Folkloric music from Mexico at the dessert reception.

And, finally, yes, there was the dancing. What can I say? We watched folkloric dance for about thirty minutes, and then the DJ showed up. It took all of four notes for the REFORMA past president and the San Diego County Library director to take the dance floor. After that, everyone was up and moving. Before I knew it, Keith Michael Fiels, ALA’s CEO, and I were boogying and following the conga line around the room. Pictures will surface, possibly with blackmail notes. I’ll keep you posted.

Okay – AWP in Minnesota is up next. And guess what, they’re predicting snow showers. Okay, it’s not 70-degrees-and-sunny. But who knows? I might find some great surprises there, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

film-clipart-dT8eGr6TeDo you need a book trailer? Plenty of authors will say no, but trailers are fun to make, even if you don’t have any visual art skills. The one below was made on i-movie, plain and simple. Personally, I like the exercise of distilling an entire book idea down to a minute or less.  It’s a visual “elevator pitch” and another way to get readers engaged in what’s coming.

Anyway, here’s the trailer for my next picture book, Mango, Abuela, and Me, due from Candlewick Press on August 25, 2015. Illustrated by the lovely Angela Dominguez.

tyler-logo-transparentSorry I’ve been quiet lately. I’ve been knuckling down on edits for my novel before it finally goes into copyediting. This is my panic mode, the last chance I have to make substantial changes to a piece. I’m both eager to let the book go and terrified, same as always.

So maybe it’s a good thing that I’m taking a couple of days away from that intensity to get to John Tyler Community College next week, where I’ll be part of their 20th Literary Festival this week

9780547819228I have a soft spot in my heart for college writing, mostly because it was during my college years that I really started to consider writing as a serious pursuit. I had always enjoyed it, but it was Professor Judith Summerfield at Queens College in New York who really started me thinking that a passion could in fact become a career.

Unfortunately, it would be 20 years before I had the courage to actually take the plunge to write a novel for young people,  but I remember so well how much I loved going to her class, the relief I felt when I’d sink into one of her assignments. All these years later, I am still so grateful that I was one of her students.

Maybe that’s why I’m so excited about teaching two short story workshops as part of my time at JTCC. It comes at a perfect time because the form is fresh in my mind. I don’t know why, but in the past year, short stories have been back on my radar.

It started when I wrote a piece for Macmillan’s Spanish-language Maravillas textbook series. It’s called “Fitting Day,” and it will be part of their new grade six edition. (It’s translated to Spanish by the lovely Teresa Mlawer.) In it, I look at  girls, grouchy seamstress grandmothers, and baseball.

I have another piece for Penguin’s Been There, Done That thematic anthology series (edited by Mike Winchell). Each book features middle grade and YA authors writing both in personal essay and then in short story form. I’m in book two, School Dazed. (The name says it all, right?) I finally got to try my hand at comedy, people, and I’m pretty happy with the result. Christmas time. Pantihose. My cheap mother. A Chia Pet. Yep, I made it work.

And finally, in June I’ll be honored to turn in a manuscript for a story to be included in Stories for All of Us (edited by Ellen Oh), a Crown anthology honoring the late Walter Dean Myers. I’m especially happy for this one because its purpose is to celebrate diverse authors writing today. I haven’t even begun to draft, but it’s percolating.

All to say, I’ve been writing short stories again. Here’s comes this festival out of the blue. This can’t be an accident.

If you would have asked me in college what kind of writing I wanted to do, I would NEVER have said novels and picture books for children.

One of my favorite collections in recent years

One of my favorite collections in recent years

I would have said short stories for adults. Serious stories… what I considered literature with a capital L. Well, I don’t know how well chia pets would fit into that model, but I do know this:  Then and now, I’m fascinated by how short stories suggest such a large and layered world in just a few short pages.  Whether for adults or children, it’s the same wonderful mixture of economy and impact. And from a teaching perspective, I think short fiction is the perfect way to help a student writer cut her teeth on craft. You can work out pacing, tension,  character and all the rest if you have to wrestle a story to the ground. Why suffer through a four hundred page novel project when you can learn the same in thirty pages or less?

If you’re free, you can come to my reading on Tuesday night, 7 PM. Otherwise, I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

 John Tyler Community College Literary Festival February 24, 2015 through March 4, 2015.  Schedule here.

The Arkansas River

The Arkansas River

That’s pretty much what everybody asked me this week.  Maybe it’s because it’s hard to imagine a Cuban from Queens hanging out near Oklahoma where the wind does, in fact, come sweeping down the plain. But there I was: Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Fort Smith is a quiet place with one of everything, as Ines, one of the district’s English Language Learners coordinators, told me. One Staples. One bridal shop. One mall. Church life is central to life here, which made me laugh when I toured their visitor center –  a restored brothel called Miss Laura’s Social Club. You can walk along the beautiful Arkansas river here, eat something called a Frito Chili pie, or find excellent Vietnamese food. You can experience a tornado drill on a moment’s notice or tour gallows and other bone-chilling artifacts of the “wild west.”IMG_2577

Such a mix of unexpected things. Including people.

Miss Laura's living room

Miss Laura’s living room

Like a lot of small towns in the US, Fort Smith is warm and close-knit – and it now finds its demographics shifting. Schools that were once 90 percent white, now have Latino populations of over sixty percent, compounded in some cases by significant financial need. The challenge, of course, is to embrace change as normal and to pull from it the rich experiences that a truly multicultural community can provide.

With Amanda Baker and Ines Robles-Hough

With my talented and wonderful handlers: Amanda Baker and Ines Robles-Hough

As I’ve had the chance to do  elsewhere, I spoke to kids about my books, culture, and where those two meet inside a writer. I had to tread lightly on Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and (maybe predictably) the school personnel asked that I talk more about my other books, especially Tia Isa Wants a Car, and  The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, a story which is, at its heart, about hope and migration.  As usual  the young people were funny and open. They asked me good, hard questions beyond how old I was and how much money I made. We shared so many laughs about being bicultural, and it was lovely to receive their many hugs and love letters, where they promised to reach inside themselves for what they truly want.

I move through the world as a person who believes in the power of our shared stories and experiences, especially in the lives of children. Books offer so many ways to help kids understand themselves and others. For newcomers, they can provide a way to become literate both in their parents’ home language and in English, a surefire plus in life. Books can help communities quilt together something beautiful from the many people who find themselves in the same place together, wondering how they will fit. My deepest wish is that Ft. Smith – like all the other towns I’ve visited this year – continues to take risks. The kids are counting on all of us to innovate.

handmade quilt representing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Made by Suzanne McPherson

handmade quilt representing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Made by Suzanne McPherson, Supervisor of Special Programs

I’ve traveled a lot this year as a result of last year’s Pura Belpré medal – including to places like Fort Smith. The medal made it possible for me see this country through the eyes of young people whose lives are so different from mine. What an honor to have met them, along with the adults who work so hard to serve them.purabelpremedal2

I’m typing this with just a few hours to go before the Superbowl. No, not the Seahawks and Patriots. I mean the one for book geeks like me: the ALA Midwinter meeting that is going on right now in Chicago. Picture it: 10,000 librarians and book lovers freezing their tails off for the love of kids and reading. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be drinking my coffee and listening to the webcast as a new slate of medal winners is announced.  I can hardly wait to see who joins the Pura Belpré family this time, as well as which of the many amazing books I’ve read this year will be awarded medals.

With a grateful heart, I say this: It has been an unforgettable year of learning and making connections. I hope all of the new winners enjoy the same enthusiasm and hospitality that was offered so abundantly to me.

Cariños de,

Meg

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MLK_Memorial_NPS_photoThis weekend I traveled from one corner of Virginia to the other – from the rural mountains of Farmville all the way to Arlington/Washington DC area. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated the spirit of Martin Luther King Day.

logoMy first stop on Saturday was in Farmville. I was invited by the folks behind the Virginia Children’s Book Festival to tour  the Moton Museum and other sites for the upcoming VCBF (Oct 16 – 17, 2015). The Museum, as part of its commitment to children in the Farmville area, is a founding partner in the festival.

The Moton is also an absolute gem. It’s the former Moton High School – and the historic site of a student walkout led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns and fellow students who demanded better conditions. Their case eventually got picked up by civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and became part of the five cases that made up Brown v. Board of Education. 

Justin Reid, the museum’s associate director for operations, led us through the exhibits, which are a visual chronology of Virginia’s role in the early civil rights movement. Many of the families who were part of movement – as well as those who wished to keep schools segregated – still live in Farmville.  Prince Edward County participated in Massive Resistance, of course, shuttering schools rather than integrating, so there is an especially poignant personal element to all the photos and artifacts. But there’s also a spirit of forward movement and strength. Places like the Moton are our best hope to forge reconciliation and understanding. They tell our most difficult stories as a country through the personal stories of the people who lived them.  If you haven’t been to the Moton, put it on your list.

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A.B. Westrick, Gigi Amateau, and me getting ready to take our seats in the theater. We were in the second row!

When we think of people whose rights have historically been ignored, we can certainly include young people with disabilities, too. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of traveling  to DC with my pals Gigi Amateau and A.B. Westrick. We went to see Mockingbird, a family theater performance at The Kennedy Center. I’d never been to the Kennedy Center, so that felt like a thrill in  and of itself. But even better, we were there to see our friend’s book performed as theater. The play, adapted by Julie Jensen and directed by Tracy Callahan, is based on Mockingbird, winner of the 2010 National Book Award, and written by our friend (and fellow Virginia author) Kathy Erskine.  We were crazy proud. Really, all we were missing were pom-poms.

The play captured the delicate balance of grief, hope, and healing that Kathy laid out in her novel. Told through the eyes of Caitlin, a girl with autism, the play allows the audience inside the  heart and mind of a young woman whose challenges can easily keep her isolated. It is by turns hilarious and touching – but also unerringly true about grief, families, and love. Everything from the use of technology in the set design to the nuanced performance by Dylan Silver in the lead role was absolutely perfect. I’ll tell you right here, bring tissues.  The play runs through Feb.1. Tickets are $20.  Highly recommended.

mockingbird

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So cool to be included in  NBC’s Top Latino picks for 2014. Super way to end the year with a celebration for the paperback publication of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Aug 2014)...and with great hope for the Spanish edition that’s coming soon.

And now I have some fantastic reading to do.

 

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