Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

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!

I’ll admit that I haven’t gone to Dominion’s Christmas Parade since my kids were very little.

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Photo courtesy of The Richmond Times Dispatch

But this year, my friend Maya – part of the beloved Maya and Shaka Smart duo – was named the Richmond Christmas Mother, the youngest one in the program’s 80-year history. In one fell swoop, the annual donation drive that once felt like a throwback to another generation suddenly felt contemporary, electric and fun. (To donate click here.)

One part of Maya’s motherly duties is to march in the annual Christmas parade to be held tomorrow, Dec 6. And guess who’s coming along?

2011_keats_snow_heroTrue to her passions, she has chosen a theme built on Ezra Jack Keats’  The Snowy Day, the ground-breaking 1962 classic. It’s a universal story about the joy of being little and walking through a city winter wonderland. But in a year when there has been so much conversation about books that speak to all children’s experiences (and why all kids need all stories,) the choice is perfect. I’m proud to say that Maya asked me to join in the parade as a past winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award, which celebrates new authors and illustrators whose books feature diverse children as the main character. You can take a look at the list of all EJK award winners if you’re looking for meaningful stocking stuffers this year.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 8.50.02 AMSo look for us tomorrow – rain or shine. We’ll be the super-enthusiastic book lovers dressed in our own version of red snowsuits. We’ll be waving at you from in front of the trolley which Maya has decked out in coffee filter snowflakes and filled with all her hopes for kids who can find their curiosity, their path, and their story in the pages of a book. (Full parade info/route here.)

Happy holidays, all!

Check out Maya on Virginia This Morning: 

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 9.34.46 PMYou’re invited to join me at a book club tonight and the best part is that you never have to leave the comfort of your stretchy pants and living room. That’s because I’m going to be part of the Las Comadres Young Adult Teleconference Book Club at 8 PM.

Here’s the number and code: Dial in #: 1-877-383-4771
Code: 120120143

If you’re not familiar, Las Comadres is a nationally known Latina organization whose mission is to “empower women to be actively engaged in the growing Latino/Hispanic communities through online and face to face networks.” What I like about Las Comadres is that its spine is mentoring. The idea is to share information, to help each other succeed, and to celebrate our cultural heritage along the way. Last fall, I had the pleasure of being part of the Las Comadres Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, a gathering of established and up-and-coming Latino authors, editors, and agents. It was such a great time for me to work with writers who are coming up behind me and also to connect with people, like Esmeralda Santiago, whose work I’ve long admired. (José Vilson, was another highlight. Check out his bad ass teacher blog, particularly valuable in the wake of the events in Ferguson.)

Anyway, for tonight, founder Nora Comstock is going to lead the conversation about Pura Belpré – the woman and the award that so many people just can’t pronounce – and how I’ve used my year to honor her memory. We’ll also talk on bullying and identity issues, specifically through the Latino lens. (Bean jokes, knife jokes, jail jokes, go-back-where-you-came-from comments…I could go on.) Anyway, I’m thrilled that Dr. Andrea Romero of the University of Arizona and associate editor of Journal of Latino/a Psychology is going to join us, too.

I hope you can make it. Check out the upcoming authors, too.  I just registered for the Dec. 15 session. The book of the month is The Clairvoyant of Calle Ocho by Anjanette Delgado, which I haven’t read yet, but it also features additional conversation with Daisy Hernandez, whose memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, was one of my favorite reads this year. Looking forward to it.

Cariños de,
Meg

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!

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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.

 

 

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