Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

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The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary: An Interview with NoNi Ramos

As readers of this blog know, I like to introduce new Latinx writers, especially those whom I’m lucky to meet in person on the road. Today, I’m talking with debut novelist Noni Ramos about The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary (Carol Rhoda Lab Books/Lerner 2018; 292 pages; Young adult.) She’s a new voice, but it’s a startling and strong one, and I predict a long career of great work.

Macy is the girl you’ve probably seen in school at some point. She’s the one who spends a lot of time in the office being “supervised” by long-suffering deans when things get too hot in the classroom, the one who has a million labels pinned on her. LD, ADD, disturbed, at-risk – the list goes on.

Told in a dictionary format of the words that define her life, Macy’s story is about the girls who are at the heart of those labels and how they get there. It’s a heartbreakingly honest work and, at times, a darkly hilarious one, too. As an author, what Noni brings to the table is a master class on voice and edge. Here she talks a bit on finding the character and how her own experiences as teacher and foster mom led her to the story.

 Congratulations on this as your debut novel. What kind of writing had you been doing leading up to this? How did you find Macy’s story?

Muchas gracias!

Poetry and plays are my first loves. It wasn’t until well after my MFA that I delved into writing YA. Macy embodies the voice of all the kids who sit in the back of the room. The student who keeps you up at night. The student who shows up late, and you think, despite yourself (and with too much excitement), is she absent? But she is NEVER absent. She’s embodies all those students.

I’m curious about the challenges of drawing these characters since we’re in a world that’s chaotic and out of control. Macy is so difficult and violent, and yet we root for her. What were some of the decisions you made in how you developed her so that she felt sympathetic?  

Macy is concrete poetry. She’s rough and jagged. She doesn’t fall into that “wise-child” trope. The dictionary structure makes her world accessible. Gets the reader past the barbed wire. On the outside we see the child who sets a trash can fire. Inside, we get to know why.

What makes kids like Macy sympathetic to me is their fierce protectiveness of family–for Macy, her brother Zane and George and Alma. Another—the humor. The hijinks. Macy may be 25 in in inner city-kid years, but in reality she’s only 15. And sometimes, because of the childhood she’s missed, she’s more like seven, five …

The love and friendship between Alma and Macy is heartbreaking. Each girl is used and abused by her parents and is working her best to get by. I don’t want to offer spoilers, but what is it about Macy that makes her a better survivor than Alma?

I think Macy has learned not to expect anything from anybody. For all her skewed thinking, she believes in her raw intelligence. She’s never trusted externals. And for all the failures of adults in her life, she believes in justice. As a teenager, she has survived more than most adults.

So Alma—it’s complicated. When a kid of color makes it out of poverty, we celebrate. We say, they stuck with it. They studied hard. School is the answer. When I was growing up, I was told I better be good at school or I’d be cleaning up other people’s garbage.

I’m a teacher. I believe in public education. But school isn’t the only answer. At least not in isolation. For every kid we celebrate, there are hundreds more who aren’t making it. Or who aren’t living their dream. Because of segregation. Because of inequity. Because of the lack of representation (in books). Because of mental health issues. Because of rape culture. The teachers are qualified. Inspired. What tools can we give them so we have more Almas and the Almas of the world make it? We shouldn’t be expecting just that rose in the concrete. We should be expecting a whole bush. A garden. And what do we do with those Macys? What’s our dream for her?

Authors Emma Otheguy, David Bowles, and Noni Ramos at NCTE 2017

For all the hard life circumstances in this story, it’s also very funny. I’m thinking of the exchanges Macy has with the people at her school as well as the chapters focused on Macy’s insistence that vaginas should come armed or spit fire, and the day she tapes her breasts. Tell me about your choice to use gallows humor at the most intense moments of the novel. What did humor offer you as a writer that other strategies didn’t?

I think funny-but-true is what I wanted for Macy. How does a kid navigate through Macy’s world? I feel like was easier for Odysseus to get home than Macy to get to school and back again. How does a kid’s brain process all this “adult” stuff. Humor is survival for Macy. It’s sanity. It’s Macy’s feminism.

With the “gallows humor” maybe I’m pushing the reader to see Macy. Not the hair, not the piercings, not the desk-throwing.  Just that little girl hiding in a sweat shirt.

 What were the considerations you had in how you drew emotionally disabled kids and their families?

One big issue I thought about was how to write an emotionally disturbed person of color. I specifically left any mention of race or culture out unless it referred to power and triumph. I  wanted Macy’s circumstances to be distinctly separate from her being Puerto Rican.

That being said, I wrote Macy’s story.

One of my biggest sources of pride is Kirkus and Booklist saying I wrote with empathy and authenticity. Those are the keys to representing anyone with dignity. Even Macy’s mother is entitled to back story and a measure of forgiveness.

I read in your bio that you are a foster parent yourself. What has drawn you to that role, and how did that experience impact your work on The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary?

I always wanted to be a foster parent. For awhile I taught third-fifth grade and fostered! What drew me to it was my desire to avoid kidnapping charges. I had students that I was terrified were going to get taken by CPS.

These two kids in particular—their dad lived down the block, but disowned them. Their mother was MIA. Then their grandmother got breast cancer. So so many abuelas were taking care of their grandkids in our barrio. I heard the one girl talking about this casually while piecing puzzles together. I went home and said, Miguel, can we take them?

He said no, of course, but got the computer and showed me a website about foster parenting. The journey began. (Luckily my students’ aunt stepped up.)

I am not fostering now. The training required is rigorous and all-encompassing. There are months of interviews, self-defense training, CPR, character witnesses, classes …. GODDESS BLESS all those foster parents out there. My activism continues through my teaching and writing.

 What are you working on next?

Right now I’m editing my second YA book, The Book of Love, about my overachiever, Verdad, who’s struggling with her best friend’s brutal death while meeting her mother’s expectations. She falls for a classmate—who happens to be trans—and their romance forces her to confront her demons and figure out who she really is. It’s about the ordinary reality of a real POC kid: burgeoning sexuality, family expectations, dealing with institutionalized racism, planning for a future. And then there is that magical middle grade novel and picture book. Stay tuned!

Pre-order your copy of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary.

 

Connect with Noni Ramos:

https://twitter.com/NoNiLRamos

https://www.facebook.com/DisturbedGirlsDictionary/  

https://www.instagram.com/noni.ramos/           

http://nonilramos.tumblr.com/

 

The First Rule of Punk: A Guest Blog Post by Celia Pérez

Feliz Año Nuevo, everyone!

The holidays, a chest cold, and assorted family emergencies kept me off this blog for a few weeks. Sorry about that!  But I’m back with the best launch into 2018.

As we head into award season, I’ve had a chance to think about so many of the books that I especially loved last year. Among my favorites of 2017 was a little gem of a middle grade novel: The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez (Viking Books for Young Readers 978-0425290408)

Celia is a librarian, a mom, and a zine addict who has confirmed for me that, yes, folding those suckers can be the hardest part.  She’s also an advocate for quality Latinx lit for kids.

What I especially love about Celia’s debut is that, like a good zine, she puts pieces of a girl together to give us something that feels completely fresh and new. Maria Luisa (MaLú) is the daughter of a college professor and a musician. She’s a punk rock fan – including Mexican punk rock –  and a kid from a blended heritage.  She’s also a kid who has to move to a new city for middle school because her mom has taken a teaching position in Chicago. Suddenly, MaLu is attending a majority Latinx school, where she’s promptly labeled a coconut – brown on the outside, white on the inside.

This is a sweet and thoughtful novel, deserving of its many starred reviews and accolades.  Moving is never easy for a kid, and Celia handles all the questions about friendship and identity with a wise touch. Along the way, the novel takes us on a fun  journey of discovery about Chicago, about zines, and most of all about music. All told, Celia wonderfully captures the experience of US-born Latinx kids, which is now the typical experience.   If The First Rule of Punk is not yet in your classroom library, you need to order now.

So, to kick off 2018,  Celia agreed to take my readers and me on a photo-tour of the city where she lives, and where her lovely novel unfolds. (This is no small feat in a Chicago winter, people.) Take a look. Makes you want to book a trip this spring…

Welcome Celia!


Chicago, A novel Photo tour

by Celia Pérez

When Malú, the young protagonist in The First Rule of Punk, is forced to leave behind everything that is familiar to her, she can’t imagine ever thinking of Chicago as her home. But it’s hard not to love Chicago. It’s a city made up of diverse, unique, and vibrant neighborhoods and is rich in arts and culture. I know, I sound like Malú’s mom trying to sell you on Chicago, right? How about a little photo tour of the city as it appears in The First Rule of Punk instead? I pulled inspiration from several places and neighborhoods. Here are some of the ones included in the book.

One of the locations people often ask about, with the hope that it really exists, is Calaca Coffee. Unfortunately, Calaca isn’t a real place, but it was inspired by two coffee shops that are. The inside of Calaca was modeled after Kopi Cafe in the Andersonville neighborhood. Like Calaca, Kopi has floor seating, short tables with lots of pillows set in a loft area you take a few steps up to. It also has a warm, inviting look and feeling to it that I wanted to be a part of Calaca. But Cafe Jumping Bean in Pilsen has the vibe I wanted for the coffee shop. There aren’t any album covers up on the walls or a paper mache Frida Kahlo greeting you at the door, but it’s funky and colorful, and they always play cool music. It’s definitely the kind of place Malú would fall in love with.

Kopi

 

Cafe Jumping Bean

Speaking of Pilsen, while Malú’s new ‘hood is never named, it was heavily inspired by Pilsen, one of two historically Mexican neighborhoods in the city. Like a lot of Chicago, Pilsen is a neighborhood where past and present come together. There continues to be a large working class Mexican community, but it also has a thriving arts scene of young Mexican Americans creating work that, much like in Malú’s story, combine history and traditional culture with more modern influences. Art is everywhere in Pilsen so keep your eyes open!

Pilsen: El Corazón

 

Pilsen Manhole cover

When Malú first moves to Chicago, her mom takes her all over the city on the L to check out the sights of their new home. These are some of the places they visit.

Pilsen 18th St L

 

Pilsen NMMA

 

Pilsen NMMAL LaCatrina

Lake Michigan! Did you know it’s the only one of the Great Lakes located entirely within the United States? It’s also pretty cold year round, but not as cold as it was when I took this photo!

Lake Michigan

At the Art Institute downtown, Malú sees Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

Seurat!

 

Malú gets her new library card at the Harold Washington Library Center, the headquarters of the Chicago Public Library (and the biggest public library building Malú has ever seen). It’s a beauty!

Library and L

 

They also make a visit to Chinatown for tea and custard buns. Yum!

Chinatown

And finally, yes, Laurie’s Planet of Sound is a real record store. It’s in the Lincoln Square neighborhood right next to a brown line train station. You can find vinyl records, DVDs, magazines, T-shirts, and maybe even a cassette tape or two!

 

Laurie’s New & Used Records CDs & Video

I really enjoyed writing a story set in the Chicago. I was eager to see Malú find her place in her new home. I was excited for her to see the Chicago I love and to maybe learn to love it too. It’s a city of treasures. Some of these treasures are obvious, and others require that you really open your eyes and your mind to see them.

 

Traitor Angels: How motherhood helped Anne Blankman tackle Milton and Galileo in a YA novel

I have a new neighbor –  and it’s none other than the fabulous YA author, Anne Blankman!  Anne, a former youth services librarian, is the author of three historical novels for teens, including her latest –  Traitor Angels – starred by Kirkus.

 I invited Anne to post on writing the strong girl in history – and how she manages to tackle even the most sophisticated content so that teen readers can relate. Milton’s Paradise Lost? No problem… Here’s Anne Blackman.


 

Anne and Kirsten in Edinburgh, ScotlandMy daughter was six months old when she gave me the courage to write. Yup, you read that correctly. Although I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid, as an adult I couldn’t find the courage to “put myself out there.” Once I’d had my daughter and the first few sleep-deprived foggy-minded months had passed, though, I found myself gazing at her tiny, perfect face and knowing I wanted to be a good role model for her—which meant I had to stop surrendering to fear. I needed to start writing.

y648Fast-forward a few years and two books later, and it was time for me to start drafting my third novel, the YA romantic historical adventure Traitor Angels. The idea had been growing in my mind for a decade, ever since I took a college course on English poet John Milton.

One day in class I noticed something strange about the poem we were studying. Milton’s famous epic, Paradise Lost, is supposed to be about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—but Milton alludes to one character who shouldn’t be there: Galileo, one of the most well-known scientists in history. How weird, I thought. I wondered if Milton had included Galileo as some sort of cryptic message to readers. When I later learned that Milton had secretly met Galileo after the latter had been sentenced to house arrest by the Italian Inquisition, I began daydreaming about the men’s possible conversations. From these initial questions, Traitor Angels grew into an adventure that includes a scavenger hunt stretching across Restoration Era England, clues concealed in literary masterpieces, a fierce girl skilled in weaponry, a mysterious Italian scientist, and a conspiracy that, if it got out, could shake the foundations of civilization.

It took me a long time to write this story. One of my biggest stumbling blocks was the main character: Elizabeth, the fictitious sixteen-year-old daughter of John Milton. I wanted her to be a strong character, but mid-seventeenth century customs and Puritan culture were working against me. How, I wondered over and over, could I make Elizabeth a gutsy girl who would resonate with modern readers? It was easy enough to put a sword in her hands, but what else could I do?

Once again, my daughter inspired me. At the time, she was four years old and fascinated with the night sky. “Can I stay up late to look at the stars?” she begged me and her dad. We laid on lawn chairs in the backyard, watching stars wink into life overhead. As I saw my daughter’s eyes widen with delight, I knew I had figured out how to make my Puritan protagonist a “strong” heroine: Her true strength would live in her mind. She would want to be a scientist—a revolutionary ideal in the mid-1600s.

Tower of LondonLater that summer, my husband, daughter, and I flew to the United Kingdom so I could speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We traveled throughout England, visiting the city of York where I had once lived and walking the streets of London where my main character had walked. Throughout it all, I watched my daughter’s reactions: her fearlessness when she clambered onto the lion statues in Trafalgar Square, her interest in the ravens flying across the grounds of the Tower of London, her joy as she ran up and down the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This was who I wanted Elizabeth to be—someone who’s brave enough to be herself, no matter who’s watching. Someone who studies what fascinates her, regardless of whether it’s deemed “appropriate” for her gender. Someone who loves the mystery and beauty of the stars.

 

Traitor Angels is in bookstore tomorrow, May 3, 2016

Watch the trailer:

Other books by Anne Blackman:

Nigh&Fog_jkt+cvr Night&Fog_jkt_des6.indd

 

 

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Pura Belpré!

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

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

This week marks the birthday (as far as historians can tell) of Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Latina librarian after whom the esteemed award is named. The Pura Belpré award was established in 1996 and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. So you see, it’s time to kick off this year-long party!

Bright air balloonsTo honor this special day, I’ve invited guest blogger Dr. Marilisa Jimenez Garcia of Hunter College. She is a passionate advocate of Pura Belpré’s legacy and studies issues pertaining to Latino children’s lit. Here Dr. Jimenez Garcia examines the lasting impact of an author visit – and how it led to her own interest in this fascinating librarian.


9780440404859As a child, one of my favorite book series was Kids of the Polk Street School by Patricia Reilly Giff. I am almost certain I found the series by looking through my sister’s books. She was three years older, cooler, and always had the best books. She was beyond the little frogs and cats learning to dress themselves and brush their teeth in the books I read. Her books had full-blown characters that went to school, got into trouble, and made plans for the future—things I found much more intriguing. I know now that my love for these books was greatly due to Giff’s ability to engage me as a young reader.

One day my mother found out that Giff was going to be at a local library in Long Island. My mother usually took us to local libraries to rent videos and take out books. She knew that taking her girls to see one of their favorite authors would be a special treat.

Patricia Reilly Giff would go on to receive the Newbery Honor medal in 2003

Ms. Giff would go on to receive the Newbery Honor medal in 2003

I remember sitting in the library that day. The chairs were set up differently, and everyone was much more excited than usual. Giff spoke to us like a friend, and she read from one of her books. Afterward, she promised to stay after her talk and sign books. I saw it as a golden opportunity to ask a question.

This was a big step for me since I was a relatively shy child—waiting until I felt I could trust the environment. We had moved from Puerto Rico only the previous year, and I had only recently gotten used to English. Once I started speaking it, I couldn’t stop, but you had to be just the right person for me to open up. I had also gotten used to people thinking I couldn’t speak English and brushing me off. Sometimes I went along with it out of pure exhaustion with trying to explain where I was from. Honestly, it was quite a lot to have to negotiate as a six-year-old.

Marilisa and her book-loving mom on the doorstep of La Casa Azul

Marilisa and her book-loving mom on the doorstep of La Casa Azul

Mami helped me walk to the front of the room with my copy of Polk Street. Giff asked me my name and where I was from. I didn’t mind telling her. “My name is Marilisa, and I am from Puerto Rico.” Giff told me that my name was beautiful which confirmed my feelings about her awesomeness. She then began to dedicate my copy of Polk Street: “To Marilisa.” She spoke with Mami about going to the library. Mami told her that I loved her books.

I realized that we were about to leave, so I knew it was time for me to ask my question. “You know, maybe you should write a book about a little girl named Marilisa?” I said. Giff looked at me and smiled, saying, “Yes, that sounds like a great idea.” I was so serious about the whole thing that I began to tell her how the story should go. It would be a regular story like those I had read in Polk Street, except there would be a character named Marilisa, she would be fabulous, and she had to own a horse. That last part was imperative. Giff nodded her head, and I left believing that we had just concocted a plan.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 11.36.43 AMLooking back at this moment, I realize now what I, as a child, was trying to say to a renowned author. “Do you think you could write more books with people like me in them? You see, because I keep reading all these books at the library, and they are wonderful, but I just don’t seem to exist in any of them. I realize I must use my imagination, but I just know that there is room in your imagination for someone like me.”

Years later, I would be in another library looking for reflections of my culture. This time it was 2008 and I was in Gainesville, Florida at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature at the University of Florida. I was a Ph.D student looking for a research project that utilized the archives. I had just had an ugly incident at a local store where someone who heard me speaking to Mami on the phone in Spanish had told me to “go learn English.” I remember thinking, “Wow, here I am teaching a course in English literature. I did a program in British literature at Oxford. I am in a Ph.D program in English, and here I am again, being told that I need to speak English.”

03_Perez and Martina- LP Front Cover_70dpi.previewAt the Baldwin, I wondered what would happen if I typed “Puerto Rico” into the catalogue. The collection was meant to reflect American culture. Immediately, the name Pura Belpré came up on my screen. “Oh great, something new,” I thought to myself. I found a catalogue entry of Perez and Martina published in 1932. “Wait…1932,” I said. “Why is this the first time I hear about this?” I discovered that librarian Pura Belpré had spent her life advocating for books for Latino/a children, and I had never seen them on the shelves. Actually, I had never read a Latino/a author in school or in college. And even though Pura Belpré is the namesake of an award, few know who she was or that she wrote books. My doctoral education was marked by this moment, and my life really took a turn that would lead to my writing on Belpré, and ultimately the history of Puerto Rican literature for youth in the United States.

Marilisa and Meg at NCTE 2015 in Minneapolis

Marilisa and Meg at NCTE 2015 in Minneapolis

As a child, and even as a young woman, I didn’t know that I was looking for books that reflected me. I didn’t know that I was looking for ways to articulate what I felt when I felt nonexistent in American culture. I think this is why my work in this area is more than just a research project. It is a question I have been asking for a long time. “Could you write a story about a girl named Marilisa?” This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Pura Belpré Medal. Along with other authors, librarians, and scholars, it is my sincere wish that we would take the time to learn more about Pura’s life and writing. Hopefully, all Latino/a children can know that there are people and stories that have worked to reflect their histories and cultures in books.


 

Marilisa_Jimenez-GarciaMarilisa Jimenez Garcia is a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College, CUNY. Her dissertation, “Every Child is Born a Poet: The Puerto Rican Narrative within American Children’s Culture” (2012) won the 2012 Puerto Rican Studies Association Best Dissertation Award. She is an NCTE Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Fellow. Look for her contribution (“The Pura Belpre Medal: The Latino/a Child in America, the Need for Diversity, and Name-branding Latinidad’) in Prizing Children’s Literature (Routeledge 2016) by Kenneth B. Kidd and Joseph Thomas (ed.) 

twitterFollow Marilisa on Twitter @MarilisaJimenez

Learn more about Marilisa’s research 


More Pura Belpré news:

Check out this video trailer!  Buy here from Centro (Center for Puerto Rican Studies)

alaac16Coming to ALA in June?  Join in the 20th anniversary party to honor Pura Belpré’s memory and the many books and authors who have been selected over the years! Sunday, June 26, 2016, 1 – 3:30 PM. Free with your conference fee!

Want to help preserve Pura Belpré’s legacy?  Join REFORMA as a community supporter!

Introduce young readers to Pura Belpré with The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucia Gonzalez and illustrated by Lulu Delacre

Add winners of the Pura Belpré medals to your school or personal collection.

Meet the Enchanting Margarita Engle

11193381_392733620920999_5592796247599447170_nFor more than two decades, Margarita Engle has produced award-winning work for children of all ages. Among her many distinctions, she is a multiple recipient of the Pura Belpré medal, the Américas Award, and the Jane Addams Award. She is also the first Latina author to have earned a Newbery Honor Award for her 2008 novel-in-verse, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom.

enchanted-air-9781481435222_hrMargarita has long been known for impeccable research and thoughtful books that shine new light on figures in history. But her new project goes inward. Her memoir-in-verse, Enchanted Air (Simon and Schuster,) arrives in book stores this week. Here at the dawn of the United States’s new relationships with Cuba, Margarita tells us about her book, her own relationship to Cuba, and what it means to write from the heart. 

***

When we speak of reciting poems “by heart,” we mean “from memory.”

That is because memories live in the heart, in emotions, in a past that remains swirled together with the present and future. Memories are the one place where time is defeated by love.

10850004_335808523280176_6529446118646473240_n

Margarita and her mother

Writing about one’s own childhood is a process of writing by heart. There are no guidelines, no patterns to follow, no research to depend on, no papery or digital maps of the mind. When I decided to write ENCHANTED AIR, Two Cultures, Two Wings, all I had was my own memories, and the emotions they still contain, long after adulthood has made an unusual childhood seem like someone else’s strange, impossible life.

I wrote this memoir in the form of free verse—and in present tense—in order to bring the memories back to the surface, an experience I have always dreaded, and never thought I would want to share in public, where I am guaranteed to cry when I read the poems out loud.

My reasons for writing a memoir are various, depending on what the reader brings to my pages:

Enchanted Air is a celebration of the role of travel in a child’s education.

Enchanted Air is a plea for peace and family reconciliation.

Enchanted Air is an act of empathy for stateless people.

Enchanted Air is a true story meant to speak directly to bicultural children, and to the adults who try to understand us.

Yes, I do mean ‘us,’ not ‘them,’ because with respect to this aspect of childhood, I still carry it around inside my heart, like a series of linked poems. Bicultural children can feel divided or doubled, claiming both the daily self and the invisible twins we turn into when we cross the border between our two parents’ homelands.

I am not a typical Cuban-American, and I don’t presume to speak for those who are. I am neither a refugee nor an exile. As the California-born daughter of an American father and Cuban mother, I was blessed with the chance to visit relatives on the island both before and after the revolution. Now, as Enchanted Air goes into print, I worry about how it will be perceived in Miami, but it is my own true story, my only true story, the first time I have tackled a post-revolutionary topic in any of my books for young readers. I hope they will accept it in the spirit in which it is offered, as a testament to that very word: HOPE.

Dr. Jamie Naidoo, Teresa Mlawer, Margarita Engle, Adriana Dominguez, Lila Quintero Weaver (front), Laura Lacámara, me, and Irania Patterson

Dr. Jamie Naidoo, Teresa Mlawer, Margarita Engle, Adriana Dominguez, Lila Quintero Weaver (front), Laura Lacámara, me, and Irania Patterson

Check out SCBWI from the art director’s view

Guiseppe Castellano

Guiseppe Castellano

A while back, I had the pleasure of being on the SCBWI faculty in Atlanta where I met Guiseppe Castellano, Art Director for Penguin Random House.

I’ve been making a habit of hanging out at illustrator sessions these days even though I have absolutely zero skill in the visual arts. (Why God, why?) I go for the same reason I like to see dance performances: to be amazed by the talents of other people and to broaden my own toolbox for storytelling. There’s a lot to be learned about narrative if you strip out words. You learn to see, I think, how to use negative space – what is NOT said – to your advantage.

Anyway, Guiseppe is offering some good advice on his blog about how to make the most of your SCBWI experience, and he includes thoughts from a range of spiffy speakers, like Arthur Levine, Pat Cummings, and others. I’m in there, too, speaking on how to make the most of both serving as faculty and as an attendee.

Check him out and follow him on Twitter @pinocastellano.

Happy reading!

 

An audio documentary on migrant deaths on our border

logoCatherine Komp, radio producer at Virginia Currents on NPR (locally WCVE 88.9 FM,) recently sent me the audio documentary below. Created by her colleagues for a show called Making Contactit examines migrant deaths on our borders.

A look at migration through  magical realism Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

A look at migration through magical realism
Finalist International Latino Book Awards, 2014

When I was writing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, I struggled many times as I wrote scenes of unspeakable violence.   Should I write such gruesome things for young people?  Was it necessary or gratuitous?

In the end, I chose to include the awful details, leaning toward telling fiction as honestly as I could.

I hope you’ll carve out a little time to listen to the audio. January ushers in a new Congress and a fresh immigration battle. The debate will be heated on both sides, a healthy – if painful – exercise. What I continue to ask is that we remember that, in the end, we are talking about people, about human beings, and about the ethics of addressing suffering.