Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

I’ve been keeping this secret for more than a month, and it has been killing me.

My new novel, Merci Surárez Changes Gears appears in bookstores  in September. Normally, that would mean a long, hot wait this summer – unless something really fun and distracting were to happen in between.

Something like a spectacular bike giveaway?

Yesssss.

Luckily, I have good accomplices for this project. With the help of my favorite local indie bbgb books, along with Agee’s Bicycle Shop in Carytown, and my publisher, Candlewick Press, we’re going fill the long wait to publication by running a sweepstakes for kids. The grand prize is a brand new mountain bike – along with a new helmet and water bottle, too.

Take a look at this Trek bike in what is possibly the sharpest looking blue I have ever seen. (Merci would say so, anyway. It’s the same color as her bike in the book.) You can glimpse it in the window of the shop if you like (corner of Cary and S. Sheppard.)

It will go to one lucky winner whose name will be drawn on September 11 – my book’s birthday – when we’ll gather at bbgb and announce the winner. And don’t worry if you’re not the grand prize winner. Three runners up will get spoke light kits, a copy of the book, and other swag.  

You can go here to enter and get all the rules. Remember, you  have to be able to pick up the bike in person. We can’t ship it.

Richmond boasts lots of bike trails in parks and neighborhoods, not to mention the grand Capital Bike Trail   between Richmond and Williamsburg. And the early fall weather will make “pedal power” a lot more appealing than it is during our humid summers. We’ll all have something to look forward to in September.

So download the flyer Media Sweepstakes_Qtr and enter today. Share the news widely with kids all over the city. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

June has been a busy month with Girls of Summer, followed by travel to Book Expo and the ALA annual conference, where I started introducing readers to my new middle grade novel, MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS. The early reviews are strong (more on that when I can share), and so I’m hopeful that all is going to go well.

But I had a chance to sit back and reflect on something else today that reminded me again why so many of us write for children and, why in the end, it’s a privilege to do this work.

Last spring, I packed up my art supplies and laptop and had the pleasure of spending a whole week working with students at Carrboro Elementary School as a writer-in-residence through the University of North Carolina.

I’m almost never gone from home for a full week, but this time, that was the deal. The truth is that it’s hard to be on the road sometimes and away from my own family. But librarian Elizabeth Porter, graduate assistant Melissa Ferens and these sweet, hand-picked kids made the trip one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had. I dream about these little ones and wonder what is ahead for them. I still miss them.

The official video is below. Here, too, is the text of a draft of a poem written by “A,”one of my fourth grade girls. I’ve withheld the name to shield her privacy, but all of us who were there remember this powerful piece as she read it, open-hearted. I think it matters,  now more than ever, to think about how children are experiencing everything around them.

Juanito my godfather

How I call him padrino, godfather

Juan who is tall

who has short black hair that’s straight like mine.

Who has the same eyes as mine and had no mustache

Who wears no earrings because he think that is for girls.

Who has big hands.

Who spent his time working at a restaurant and made enough time for me and my siblings

even if he was tired.

 

Juanito my godfather

who said vamos a la panadería para comprar chuchulucos.

Juan who dreams of having papeles and dinero.

Who  wants me to get a good education and go to college,

so i don’t have to work in something that doesn’t bring enough money for necessaries. 

I remember at one time, every sabado o domingo

since he works in a pasta restaurant, he knew how to make the best pasta in the world.  

He would also give me money, but the money didn’t matter for me much.

Juanito who wanted papeles  

while I ate that yummy pasta from where he worked at Bricks.

 

I woke up this morning with that song in my head, which is horrible, but June is, in fact, looking exciting on my end. Here’s the news.  

BEA AND BOOK CON

I’ll be at Book Expo America and BookCon to introduce MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS. Here are the highlights so we can cross paths:

Children’s Breakfast, Friday, June 1, 2018 8 am, Javitz Special Events Hall

I’ll share some of what went into crafting that novel at the fancy children’s breakfast with fellow panelists Jacqueline Woodson, Dave Eggers, Yuyi Morales, and Viola Davis. (Gulp.)

Latinx BookExpo Party, Friday June 1, 6 – 8 PM, at La Biblioteca (622 3rd Avenue, between 40 and 41 St)

If you want to decompress and surround yourself with friends and love, please join us for drinks, micro-readings, a raffle, and fun. It’s an event sponsored by Latinx in Publishing and Duende District books. Free, but you should register. ¡Vengan!

Wonder Women panel (Saturday, June 2, Javits, Room 1E16; 3:45 PM.) Woot! Where are my tights? With Kate DiCamillo, Shannon Hale, T.R. Simon, and Jessica Spotswood

The scoop on signings:

Friday, June 1, 2018

Signing galleys of Merci Suárez Changes Gears  

  • 10 am – 11 am, Immediately following the breakfast (ABA member lounge)
  • 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm, Candlewick booth # 2021

Saturday, June 2, 2018

  • 10:15 am – 11:15 am (Autograph Area tables 7 & 8) with Shannon Hale, Kate DiCamillo, T.R. Simon and Jessica Spotswood. This is where you can get paperbacks of Burn Baby Burn (new this year) and more important, where you can pre-order Merci Suárez Changes Gears and get a signed bookplate.
  • 12:30 pm  – 1:30 pm (Candlewick booth 2021) The first 50 people get a free copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. All my paperback titles will be on hand, too.
Social media:

There’s an app to download, fyi.

Please use @TheBookCon/#BookCon @BookExpoAmerica/#BookExpo/@Meg_Medina/MegMedinaBooks on instagram


On the horizon:

Meg’s next appearances:

Girls of Summer:  The book party of the year for book lovin’ girls!  Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Richmond Public Library. Special guest, Selina Alko!

 

American Library Association Conference, New Orleans, June 22 – 24, 2018. Beignets, coffee and Michelle Obama, here I come! So excited to be in the audience for the Newbery and the Pura Belpré ceremonies! I’ll post the schedule soon.

Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference:  Thursday, June 27, 2018. So many incredible authors coming that week! Check it.

It’s April. How are you celebrating kids and books, or should I say niños y libros?

You’ve heard me speak on this blog before about the importance of supporting the annual Día de los Niños Dia de los Libros events every April. Libraries all over the country will have special programming to support multicultural books and kids, which you can check out by typing in your zip code on the official Día site.

But this year, the Library of Congress – the grand dame of libraries –  is doing a live, national webcast in honor of Día, too. It will feature scholars and authors, with a special focus on the spectacular lives and contributions of powerhouse Latinx librarians Arturo Schomburg and Pura Belpré. The pdf is here. (DiaProgramDescription short_sdw .)If you hurry, you can be part of it.

Just in case you’re not familiar, Schomburg and Belpré were AfroLatino librarians who advocated for justice and diverse children’s literature during the Harlem Renaissance. They were contemporaries and friends – and they saw the same problems in terms of lack of material that truly represented their communities. Their legacy endures in the formidable collections they left behind and in the medal named in their honor.

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

Here’s the lineup.

Dr. Marilisa Jimenez of Lehigh University who specializes in Latinx literature and in the contributions of Schomburg and Belpré;

Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez, the decorated author and illustrator team who brought us the award-winning picture book, Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Candlewick Press 2017;)

Representatives from the (stunning) Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress, who will share some of the holdings in the LOC’s collection;

and me, speaking on giving kids access to their heroes and to their libraries.

If you want your organization to be part of the live interactive videoconference (so you can ask questions, etc.) questions, etc.) go here.

Only four slots are left, so don’t wait.

 

 

Event: Dia de los Niños Videoconference at the Library of Congress

Date:  Monday, April 30, 2018

Time:  3:00 PM – 4:10 PM EST

Ok, Burn Baby Burn is out in paperback next week, and to celebrate I’m heading back to the scene of the crime, so to speak, for some fun.

First stop is Harlem on March 27, 7 pm, as part of the Authors in Conversation series at the hallowed grounds of the Langston Hughes House. I’m so grateful to Renée Watson for the invitation to appear at the i too arts collective, an organization that preserves this space as a place to connect young writers with their voice, with their history and with their heroes.

It’s a ticketed event, with proceeds going to support the center. You can get tickets here  Don’t wait.  That’s because I’ll be  appearing with Elizabeth Acevedo, whose spoken word shows sell out in minutes. Her debut novel, The Poet X, hit shelves this month, too. It’s a powerful novel-in-verse, set in the Bronx, about all we Latinx girls know about: family, men, and the million ways we’re boxed in by how the world defines Latina. Elizabeth is a powerhouse on stage, and I can’t wait to hear her share from her book. But, I’m also really wanting to drill down into what our characters, Nora and Xiomara, are both coping with, what we’re saying to readers about being women, and just generally what’s next as we move through publishing.

From there, it’s off to Brooklyn, where I’ll be doing a writing workshop with the middle school sweeties at P.S. 89 and then heading to the gorgeous main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (Grand Army Plaza) to meet with 180 third graders.

The final present to myself?  A big slice of cheesy, can’t-be-found-elsewhere, Brooklyn pizza.

 

 

By ArnoldReinhold (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

My mother and my aunts all worked at the same place when I was little. It was an electronics factory in Queens. My mother worked in shipping, where she packed Styrofoam bricks with transistors. Tía Isa branded the little numbers on the smallest ones, checking her work with a powerful magnifying glass. Tía Gera tested the voltage all day long.

In the end, they worked until retirement, and in all that time – 30 years, all told – none of them ever asked for a raise. Instead, they pooled their money, covered one another in a pinch, and worked financial magic so that I don’t remember a single day of being hungry.

All to say that, early on, I lived a life where money couldn’t possibly be used as the measure of our value or we would have surely lost our minds, or at very least our dignity. Instead, our family measured our worth by how well we made do with the resources we had available.

It’s all admirable, and I’m grateful for all my family did for me.

But the truth is that some of those attitudes about money and self worth have followed me into publishing – and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

graphic by Grace Lin

Fast forward. Unlike my mother, I do not test, brand or pack transistors. In fact, I have a job that many people would kill for. But here is the ingrained script that runs through my head whenever the question of money enters the picture.

Don’t complain. You’re not starving, after all. Be grateful for what people offer because you are lucky to do this work. Be glad you have readers at all.  It’s tacky to talk about money – hush. Don’t you dare focus on money, which is meaningless; focus on “what’s really important” – the kids.

And that, my friends, is how women – especially those from marginalized backgrounds – can really get shafted in the publishing business.

For the record, I am intensely grateful that I have the privilege of writing books for young people, and that my books name the experience of immigrants and bicultural kids at a time when Latinx families are essentially under siege in the media. It’s important work, noble work, and fulfilling. I’m grateful that my life is filled with other creative authors and illustrators whose books are groundbreaking. I am grateful for every last beautiful moment this career has offered me.

But here is what is harder to say.  I have worked like a mule to make a space for myself in this field. I’m good at what I do.  I should be paid fairly and professionally in both my advances and in my fees for conferences and school visits.

Even as I type this, I feel sick. I worry immediately that this will make me sound greedy.

Interestingly, in talking recently with many of my female friends in publishing, I find that they struggle with a similar unease, even those who started out in middle class or more advantaged families.  (See earlier posts on the #kidlitwomen site.) But for many of my friends who are women of color, the unease is a more pointed, especially early on in our careers. Of course there will be the superstars who are offered top dollar right out of the gate (and more power to them.) But for the rest, whose careers unfold more traditionally, the worry is real as time goes on.  Will we make a professional, living wage? Should we close our eyes and be happy that we get to do this at all?

I can’t help but wonder if our male counterparts who have reached the same career level ever feel guilty for advocating for their finances in this way. My guess is no, not really.

Let’s pivot for a second and take on the recent movie  flap about Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg.  You may remember the jaw-dropping revelations that she was paid $80 a day to reshoot scenes for All the Money in the World while he got paid over $ 1 million to do the same. The real kick in the face?  They were represented by the same firm.

Why do I bring this up? Because money in publishing is a very opaque thing, and opacity doesn’t work to our advantage. In all the secrecy and conditional factors of our business, it’s easy for you to get low-balled and underpaid, just like Michelle Williams- and you’d never know it.  It might be as an advance for a male colleague that’s much higher than yours or it might be that someone has been paid more to speak on the very same panel. Maybe the school has paid far more for a school visit or granted first-class travel accommodations to someone else – while you’re happily still booking coach.

I wish these scenarios were just in my head, but they’re not. Every one of these things has happened to me, and I’ve been served up lots of rationalizations in response – none of which took away the sting of feeling that I’d been had.

Recently a dear friend accidentally confessed that he and his writing partner had each  made a substantially bigger advance on their novel than I had on mine. Was it sexist? After all, I have male friends who earn smaller advances than I do. Enter the murkiness.

We know advances have to do with your name recognition and with how badly your editor loves your project and what power they have at their publishing house to acquire it. Your advance has to do with your former sales figures and awards, with the “hotness” of the book’s topic – and of course, if you’re an author of color, if the marketing department believes they can sell your work in the mainstream. Don’t forget the negotiation skills of your agent and the ability of the publisher to shell over big bucks, too.

See the trouble? Negotiations are tricky. Any of those things could have been the reason I was paid less. Still, you can’t ignore the fact that bias can be folded into each and every one of those factors. And so, suspicion enters the game.

What’s the answer? I think we have to start truly assessing where we are in our careers and then putting a fair price on it. This means frank conversations with your agents, of course. But it also means that we stop worrying about asking for too much money.  In the end, maybe your agent won’t get the advance you’re hoping for, but you absolutely don’t stand a chance if you don’t ask with conviction.

Conferences and school visits are other revenue sources and there’s a lot of hand-wringing that goes on about those two subjects, too. Early in my career, I had no idea what to charge, aka, I had no idea how to value myself as a professional author. I mean, what did I have to offer? Here I owe a huge debt to my friends Monica Brown and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, comadres with some chops. They had to remind me repeatedly to price myself fairly, especially as I started to publish more. They very generously shared their own fees so that I could gauge where I wanted to set mine. I am ashamed to tell you, even now, how long I resisted their advice and how many times I second-guessed my fees, especially when it was for schools. But eventually, I learned the hard way. On more than one occasion, I did school visits for a price determined by me, only to find out months or years later, that another author had been paid much more. Who was to blame? Me.

So here are a couple of strategies – simple ways to protect ourselves from our own internalized thinking (“I’m not worth that amount.  I have nothing important to say.) and from those who may operate under their own faulty assumptions that we are not the main “breadwinners” and therefore do not need as much money as one of our male colleagues.

One: ask about money without shame. The fact is that panels can operate on the airline model. Every seat had a different price, just depending.  The person to the right of you got paid half what you did.  The person to the left of you got paid three times as much.  You’re all experts and all equal on the stage, but your wallets tell another story.

I turned to Phil Bildner, for some advice since he manages my bookings at the Author Village.  Phil’s number one question on behalf of his clients, male and female, is whether all panelists are being paid the same. “Why not ask? It’s a fair question,” he says.

Do that. Whether you’re represented by someone or whether you’re fielding your own requests. Tape the script to your computer and to your forehead. “Thank you for the invitation. Is everyone on the panel being paid the same?”  It should be the question you ask right after, “Just to verify, this is not an all-male panel? There will be people of color on this panel, too?”

And I say, why stop there?  Before you offer up what your fee is to visit a school, ask plainly what the school or panel organizers have paid presenters in the past.  It is a fair question, no matter how squeamish it makes you.

Does this mean you will never do anything for free? Is everything about the buck? Do you have to turn your back on your sense of community and generosity?

Not at all. First of all, the visits sponsored by your publisher for publicity and marketing will not earn you a dime, at least not directly. Beyond that, you can satisfy any need you have for service as you see fit.

For now, here’s what I’m trying out because volunteerism is an important part of how I want to empower Latinx communities. I’ve opted to pick two organizations a year for a free author visit. These are typically in my own state and are organizations that are very closely aligned with my interest in girls, culture, and family. They have to ask me in writing, and they have to tell me about their organization and their finances.  I look at their mission and if they truly have no other means to bring me.  If it’s a match and if my schedule is open, I’m in.

The solution for you might be different. Maybe you don’t do anything for free, period. Fine. You’ll find the right balance.

What matters here is that you decide what your time is worth and what you’re worth.  You decide what to give away, if anything at all.  It is okay to love what you do and to be paid well to do it.  It’s time for clarity, sisters, and a time for all of us to learn a new language:  Self love and money.

 

It’s International Women’s Day this Thursday, March 8, 2018.

graphic by Grace Lin

We’re celebrating Women’s History month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in children’s and teens industry.  Join in the conversation on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/kidlitwomen or Twitter #kidlitwomen

Please note the comment policy for #kidlitwomen: 

The #KidLitWomen project is a solutions-oriented forum, focused on improving the climate for gender equality in the children’s and teen literature industry.  While high emotions are a natural part of this ongoing dialogue, the hope is that we can always return to a spirit of problem-solving and remain a celebration of the many women who make up such a large portion of this community. Discussion should be respectful, constructive, and tightly related to our goal. We reserve the right to delete comments that are abusive, inappropriate and/or fall outside the scope of this initiative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A quick round-up of things you might want to put on your calendar for the next few weeks.

  • Journalist Juan Gonzalez, co-host of Democracy Now, will speak at the University of Richmond this Wednesday night. His talk is called Paradise Lost, and the lens is on Puerto Rico – the roots of its economic collapse, the devastation since Hurricane Maria, and what it’s really going to take to bring back that beautiful island. (January 31, 2018, 5 PM, Ukrop Auditorium, at University of Richmond, 28 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA 23173)

 

  • How do kids learn to love words, books and reading – especially if English is a challenge for them?  Storyteller and picture book author Carmen Agra Deedy will be at the University of Richmond to work her magic on audiences, weaving personal story and insights. (Here’s a shot of her new picture book which is all about finding your voice.) Wed., February 21, 2018, 5:30 – 6:30 PM, University of Richmond Center for Leadership

 

  • I have a new book for your bedside table:  The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande whose memoir is this year’s All County Reads selection in Henrico County. She’ll be appearing at Glen Allen High School, to discuss the book on Wed April 11, 7 – 8:30 PM. (Doors open at 6:30 PM.) Meanwhile, you can go to any of your local libraries after Feb 1 to register to win a free copy of her book.

    (young readers edition)

     

  • And a PS, you’ll have to hurry if you haven’t seen Nuestras Histórias at the Valentine Museum. How long have Latinos been in the Richmond region? Where are we from?  What have been our contributions so far? Hurry. The exhibit closes April 15. The Valentine Museum, 1015 E Clay Street, Richmond, VA 23219