Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

I’m heading for my last appearance of 2014 this weekend, and it’s a celebration of a few things and, in a way, a full circle.

Meg and Javier just married_NEW

Our big day at St. Andrew’s in Flushing, Queens

First, it’s my husband’s birthday.  Here we are over 30 years ago when we got married – much against everyone’s advice due to our age, the fact that we hadn’t finished college yet, that we were broke, and that, frankly, we were somewhat incompatible in terms of our interests. Well, we finished college; the rest is kind of the same. I honestly can’t remember not knowing Javier. We met at the factory where both our mothers worked when they first arrived in the US. It would later be the same factory where we got our first summer jobs being bored to death testing transistors alongside our mothers. Those of you who have already met him know that this hot-headed mess is a truly lovely man, a solid dad, and for me, the whole world.

Unfortunately, he’s stuck with a birthday that falls on the same day that President Kennedy was shot, and also so near Thanksgiving that he often has to share the fun with the dead bird and its dressings. This year, it also falls during the NCTE Annual Convention, too. Miss his birthday? Yikes! So, since the conference is being held at the fancy schmantzy Gaylord Resort in Alexandria, he’s coming along. Javier isn’t a book man. He works in health care. So, the guy who struggles with commas but deciphers the hardest math or science problems is going to go party with the nation’s English teachers, authors, and librarians. (Happy Birthday, I think….)

At the Palm Beach County School of the Arts, 1992

At the Palm Beach County School of the Arts, 1992

For me, it’s different. Being at NCTE is like a gigantic homecoming. I was a creative writing teacher at an arts magnet school for a few years in the 1990’s, a job I truly loved. Maybe it’s in my blood. I come from a long line of teachers, all the way back to my grandfather, Cleto Antonio Metauten, who taught in rural Cuba. My mom and aunts were all teachers in Cuba, too.

My grandfather with his students in Cuba

My grandfather with his students in Cuba

I remember distinctly my life in the world of middle and high school education. Here’s the stuff I hated: hall passes, bus duty, meetings, occasionally mean kids, never having enough time to grade papers. But I loved laughing with students and watching them experiment and create strong work.

NCTE helped shape me back then. I’d always wait for my copy of The English Journal, an NCTE publication, so I could get edgy ideas about how to make English come alive for the kids who spent their day with me. That’s what these organizations do for the educators who do the heavy lifting of inspiring kids and educating them. It keeps them thinking and connected outside of their own classroom. That’s why administrators shouldn’t skimp on sending teachers to conferences. An investment in a teacher yields growth and optimism in the classroom so far beyond just one teacher. It touches every kid who comes through his or her class.

But what I also remember of my time as a teacher is that I knew I might be in the wrong place, despite how much I loved my students. I was always secretly hoping to find the courage to write something myself. Sadly, in my twenties, I just didn’t have the courage to step out into a life in the arts. I worried about health insurance and stability. I worried that I would miss my students. I worried that I would fail; then, what?

In time, teaching helped lead me to writing anyway. I approached slowly, studying craft and teaching at an arts magnet school in Florida. Eventually, I published tiny pieces in local papers, a few poems, an essay here and there, working slowly, slowly on having the nerve to say, I’m an author. I was trying to do exactly what I was trying to teach my students to do:  Dare to make a living doing what I loved.  I wonder how many of the teachers I will meet this weekend are looking for the same courage?

It has been a busy year of travel since last January, and I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving with Javier and our children – and to several uninterrupted weeks to finish edits on my next novel.  It will be so nice to pack away the suitcases for a while and get back to the place where the joy is really found: in making the work.

But this weekend, if you’re at #ncte14, please stop by to say hello (and happy birthday to Javier.) Otherwise, Happy Turkey Day, everyone, and thank you for all the reading and support and friendship that you sent my way this year.

 

Cariños de,

Meg

FULL NCTE CONFERENCE SCHEDULE HERE:

Meg’s schedule

Saturday: Nov 22, 2014

2: 45 PM We Need Diverse Books panel (with Ellen Oh, I.W. Gregorio and leaders of the NEA and NCTE) on what’s happening with the movement and how you can diversify your class readings.

4:15 PM, Signing at Candlewick Booth #319 – 321

Sunday: Nov 23, 2014

Signing at ABC Fair booth #153

1:30 – 2:45 Are We Creating a Nation of Impatient Readers: YA authors on writing compelling realism. (With Bill Konigsburg, Sandra Neil Wallace, Rich Wallace, Chris Crutcher)

 

The view from my hotel room. Across from Shakespeare Park is the Free Library

The view from my hotel room …across from the Free Library

Pretty enough to eat…so I did…

I’m back from Philly where I stayed at the lovely Four Seasons Hotel, a guest of the Free LIbrary of Philadelphia. The hotel is every bit as cushy as you’d expect. Chandeliers, thick rugs, polite people at every, single turn.  The staff even made me a beautiful candy version of the book cover for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind – which was both astoundingly lovely and funny. I was there to speak about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, after all. Hmmm. I would have LOVED to have been a fly on the wall when the dessert guru had to decide what to do.

 

Anyway, I spent the day as part of library’s well-regarded Field Family Teen Author Series, an endowed program that brings authors and books to students at no cost to their school. (Attention People of Means and Nice Shoes!  Consider doing this in your community, too!)

The high school students in my groups were amazing. A sampling: Students with visual impairments who heard the audio version of Yaqui. Young people who were in a GED program and trying to get themselves back on track. A charter school that is over 90% Latino – and their teacher who is an aspiring author, too.

MPSWe met at a branch in the Kensington area – decidedly NOT the Four Seasons ambiance. But it’s a dead ringer for the Queens that I knew growing up, right down to the trains running overhead the way they do in Corona, Jackson Heights, Jamaica and lots of other Queens neighborhoods. Kensington is fighting crime and serious decay with the help of organizations like Impact Services Corporation which helped make a playground, organized more police protection, and hosted a Halloween celebration for the families just last week. (The fake cobwebs were still clinging to the ceiling.) It’s always an inspiration to see people reclaim their own neighborhoods, especially when they keep young people at the front of their thinking. It’s all the better when those efforts use the literary arts in their arsenal, too.

Any author will tell you that traveling can be exciting, but it can be hard, too (fancy hotel rooms notwithstanding). We’re away from our own families, and sometimes we get weary of presenting the same material. But for me it’s also true that all of that disappears when you are in the room with kids who are reading your book. Teens ask you hard questions: Was it weird to write the sex scenes?  Do you think of this as a confessional book? Did the real Yaqui ever kick your ass? What advice can you give us?

I’m never sure what’s coming my way except that we usually get to talk about hard decisions and boundaries of all kinds. Most gratifying of all, though, I get to hear kids say powerful things about books and identity, things that leave me breathless and humbled.

“It was so cool to see a Dominican like me as a main character. Thank you for that.”

“Thank God you mentioned Vicks VapoRub. My mother rubs that all over me when I’m sick. Nobody else understands.”

“I could picture everything you said. It’s just like this in my house.”

And there you have it: the thing that’s most important about writing in celebration of all kinds of kids and families. It provides young people with their own story. It gives them relief from stereotype. It offers them the message that they matter and that their tale should be captured.

WDNB_withtag copySo, I’ll close with this: A lot of you know that the We Need Diverse Campaign is in the last leg of raising money on IndiGogo. (This morning we were a little over 80K on our way to $100K.) I donated early, and I have volunteered to be their mouthpiece wherever I go. The executive team, lead by Ellen Oh, is an amazing group of people who feel this mission in their bones. They are working hard to make our school and public libraries places where all kids can see themselves in a book.

You can donate a buck if that’s what you’ve got, or you can reach deep and donate in return for amazing perks that have been provided by some of the country’s most talented writers, illustrators, editors, and agents. Please consider helping.

Thanks. Until next week…when I’m in Austin Texas…

Cariños de,

Meg

 

Meg’s next appearance:  YA Lit Symposium, Austin, Texas.Nov 14 – 16, 2015d9ae9396-4c54-4caf-973e-2847c176036d

 

Welcome to Thomas Dale High School?

Welcome to Thomas Dale High School?

It’s odd that I like high school visits as much as I do – especially since I loathed my own experience. But what can I say? I run into hilarious librarians, teachers who dream up good projects, and (most importantly) amazing young people all over the place.

Here’s some proof.  These are some shots I took today of my shared day at Thomas Dale High School and Meadowbrook High School, both in the Richmond area.

 

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass re-written as a picture book by high school students! Great way to study impact of audience on writing style...

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass re-written as a picture book by TD high school students! Great way to study impact of audience on writing style…

Don't be fooled. They aren't  mild mannered librarians...

Don’t be fooled. They aren’t mild mannered librarians…

...they are zombie lovin' librarians...

…they are zombie lovin’ biblio-freaks

A truck loaded with an English teacher's requested titles at Meadowbrook HS. So many diverse voices!

A truck loaded with an English teacher’s requested titles at Meadowbrook HS. So many diverse voices!

IMG_2429

Winnie the Pooh recycled into a new art form at Meadowbrook

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Loved the inky black on this one…

 

Discarded books recycled into an new art form at Meadwobrook!

Abstract!

The library team at Meadowbrook HS.

The library team at Meadowbrook HS.

 

 

IMG_2384I’m finally home after a long stretch in Northern Virginia. This weekend was the SCBWI Midatlantic annual writers conference, where I taught an intensive for the first time on how to write characters with depth, and how to develop a compelling voice in writing. Yikes. I had forgotten how hard it is to teach writing – and how much you learn from doing so. What I came to was this: Layers, depth and voice in writing really come from how deeply you want to go inside yourself and how honestly you can lay bare what you find.  I hope my SCBWI colleagues who attended were able to find something useful during our session. I’m wishing them lots of time to remember, to record, and to write.

Then it was on to the Arlington Central Library. You could fit all of my hometown, Richmond, inside the hip pocket of Arlington. What a busy and vibrant place – especially its library. (Favorite feature: a vegetable garden planted in the beds that border the entrance.) Lisa Cosgrove-Davies, Youth Services Librarian, worked with the Arlington Teen Advisory Board to coordinate two school visits at Jefferson Middle School and Washington Lee High School, followed by an evening talk at the library.

B1AUBiPIAAA9N7DNow, was I feeling confident? No, I was not. It’s always a crap shoot on whether people come to an evening library event, and Dallas was playing Washington to boot. But I kept channeling the words of Pat Cummings, who reminded me at the conference that the real joy in this business is in making the work. “Everything else – school visits, library gatherings, signings – is gravy!” She’s right, of course, but sometimes I forget. I’m happy to report that we did have a respectable crowd with everyone from old friends, to teens and senior citizens, all with great questions and comments. Thanks to Lisa Cosgrove-Davies, Teresa Flynn (Library Services for Arlington Public Schools, Lisa Myklestad, Kirsten Wall, and my friends at One More Page Books for all their time and attention.

With Lydia Breiseth at Colorín Colorado

With Lydia Breiseth at Colorín Colorado

And finally, I stopped by the offices of Colorín Colorado at the WETA studios. Colorín Colorado is a national website dedicated to bilingual resources for families. (Think Reading Rockets en español.)

For almost three hours, I tried not to fidget or make weird faces as we recorded  material for podcasts. It was really fun, especially with the chocolate croissant they threw in with the deal. A couple of times we stopped for teary breaks that I truly hadn’t expected. (Maybe Lydia is working on being the next Barbara Walters? Or maybe not sleeping in my own bed is getting to me?)

But it felt like an important step, too. I’ve done a few interviews on Spanish language media, but the truth is that it has been an unfolding journey to figure out how to bring my work  into the lives of children and families where both languages are spoken, especially since I write in English (and Spanglish).  Things are coming into focus, though. My picture book for next year, Mango, Abuela and Me  illustrated by Angela Dominguez – will be published simultaneously in Spanish and English editions. Best of all, the translator is the fabulous Teresa Mlawer, who has translated books like Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, among lots of other beloved stories. What I especially love about having Teresa’s hand on the project is that she will translate it closer to the Cuban dialect of Spanish that I speak. It might seem like a small thing; isn’t Spanish, Spanish? But no. Having the right sabor is one of the things that will make the text feel more like my voice. Anyway, I’m so grateful to Candlewick for deciding to publish simultaneously and for being sensitive to bicultural writers and audiences.

Okay, now for some down time before I visit Thomas Dale and Meadowbrook High Schools later this week.

Cariños de,

Meg

TRW14_1000x200It’s a great week to love books in Richmond, Virginia – especially middle grade and YA fiction. That’s because it’s not only the Library of Virginia’s Literary Festival, but it’s also the American Library Association’s TeenRead Week. Wao! So much going on, so what can I say except, Tengo los patines puestos! (I’ve got my roller-skates on!) Here are a few highlights of where I’ll be during the week:

ByznKPqIcAMRPzSMeadowdale Library/Tomahawk Creek MS:  I’ll head down to Chesterfield County for a library book talk that is off-site on Wednesday, Oct 15, 7 PM.  We’ll talk The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Here’s the info and where you register.  Especially nice to see a partnership between the school and public libraries in a community.

 

10460756_624828830946388_5252190620263280422_nTeen 14: Locals already know that the main branch of the Richmond Public Library on Franklin Street is always figuring out ways to make reading come alive, especially for kids. So, they’re going to play host once again for a teen author event. Join Virginia authors who have works for teens published in 2014. Teen '14 poster-FIt’s a ready-made night for librarians, teachers, and readers who want to meet and make friends with the truly kick-ass authors we have in the Commonwealth. PLUS, food, music, giveaways.  If last year’s event was any sign, it’s going to be a really fun night. Details on their Facebook page or click on the jpg poster here.

Hermitage High School Anti-bullying Book Event with Erin Jade Lange. You know her novel?  It’s called Butter, about a kid who decides to eat himself to death on Internet. Here’s the trailer. We’ve cooked up (ugh, the pun!) a good conversation about our books and bullying.  Note: it’s a closed event, but it will be available by podcast to other high schools.

 

ConferenceLogo2014smallerJames River Writers Conference:  My favorite conference each year because it brings us all together – writers across every genre and age group – talking, teaching, and learning about the writing life.  The Library of Virginia’s literary luncheon on Saturday features Barbara Kingsolver as the guest speaker. (She’s one of my daughter’s favorite authors, so Sandra gets to come along!) But really, the JRW Conference will, as usual, feature an impressive A-list of award-winners and bestselling stars. Check out the full list and register.

RVAWriters-300x83I’m also giving a standing ovation to JRW for a adding a new way to share the fun of book geekdom with the community.  RVA Hearts Writers will put their conference authors all over the city to offer free workshops and panels on everything from diversity in kid lit, to the Muppets, historical fiction, and the ins and outs of self-publishing.  Check out all you can learn.  The fact is that artists of all types have always made communities more interesting and vibrant. Nice to see the literary arts so well-repp’d in that effort.

Happy reading!

Cariños de,

Meg

That silly school board in Colorado got me feeling especially proud of young people – and also appreciative about my great day this Friday. While their school board continued to pit patriotism against informed thought in its AP History classes, I was surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to doing the opposite.

IMG_2348I got to teach a workshop with the fabulous Duncan Tonatiuh, where we both discussed our writing/creation process and how we bring difficult topics to young people. Here’s a video that fourth graders did in honor of his award-winning picture book, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale.

 

Just after the workshop, I got to peruse the children’s and YA collection at Busboys and Poets in DC, hands-down the most diverse offerings I have come across in our area. If you’re serious about including all points of view, this is the place to be. I was especially fond of the free downloadable lessons and books lists available through Teaching for Change.

IMG_2352Met the wise women who wrote Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Lee and Low), this year’s winner of the Las Américas Award.  They had the nerve to write a nonfiction book without a single photograph and without even putting the title on the book cover. That, plus a look at the ga-billion scissors and scraps of paper that it took to make all those collage parrots makes me bow low in respect. ¡Felicidades, Susan and Cindy!

IMG_2341Toured the Children’s Literature Center at the Library of Congress for the first time. (This is different from the Young Readers Center that I have talked about here before.)  At the CLC, you can meet with a librarian and study children’s books from every era. My friend Edwin Fontanez called it a candy store for adults who adore kids books – and he’s right. Free and open to the public, by the way.

Américas Award for Children's and Young Adult LiteratureMet many of the amazing librarians and educators who are part of CLASP, a consortium of colleges and other educational groups that offer Latin American studies – and which collectively support the Las Américas Award each year. (Note to my editorial friends:  Nominations for next year’s award ARE OPEN NOW.  Don’t forget to submit your titles!)

And now, it’s Saturday, so you know what? I’m going to walk the dog and rest! More soon.

 

Cariños de,

Meg

1_busboys_logo300I’m checking out another great indi bookstore. It’s Busboys and Poets  in Washington, DC, and I’m going to their 14th and V location for the first time this Friday.

That’s because it’s time for the awards ceremony for the Las Américas prize. This year, top prize went to the lovely picture book Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore, an especially delightful pick from Lee and Low, a smaller publisher that has long been advocating and promoting diverse children’s literature.

main_parrotsfc-w-sealIt’s the story of the near extinction of wild parrots in Puerto  Rico and how that sad situation was turned around. I hope you’ll stop in to the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress to see an exhibit of the book and its art, which runs through the end of October.

As part of the festivities, Las Américas also sponsors an annual educator workshop – hosted by Busboys and Poets – where teachers and librarians can get hands-on ideas and materials for bringing high quality Latino literature into their classroom or library. I’m so happy to be able to present alongside Duncan Tonatiuh this year. (9:30 – noon). Duncan won honorable mention, as well as a Pura Belpré Honor medal, for his exquisite book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. My own novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, was selected as a commended title this year (along with all of these).

If you’re a teacher or librarian, it’s not too late to register. The reasonable $25 registration fee gets you breakfast, a free book, and ideas from Duncan and me on how to use our books in the classroom to help students explore culture and identity. (Registration info here: I’ll even have swag, people.

I know it’s a busy time at the start of a school year. And I know it’s easy to think that you don’t really need a workshop like this if you’ve got mostly non-Latino students. But please consider this:  Empathy is part of the 21st century skill set, and books give kids a chance to build that. There’s nothing like getting inside someone else’s skin for a while to help you consider new points of view.

Anyway, I’ll be trekking up on my favorite Amtrak. (I love you DC, but you can keep your traffic!) Hope you can be there. And don’t forget, you can join us for the author reception, 3 PM – 5 PM inside the Pickford Theater/Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Please email here to say you’re coming: dwolteri@tulane.edu

See you then!

Cariños de,

Meg

Directions to Busboys and Poets: U Street Metrorail stop Yellow/Green line

PDF on the teacher workshops: aateacherworkshop

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