Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Pura Belpré storytelling at La Casita Maria community center in East Harlem

Pura Belpré storytelling at La Casita Maria community center in East Harlem

This week marks the birthday (as far as historians can tell) of Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Latina librarian after whom the esteemed award is named. The Pura Belpré award was established in 1996 and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. So you see, it’s time to kick off this year-long party!

Bright air balloonsTo honor this special day, I’ve invited guest blogger Dr. Marilisa Jimenez Garcia of Hunter College. She is a passionate advocate of Pura Belpré’s legacy and studies issues pertaining to Latino children’s lit. Here Dr. Jimenez Garcia examines the lasting impact of an author visit – and how it led to her own interest in this fascinating librarian.


9780440404859As a child, one of my favorite book series was Kids of the Polk Street School by Patricia Reilly Giff. I am almost certain I found the series by looking through my sister’s books. She was three years older, cooler, and always had the best books. She was beyond the little frogs and cats learning to dress themselves and brush their teeth in the books I read. Her books had full-blown characters that went to school, got into trouble, and made plans for the future—things I found much more intriguing. I know now that my love for these books was greatly due to Giff’s ability to engage me as a young reader.

One day my mother found out that Giff was going to be at a local library in Long Island. My mother usually took us to local libraries to rent videos and take out books. She knew that taking her girls to see one of their favorite authors would be a special treat.

Patricia Reilly Giff would go on to receive the Newbery Honor medal in 2003

Ms. Giff would go on to receive the Newbery Honor medal in 2003

I remember sitting in the library that day. The chairs were set up differently, and everyone was much more excited than usual. Giff spoke to us like a friend, and she read from one of her books. Afterward, she promised to stay after her talk and sign books. I saw it as a golden opportunity to ask a question.

This was a big step for me since I was a relatively shy child—waiting until I felt I could trust the environment. We had moved from Puerto Rico only a few years earlier, and I had only recently gotten used to English. Once I started speaking it, I couldn’t stop, but you had to be just the right person for me to open up. I had also gotten used to people thinking I couldn’t speak English and brushing me off. Sometimes I went along with it out of pure exhaustion with trying to explain where I was from. Honestly, it was quite a lot to have to negotiate as a six-year-old.

Marilisa and her book-loving mom on the doorstep of La Casa Azul

Marilisa and her book-loving mom on the doorstep of La Casa Azul

Mami helped me walk to the front of the room with my copy of Polk Street. Giff asked me my name and where I was from. I didn’t mind telling her. “My name is Marilisa, and I am from Puerto Rico.” Giff told me that my name was beautiful which confirmed my feelings about her awesomeness. She then began to dedicate my copy of Polk Street: “To Marilisa.” She spoke with Mami about going to the library. Mami told her that I loved her books.

I realized that we were about to leave, so I knew it was time for me to ask my question. “You know, maybe you should write a book about a little girl named Marilisa?” I said. Giff looked at me and smiled, saying, “Yes, that sounds like a great idea.” I was so serious about the whole thing that I began to tell her how the story should go. It would be a regular story like those I had read in Polk Street, except there would be a character named Marilisa, she would be fabulous, and she had to own a horse. That last part was imperative. Giff nodded her head, and I left believing that we had just concocted a plan.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 11.36.43 AMLooking back at this moment, I realize now what I, as child, was trying to say to a renowned author. “Do you think you could write more books with people like me in them? You see, because I keep reading all these books at the library, and they are wonderful, but I just don’t seem to exist in any of them. I realize I must use my imagination, but I just know that there is room in your imagination for someone like me.”

Year later, I would be in another library looking for reflections of my culture. This time it was 2008 and I was in Gainesville, Florida at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature at the University of Florida. I was a Ph.D student looking for a research project that utilized the archives. I had just had an ugly incident at a local store where someone who heard me speaking to Mami on the phone in Spanish had told me to “go learn English.” I remember thinking, “Wow, here I am teaching a course in English literature. I did a program in British literature at Oxford. I am in a Ph.D program in English, and here I am again, being told that I need to speak English.”

03_Perez and Martina- LP Front Cover_70dpi.previewAt the Baldwin, I wondered what would happen if I typed “Puerto Rico” into the catalogue. The collection was meant to reflect American culture. Immediately, the name Pura Belpré came up on my screen. “Oh great, something new,” I thought to myself. I found a catalogue entry of Perez and Martina published in 1932. “Wait…1932,” I said. “Why is this the first time I hear about this?” I discovered that librarian Pura Belpré had spent her life advocating for books for Latino/a children, and I had never seen them on the shelves. Actually, I had never read a Latino/a author in school or in college. And even though Pura Belpré is the namesake of an award, few know who she was or that she wrote books. My doctoral education was marked by this moment, and my life really took a turn that would lead to my writing on Belpré, and ultimately the history of Puerto Rican literature for youth in the United States.

Marilisa and Meg at NCTE 2015 in Minneapolis

Marilisa and Meg at NCTE 2015 in Minneapolis

As a child, and even as a young woman, I didn’t know that I was looking for books that reflected me. I didn’t know that I was looking for ways to articulate what I felt when I felt nonexistent in American culture. I think this is why my work in this area is more than just a research project. It is a question I have been asking for a long time. “Could you write a story about a girl named Marilisa?” This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpré Medal. Along with other authors, librarians, and scholars, it is my sincere wish that we would take the time to learn more about Pura’s life and writing. Hopefully, all Latino/a children can know that there are people and stories that have worked to reflect their histories and cultures in books.


 

Marilisa_Jimenez-GarciaMarilisa Jimenez Garcia is a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College, CUNY. Her dissertation, “Every Child is Born a Poet: The Puerto Rican Narrative within American Children’s Culture” (2012) won the 2012 Puerto Rican Studies Association Best Dissertation Award. She is an NCTE Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Fellow. Look for her contribution (“The Pura Belpre Medal: The Latino/a Child in America, the Need for Diversity, and Name-branding Latinidad’) in Prizing Children’s Literature (Routeledge 2016) by Kenneth B. Kidd and Joseph Thomas (ed.) 

twitterFollow Marilisa on Twitter @MarilisaJimenez

Learn more about Marilisa’s research 


More Pura Belpré news:

Check out this video trailer!  Buy here from Centro (Center for Puerto Rican Studies)

alaac16Coming to ALA in June?  Join in the 20th anniversary party to honor Pura Belpré’s memory and the many books and authors who have been selected over the years! Sunday, June 26, 2016, 1 – 3:30 PM. Free with your conference fee!

Want to help preserve Pura Belpré’s legacy?  Join REFORMA as a community supporter!

Introduce young readers to Pura Belpré with The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucia Gonzalez and illustrated by Lulu Delacre

Add winners of the Pura Belpré medals to your school or personal collection.

Got the lovely news that Mango, Abuela and Me was named to Wisconsin State’s Picture This 2016 Reading list. Hmmm…he’ll need earmuffs, too…

IMG_3687Here’s what I know about children’s book writers in my community. We believe that kids matter, and we believe that books and stories help strengthen them and their families.

With that in mind every year, I help lead literary events, such as Girls of Summer and YAVA (as in, Young Adult Virginia) at the Richmond Public Library. But I also donate visits to a few schools and community organizations that might not otherwise be able to afford an author visit.  I’ll be doing two of those visits this month.

I can’t usually do school visits for free. Like most writers, I keep a roof over my head by cobbling together both advances (which can be years in between) and appearances. Most organizations understand that reality, and they find ways to pay, either through generous PTA groups, grants, partnerships with other organizations, or school improvement funds.

Still there are always some that just can’t find the funds. Ay! What do we do then?

The task of picking where to go for free is awful, mostly because there are just so many places where economics stand in the way of good things for kids. Also, for me, I always feel the urgent weight of exposing kids to authors from diverse backgrounds. It matters not only because they’d benefit from sharing stories that represent all experiences, but also because meeting an author might inspire kids of color to consider careers in the literary arts, which they may not have considered viable for them, too. (Certainly, we’re not there yet as you can see in Lee & Low’s recent survey.)

So, over the years, I’ve learned to think beyond financial need. There are plenty of places that are deserving based on finances, but that doesn’t make them a good fit for me. I’m looking for places that are invested in how to empower kids around their own story, their voice, and that of others.

The decision of where to go comes down to this: In addition to enormous financial need, I look for places that will use my author visit as more than just another assembly. I try to get a feel for whether they (1) truly respect the kids and families they serve and (2) show innovation in how they encourage the use of books and story in kids’ lives. Finally – and this is the most unfair, I know – it usually takes someone’s personal recommendation.

All of this to say that for the first half of 2016, I’ve picked St. Andrews School and the Sacred Heart Center, both in Richmond. 

220px-StAndrewsSchoolEarly1900sI’ll visit St. Andrew’s for the first time this afternoon. It has been a quiet jewel in our community for over a century, though. Established by Grace Arents, the niece of philanthropist Lewis Ginter to serve the Oregon Hill community, the school offers intimate, high quality education to students whose parents face financial hardships. I love that it was established by a woman who had the vision invest in children, regardless of their economic status.

sa-logo-R1All these years later, accepted students receive a scholarship to attend. I’m so excited to visit their newly renovated building and to see first-hand why this school consistently graduates young people who go on to further their education here in Richmond and beyond. You can check out their fine work here on their website.

Logo_COLOR_blackletteringOn Feb 18, I’ll also be packing up my Mango puppet, computer, and games and heading across town to visit the Sacred Heart Center, whose mission is to help Latino families in Richmond succeed. I’ll work with parents who are learning English as a second language (the way my whole family did.)  Our work together will focus on how to use pictures books – both in Spanish and English – to strengthen their relationship with their little ones and to inspire a love for stories and writing. I’m told that we’ll have paletas (ice cream pops) too, so now I’m really excited. (We have several excellent shops in Richmond.) Obviously, I’ll chose mango flavor if it’s available.Column_IceBox_rp0715

Please check out both organizations and consider making a donation of your time, talent, or money.

MANGO_jacket_for_Meg copytia_isa

 

OK, February is going to be one big, long Valentine to Latinos. That’s because the University of Richmond was one of 203 recipients nationwide (and one of only three in Virginia) to get a piece of $1.48 million earmarked by the NEH and the American Library Association for “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History.”

As part of the grant, the university will host host public screenings of a six-part documentary about the rich and varied contributions of Latinos to our country – plus they’ll add other public programming, including discussion groups, oral histories, local history exhibitions, multi-media projects, performances, and other programs on Latino history and culture. (Here is the link to what will be going on at the University of Richmond all month long.)

I especially love that Dr Laura Browder and Dr. Patricia Herrera, who secured the grant, have created events specifically around the Latino experience in Virginia. The south has seen an enormous growth in the Latino population, and certainly that is true of Richmond. Who are the Latinos who call the commonwealth home? What are the perceptions and misperceptions of us as a group?  What impact have we made on our city and counties? And, the ever-elusive question:  Will any of us ever learn how to make a proper ham biscuit?

It’s such an honor to be part of this, both as an author and as a Virginian. Not many people know that I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, where my parents first settled when they arrived from Cuba. I was raised in New York City, but I returned to Virginia to raise my children here.

I hope you’ll join me as part of the series. I’ll be offering a talk on Latino families in books, how it looks in the south, and what the impact of geography is on the immigrant story.

See you at the Richmond Public Library on Thurs, Feb. 18, 6:30 PM. 101 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA 23219.

 

BurnBabyBurn_cvrSktch-7 copy 2After months of some serious anxiety over my upcoming novel, I’ve been getting some good news about Burn Baby Burn, which is due in bookstores on March 8.  Book Riot gave it a nice shout out last month, and it was listed as an anticipated 2016 title on the Barnes & Noble Teen blog by my pals at We Need Diverse Books. It’s also been named a Junior Library Guild selection and has earned a starred review on Kirkus.

Today, Shelf Awareness premiered the trailer. In case you aren’t subscribed to the industry newsletter, here it is below. Please feel free to share the trailer if you like what you see.

I finally hired a professional to handle the production this time around. Why? You’ve seen my past trailers:  super basic via i-movie or keynote and Quicktime.  I started making trailers a few years ago thanks to SCBWI’s Chris Cheng who gave a terrific workshop on how to make DIY ads for your books. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed doing them, but the truth is that they’re a stretch for a novice like me. When you’re a rookie, it shows. (No need to spare my feelings. I know.)

Rich Bailey of Shooting Richard produced the Burn Baby Burn trailer – which is to say he had to deal with a very persnickety author offering ideas and opinions. (Poor guy.) To keep costs down, I came to him with the basic storyboard concept and text. He made the magic. Here below is a Q & A with Rich.


 

ASK THE EXPERT:  Five minutes with Rich Bailey

dTrokngbcWhat is your best argument for why authors should invest in a book trailer?

It is important to understand a book trailer as a marketing tool, and your book as your product. The end goal is to sell that product, and you do that by promoting it, advertising it, raising awareness for it. By now everyone should be well aware that all Internet users prefer video over written content. Overwhelmingly. If you hope to promote a product (yes, even a written product), video is going to play an extremely important role in that promotion. Especially online.

Whether marketing books or bubblegum, the goal is the same; it’s all about connecting with the audience. You’re not just selling the features of a product. You’re selling ideas, you’re selling emotions. Try to capture the emotions that your audience will feel, try to show them, rather than tell them, what they will gain from the book. The connection translates into reading your book. And that’s worth investing in.

You want something engaging that will grab audiences and make them think I have got to get this book right now. In order to do that, having a good, exciting book trailer is going to help snag readers who may otherwise have not wanted to read your blurb and would pass on your book.

Besides, how addicting is it to watch movie trailers? What makes you think watching (good) book trailers would be any less addicting?

What’s a reasonable budget for an author to expect for a trailer? (What are the factors that impact cost) 

There are thousands of factors that impact cost, including concept, script, crew, actors (and actors’ unions!), editors, graphics, cameras, lights, and on and on, and as soon as you figure out what to “expect” there’s some new game-changer. Here are a few basics:

There is a huge difference between a professional videographer, producer, or filmmaker and your nephew who can “make some pretty slick movies on his iPhone”. So, the first cost-impacting factor is going to be the skill of the artist/team you’re using for your trailer. Do they actually know how to make exceptional content? Did they go to school for this? Do you like their work? If you find someone you really click with, they will most likely guide you through the budgeting process.

Secondly, the scope or concept of your trailer is going to influence the budget. A slide show with photos of your cat (eck!) is going to be a lot cheaper to produce than computer-generated robot velociraptors attacking a thousand-man Viking army. Just think of how much 1,000 Viking helmets cost!

As with anything, check the credentials of that service provider. Always ask for a demo reel or past work if you don’t know the person. Also, be suspicious of budgets that seem too low – like, below $300. (Again, there are always exceptions.) Remember that filmmaking and producing commercials is expensive, so try not to get sticker-shock.

 What’s the author’s role when working with a professional on a book trailer? 

It’s different in every situation. Some authors just want to provide a very loose guideline (say, the book’s blurb) and walk away, while others will write the script and drive the visuals as well. Ideally it’ll be a collaboration between author and filmmaker.

Ultimately, if you’re paying for the trailer, you have the final say. However, I strongly encourage you to let a professional do his/her own thing. Trailers are just as artistic and subjective as books, and a professional is most likely going to know more tricks to making a compelling trailer than you will. Otherwise, why did you hire them? While the author should have a clear vision of what they’d like to see, remember that the video professional probably has just as clear and concise a vision. Work together and communicate with each other, and trust the pro, even when you’re not sure what the trailer should look like. That’s why they’re there.

Are there any trends/changes you see for book trailers?  

Book trailers are still in their infancy. Old school thinking still exists, but it is going by the way of the dodo bird. (“No one wants to see a video about a book!”) Consider this: You can argue that no one wants to see a TV commercial about the taste of gum. Still, we see gum commercials all the time, and no one is morally offended except, like, gum-free advocates…anyway.

I believe that book trailers are going to grow in popularity and production value. I predict that within 10 years or less, well-made book trailers will be as useful as film trailers when it comes to promoting entertainment. You’ll still have your homemade slideshow fan-made-style trailers, but I think we’ll start seeing a lot more money, art, and attention going into video content about books. We’ve already started to see that in the last year, and there are no reasons to believe it will slow down.

Also look for other video content beyond book trailers, such as author interviews, how-to videos, Youtube channels, and social media video clips that help promote books. This trend will go hand-in-hand with demand for quality video content. People will opt out of reading several book synopses before picking a title. It will become more common to watch the trailer when deciding which book to purchase.

SR_Logo_Text2See some of Rich’s work at www.shootingrichard.com

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It’s been a huge and unexpected day for me, to say the least.

But it has been a HUGE day for Latino authors and illustrators all the way around.  A ceiling-shattering day.  A day that represents such an astounding shift in respect and perception that it brings tears to my eyes as I am typing this.

For the first time, we have Latino winners and honor books in so many of the major awards – the Feldman, the Seilbert, the Printz, the Caldecott, the Odyssey, non fiction awards and the very highest one, the Newbery. I am so very proud of my friend, Matt de la Peña, for his gorgeous book, Last Stop on Market Street. (The full list of ALA winners is here.) 

MANGO_jacket_for_Meg copyIf you were watching the ALA awards this morning, you know that Mango, Abuela, and Me was given the 2016 Pura Belpré honor book award for literature, as well as receiving an honor for the illustrations. Congratulations, Angela! (Full list of Pura Belpré winners here.)

This award celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  Since its inception, the Pura Belpré award has sought to shine a light on the Latino experience in children’s literature. In so many ways, this has become my life’s work. To have this medal on my book – this year in particular – is such an affirmation.

A huge congratulations to Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez winners of the Pura Belpré medal for literature and illustration, respectively. I feel so humbled to have my work included alongside yours. Congratulations to all the winners. Wow.

I can’t thank the committee members enough for believing in my work.  (They are Ana-Elba Pavon, Chair; Sylvia Cecilia M. Aguinaga; Patricia Rua-Bashir; Maria F. Estrella; Maria C. Mena; Teresa Mlawer; Abigail Yvonne Morales; and Oralia Garza de Cortes, REFORMA, Cultural Competency.) I know it couldn’t have been easy to volunteer your time so generously, especially in a year when so many wonderful books were up for consideration.

A big hug to Kate Fletcher, my editor, and to all my friends at Candlewick who make me feel like a winner every single day. (Special kudos to designer Heather McGee and Ann Stott who art directed along with Chris Paul.) Much appreciation, too, goes to my agent, Jen Rofé, for her friendship and tireless advocacy on my behalf.

But mostly, I’m grateful to everyone who has read and shared Mango, Abuela and Me. Thank you for using this book to help children feel proud of who they are and to help us all celebrate the many ways to speak the language of love and respect.

Cariños,

Meg

tumblr_static_evolt-tag5-smltrwhskThis month E-volt – where you can get books for $2.99 or less – is offering  The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind on sale for $1.99.

You might not remember the novel – quiet as it was – but it’s the book that has made the biggest impact on me as an author.

The synopsis is here, but I describe the novel as a mix of magical realism and telenovela mostly because it’s one of those sweeping stories with large casts and a few spirits. It’s about secrets, traitors, and love stricken heroes, all hopefully drawn with some depth.

But at its core, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is actually realistic fiction, too. That’s because it’s a tale of migration and why young people take unimaginable risks to move toward better circumstances. It names that terrible brew of longing and violence the powerless often see in this life.

 I’ve heard said that each novel you write teaches you how to be a better writer. If that’s true, this one was a strict SOB of a teacher. I rewrote The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind more times than I care to count, trying to preserve a stylized storytelling while getting at a contemporary issue with honesty. What a struggle! I reworked the manuscript top to bottom, axing plot lines and characters. Several times I thought I would abandon the project altogether. I couldn’t find my way somehow. I couldn’t settle on what I really wanted to say about Sonia and the people in her world. It’s bigger than I am. I don’t know what I’m doing. Who am I to tell this story? Why am I even doing this?  The dialogue in my head was paralyzing, and it led to countless missteps. In fact, Kate Fletcher, my editor at Candlewick, worked with me for close to a year before she felt it was strong enough to even make a contract offer on it. Day after day, this novel left me feeling like a failure.

Today, I’m grateful for the nearly crushing experience. I did find my way, and the novel went on to be a finalist for the Latino Book Awards. True, it has never enjoyed the splash of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass or, even, Tia Isa Wants a Car. Maybe it’s not as good; I don’t honestly know. Readers will have to judge that for themselves. But I do know that the book changed me profoundly.

First of all, it taught me (painfully) that writing books is a messy and gut-wrenching process. I learned to value perseverance in the face of repeated failure.

But more important, the novel forced me to ask myself hard questions about why I was writing and why it mattered. It forced me to zero in harsh realities of the characters’  lives and, ultimately, to find a purpose for myself as an author that was larger than just creating an enjoyable read. Turns out, that purpose is to make the stories emerging from the Latino experience part of respected literature for all kids.

Has the book made a difference to anyone but me?  I’m not sure. But here’s what I do know. I began drafting this book in 2010 or so, and it was published in 2012. All these years later, not much has changed except that the debate surrounding immigrants has grown uglier. Maybe now is a good time to discover the story if you haven’t already.

Buy the e-book here:  (Note: Offer expires Jan 31, 2016)


Five Secret Things About The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

My favorite characters: Pancho because he’s so chivalrous, and Dahlia because she has to be heartless to be good.

Worst challenge: Deciding whether Rafael should live or die. I rewrote his fate multiple times.

What it looks like in other countries:

 

2

The UK

 

Romania

Romania

Biggest edit: keeping the whole novel in Tres Montes and the capital, instead of having the second half happen in North America

Best thing that happened as a result of the book:

I zeroed in on a purpose. That, and The Hope Tree Project.

a sample from Henrico High School

a sample from Henrico High School

 

 

 

 

 

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