Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Archive for the ‘Community work’ Category

Read Brave Write Brave: My upcoming visit to St. Paul

This week, I’m heading back to St. Paul, Minnesota (average temperature in February is 23.7 degrees F). This time I’ll be there for a community visit that has some unexpected ties right here to Virginia, where I live.

Last year, St. Paul reached out to me with the big news that my 2016 YA novel, Burn Baby Burnhad been adopted as part of its community-wide read through a program called Read Brave.

Burn will be read as a companion novel with the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Evicted: Poverty and Profit in The American City by Matthew Desmond. The book follows the harrowing experiences of eight families caught in the vicious cycle of evictions in Milwaukee, WI between 2007 and 2008. It’s a stark book, a heartbreaking one for all it tells us about people and the systemic pressures against them. It’s a must-read if you’re interested in seeing the true face of life at the very edge of housing despair.

At first I was confused. St. Paul’s tagline is “the most livable city in America,” after all. What was up? Turns out, they’re in a housing crisis like so many other American cities. With about 2.4 percent vacancy rate, it’s not really “livable” unless you have a good income.

What was especially appealing to me about the invitation to St. Paul was that the organizers of the Read Brave program were inclusive of young people as they considered this challenging topic. To make sure readers of all ages were tuned into the conversation, they’ve selected a range of titles spanning all age groups. These include: Shelter by Céline Claire; Rich by Nikki Grimes; Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate; and Yard Sale by Eve Bunting.

That, to me, seemed like one of the most respectful approaches I’ve heard. A community is made up of citizens of every age, and its problems – including housing insecurity – hurts them all. Having nowhere to live, or being a sick day away or a car repair away from being put out on the street, puts stress on families and kids, and it’s the kind of slow-burn stress that changes kids in lasting ways. It impacts their learning, their coping skills, their mental and physical health. It becomes an all-consuming problem as Nora Lopez in my novel certainly knew.

The unfortunate irony of this trip is that it also coincides with my own city’s reckoning with housing issues. I make my home to the south, in Richmond, Virginia, where we have a considerably warmer climate. Sure, you could say that things have been looking fairly rosy. The US News and World Report listed us among the top 25 places to live in this country in 2017. It’s a small city, filled with good restaurants, strong arts, and lots of beautiful natural resources.

But the truth is that we’re also a city struggling not only with the national embarrassment of our leaders’ racist and possibly criminal past behaviors, but one that is struggling with housing demons of our own.

The Richmond Times Dispatch reported last June that half of the large cities with the highest eviction rates in the nation are right here in Virginia.

Richmond has an eviction rate that is three times the national average – and one that is factually and undeniably tied to race. Our lousy tenant protection laws coupled with a lack of affordable units being built for renters only fuel the problem. For all the work of heroes like our recently deceased Lillie Estes, who labored for years on behalf of her neighbors in Gilpin Court, the work is not done.

It’s all well and good to enjoy trendy neighborhoods, fine restaurants, and notations in travel guides. I won’t begrudge anyone that. But it can’t happen by ignoring the needs of families that have been systemically afflicted. It can’t happen by leaving children in simmering trauma.

I’m eager to hear what the citizens of St. Paul have to say. A YA novel can’t solve housing problems, for sure, but it certainly can name them honestly.  I hope Burn Baby Burn gave them a place to feel seen and understood.

I’ll let you know when I’m back…

What this writing life teaches me: Steinfirst Writer’s Residency at UNC

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.

 

Register for the Live Dia Webcast at the Library of Congress

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

So, we’re helping Puerto Rico

Hola gente –

I’ll spare you my thoughts on what’s going down in Puerto Rico with the disaster relief effort. There’s no need to start the week with bile.

Instead, I’ll concentrate on the better news. Latinos across all areas of publishing have banded together to create an auction that will benefit the relief effort.  (You can follow the news at #PubforPR.)

Bidding starts Monday, October 2, 2017 at 9 am.

So, if you’re looking for signed books, author visits, manuscript critiques, advice on your publicity efforts, etc, please consider bidding on an item.  You could get a bargain, for sure, but more importantly,  you’ll definitely be helping fellow citizens in need.

The link to the auction is here:

Thanks.

 

When We Turn Our Backs on Dreamers

I usually blog the day after Labor Day with a wish for everyone to have a good start to the new school year. But with yesterday’s news about the six-month expiration on DACA, I’m here to say a few things because I’m too disgusted by our myopic leaders to mince words.

I travel this country pretty much from end-to-end meeting all kinds of students – including those whose lives are going to be upended by President Trump’s assault on undocumented immigrants. These students will start their school year carrying an enormous amount of stress and fear even before they open the first notebook or study for any quiz.

I ask that you consider what it might be like to be a young person who is threatened with losing everything he or she has ever known as home. From that place of compassion, I am urging you to contact your representatives on their behalf. It just isn’t enough to treat your students with kindness or to feel satisfied that you, personally, treat them well. They need all of us to advocate for them because right now – gutted and powerless as they are feeling – they can’t. Here is a place to start. 

For those of us who know the power of reading and writing to get us through even the ugliest experiences, here are a couple of things for you.  The first is a reading list that may help students understand the dilemma of young people who are undocumented. It’s from Colorín Colorado and it is being updated fairly regularly.

The second piece I got in the mail this morning from the National Writing Project. It’s a link on to materials on how to construct lessons that help kids analyze and organize around civic life. 

To close, I just have this:  I predict that we as a country are going to look back on ourselves in 2017 and 2018 with utter shame. We are being led by someone who has appealed to our ugliest instincts against each other. The only thing to do now is to ask ourselves who we really are as people, what we really stand for as a country, and to rise to the challenge.

Here’s what I know for sure. Young people are every nation’s hope, and I stand with them.  

Meg

Want a Good School Visit? Introducing The Author Village

If you’re a writer who does school visits, you know that planning details can be a killer. I’ve been handling most of this myself, with some good help from Candlewick in fielding requests when they first come in. But often I’ve felt completely overloaded by the job of organizing all that goes into making a worthwhile trip for both kids and authors. Book orders, topics, itineraries, logistics– it’s easy for important things to get overlooked.

So today, I’m so happy to announce that I’ve joined a new venture with one of my favorite authors, Phil Bildner. Check out The Author Village, where you can get info about bringing me or several other authors and illustrators to your school this year. You’ll recognize some names and a few will be brand new, but we’re all here to do the same:  make reading and writing at your school something that’s memorable.

Here’s to a good new school year filled with great books to discover!

Cariños de,

Meg

 

Latinos in Richmond Exhibit at the Valentine

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