Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Angela and I got to celebrate with the other Pura Belpré winners in 2016. She’s the fifth from the left.

I’m heading out on this soggy morning for two good reasons.

One, Angela Dominguez, who illustrated Mango Abuela and Me and is the illustrator behind the Lola Levine series by Monica Brown and several of her own award-winning titles, has moved to Richmond! We’re having a “welcome to RVA” lunch, which I hope is the beginning of lots of new adventures for her in our town.

Angela couldn’t have arrived at a better time, which brings me to reason number two for venturing out. This weekend marks the opening of LATINOS IN RICHMOND/ NUESTRAS  HISTORIAS, a small but potent exhibit at the Valentine Museum.

My grandmother’s Virgen de la Caridad is on loan to the exhibit.

For about a year, I’ve volunteered as part of an advisory committee helping Wanda Hernandez and her colleagues at the Valentine curate this loving first peek at Latinos in our city. You’ll find artifacts and stories of how we began making our way here – dating back to colonial days. There is a little bit of everything, including a terrific graphic that shows the fairly recent political lift-off of Latinos here in the Commonwealth.

YAQUI DELGADO ‘s marked manuscript is on display

There’s food, music, and free admission today, so maybe I’ll see you.  But if not, I hope you’ll take a minute to walk through in the coming months and read the stories of who is here in your neighborhood, why we got here, and what we offer.

Cariños,

Meg

 

Nuestras Historias/ Latinos in Richmond

July 27, 2017 thru April 15, 2018

The Valentine Museum

1015 E. Clay Street, Richmond, VA  

What a night! Girls of Summer 2017 launched into the world on Wednesday, June 21. Dancing with Rita Williams Garcia! Book talking with Stacy Hawkins Adams, Beth Morris, Amanda Nelson, and Gigi Amateau. Eating ice pops with girls from all over Richmond. Here’s a peek at how it went down!

How’s this for a good idea on vinyl? Look closely: the book jackets are the record labels

More vinyl

Part of the dream team. Stacy Hawkins Adams and Amanda Nelson. Check the gift bags this year, compliments of Georgi Green

Gigi arrives with the hand-made bags for the girls of summer winners, courtesy of Betty Sanderson

The annual basket of book cover buttons

With the ever fabulous Patty Parks, visionary branch manager of the Richmond Public Library

Some of our guests…

Our audience continues to grow

Our third attempt at a selfie with Beth Morris, part of the GOS 2017 selection committee

Rita Williams Garcia interviewed by Maeve and Alex from Richmond Young Writers. Stacy Adams facilitating.

This is what it’s about. With my friend and co-founder, Gigi Amateau.

 

To see our entire Girls of Summer list and to start following the weekly author Q & As, visit www.girlsofsummerlist.com.

Much of the book world is descending on NYC this week for Book Expo and Book Con. I’ll be in NYC, too, but not for the fun (and the incredible line up) this time. I’m traveling north to help run focus groups with the producers who are developing YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS into a HULU series

It’s easy to get excited when a film deal is announced as an option…but it doesn’t take long to find out that there is a vast journey between an option and a show you’ll find in your “Favorites.”  That said, things are looking promising for YAQUI.  The show is being developed with mega-stars  Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Eugenio Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as executives. But for me, an equally exciting thing is that, for the most part, this show is being conceived, written and led by a group of Latina women. And, as the cherry on top, Writer Dailyn Rodriguez (Queen of the South; Ugly Betty) is a former kid from the boroughs, too (Dailyn on Twitter).

Here’s the truth: When I was approached about my interest in having YAQUI DELGADO developed as a series, I felt cautious. First, there was the idea of letting go the characters and storylines in the exact way that I had conceived them. Surprisingly, I felt okay with that fairly quickly. In my view, I wrote the book that I wanted to write. Now, the film makers ought to be able to make the series they felt worked in their medium.

But my guard stayed on high for another, more important reason. There are precious few, accurate and nuanced representations of Latinos in the media, especially reps of young Latinas. I didn’t want my novel to be used to add to the stereotypes that hurt us. You know them: the overly sexy, gang-related girl, the one who knows how to use a knife, the air head with curves, the one who’s trouble.

“What are you most afraid that we’ll do to your novel?” the executives at 3Pas studios asked in one of our early telephone calls. “Also, what do you most want us to think about?”

That’s the question that spoke to me more urgently.

Latino Student Club at Sweet Briar College

“I don’t want you to make these girls into reductive stereotypes,” I told the team. “I want you to tell the story of all of us, in all our variations and with respect.”

And then, I thought of my readers and the question they always ask about the novel.

“I think my readers really want to know why Yaqui is so angry. They want to know what makes her tick and what makes that explosive rage in some of the kids they know in their own lives. Maybe the series is where we do that.”

And so, this week, as the pilot is being written (I saw the outline; prepare to be amazed), the writers, producers and I are meeting in NYC to visit with Latino teens in both middle and high school. We’ll be at the Cornelia Connelly Center and at the Brooklyn Public Library, Sunset Park Branch, on June 1, where we’ll ask the teens for input and insights that might help us get this pilot to look and sound as authentic as possible.

I’m so proud that their voices will be folded into this project.

Being asked matters. Being included in your own representation matters. Being taken seriously as a young person matters.

And I hope, too, that the teens will take this time with with authors, screenwriters, and producers to ask about careers that they may never have considered for themselves. The truth is that we need each other to get the story right, but we also need to build the next generation of creatives who’ll represent all people in this country.

In case you didn’t see it a couple of years ago, here’s Gina Rodriguez honoring Rita Moreno at the Kennedy Center honors. You can hear in her words how representation mattered to Gina at age 15.

 

Finally, here’s a huge shout out to everyone who stepped up at a moment’s notice to make this happen. Jessica Ng, librarian at Brooklyn Public Library’s Sunset Park Branch; Shanie Ballentine at the Cornelia Connelly Center; Erika Denn, my publicist at Candlewick Press, who donated books for the teens; Kristin Travino at the Irving Public Library in Texas who designed and sent me some nail art swag for the participants; my whole twitter family for spreading the word like wild fire. And, of course, Dailyn Rodriguez, Jessica Pavao, and Emily Gipson (I Can and I Will Productions) who are making the cross-country trek to make this project happen.

I’ll keep you posted! Pa’lante –

Cariños,

Meg

 

There are still a couple of slots open for the Brooklyn focus-group. Contact Jessica Ng if you’d like to register. 

 

 

I’ve talked about soft censorship of my novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass all over the country: how the book isn’t purchased at all, or is kept with the librarians, or is shared with only a select group of kids. And of course, I occasionally still get comments on my website that look like this:

Still, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a full-on challenge that required so much time and advocacy on the part of teachers and school leaders.

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending the day at South County Middle School in Lorton, VA, where the entire eighth grade read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. They invited me as a visiting author to talk with the students about the book.

A welcome gift: a charm bracelet honoring the novel

South County Middle School is in Fairfax County, one of the most forward thinking municipalities in my state. The school is basically a little jewel, too. Clean building. Peaceful vibe. Decent kids from all backgrounds. Teachers who get giddy talking about new teaching ideas. Parents who show up for virtually everything.

As schools go, it doesn’t get much better.

So, it’s interesting to me that it’s also the place where use of my novel was so hotly debated. It was officially challenged by a small group of parents in a fight that dragged on and made its way up through the ranks of the School Board.

The fearless team. Ms. Manning is the lady in purple.

By the time the English staff took me to dinner, you couldn’t have guessed all they had gone through. Principal Marsha Manning, Anne Dougherty in the library, and the entire eighth grade team had to educate and advocate in ways that were surely painful and time consuming. And more, they put their reputations as educators and their relationships with parents on the line for the sake of giving kids something they felt was important to read. The good news is that the district had in place a process for how to deal with challenges, a framework that kept everyone calm in the face of what can easily become a pit of accusations and distrust. It’s hard to keep people at the table and sticking to the process in the face of fear, but this team did it. And in the end, I came to the school and had one of the loveliest experiences I’ve had on a campus.

original bookmarks made by students

A little montage for you:

“Thanks,” one girl told me, “for what you said about representation. People call me a Pocha. And I’ve never known what to say.”

Another girl wanted to talk to me in private about her body and how others have labeled it undesirable.

One girl said that she’s embarrassed that she can’t speak Spanish very well, that her parents tease her about it.

A boy asked me privately after the assembly, “So what should I do? Because I take a lot around here, and it doesn’t stop.”

“What advice do you have for me if I want to write something that’s really hard to say?” another boy asked, barely above a whisper.

That’s what a school visit looks like when the students are trusted to read. They have a chance to think about who they are and what they are living. They have a chance to consider all the ways they can respond to what comes their way. It gives them one more tool that helps in this long job of growing up.

To the faculty and leadership at South County, and to the School Board and to the PTO parents who stepped up for my novel, I want to say thank you. It would have been so easy to give up, to choose another book and move on to the next task on your list. Thank you for having courage to stand up for students’ right to read. Thank you for giving thought to how to include kids who did opt out. Thank you for modeling how to be strong. Courage and compassion are in ample supply at your school. For all the ways your students treated me as the star, I hope they never forget that the real superheroes in this have been in their building all along.

Love notes from students left in anticipation of my visit

Meg’s next appearances

Saturday May 6, Twin Cities Teen Lit Conference, Minnesota, with Jay Asher, Jeff Zentner, Box Brown and more!

Saturday, May 20, 2017, Gaithersburg Book Festival, Maryland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, it pays off when somebody loses their mind.

That’s certainly true for Richmond, which is going to host its first LitCrawl on April 21 and 22, 2017 thanks to what founder Cheryl Pallant calls “writerly insanity.”

A LitCrawl is a city-wide event where readings and performances are led by area authors in a variety of venues, from prisons and bars to bookstores and record shops. It’s a movement that grew legs in San Francisco and is spreading far and wide (Here’s how other cities have done it.)

But how it reached us here in Richmond, VA, boils down to Cheryl, who was busy planning her wedding, writing a non fiction book and getting ready to publish both a book of poetry and a memoir about her time living in South Korea.

“I reached a point in my writing day when I needed a distraction. I too readily checked out Facebook and saw that a friend of mine was involved in a LitCrawl in Denver. I immediately recognized it as a great event and queried if anyone in Richmond was interested. Within an hour, I heard from about 50 folks saying yes.”

“Did I really need another sizeable commitment?”

Well, no, but she grabbed a few friends anyway and here we are….LitCrawl RVA

Now that authors are signing up and making plans for their contributions (website here), she’s sharpening her vision and looking forward to this becoming an annual event with sponsorship behind it.

For me, it’s exactly the right idea. Now more than ever, we want to come out strong for books as a nation. An event like this is free, fun and brings all kinds of people together. It adds to the many artful things that are defining Richmond these days and, more important, part of how we can make books part of people’s lives.

So  I grabbed a couple of friends and got busy.  I’ll be reading with my friends, Lamar Giles and Anne Blankman for our event, Criminal Minds YA. All three books (Overturned, Burn Baby Burn, and Traitor Angels) deal with murder and young people. (Why not?) We settled on reading in a former jail, in keeping with our grisly inclinations as writers. Have you been to RVA’s hostel? The HI used to be a women’s detention center, among other things. Now it is, hands down, one of the coolest places to stay, and brings young travelers from all over the world to our city.

 

rva-lit-crawl-2017-copy

So, if you like young adult and crime lit – if you love books and RVA and want to see more interesting bookish stuff continue – please join us.

Criminal Minds YA is free and open to the public

Where: HI Richmond Hostel, 7 N. Second Street (2nd Street, bet Franklin and Main).

Date:  Saturday, April 22.

Time: 6:30 PM (Don’t worry. We have snacks for you…)

 

 

Meg’s first book signing 2008, Narnia Bookstore, RVA

I found a picture of myself at my first-ever book launch. Back in 2008, my first middle grade novel, Milagros: Girl from Away, was published by Henry Holt. To celebrate, Narnia Bookstore (which would later become bbgb books in Carytown) hosted my friends and family in the shop. “If I die tomorrow,” I told my husband, “know that I was happy, and that I did what I always dreamed I would.”

Well, I’m not dead and I’m glad  because there are still things left to do and books left to write. And while that sentiment still holds true, I look back and realize it was euphoria talking. But that’s the beauty of a first book, I suppose. I wrote Milagros in the beautiful bubble called The First Novel – that wonderful space where no one was waiting for a manuscript, where there were no expectations, no real notion of what reviews meant, and where the process of writing a manuscript all the way to the end was my crowning accomplishment. It was all wonder and hope.

The other thing I know is that I mostly wrote with no idea of what I was doing, which is maybe exactly the wild abandon we need, especially early in our careers. If we get bound up in our heads and in the business landscape of publishing, I think we risk losing the book that is coming from our heart. In my case, I had taught creative writing, but I hadn’t ever written a children’s book. I drew from the first stories I ever heard at my grandmother’s knee, and from the style of stories I loved to read as a girl – magical adventures. To my surprise, what emerged was a story about stingrays, pirates, healers and mothers  –and the sad truth of what it means to endure a migration.

cover illustration by Joe Cepeda

I’ve been thinking a lot about Milagros these days. For one thing, I’m at work once again on a middle grade novel, this time for Candlewick. And nine years later, I know a lot more about what to worry about in birthing a book. Not that it makes things easier. Actually it’s the opposite. On the plus side, I’m probably better at craft. I can ask myself harder questions than I once did about the characters and how relatable they are to a young reader in 2017. I know enough to give long and compassionate thought to presenting a thorny and sad issue to someone who is ten years old. I worry the details about whether I’ve written with sensitivity to all the people represented. I think about vocabulary and spaces for humor and what role to give adults in this novel so that they are not saviors but not absentees, either. I read and reread with an eye to the page turn and tension.

But it’s what I’ve learned on the publishing side that can give me the real angst, mostly because I can’t really control any of it and because it’s rooted in vanity. My late night questions swirl. How will this compare to my other books? Will anyone review it? Will they give it a star or simply a polite nod? Will copies even sell? Will this win an award, get on such-and-such list? Or will it die a quiet death?  None of those worries ever occurred to me when I wrote Milagros. I tell you, it was bliss.

With all that said, though, it’s also true that I’m not only thinking about Milagros with nostalgia. What’s also drawing me is that so much of our news has been truly disturbing lately, particularly as it relates to the idea of who “belongs,” which is, of course, one of the big threads of that story.  Travel bans, threats of deportations, desecration of cemeteries, attacks and murders on people who are told to “go back to where they belong.”  I can’t keep it at arm’s length or read about it coolly in the newspaper as if it doesn’t affect me. Because it does. In my daily life, dear friends and acquaintances confess their fears, their contingency plans, their sense of not knowing where to turn or whom to trust, and worst of all, their worries about their children.

Writing a book sometimes feels like the biggest thing you can achieve. But it can also feel like a small thing in the face of so much misunderstanding and hate. That’s especially true of a first book where, unsure, you once cut your teeth.  That’s how it has been for me with Milagros, anyway.

All these years later, and at a time of so much division and suspicion, I find myself struggling to hold on to the wonder that marked the book’s first steps into the world. Stubbornly, I’m still hoping that stories – the act of remembering, the act of sharing, the act of connecting – help us find a way to love each other despite it all.

Milagros: Girl from Away .99 on Kindle, March 2017

Also about migration, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. (Young Adult)

 

 

 

I’ve been writing like a crazy woman against an upcoming deadline for a new middle grade novel. Right now, I’m at the point when I’m turning to algebra for some sort of comfort –which is a stretch, considering that math was always my worst subject. Still, in my head, I keep looping a word problem that goes like this: “Meg has 140 pages written. If she writes 2 pages a day for 3 days per week and then tosses one page a week, when will she reach an arbitrary  (but kind of respectable) number like 250 pages? And, more important, will they be good?”

Anyway, I’ve been working fairly close to home since December, which has felt like a blessing. It’s quiet. I have the comfort of my coffee pot, my dog, stretchy pants and fuzzy slippers. I can slip into someone else’s wonderful book when I’m lost. (Thank you Kelly Barnhill for The Girl Who Drank the Moon.) My spring calendar is almost all within the mid Atlantic, too.

But there are a few presentations to mention. As I look ahead to March, I have a day trip to Orlando for a Girl Bullying and Empowerment Conference and  a few school visits. (Schedule here). In the spirit of staying close to home, though, I especially wanted to highlight two events that are happening in my area, in case you want to join in.

The first is a shared book talk at the University of Richmond with my good friend, Lila Quintero Weaver.  Several literature and Spanish classes have read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass as well as Lila’s painstakingly researched graphic memoir, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White (2012), which chronicles her family’s experience as Argentine immigrants in Alabama during the height of the civil rights struggle. (See what I loved about it in my post on Girls of Summer.)  Darkroom is soon to release in a Spanish edition (Cuarto Oscuro), translated by Dr. Karina Vázquez.

lila-and-meg-talk-march-2017-poster-image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I instantly adored that book, and upon meeting Lila, felt the same about her. Anyone who knows her will tell you that she’s talented and gracious, but you might also like to know that she’s one of the forces behind Latinxs in Kid Lit, one of my reliable go-to places for finding new authors and titles. And, best of all, I hear there’s a new book, The Year in the Middle Row, coming from her in 2018 through Candlewick.

9781101934593On the other end of March, is my state’s joyous VA Festival of the Book. There is so much good stuff in there this year – including Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston on Sunday. (His new book is A Life in Parts.) I hope you’ll take the time to go through the schedule and spend some time in Charlottesville. As always, there is something for everyone.

I am in moderator mode this time around, but I’ve got quite a seat. On Saturday morning, March 25 (10 am, Village School), kids and teachers will have the pleasure of welcoming Soman Chainani (The School of Good and Evil), Ellen Oh (The Prophecy series) and me as we talk about our work in Flying Lessons & Other Stories. The anthology has earned five starred reviews and has been mentioned in Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, too. Grab a kid, and come join us!

The day couldn’t end on a brighter note than my afternoon panel (4 PM, Omni Monroe Room.) Drawing and Writing Libros will be a conversation among Pure Belpré-winning picture book authors and illustrators on books, culture, access, and publishing. The authors are this year’s Pura Belpré winner, Juana Medina (no relation, sadly), veteran Lulu Delacre, and the lovely Angela Dominguez. Please spread the word! Meanwhile, here’s a little taste of an art talk Juana did on how she created her award-winning artwork for Juana and Lucas.