Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Archive for May, 2017

On Latinx rep, NYC, and Yaqui Delgado

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. 

 

 

What the real reading heroes look like

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