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Latino Life

Beyond Bilingual: Thoughts on How We Celebrate Language in Children’s Literature

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life
People are sometimes surprised to learn that I began my school years as a mostly monolingual, Spanish-speaking kid. I'm US-born, but my Cuban mother - and later our whole family as they arrived – spoke to me almost exclusively in Spanish in the hope that I would be bilingual. This was the 1960s, in the days before language support programs were common. So, when it was time for school, I traipsed off to kindergarten armed with only the anglo name she’d given me (Margaret) and the vocabulary skills I’d picked up from a show called Romper Room. Kindergarten school picture Who was seen in Miss Nancy’s magic mirror? A letter I wrote to my family in Cuba shortly after my uncle taught me how to write in Spanish. I was thinking about all that because I was the closing speaker last week for the Las Américas Academy's annual Biliterate Conference, where I presented on what language literacy looked like in my own family. Preparing for that talk got me thinking a lot about my whole relationship to language, as a Latina and now as an author. And, I was thrilled and honored to hear, in the Q & A that followed, that so many of the attendees shared deeply personal and sometimes painful experiences about their own journey with their identities and language. Whether or not someone is bilingual is historically tricky terrain for people who identify as Latino or Hispanic in this country, mostly because so many of us...
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Stop the Madness: Banning Books Is Not the Answer

By Community work, Latino Life, The Writing Life
While Banned Books Week was last month, I've recently had a front row seat to the parent pressure being exerted on school boards across the country regarding library books and teaching materials. New Kent County pulled The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo from its shelves, and Henrico County, where I live, pulled Ashely Hope Perez’s novel, Out of Darkness, from high school libraries, pending a Superintendent review. Both novels are highly decorated young adult works, and both center narratives by Latinx and Black characters. Out of Darkness is a historical novel about the 1937 New London, Texas school explosion that killed 295 children and teachers. It won the 2016 Tomás Rivera Award and American Library Association’s 2016 Printz Honor Award, which recognizes an outstanding work of fiction for teens. The Poet X chronicles Xiomara's life as she discovers the power of poetry to understand and name her experiences. In its stratospheric debut, it won the 2019 Pura Belpré Award, the 2018 National Book Award, and the 2019 Printz Medal. I am a Latinx Virginian. I’m also a colleague of both authors, one who has chronically run into the buzzsaw of censorship myself for my novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. I’m also a former English teacher, a parent who raised three kids into adulthood here in Henrico County Public Schools, and a former – and active – school volunteer. In other words, I am all about books, kids, and community. To my fellow Virginians (although the sentiment applies everywhere) I...
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Volemos: A New SCBWI Grant for Upcoming Latinx Authors

By Awards and news, Latino Life
If you're an aspiring or early career Latinx author,  there's some new support for you. In partnership with the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I've created a small grant called Volemos: The Meg Medina Grant. We'll be accepting submissions this month for the first time, so if you've got a picture book manuscript or a strong sample of your next novel, hurry and submit. Full submission guidelines are here.  I've been a member of SCBWI for most of my writing career. I entered the field before social media was a force (if you can even conceptualize that). Back then, I couldn't have told you what an agent did or what on earth a query letter was. More important, I didn't know any other children's book creators who could guide me or offer me an example of how to do this work. To pursue my passions felt as unlikely as pursuing a trip to Mars. A lot has changed for me over the years. I've found out that publishing is a combination of art, hardcore business skills, and community, all of which I honed with SCBWI's help. It's also a business where Latinx voices continue to be woefully underrepresented despite the growing number of new organizations and platforms now available to us. I'm proud to serve on the Board of Advisors for SCBWI and to partner with them in supporting my literary community. The organization is looking forward as it starts its 50th year in existence, and so...
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Breaking into Writing Children’s Books:  A Beginner’s Guide Targeted to Latinx authors

By Latino Life, The Writing Life
** UPDATED: NOV 4:  This post was pre-scheduled for today. I apologize for its publication today, when there is so much post-election uncertainty. It went out before I could stop it.**   The question I get asked most often as a children’s book author is how to break in. This is especially true when the question comes from aspiring Latinx authors. Here is a quick checklist of to-dos if your heart is set on writing stories that celebrate Latinx children and families. Nail down your craft Nothing replaces the craft. A big part of this simply boils down to your talent with words and with how well you can sense how to tell a story.  But you can do things to improve your work, mainly in two ways: reading and writing. Here’s starter book set for reading. Writing Picture Books* by Ann Whitford Paul The Writers Guide to Crafting Stories for Children* by Nancy Lamb Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults* by Cheryl Klein Latino/a Childrens and Young Adult Writers on the Art of Storytelling* by Frederick Luis Aldama, University of Pittsburgh Press As for writing, I recommend a daily or weekly habit of coming to the page, whether you do that on your own or whether you sign up for writing class in your community. If you’re very serious, you can choose to invest in a low residency Master of Fine Arts program. I’ve been teaching at Hamline in St. Paul, Minnesota but there are others programs,...
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4 Recipes for Hispanic Heritage Month – All Inspired By My Books

By Cuban Cooking, Latino Life, middle grade, picture books
I know lots of friends have been reading my books during Hispanic Heritage month. Since you're home, maybe you'd like to try some recipes - straight from the pages of some of my picture books and novels? From Merci Suárez Changes Gears Café con leche is Merci and Lolo’s breakfast drink. Cuban coffee is basically espresso that is heavily presweetened. To make a proper con leche, brew your espresso in whatever type of machine you use. (Here below is my collection.)  My mom used to put 2 – 3 tsp of sugar in the percolator, but some folks add it to the coffee after it has percolated. To finish, heat equal parts milk and add to the coffee. Another variation – cheating a bit, but it was Tía Isa’s favorite. She called it, simply, “la leche.”  Heat a mug of milk, adding 2 tsp of sugar. Then dissolve 1 T of instant espresso into the milk. Batidos are smoothies, basically, with a creamy backdrop. Lolo loves batidos de mamey or batidos de piña, but here’s a recipe using strawberries and bananas, which are easier to find. Tía Inés was probably the expert at these. Ingredients: 1 c strawberries with the tops sliced off 1 banana 1 T sweetened condensed milk 1 T sugar 1 T fresh lime juice 1 ½ c crushed ice Put all ingredients in a blender and garnish with a cut strawberry. Other fruits to try when the summer months return: a mix of watermelon and papaya...
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Guest Post with Ruth Behar: The Island that Remains in Us

By Guests, Latino Life
Hi everyone, From time to time, I have the pleasure of hosting guest authors on this site. Today it's my honor to kick off Hispanic Heritage month with a lovely guest post by 2018 award-winner Ruth Behar. Her latest book, Letters from Cuba, is historical fiction and was published last month (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House.) It's set in Cuba during World War II, when the chokehold of anti-semitism could be felt far from Europe, in even the smallest far-flung towns. I admire Ruth's research and writing, and I think she captures the many ways that a Cuban identity has always been one of intersections. ¡Bienvenida, Ruth! We're ready for the inside story on this remarkable middle grade novel. _________________________________________________________ When I sat down to write Letters from Cuba, I knew I wanted the story to be set in Agramonte, a town in the sugar-growing region of Matanzas. I’ll always remember the first time I visited Agramonte on my own, about twenty-five years ago. I met elders who competed to greet me and bring me to their homes to relax in an old wooden rocking chair. They chuckled as they kept repeating, “Así que eres la nieta de los polacos, no me digas,” delighted the granddaughter of “the Poles” had come to say hello. Rocking chairs in a home in Agramonte where Ruth stayed while doing research for Letters from Cuba. Baba, my maternal grandmother, had bravely crossed the ocean alone to help her father, my great-grandfather, bring her mother...
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La Maleta: Grief meets a 50-year-old suitcase

By Latino Life, Random howls into the world
It’s been a minute since I’ve checked in.  Many of you know that my Tía Isa passed away a couple of weeks ago. I want to thank all of you who were so kind in sending our family condolences, comfy socks, chicken soup, wine, meal delivery vouchers, and flowers. I so appreciate the love and support. La maleta I’ve been climbing out of the haze by doing all the grown-up things you have to do to settle people’s affairs. Death certificate applications, closing bank accounts – all that official stuff. The real work, though, has been going through the things that my mother and aunt thought were vital. And for that, I had to face la maleta. For as long as I can remember, my mother and Tía Isa told me about the suitcase in the back of their closet. It is a battered hardshell piece of luggage in that Pan Am airlines blue. It has a key on a string and an old belt from the 1970s holding it together. Inside, Ma and Tía kept documents they knew I’d need some day, but also the ones I suspect they couldn’t part with because they told the story of their lives. La maleta had their Cuban passports wrapped in plastic, my grandmother’s welfare id card, Tía’s high school diploma and license as a telegraph operator, my grandparents’ birth certificates from the late 1800s, a prayer and medallion for Santa Barbara. I found my parents’ divorce papers and  prayer cards for...
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Cuban Comfort Food continued: picadillo con arroz blanco

By Cuban Cooking, Latino Life
OK, foodies. You have under an hour to make something to eat for dinner and you (naturally) want Cuban comfort food. Here’s my quick and easy – shortcuts included – path to making picadillo con arroz blanco. Photo journal for picadillo con arroz blanco Prev 1of9 Next Ingredients (Serves 4 people) 1-1 ½  lb ground beef, extra lean 1 8-oz can of tomato sauce ½ cup green pimento-stuffed olives, sliced ¾ c white cooking wine Sofrito…which is 1 small onion, diced small ½ green pepper diced ½ red pepper diced (or if you can find it, about 1.5 c of frozen sofrito that you can get in the store) 3 -4 crushed cloves of garlic (or about 1 ½ tsp of the prepared kind) ¼ cup white raisins (black ones will do) ½ tsp cumin Salt to taste Adobo seasoning to taste 1 Bay leaf 1 ½ c white rice Frozen plantains from Chiquita (don’t give me grief, you’re in a hurry, aren’t you?)* 2 – 3 T olive oil, enough to sautée sofrito Directions Brown the meat slightly and drain the fat. Remove to a bowl. If you are making sofrito from scratch, dice your onion, core and dice the peppers. If you are using the frozen kind, measure out about 1 cup of the frozen mix. In pan, heat oil and add sofrito and the garlic. Cook until vegetables are soft but not soggy. Add the can of tomato sauce and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the...
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Comfort foods a la Merci Suárez: My recipe for croquetas

By Latino Life, Self-care
When the going gets tough, a lot of us turn to our comfort foods. Mine is Cuban food, of course. But first, my apologies to those who received an email from me before my post was actually ready to be seen. Promise I'm much less dangerous in the kitchen! So, here's my recipe for croquetas, one of the foods Merci loves in Merci Suáerz Changes Gears. Croquetas can be eaten as appetizers or as part of a main meal, with a side of black beans and white rice, the way I like. They're basically made from any left over meat, usually red meat and ham, but it doesn't much matter. I won't lie; they're messy to make, even though the individual steps are easy. It's much faster to go to a Latinx bakery and point at what you want in the case. But making croquetas calms me. It reminds me of the people I love. It's also a great way for several people in the kitchen to work together and pass the time, talking and laughing. And this week, when I've felt fretful and sad about so many different types of losses, I found comfort in making them. IngredientsCut meat into chunksAdd onions to the food processorMilk and flour and nutmegMilk and flourEggs and breadcrumbsBefore fryingAll done Prev 1of11 Next Ingredients leftover beef, chicken or ham, about 8 oz or so 2 or three slices of deli ham 1/2 c of white flour 1 can evaporated milk (you will use...
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Some titles for Hispanic Heritage Month

By Latino Life, What I'm Reading
Repeat after me:  "I will read works by Latinx authors throughout the year." It goes without saying that good books are good books - any time of the year. And yet, I know it's Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 through October 15. So, here's a quick look at a few hot-of-the-press works that I think you might want to pick up. Prev 1of7 Next Dancing Hands by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López (picture book, August 2019) The Gumazing Gum Girl: Book 4 Cover Blown by Rhode Montijo (chapter book, October 2019) Strange Birds:  A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia Pérez (middle grade, September 2019) The Fresh New Face of Griselda by Jennifer Torres  (middle grade, August 2019) Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya (middle grade, August 2019) The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Barcarcel (middle grade, August 2019) The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos (young adult, September 2019) For more great title ideas all year long (remember, you promised,) visit my go-to site for the latest in Latinx kid lit: Latinosinkidlit.com
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A chat with Jennifer Laughran at a.k.a. Literaticast. Take a listen!

By Appearances, Awards and news, Latino Life, picture books, The Writing Life

Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with literary agent Jennifer Laughran over on her podcast where she chats about all things kidlit with those of us in the industry. If you don’t subscribe, do so fast. Jennifer gathers publishing people from across the spectrum, so you get the benefit of understanding this business from multiple perspectives. For our segment, we talked about Merci Suárez and her family. We chatted about creativity and writing for kids of all ages. We touched on world-building in realistic fiction. I explained the importance of community for me especially in the world of social media. I made a few book recommendations, too, and of course, my dog and writing partner briefly joined the conversation. Happy Monday everyone!

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

By Community work, Latino Life

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…

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Heads Up: Some Latinx-focused events in RVA

By Latino Life

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.   And a PS, you’ll have to hurry if you haven’t seen…

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So, we’re helping Puerto Rico

By Community work, Latino Life

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.  

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When We Turn Our Backs on Dreamers

By Community work, Latino Life

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…

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On Latinx rep, NYC, and Yaqui Delgado

By Appearances, Film work, Latino Life, The Writing Life

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…

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March Madness – Bookish-style

By Appearances, Latino Life, picture books, The Writing Life

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…

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Playing Dress Up and other important author duties

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life

I’m part of the kick-off event for Herndon’s All County Reads this week. Their selected book is Rudolfo Anaya’s, Bless Me Ultima. So, I’ll be talking about Latino lit in general and how my work deals with some of the themes in that classic novel. Disco meets Anaya. (Don’t underestimate me.) Anyway, I hope you can join Kwame Alexander and me on Wednesday night at the Fortnightly Library in Herndon. (Flyer below.) After, I’ll be heading into the middle of the woods, aka Hinsdale Pennsylvania/Highlights Foundation, to work on the faculty of the Eastern PA SCBWI conference. (Register.)  I’m almost done with preparations. Speeches, workshops – all drafted and packed up. My lingering homework is the character costume for Friday night, clearly the most important thing. The finalists: The Paper Bag Princess:  Love the retro, strong girl idea, but the downside…it’s still so cold in PA. I’ll freeze wearing a paper bag (or, ok, a few paper bags.) Still, I love this book.  Here’s the audio of the story so you can see why. My kids and I read this so many times…and even then the story was already a classic. 2. Nora Lopez (from my very own Burn Baby Burn):  OK, it should be the frontrunner, but me in lycra and platforms? Once was probably enough. 3. Harriet the Spy:  My favorite so far. We’re about the same age, this book and I.… We have a similar fashion sense. A certain odd need to observe others… 4. Amelia Bedelia:  Don’t own a frilly apron, but…

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Coming your way San Antonio!

By Latino Life, picture books

I’m packing my bags and getting in the mood for my trip to San Antonio this weekend where I’ll meet up with 90 authors for the city’s fabulous one-day, free-and-open-to-the-public book orgy: the San Antonio Book Festival  on Saturday, April 2, 2016. There’s a bunch of kid lit authors scheduled– including some of my very favorite Latino picture book authors and assorted book people. I haven’t crossed paths with a few of these guys in a long while. (I’m looking at you, John Parra and Aurora Anaya Cerda.) So, we’re all a looking forward to our Latino kid lit family reunion. If you’re in San Antonio this weekend, please come by the children’s tent and say hola, que tal. Angela and I will be talking about how we worked together on Mango, Abuela and Me – and we’ll read your little one the story ourselves. (In the meantime, here are some fun facts I found for you about the “most romantic city.” I say that it pays to know what you’re getting into…)          

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Off to the Desert: Tucson Festival of Books

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life

I had twins today – sort of. That’s because it’s my book birthday for Burn Baby Burn and also for the Spanish edition of Yaqui Delgado Quiere Darte Una Paliza (translated by Teresa Mlawer). Thanks to everyone who is sending and tweeting good wishes! So how am I celebrating the releases? By dreaming of 80 degree sunny weather and packing for the first leg of a mini book tour. First stop: Arizona – for the wonderful Tucson Book Festival this weekend.(Hopefully, it’s the book and not my winter-pale skin that’s going to burn, baby, burn.) Here’s my schedule… everything from crafting historical fiction (with the likes of Ruta Sepetys) to breaking the culture and color barrier in publishing.   Hot Off the Press Sat, Mar 12, 8:30 am – 9:30 am By invitation only: Meet ten marvelous authors releasing new books the week of the Festival. Student Union South Ballroom (Wheelchair accessible) Panelists: C. J. Box, Douglas Brinkley, Jeffery Deaver, Amy Hatvany, J. A. Jance, Lisa Lutz, Meg Medina, John Nichols, T. Jefferson Parker, Chris Pavone; Moderator: Jennifer Lee Carrell Fight or Flight: Surviving School Sat, Mar 12, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm High school and middle school can be extremely difficult for teens who daily face bullying by peers and cliques that exclude anyone seen as “different” or “weird”. These YA authors will talk about how the characters in their books respond to rejection, exclusion, and bullying and why these books matter to teens. Education Room 351 (Seats 48, Wheelchair accessible) Signing…

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Pura Belpré!

By Awards and news, Guests, Latino Life, The Writing Life

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! To 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. As 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…

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In Service to Richmond: How I choose where to go for free

By Appearances, Community work, Latino Life, picture books

Here’s what I know about children’s book writers in my community. We believe that kids matter, and we believe that books and stories help strengthen them and their families. With that in mind every year, I help lead literary events, such as Girls of Summer and YAVA (as in, Young Adult Virginia) at the Richmond Public Library. But I also donate visits to a few schools and community organizations that might not otherwise be able to afford an author visit.  I’ll be doing two of those visits this month. I can’t usually do school visits for free. Like most writers, I keep a roof over my head by cobbling together both advances (which can be years in between) and appearances. Most organizations understand that reality, and they find ways to pay, either through generous PTA groups, grants, partnerships with other organizations, or school improvement funds. Still there are always some that just can’t find the funds. Ay! What do we do then? The task of picking where to go for free is awful, mostly because there are just so many places where economics stand in the way of good things for kids. Also, for me, I always feel the urgent weight of exposing kids to authors from diverse backgrounds. It matters not only because they’d benefit from sharing stories that represent all experiences, but also because meeting an author might inspire kids of color to consider careers in the literary arts, which they may not have considered viable for them, too. (Certainly, we’re not there yet as you can see in Lee…

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Ah, those Dixie Latinos: U of R celebrates with an NEH grant

By Appearances, Latino Life

OK, February is going to be one big, long Valentine to Latinos. That’s because the University of Richmond was one of 203 recipients nationwide (and one of only three in Virginia) to get a piece of $1.48 million earmarked by the NEH and the American Library Association for “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History.” As part of the grant, the university will host host public screenings of a six-part documentary about the rich and varied contributions of Latinos to our country – plus they’ll add other public programming, including discussion groups, oral histories, local history exhibitions, multi-media projects, performances, and other programs on Latino history and culture. (Here is the link to what will be going on at the University of Richmond all month long.) I especially love that Dr Laura Browder and Dr. Patricia Herrera, who secured the grant, have created events specifically around the Latino experience in Virginia. The south has seen an enormous growth in the Latino population, and certainly that is true of Richmond. Who are the Latinos who call the commonwealth home? What are the perceptions and misperceptions of us as a group?  What impact have we made on our city and counties? And, the ever-elusive question:  Will any of us ever learn how to make a proper ham biscuit? It’s such an honor to be part of this, both as an author and as a Virginian. Not many people know that I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, where my parents first settled when they arrived from Cuba….

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January Bargain at E-Volt: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

By Awards and news, Latino Life

This month E-volt – where you can get books for $2.99 or less – is offering  The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind on sale for $1.99. You might not remember the novel – quiet as it was – but it’s the book that has made the biggest impact on me as an author. The synopsis is here, but I describe the novel as a mix of magical realism and telenovela mostly because it’s one of those sweeping stories with large casts and a few spirits. It’s about secrets, traitors, and love stricken heroes, all hopefully drawn with some depth. But at its core, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is actually realistic fiction, too. That’s because it’s a tale of migration and why young people take unimaginable risks to move toward better circumstances. It names that terrible brew of longing and violence the powerless often see in this life. I’ve heard said that each novel you write teaches you how to be a better writer. If that’s true, this one was a strict SOB of a teacher. I rewrote The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind more times than I care to count, trying to preserve a stylized storytelling while getting at a contemporary issue with honesty. What a struggle! I reworked the manuscript top to bottom, axing plot lines and characters. Several times I thought I would abandon the project altogether. I couldn’t find my way somehow. I couldn’t settle on what I really wanted to say about Sonia and the people in…

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My Piece in The Horn Book

By Latino Life, The Writing Life

I have been circling my mailbox like a vulture for weeks now, waiting for my hard copy of the January/February issue of The Horn Book, where I’ve written my first piece. Today, they posted the link on twitter. I feel so fortunate to close 2015 and look to a new year with this essay. I was given the space to talk about my books and the work of others – the elders as well as the up-and-coming. There was no way to name all my fellow Latino authors in this single piece, and I hope they will forgive the omission, knowing that I did my best to shine a light on as many as I could. Mostly, though, I wrote from the personal as I explored what it has really been like to write the literature of the new American family. Here is the link, friends. Please read and share. ¡Feliz navidad!  

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Heading Your Way, NYC: Banned Books, Latino Lit, and Mentorship

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life

Fall in New York City. I smile just thinking about it, especially when I add banned books and Latino lit to the reasons I’ll be there this week. I hope you can join me for any one of these stops: Tuesday, Sept 29, 7:30 PM, HousingWorks Bookstore Cafe in Greenwich Village, where all proceeds go directly to fighting AIDS and homelessness. I’ll be talking banned books with David Levithan and Coe Booth, both of whom have been caught in the iron jaws of censorship, too. I’ll share experiences about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass as it applies to soft censorship. (How many polite ways are there to get between a kid and a controversial book?  Turns out, a whole lot.) Looking forward,  I’m already bracing for the reaction to my upcoming novel, Burn, Baby, Burn (March 2016.) If the disco music and violence don’t incite my critics, then girls and birth control surely will. Uh-oh. Thursday, Oct 1, 3:30 PM the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, 239 Greene Street, room 302. As part of their 125 year anniversary celebration, the Steinhardt School is hosting a year-long children’s literature lecture series. My talk is called: What’s Our Story: The role of culturally sensitive books in the lives of multilingual families. Seating is limited, but if you’re a professor, teacher, librarian, or future educator with an interest in multilingual education, contact Kendra Tyson at kendra.tyson@nyu.edu for information. Saturday, October 3, 9 AM – 5 PM, Las Comadres Writer’s Conference, The New…

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This month at Pine Camp: Paintings by Salvador González Escalona

By Latino Life, Random howls into the world

I’m heading over to Pine Camp on July 2 for the opening reception of “Two Seas Merging,” which features the work of Cuban artist Salvador González Escalona. The reception is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, and the show runs until the end of the month. From the press release: “A self-taught mixed medium master artist, González Escalona, with the help of campers enrolled in the Great Summer Escape camp at Pine Camp, just completed painting a mural titled Two Seas Merging, which symbolizes the cultural diversity of the Afro-Cuban connection.” If your Spanish is strong, here he is in Cuba discussing his mural work in Callejón de Hamel , where he used African religious imagery on a community mural project – remarkable since it was initiated during a particularly repressive time. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fx4qRpAZ2Mk&w=560&h=315] Spotlight Gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. This exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information or to schedule a tour please call Shaunn Casselle at 646-6722. For more information about these projects, please call 646-3677.”  

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What are you doing in Arkansas? Thinking about Pura Belpré, of course!

By Appearances, Awards and news, Community work, Latino Life, The Writing Life

That’s pretty much what everybody asked me this week.  Maybe it’s because it’s hard to imagine a Cuban from Queens hanging out near Oklahoma where the wind does, in fact, come sweeping down the plain. But there I was: Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Fort Smith is a quiet place with one of everything, as Ines, one of the district’s English Language Learners coordinators, told me. One Staples. One bridal shop. One mall. Church life is central to life here, which made me laugh when I toured their visitor center –  a restored brothel called Miss Laura’s Social Club. You can walk along the beautiful Arkansas river here, eat something called a Frito Chili pie, or find excellent Vietnamese food. You can experience a tornado drill on a moment’s notice or tour gallows and other bone-chilling artifacts of the “wild west.” Such a mix of unexpected things. Including people. Like a lot of small towns in the US, Fort Smith is warm and close-knit – and it now finds its demographics shifting. Schools that were once 90 percent white, now have Latino populations of over sixty percent, compounded in some cases by significant financial need. The challenge, of course, is to embrace change as normal and to pull from it the rich experiences that a truly multicultural community can provide. As I’ve had the chance to do  elsewhere, I spoke to kids about my books, culture, and where those two meet inside a writer. I had to tread lightly on Yaqui Delgado Wants to…

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Happily Disobedient

By Appearances, Community work, Latino Life, The Writing Life

That silly school board in Colorado got me feeling especially proud of young people – and also appreciative about my great day this Friday. While their school board continued to pit patriotism against informed thought in its AP History classes, I was surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to doing the opposite. I got to teach a workshop with the fabulous Duncan Tonatiuh, where we both discussed our writing/creation process and how we bring difficult topics to young people. Here’s a video that fourth graders did in honor of his award-winning picture book, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM6oQEVRyDc&w=560&h=315]   Just after the workshop, I got to peruse the children’s and YA collection at Busboys and Poets in DC, hands-down the most diverse offerings I have come across in our area. If you’re serious about including all points of view, this is the place to be. I was especially fond of the free downloadable lessons and books lists available through Teaching for Change. Met the wise women who wrote Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Lee and Low), this year’s winner of the Las Américas Award.  They had the nerve to write a nonfiction book without a single photograph and without even putting the title on the book cover. That, plus a look at the ga-billion scissors and scraps of paper that it took to make all those collage parrots makes me bow low in respect. ¡Felicidades, Susan and Cindy! Toured the Children’s Literature Center at the Library of Congress for the…

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Book Hoarding and other things I admitted to on Book Riot

By Adult books, Appearances, Latino Life, picture book, middle grade, YA, The Writing Life, What I'm reading

My heroes at Book Riot have a new podcast series called Reading Lives, where authors talk about pretty much anything except their own books. I’m on there today, episode #2, where Jeff O’Neal and I talk about my book collection fetish, as well as all the titles and authors (some surprising) that have shaped everything from my sense of culture to how I parented. These days I do a lot of interviews, but I can’t remember a time when doing one was this much fun. Maybe it’s because Jeff (aka @readingape on Twitter) is so charming, but maybe too because the hook is so simple. Two people talking about the books we love, old and new. What can I say?  It’s a literary geek’s dream. If you’ve got some time, check it out. You can subscribe on i-tunes, too.  

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Banned On the Run…

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life

It’s a double whammy! Banned Books week and Hispanic Heritage month, so I’ve been on the road with no sign of rest in the near future. Fellow REFORMISTA Loida Garcia Febo just shared this link to Latino books that have been challenged and banned, including the book that turned me to writing in the first place: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  Que cosa mas grande… Gracias, Loida. Lists like this inspire me to write more books that might cause alarm and discomfort – and hey, even thought. And they make me feel especially fired up about my first teaching gig at Las Comadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn this weekend. Las Comadres is more than a conference. It’s a movement based on the core principle of mentorship and culture. On Saturday, established Latina authors and publishing pros will come together at Medgar Evers College to help yet-to-be published authors learn the ropes. What’s in it for me?  Mostly getting more Latino voices at the literary table, especially those writing for kids since this year, for the first time,  our public schools will be a majority minority. Besides, I’ll be helping to create more amazing books that will end up on banned book lists. So, hermanas, if you have a story, if you’ve been too shy to admit that you want to be a writer, if you just don’t know where to begin, register for Las Comadres. Finally, here are a few pictures from my recent travels to the DC area.  I’m exhausted, but so grateful to Candlewick…

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Underwater Dreams airing on MSNBC

By Latino Life, Random howls into the world

I’m passing this on because I love an underdog story – especially one that shows off Latino kids with super-sized brains and grit. The documentary Underwater Dreams will be airing on MSNBC and Telemundo this Sunday, July 20, 2014 1 PM, EST. Here’s the blurb:  “Underwater Dreams, written and directed by Mary Mazzio, and narrated by Michael Peña, is an epic story of how the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learned how to build an underwater robot from Home Depot parts. And defeat engineering powerhouse MIT in the process.” Get the rest of the scoop here:  [vimeo 97377301 w=500 h=281]   I might not have heard about this if I hadn’t joined REFORMA as a community supporter this year. It’s a librarian association dedicated to providing services for Latino families, but you can join as a supporter or a corporate sponsor. You can flat-out just donate, too. Anyway, I’m so glad this crossed my screen. Thanks, Reformistas for being such a great clearinghouse of information!  

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Where books meet disaster: A brief reading list about kids and migration

By Adult books, Awards and news, Latino Life, picture book, middle grade, YA, The Writing Life, What I'm reading

I got home last week from the ALA conference, an experience that still makes me daydream, especially when I think of the energy and passion in the room at the Pura Belpré awards. You can find my speech and Yuyi Morales’s speech here, but the truth is that the text doesn’t replicate the emotion that was in the room. All of us receiving recognition were teary and humbled –and not just by the honor being extended to our books. A good part of our emotion stemmed from the unspoken presence of people who were not actually in the room with us. This summer, our news outlets have exploded with accounts of the nearly 40,000 unaccompanied childrenwho have arrived on our border to find themselves not only exhausted, afraid and alone, but also the target of explosive rage. Whatever your view on immigration policy, I hope you can agree that what we’re seeing is a human tragedy on the backs of the weakest and smallest among us. All of us writers on that stage work for young people because we respect them and treasure what should be a sacred time for all children. All of us on that stage have been touched by migration, either directly or indirectly, in our own families. All of us have been the recipients of our parents’ most ardent hopes for our futures, sometimes at the expense of their own. It is heartbreaking, then, for us to see children so completely lost and in need of help. As Javier and I traveled…

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You Want More Diverse Lit: Step 2

By Appearances, Awards and news, Latino Life, The Writing Life

You’re on a quest for more diverse literature for the young people in your life? Last week, I pointed you to CBC Diversity. Here’s the next thing you can do: Make a point to meet the authors, editors, bloggers, and librarians with a passion for that area. Seek them out. Make relationship. We’re friendly. Example: This past week I met Ellen Oh (among other amazing YA authors) at the Northern Virginia Teen Book Festival – and it didn’t take long for us two former New Yorkers to start putting our heads together on what we can do in the Mid Atlantic region to promote multicultural lit to all kids. She pubs with HarperTeen, and her latest is Warrior, which features Kira, a dragon-slaying ancient Korean girl on a quest. Ellen is kind of a dragon slayer, too. She’s from Brooklyn, by her own admission speaks lousy Korean, and is determined to break stereotypes. Stay tuned. I’m on the road this week to the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference held at the University of Alabama. That would be Tuscaloosa…which means cars, planes, vans to get there. It’s absolutely worth it, as far as I’m concerned. (Look at the lineup.) It’s the brainchild of Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo who has published widely on Latino lit, but also on the power of diverse books in general. I’ll be talking about YAQUI, the Pura Belpré prize, and what my own plans are to help authors and librarians reach wider audiences. I’ll also be meeting library science students,…

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So you want more diverse lit in your schools and libraries? Step 1

By Community work, Latino Life

See this badge?  You  need it. BAD. It’s one way you can continue press for books that reflect the diverse students who fill our schools. If you teach kids of color… If any of your patrons have disabilities… If any of your students are LGBTQ… If you teach any students who are more or less clueless about the world outside of their own bubble… then, this is the badge for you. I’ve added it here to the widgets on my site and plan to be a CBC diversity partner. Find out more and link to CBC Diversity here.

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What’s Going On in Multi Culti Lit: The librarians speak

By Latino Life

What’s going on in multicultural lit?  This month, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin is opening a discussion by posting its latest data on diverse literature – and by reading two novels involving Native American culture:  How I Became a Ghost (Tingle) and If I Ever Get Out of Here (Gansworth). To whet your appetite, here are their latest statistics: “We received approximately 3,200 books at the CCBC in 2013. Of those, .*93*books had significant African or African American content .*67*books were by Black authors and/or illustrators .*33 *books had American Indian themes, topics, or characters .*18*books were by American Indian authors and/or illustrators .*58 *books had significant Asian/Pacific or Asian/Pacific American content .*85*books were by authors and/or illustrators of Asian/Pacific heritage .*57 *books had significant Latino content .*48 *books were by Latino authors and/or illustrators” It’s always fascinating to hear librarians talk about the challenges of building a collection that reflects our country. Are we doing enough to find and develop new voices? Are the indie publishers doing a better job than the big houses in this area? Are we still stuck – whether consciously or not – in the mindset that certain cultural groups don’t read? One comment in the thread gave me long pause. Is the Pura Belpré a “marginalized” prize? To me, it’s the biggest honor in the world, but just take a look at how Amazon listed the children’s book winners the day after the Youth Media Awards were announced.  Hmmm…what’s missing…

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Football, Racism & Latino History for Teens: A talk with Sandra Neil Wallace

By Guests, Latino Life, picture book, middle grade, YA, What I'm reading

The holidays are a time to invite friends to your house, and that’s true for this blog, too. I’m honored to have Sandra Neil Wallace with me this week. Sandra is a former ESPN sportscaster and author of Muckers (Knopf 2013), a YA novel for anyone who loves fútbol Americano and underdog stories. But more important to me, it’s also a thoughtful look at anti-Latino racism in the 1950s and the difficult circumstances of Mexican-American families in Arizona at that time. Based on true events, the novel follows Red O’Sullivan, team quarterback, and his friend Cruz as they cobble together their high school’s last football season.  It offers us not only an inspiring look back, but also a way to ask questions about where we are now in sports and race. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IecqNriZVBY&w=420&h=315] ________________________ How did you discover this story? I was living in Sedona, Arizona, working as an ESPN announcer and discovered the Muckers story in a box of letters written to the principal of Jerome High School. Most of the letters were from young Mexican-American men who had graduated and gone to war. The letters helped me uncover the incredible sports triumph of the 1950 football team. Despite being the smallest squad in the state, playing on a rock field, and facing ridicule for being an integrated team, they made a run for the state championship. The football season in Muckers is modeled after theirs, and I interviewed surviving players to create characters I’d imagine experiencing the hardships of that time…

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Contra Tiempo in RVA: Where Salsa and Hip Hop Meet Activism

By Community work, Latino Life

It’s a great week for fans of Latin music and dance. Buy your tickets right now for ContraTiempo who will be performing Tuesday, Nov. 19, 7:30 PM at CenterStage. Their name literally translates to a “rough patch” in a situation, but this Los Angeles-based Urban Latin dance theater company offers nothing but joy. The music is irresistible and the dancing is first-rate. On Tuesday, they’ll perform Full, Still Hungry, a contemporary piece that examines food and consumption. It’s art, it’s activism, and it’s fun. I got a taste of their work this past Saturday at ART 180, where they did a free community workshop. Sponsored by the Modlin Center at  the University of Richmond, the company has been in town for about a week, working – as is their mission – in schools and communities to use dance as a tool in transformation.  Within an hour, we were stepping, dancing salsa, and moving in a “rueda” (wheel) that featured cues like “talk on the telephone” and “catchers mitt”  to make us pose and move as if we knew what we were doing. I danced with men, with women, with kids in third grade, with teens, most of whom I’d never met. The crowd was wonderful, and the dancers broke down their step routines so that we were all in synch and making music and movement together. To me, dance is another way of telling story, and story is a way of coming together. Check them out. See you there! Tickets $22; U of R students, free.

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So Now That I’m Done Eating Snickers…

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life

All right, then. I have finally eaten the last Snickers mini, so it’s time to focus again. One happy effect of daylight savings time has been the perfect excuse to get up early and have a solid couple of “alone hours” with my new manuscript. It doesn’t necessarily make the writing easier. It just means  I have shown up for work – half the battle. Today, I’m happy to be on Latinos In Kid Lit, a lovely new blog chock full of book lists, guest blogs Q & As, teaching ideas, and all around cool stuff for people interested in the Latino corner of multicultural lit for kids of all ages. (You can follow them on twitter, too @LatinosInKidLit.) Read through the bios behind this new venture. Very cool. Por favor, visit the site and leave a comment to cheer them on. This week, I’ll also head out to the Virginia Association of School Librarians in Williamsburg, VA, where YA superstar Sarah Dessen will be the keynote on Friday. My concurrent session will be on Thursday and again on Saturday. We’ll be taking a look at YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS –  (a School Library Journal Audio Pick of the Day last week) – and  at what happens when a book offends. (Ahem…) I plan to hang out and catch some other breakouts, too. There is always a good selection of sessions, and I like getting to know my state’s school librarians. Here’s a look at the description of sessions.  Finally, I’ve…

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A happy week, except when Congress socks it to the little guys

By Appearances, Latino Life

A bitter-sweet week. The sweet: Spent yesterday in the company of EE Charlton Trujillo (FAT ANGIE, Candlewick Press), and Kathy Erskine (MOCKINGBIRD; SEEING RED). EE is filming a documentary of her book tour,  which has featured  rental cars, buzzards, near tornadoes, and a chance to meet with authors and kids across the country. A blast, but I don’t want to say more because she’ll  be chatting with me on this blog next week. More soon. All I can say, is buckle in. I’ll be at the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library this Thursday night as part of their anti-bullying event and also as a tie in to their celebration of Hispanic Heritage month. Teens and social workers in the know will be on hand, and then we’ll talk about how an abusóna became the inspiration for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. (And, yes, I will be allowed to say “ass,” amigos.) Really looking forward to visiting this cool library and also checking out their exhibit called Héroes of the LGBTQ Community. But here is the bitter:  It boils down to two words: government shutdown.  I was so excited to visit with K – 2nd grade students from four DC area public schools at the beautiful  Young Readers Center. Unfortunately,  the shutdown closed the Library of Congress.  It’s definitely not as important as the many families who are now struggling financially or the Head Start programs now scrambling or the WIC programs being zapped or any number of other vital services.  Still, it makes…

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James River Writers Conference Spotlight: Elizabeth Huergo

By Adult books, Guests, Latino Life

About this time of year, I start to perk up with bookish anticipation. The autumn brings us the Virginia Literary Festival (Oct 16 – 20, 2013), anchored in part by the James River Writers Conference. Now in its eleventh year, the JRW Conference is a special treat for the writing community since it gathers nationally-recognized and bestselling authors in our city for three days of fun and learning. This year, I’m especially happy to find debut novelist (and fellow Latina author) Elizabeth Huergo on the impressive roster. Elizabeth is a scholar of literature (receiving her M.A. in 19th-century American Literature and her Ph.D. in British Romanticism from Brown University), and she has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Rhode Island College, American University, and George Mason University. Her novel, The Death of Fidel Perez (Unbridled Books, 2013), is set in modern day Cuba against the eternal question, What if Fidel fell? Here Elizabeth and I talk about our shared cultural roots and the challenges of conveying the pain and complexities of political history in writing. You left Cuba as a girl during the years immediately following the Cuban revolution. What had your life been like until then? Where did your family settle in the United States? I was born in May of 1959. My mother and I left Cuba when I was about three years old. My father had to leave about a year before us for political reasons. He lived alone in New York for a year, working, saving,…

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A Gift from Tía Isa

By Latino Life, Random howls into the world

Three days ago, I stood in the aisle of my neighborhood Kroger buying baby food for my mother. It was a sobering moment to say the least. Her nausea had worsened, and in desperation, I turned to what I assumed was the easiest food to digest. The good news:  Goya now makes its own line of infant food. I scooped up as many jars of Apples With Guava as I could hold and headed to the register. The bad news: We are running out of time. We’ve been working with the wonderful souls at Heartland Hospice for a couple of months now, so all of us are learning to make room for Death at our elbow. It’s a long exercise in acceptance and forgiveness, as it turns out. That, and endurance. But of all the difficult things, one of the worst is this: When I look at my mother and my tía Isa, who is ailing, too, I can’t imagine the silence of my world without them. All those stories that have shaped me, annoyed me, hurt me, defined me, made me wonder, turned me into a writer…they will stop, and it will be up to me to remember and share. Which is why, perhaps, my aunt –  tía Isa – called me to her bed a week or so ago. She has always been one to surprise me. For example, she bought our first family car – a shocking event immortalized in Tía Isa Wants a Car.  And, if…

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¡Verano! (Summer – the best time for book lovers)

By Appearances, Awards and news, Latino Life, The Writing Life

A quick post today as I settle back from my amazing day celebrating multicultural lit at the LUCY conference at Old Dominion University. Looking forward to a busy first week of summer talking books, culture, and connection. 1.  Gigi Amateau and I continue to celebrate our Girls of Summer list. Our launch last week was a huge success with about 180 mothers, daughters, librarians, teachers, and all-around book lovers enjoying free ice cream, book talk, and a celebration of strong girls. Hope you are enjoying Tanita Davis’s Q & A this week. Looking ahead to Friday, 6/28 you’ll meet the fabulous Latina author Guadalupe Garcia McCall on our site. She’ll talk about winning the Pura Belpré prize for Under the Mesquite,  and how she found a way to tell a story based on one of her most painful challenges. 2.  For my Latino friends with kids, please check this out! A summer reading list for Latino readers from the blogging community. Latinas for Latino Literature provide book lists by age group, activities, and ideas for encouraging reading. Please follow them on Facebook, too, where you’ll see the growing community around Latinos, youth, and empowerment through reading. 3. I’ll be at the Shenandoah Children’s Literature Conference this Tuesday and Wednesday as part of “Heavy Medal,” celebrating children’s book authors who have won medals and prizes for their work. (Thank you Ezra Jack Keats committee! Your gift keeps on giving and opening doors.) So excited to travel to this beautiful part of the…

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En Español Por Favor: My Day at Partners in Print

By Appearances, Community work, Latino Life

I spent Saturday at the University Maryland (College Park) with Partners in Print (PNP), an organization under the umbrella of America Reads. PNP supports literacy  at 18 schools, mostly in Prince George County, Maryland, by helping parents – many of whom don’t speak English as their first language – learn how to support their children’s emerging reading skills.  Saturday was the culminating event for the mentors and their students. More than 140 students and 100 parents came for the day-long gathering. My role for the day was to read Tia Isa Quiere Un Carro and to speak to volunteers and family attendees in a bilingual presentation. Confession. It’s always a little strange for me to work bilingually because my English is simply better. I was born here. I studied here. Although we speak Spanish as home, I live about 75 percent of my life in English. That means that sometimes I’m stuck pecking for words or phrases in Spanish, frustrated between what I’m thinking and what I can say. Turns out this gives me the same problem as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was recently interviewed by Jorge Ramos of Univision. He noticed her occasional lapses into English, and it was the subject of a lot of Twitter chat. Like the justice, I grew up speaking Spanish at home, and I have no accent when I speak it. Yes, I can read a newspaper and magazine no problem.  I understand everything on Spanish language TV. I consider myself fully bicultural….

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Paint Me a Story: Latino Children’s Book Illustration in RVA

By Appearances, Community work, Latino Life

Find your calendar. Here’s something for everyone in Richmond who loves kids, books, and art. Paint Me A Story is a free, month-long celebration of El Dia De Los Libros, the American Library Association’s annual celebration of multicultural children’s lit. Beginning on Friday, April 26, 2013, two of our favorite community resources – the Richmond Public Library and the Visual Arts Center of Richmond – have cooked up a great way to celebrate. Librarians Cristina Dominguez Ramirez and Patty Parks have worked with me to create a gorgeous exhibit of Latino children’s book illustration featuring the work of nationally-recognized illustrators Joe Cepeda, John Parra, and Lila Quintero Weaver.  The opening reception is at the Broad Rock branch on Friday, April 26, 4 – 6 pm. (Free food, great art. Thank you Friends of the Library for your generous support!) I’ll be on hand to say hello and give you some information about books you might enjoy with your kids. For art fans, several pieces are available for purchase. The exhibit will move to the main branch of the library on May 3 in time for First Fridays Art Walk and  will remain for the month of May. Best yet, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond will offer two, free youth art classes on bookmaking on May 4 and May 16 at the Main branch. Sarah Hand will be at the helm. (Check out her beautiful work below.) Please spread the word, join us for the reception, and enjoy the talents of three distinguished illustrators…

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Everybody Mambo!

By Latino Life

I’m giving myself an early Christmas present:  Mambo! I’m talking about the free concert at the University of Richmond , Thursday, Dec 6, 2012, 7:30 pm, Alice Jepson Theatre. The U of R music department takes on the mixed sounds of American Jazz and Cuban rhythms. Lecture by Dr. Mike Davison, followed by guest artists and some of my very favorite music. Pack up your dancing shoes and join me!

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Dame Tu Voz: An Arts Celebration with Duende in RVA

By Appearances, Community work, Latino Life

What happens when you have a dream that you’re watching a Henley Street Theatre play and all the actors are speaking in Spanish? If you’re Rafael Seligmann, Board Chair of the Henley Street Theatre, you wake up, call Ana Ines King of The Latin Ballet of Virginia and plan a day-long celebration of Latin American music, theatre, literature and dance. On November 3, I’ll be part of Dame Tu Voz(Give Me Your Voice), a free, one-day festival to be held at Centenary United Methodist Church (411 E Grace St.) from 1 – 9 pm. Here’s why you should go. First, it’s a bargain if you’ve got kids. Free family-friendly things happen all afternoon: food, music, art, flamenco demonstrations, puppet making and salsa lessons, to name just a few highlights. But don’t worry; nobody is left out of the fun. At 4 pm the event starts to take a more adult tone. It begins with readings of favorite Spanish-language poetry.(Want to share one? Call (804) 307-5343 to sign up.) My performance is at 5 pm. I’ll be reading a short selection from my YA novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind) and talking about magical realism and transformation. Afterward, we can enjoy some food and downtime together before the evening offers up truly refreshing fare for theatre fans. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Henley Street is already known for its free and innovative Bootleg Shakespeare series.) For  $10, you get to see two fantastic one-act plays. The Marvelous Pageant  is a comedy by…

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Hispanidad Meets First Fridays: Helene Ruiz at Art6

By Community work, Guests, Latino Life

This month you’ll find celebrations of Hispanic heritage in all sorts of corners of the city – and that’s thanks in part to the efforts of Helene Ruiz. The Bronx native lives in Mechanicsville VA these days, but nothing has slowed her commitment to artists, culture and the community. Before we launch into the quick Q & A, here are two events to keep track of: Sabor Feminina (Female Flavor) at Pine Camp Cultural Arts Center through November 2. The free show features Ruiz’s Goddesses series, with nods to Cuban Yoruba spiritualism.   Mon – Fri 10 – 7 pm. Saturday 10 am – 2 pm. ¡Azucar! at Art6 Gallery, Oct 5, 5 – 10 pm. Ruiz ushers in First Fridays doing what she does best: gathering artists together to celebrate in one voice. This multimedia event will feature the work of several Latin visual artists as well as the Latin Ballet of Virginia and Cuban percussionist (click to listen) Melena la Rumbera. Five questions with Helene Ruiz What’s a nice Bronx girl like you doing in Mechanicsville? My parents moved to Virginia almost 30 yrs ago. My father passed back in 2001, my mom is getting old and my sister suffers from MS, so I figured, why not move there, help out with the house and help them? After all, art is everywhere anyway! I can always get back and forth to NYC whenever I need, it’s not that far away. Why did you think it was important to pull together ¡Azucar! in…

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When shoes meet arte: Molas4u.com!

By Latino Life, Random howls into the world

Okay, these are my friend Tanya’s feet. We were meeting yesterday at Pine Camp to discuss the Hope Tree Project at City Hall in September. Her shoes reminded me of Keith Haring and any number of other contemporary artists. She was wearing molas, i.e. shoes embroidered in the traditional Kuna nation style of Colombia. No two patterns are ever the same. “They’re not cheap,” she confessed. “But I have a piece of art on my feet.” I know. I want them, too.  Here’s where. 

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How do Latina moms and teens talk about stuff that matters?

By Latino Life, Random howls into the world

This came across my desk this morning, and I wanted to pass it along.You know that I’m big on strong girls, so this seems like a painless way for real people to add to the body of information we have about how we encourage Latina girls to have healthy relationships. If you have a couple of hours to spare and you care about girls and Latino families, contact Carla (info at bottom). She’s the study coordinator and graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University who can answer your questions. Interviews can be conducted in English or Spanish. In addition, interviews can take place in the Richmond or DC metropolitan area. Flyers in English and Spanish here. Study Title: Talking with Adolescents About Healthy Behaviors   We are looking for Latina teenagers (14-17 years old) and their mothers to participate in individual interviews about healthy relationships and behaviors. Who can participate in the study? – Latina adolescents who are 14-17 years old – Mothers of Latina adolescents who are 14-17 years old What will I receive if I am in the study? – If you participate in the interview, moms and daughterw will each receive a $20 gift cerfificate to Walmart What do you need to do? – Mothers will need to agree to participate in an interview – Latina adolescents will need to agree to particpate and they will need to get their parent’s permission to be interviewed – Particpate in an interview that will take about two hours – Share what you…

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Meet Cristina Dominguez Ramirez: RPL’s newest non-shushing Latino librarian

By Guests, Latino Life

“I don’t do much shushing. In fact, patrons ask me to turn down the volume; I have a strong voice.” So says Cristina Dominguez Ramirez, an exciting new face at Richmond Public Libraries. She’ll be managing the renovated Broad Rock branch, which reopens next Tuesday. Ramirez, recently of VCU Library systems, also has a strong vision. The daughter of two retired academics, she brings to her new job hopeless curiosity and a rich cultural background that includes Jewish, Moorish, Basque, and Visigoth blood on one side, and Spanish and American Indian ancestors on the other. More important, she also brings her dream to make our whole community a living library. I chatted with Cristina via email about books, Richmond, and the role of libraries in the lives of Latino families.  What appealed to you about the position at Richmond Public Library?  It was a perfect match for me. I will manage one of the busiest branches in the Richmond Public Library, and I will get to work directly with community partners and leaders to create programming and events for a large number of underrepresented groups in Richmond. My passion ever since entering the profession has been to reach out to and encourage Latino and African American youth to stay in school and pursue their dreams. I feel very fortunate that I had parents that encouraged my learning so I want to pay it forward for other children and youth. Finally, I love the mission of Richmond Public Library-Inform, Enrich, Empower….

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A Familia of Latino Children’s Writers and Illustrators

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life

We talk a lot about the dry spells in a writer’s life – those awful times when your lack of ideas makes you crave a straightforward job as a cashier at Target or shoveling manure. But every so often – as happened to me this weekend at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference – a writer receives a precious gift, an experience that lights something inside and changes everything for the good. The NLCLC is the brainchild of Dr. Jamie Naidoo at the University of Alabama, a herculean task he takes on every other year with his tireless team of current and former library science students. I know what you’re thinking. Alabama? Why a conference to celebrate Latinos in a state with some of the nation’s most disturbing anti immigration laws? The answer is, Sí, Alabama. What better place to send a group of passionate Latino authors, researchers, illustrators, and bad-ass librarians to fan passions, make connections, and work in the community? “I have thick glasses and white hair,” one of the attendees confessed in our small group. “Who would suspect me?” It was especially exciting to tell the attendees about The Hope Tree Project (the topic of my talk). Several were interested in taking the idea for the project to their own schools and communities. Imagine all those hope trees taking root! Cindy Frellick of the Greenville Library in South Carolina even lent me a necklace of milagros she purchased in Mexico to wear for the unveiling on April 30. (Gracias,…

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The Hope Tree Project

By Appearances, Awards and news, Latino Life, The Writing Life

There are all sorts of ways of launching a new book into the world. This time around I’ve decided to go big. I’ll have my regular launch at the ever-fabulous bbgb tales for kids on March 17. But when The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind pubs next month, I’ll have about 500 high school students to help me celebrate, too. That’s because they’re part of a project I’m working on in partnership with The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and eight area high schools here in Richmond. The Hope Tree Project is a connection of art, reading, and community building for young people – a good addition to the Virginia Commission of the Art’s Minds Wide Open 2012 celebration of children and the arts. The students and their art or ESOL teachers have agreed to create Latin American ex votives — or milagros — that symbolize a hope or dream that they have for themselves or for the community. When they’re done, we’ll decorate five crape myrtle trees in the beautiful children’s garden with their collective wishes. Milagros are part folk art and part religious votives in Latin America. The tiny charms are attached to statues of saints, to the walls of churches, or even to women’s jewelry. Why? To ask for a favor or to thank a saint for help, of course. It’s a connection of the sacred or mystical to every day needs. Not that this is new, of course. The ancient Romans made them, too, as did many…

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When Wilbur Meets Noche Buena

By Adult books, Latino Life

The year my cousin Carlos turned 50, his wonderful wife, Adele, threw him a Latin- style yard party in June. By definition, that includes a roast suckling pig on the menu. She didn’t go all the way by digging a pit and roasting the pork in the yard. No, this little guy was delivered from Queens in aluminum foil. Still, that didn’t keep him from looking adorable (if grotesquely suntanned) with that apple in his mouth and his stitched up lids. And it didn’t keep my daughter – a life-long reader and Charlotte’s Web fan – from whispering “Wilbur” with more horror than if she’d been Fern Zuckerman herself. The result? She’s in college now, and not a shred of meat has passed her lips since that fateful day. ¡Que cosa mas grande! Especially at Christmas. Having no lechón (or as my Puerto Rican friends say, perníl) on Noche Buena is a travesty. Slapping down a piece of dill salmon is just not the same. The Christmas meal for Cubans is as traditional as turkey on American Thanksgiving. We eat roast pork, black beans over white rice, fried bananas, and yucca. For dessert we serve Spanish turrones (almond candies) and flan (recipe on my Oct 10 post). We also keep Pepcid handy. Sure, we’ve learned to add things around this menu – especially since most of us live in culturally blended families by now. But whether apple pie sits next to your frijoles or not — if you have a…

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Sweet Endings

By Latino Life, The Writing Life

Whew!  We just finished the JRW Conference – two amazing days of friendship, good writing, and inspiration. My own high points were being on a panel with fabulous children’s book authors Kathi Appelt and Troy Howell. Mermaids, dragons, revision, writing across age groups – we chatted about all of it.  I also reconnected with poetry thanks to Hermine Pinson, whose wisdom and calm drew me in completely. This year, the conference ended with a hilarious, nail-biting session of Pitchapalooza, where authors had a mic and 1 minute to pitch their novels to an agent panel. Two hundred people doing belly laughs and erupting into applause is a wonderful thing to experience. I was actually sad to see the conference end. But speaking of endings… We’re also getting to the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. I’ve been sharing recipes this month, so how about a sweet ending to our meals, too. Today, amigos, I bring you my flan recipe. Ingredientes 4 eggs 1 c whole milk 1 can evaporated milk 1 can condensed milk 1 tsp vanilla 2 cups of sugar (divide into 1/2 cup and 1 1/2 cups) Instrucciones Heat oven to 350 degrees In a pan, melt 1 1/2 cups of sugar. It will take about 5 – 7 minutes over medium heat. You want to stop at a light brown liquid. Remove from heat as soon as the last of the sugar dissolves. Pour into a bundt pan and coat all sides. In a blender:  eggs, all three milks, 1/2 c…

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Latino reads for you

By Adult books, Latino Life, picture book, middle grade, YA, The Writing Life, What I'm reading

Last Saturday I did a Hispanic Heritage presentation at Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore. Here is the list a couple of you have asked for. These are some of my favorite Latino reads, oldies and new releases, from picture books to adults. I could list dozens more, but here is a start. Feel free to add recommendations in the comments section. (P.S. Fountain had most of these titles on their shelves, so give them a call.) Picture books  Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales A poetic spanglish romp on Halloween night. Gorgeous illustrations. Fantastic bilingual vocabulary http://marisamontes.com and http://yuyimorales.com La Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos A farm maiden decides to make arroz con leche – rice pudding. Energetic, bilingual vocabulary, gorgeous illustrations. www.samanthavamos.com Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, by Carmen Agra Deedy Carmen is a storyteller of Cuban origins. Also the author of Growing Up Cuban in Decatur Georgia. This is a classic folktale about how to find the right mate in life. The illustrations are gorgeous and the text gets at kids funny bone. http://carmenagradeedy.com/ My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown Brown presents a beautiful bilingual biography of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. In 1945, Mistral became the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. http://www.monicabrown.net Middle Grade  The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis This middle grade novel is about the early life of poet Pablo Neruda. It is written in a style that parallels Neruda’s THE…

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Moors and Christians

By Latino Life

Our foodie celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month continues… ¡Ay  frijolito negro! No Cuban kitchen is without black beans of some kind. You can serve  them as soup, thicken and pour them over white rice, or…you can make moros con cristianos — Moors and Christians. The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Arab influence in Spain. In our house, we serve this dish at major holidays — including Thanksgiving. Ingredientes bag of dry Goya black beans 3 C white long grain rice (Tío Ben brand is our favorite) 1 onion, finely chopped 1 green pepper, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic, crushed 6 strips of bacon 2 bay leaves 1 T oregano salt 1 envelope of Sazón Accent sin Achote or 1/2 tsp of cumin a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar Pressure cooker or large pot Instrucciones Inspect and rinse bag of beans in a colander. Fry bacon strips and crumble. Remove from pan. Sautee vegetables in remaining bacon oil until onions are transparent. (Sorry cardiologists!) In a pressure cooker place rinsed beans, sauteed vegetables, vinegar, and 6 cups of water. Cover and pressure cook for 20 minutes after the steam starts spouting. When 20 minutes are up, remove cooker from stove and put it in the sink. Run cool water over the lid until the steam stops completely and it is safe to open. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker (!que pena, chica!), simmer this mixture covered in your pot until the beans are soft but not mushy…maybe an…

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Indi Love

By Latino Life, picture book, middle grade, YA, The Writing Life

The Southern Independent Booksellers Association conference was this weekend in Charleston, SC — four days of food, free books, and figuring out how on to help independent bookstores duel with Amazon, electronic books, and big box sellers. Un-Chain America is the basic battle cry — and they mean it. Some highlights from #SIBA11: ~First 180 Days Celebration, a sort of meet-and-greet for the booksellers and authors whose books came out in the first half of 2011. As someone who has had her share of quiet book signings, it was nice to have a line of rabid book lovers waiting for a copy of my book. ~The Exhibition Hall: Booksellers who dress in costume! Charms from The Hunger Games. And my favorite find: “A Little Can of Whoop Ass,” which I plan to purchase and put into use right away. (You have been warned.) ~I met fellow Candlewick author Allan Wolf, whose book The Watch That Ends the Night, follows the story (in verse) of an undertaker who came to attend to the dead on the Titanic. Look for it next month. ~I got a present: my very own necklace made from the cover image of Tía Isa Wants a Car. It’s made by All Things Small Pendants, and I plan to wear it proudly. ¡Muchisimas gracias! ~I slipped into the panel discussion called Not Your Mama’s Teen Reads, a fantastic YA panel of Simon & Schuster authors, moderated by Richmond’s own Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore. The panelists included Ellen…

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Eating Old Clothes

By Latino Life, The Writing Life

Many thanks to the folks at Tuckahoe Library for a great time today. And congratulations to first grader Zack S. who won a free author visit for Ridge Elementary School! Okay – our culinary celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month continues. From my kitchen to yours, I bring you my recipe for Old Clothes –aka Ropa Vieja. Don’t worry; it tastes much better than it sounds. Ingredientes flank or skirt steak 3 whole cloves of garlic onion (quartered) 1 carrot cut up in large chunks tomato (seeded and quartered) 6 cups of water small red pepper, cored, seeded, thinly sliced small green pepper, cored, seeded, thinly sliced 2 crushed cloves of garlic 1 onion thinly sliced olive oil 3/4 cup tomato puree 3/4 c red wine salt and pepper cumin In a big pot, put your meat, water, quartered onion, carrots, tomato and whole garlic cloves. Bring to boil and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Latin cooks often use a pressure cooker to reduce time (about 20 minutes total pressure time), but so many of my Anglo friends don’t even OWN a “Presto” that I’m going to tell you the long way. When the meat is done, remove it from the pan and shred it with two forks. The pieces should be thin. In a pan, heat olive oil (enough to coat bottom). Add garlic and sliced peppers and onions. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Add tomato puree and cook another 5 minutes. Add the wine and…

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It’s Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s eat!

By Latino Life, The Writing Life

September ushers in the strangely straddled Hispanic Heritage month (Sept 15 – Oct. 15). I’ll be doing lots of appearances around town to celebrate, but this month I thought I’d share some Latin magic through my kitchen. Here’s Arroz con Pollo – chicken and yellow rice. It’s one of those dishes that every Latin cook aspires to make well, the kind women fight about and secretly criticize behind each other’s backs. There are a million recipes, but here’s mine. Ingredientes Olive oil (about 5 T) 1 whole chicken cut up or (better) a collection of thighs and legs 2 T red wine vinegar 1 T dried oregano ½ pound medium grain white rice 1 small red pepper, finely chopped 1 small onion, finely chopped 3 cloves of garlic mashed 1 small tomato, seeded and chopped ¼ cup pimento-stuffed olives (I cut these in half) 1 T tomato paste 1 beer 2 ½ c water 1 c white cooking wine salt to taste Also, the following spices you’ll have to borrow from me or pick up at the International Food aisle: Bijol Sazón Accent con azafrán (comes in a box) Instrucciones: You’ll need a pot that’s not too deep. I have a nifty pan for this, see? It’s large, but a little shallow. A dutch oven works fine, too. Put your chicken pieces, vinegar, salt and oregano in a gallon-size ziplock bag. Squish around to coat. Let marinate for at least an hour. Pat each piece dry. Using half your olive oil,…

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