Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

city-new-york-nyc-united-states-panoramic-heightI’ll be spending almost the whole week in the Big Apple! This year I’ll be part of Book Expo America and BookCon for the first time, which feels exciting. Here are the highlights, including some off-site places where I’ll pop up, too.

Back to the scene of the crime in Queens on May 27!  I’ll be talking about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and my other books back at the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library, mere blocks from where I went to junior high school – and tangled with my own real-life bully so many years ago. Flashbacks here I come.

Cornelia Connelly Center in the Village, May 28:  Interestingly, this gig came as the result of a Jesuit priest who heard me speak at a Hispanic Heritage talk I gave at the Federal Reserve Bank last year. So excited to speak to the young women at this Catholic School.

IMG_2890Speed dating at the ABC/CBC Tea, Friday, May 29, 3:30 PM, Javits Center Room 1E12/13:  Booksellers will be getting lithos of my upcoming picture book Mango, Abuela, and Me, which hits bookstores in August.

Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 9.03.50 PMPublic We Need Diverse Books reception at my favorite bookstore in Spanish Harlem, Friday, May 29, 7 PM:  Join We Need Diverse Books authors at La Casa Azul, which is – hands down – one of my very favorite bookstores. Such a beautiful spot and a thoughtfully curated collection of works by Latino authors writing in Spanish and English. (143 E 103 Street, near Lexington.) The store recently won a Chase Mission Main Street grant to further its important work in the community. Check it out.

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Get free copies of my books while supplies last:  Candlewick is generously offering free F&Gs for Mango, Abuela and Me on Friday, May 29, 1:30 PM and the paperback of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass – a summer reading list title (Tri-Li ) in New York – on Saturday, March 30, 1- 2pm. Stop by Candlewick booth number #2857, and I will be happy to sign for you.

WDNB_withtag copyDiversity talks, room 1A Javits Convention Center, Sunday May 31:  Come out on Sunday 11:15 where I’ll be with Aisha Saeed, Libba Bray, Jacqueline Woodson, David Levithan, Soman Chainani, and IW Gregorio talking books, diversity, how far we’ve come – and what’s yet to be done. Signing immediately following at 12:30, autograph area, table 5.

 

 

 

 

 

image001-4Ah, breakfast at home.

I’m just back from Loudoun County Public Library in Northern Virginia, where I spoke at It’s All Write, their annual short story writing contest for teens.

With Bev and Wright Horton

With Bev and Wright Horton

It’s always amazing to me how many unexpected gifts are part of these visits. I got to see the work of young people coming up the ranks – always fun. This time around, too, I learned about how Loudoun has a book club for adults with developmental disabilities. (Guess what I’m interested in starting here in Richmond?) I met librarians who are secret playwrights and novelists. I met young people who want to study children’s book illustration. And, of course, I had the honor of meeting Bev and Wright Horton, a former teacher and a geologist, who are the long time benefactors of the program that touches hundreds and hundreds of kids in their area. They do so in honor of their late son, James, who loved writing. “James would have loved this contest,” Bev told me. Personal loss redirected into something positive for a community confirmed for me AGAIN that the literary arts – the stories of all of us – are a powerful force for connection and healing.

So for all of that, thank you (camera-shy)Linda Holtslander for the invitation to Loudoun County and for the chance to spend time with the amazing people at Park View HS, Tuscarora HS, and the Rust Library.

Writing at Palm View HS!

Writing at Park View HS!

My Cuban friend - Ms. Maria Clemens.

My Cuban friend – Ms. Maria Clemens.

I don’t have too much time to savor the downtime, but it’s for a good cause. This week marks DIA (April 30) – now known as Diversity in Action, so the next few days are all about inclusive literature for me. Check out my guest post as part of the DIA blog hop, organized by Latinas for Latino Lit. All week, Latino children’s book writers will explore the theme of immersion. I got matched with atypical familia, a blog about family, culture, and disabilities. I’m a guest there today talking about language, family connection, and how that looked in my own family.

DIA UPDATED INVITE copyAt the risk of driving you crazy, here’s a reminder:  If you’re in the DC area, don’t forget that you can join me at a free symposium at the Library of Congress Young Reader’s Center. Kwame Alexander, Ellen Oh, Tim Tingle, Gigi Amateau and moderator Deb Taylor. (That’s a lot of good thinking in one room, if you ask me.) We’ll be looking at teen books and representations of family through various cultural lenses.  I like that Karen Jaffe, the head of the YRC, targeted teens in this DIA event. Typically teens get the short straw for these celebrations. They’re asked to help with the crafts for younger kids, for example. This program addresses their literature and lives directly. I’m also grateful that the panel includes authors from many vantage points talking on a universal topic, rather than strictly about diversity. In coming years, I hope we’ll see events like this repeated with more and more underrepresented voices at the table talking about all sorts of topics within the world of books and young people. Diversity means everybody and six people can’t represent every voice.

ci_logowtagFinally, I’ll wrap up  the week by driving up the road to Frederick, Maryland where  The Curious Iguana has organized a teen and diverse lit event on May 1. Look for me with my pals from We Need Diverse Books.

Ok – time to unpack, do laundry, and head out again.

Cariños de,

Meg

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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