Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

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.

 

logoCatherine Komp, radio producer at Virginia Currents on NPR (locally WCVE 88.9 FM,) recently sent me the audio documentary below. Created by her colleagues for a show called Making Contactit examines migrant deaths on our borders.

A look at migration through  magical realism Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

A look at migration through magical realism
Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

When I was writing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, I struggled many times as I wrote scenes of unspeakable violence.   Should I write such gruesome things for young people?  Was it necessary or gratuitous?

In the end, I chose to include the awful details, leaning toward telling fiction as honestly as I could.

I hope you’ll carve out a little time to listen to the audio. January ushers in a new Congress and a fresh immigration battle. The debate will be heated on both sides, a healthy – if painful – exercise. What I continue to ask is that we remember that, in the end, we are talking about people, about human beings, and about the ethics of addressing suffering.

It’s not every day your publisher sings their holiday greetings. But here you go – another small example of why I love Candlewick.  (The bloopers especially give you a sense of their personality.) Enjoy! And if you are on Pinterest and want a list of the books they used, go here.

Remember to tuck in a book or two as holiday gifts for the little ones!

My cheeks are hurting from all the smiling and waving. A great parade! Thanks, Maya, for being such an awesome force in Richmond, VA!

 

 

Maya overseeing her punch list and elves

Maya overseeing her punch list and elves

 

 

It takes a lot of elves (armed with staple guns and power tools) to make a float...

It takes a lot of elves (armed with staple guns and power tools) to make a float…

One of my most treasured memories with the truly beautiful woman, Maya Smart

One of my most treasured memories with the truly beautiful woman, Maya Smart

 

The float from the front

The float from the front

....and the rear!

….and the rear!

Maya getting a bear hug and preparing to give out Peter lush toys and copies of The Snowy Day to parade watchers

Maya getting a bear hug and preparing to give out Peter plush toys and copies of The Snowy Day to parade watchers

 

The lovely young women who carried our banner in the rain!

The lovely young women who carried our banner in the rain.

white jacket and red scarf supplied by the Christmas mother. (All jackets will be donated.)

White jacket, red hoodies, scarves and gloves supplied by the Christmas Mother. (All items will be donated.)

 

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Richmond’s ever-expanding diversity was on display!

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I don’t have a shot of it, but I swear there was a dancing fruitcake float. Seriously…

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The Segway riders felt the need to be understated this year.

The Segway riders felt the need to be understated this year.

Yes,horses in Santa hats

Yes,horses in Santa hats

Freeman HS band

Freeman HS band

The Peppas!  (VCU Pep band, all amped up for the VCU/UVA game at 2 PM. They were singing Ram songs while talking this photo...

The Peppas! VCU Pep band, all amped up for the VCU/UVA game at 2 PM. They were singing Ram songs while talking this photo…Go RAMS!

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