I’ve always loved birthdays, especially book birthdays. They’re even better when you share them with a friend. That’s what’s happening next month. Merci Suárez Changes Gears appears en rústica (paperback) with its beautiful new art on April 7. (Thanks again, Joe Cepeda!) Rick, the follow-up to George by Stonewall award-winner (and my book pal) Alex Gino, pubs on April 21. It has been starred in Kirkus, SLJ, PW, and Booklist! Both our books take a close look at friendships, bullies, and beloved grandpas. Which got Alex and me thinking: What would happen if two of our characters – Lolo and Grandpa Ray – met in person? We were sure they’d have a lot to say about their grandkids, memories and secrets, so we decided to… um… listen in. Check it out, and read about our pre-order swag below! The Scene: Lake Worth Beach pier, in Lake Worth Beach, Florida. It is February and the sand is crowded with tourists, young families and their children, who are making sand castles or skim-boarding at the shore. Overlooking the sand is the paved walkway with benches. Two older gentlemen, LOLO (aka Leopoldo Suárez) and GRANDPA RAY (aka Raymond Ramsey) sit on either end of a bench along the walkway, facing the ocean. They are watching the waves and enjoying the roller bladers, the dogs racing for frisbees, the woot of the people fishing far out at the end of the pier. LOLO, white haired and wearing a Sol Painting, Inc. baseball cap, is digging…
I just spent a few days in Texas where I spoke at the San Antonio Book Festival, which is now in its seventh year. Bright and early on the first session, I spoke with librarian Viki Ash about Merci Suárez Changes Gears. This time around, my husband came along, and we had a chance to do some sightseeing – a luxury that almost never occurs when I do author travel on a tight schedule. 750 foot Tower of the Americas with a revolving restaurant! We visited the Riverwalk and the Tower of the Americas, which was just too tall for me, I’m sorry to say. We did catch an amazing storytelling event at The Moth as well as a cool laser light show that’s shown nightly for free at San Fernando Cathedral, a sort of 20-minute mini-history of the city. All in all, we ate too much good food and got well-earned blisters. Javier and I at the Alamo But the thing that I wasn’t prepared for was a chance to wrestle with in-your-face historical erasure. Javier and I visited the San Alamo Mission because, well it was down the block, and “Remember the Alamo”, and all that. But in walking the beautiful grounds and reading the placards describing the “heroic last stand” against 1,800 Mexican troops during the Texas Revolution in 1836, I wondered about all of the history that seemed missing, a bloody history that eventually led to the lynching of people of Mexican descent at the hands of…
March 4, 2019
I had the hair-raising experience of being on BuzzFeed live for their #AM2DM program. I followed Corey Booker, who had smart ideas but somehow couldn’t name the ingredients in a Margarita. (Really, hermano? All that political know-how aside, how is that possible?) Anyway, they were merciful and kept my comments to Merci Suárez Changes Gears. Here’s the link of the whole segment. It's about five or six minutes, I think. (more…)
February 18, 2019
This week, I’m heading back to St. Paul, Minnesota (average temperature in February is 23.7 degrees F). This time I’ll be there for a community visit that has some unexpected ties right here to Virginia, where I live. Last year, St. Paul reached out to me with the big news that my 2016 YA novel, Burn Baby Burn, had been adopted as part of its community-wide read through a program called Read Brave. (more…)
January 22, 2018
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…
September 24, 2015
It's coming up on October, a tough month for those of us who despise being terrified. What can I tell you? Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin did me in when I was a teen, and I don't think I ever recovered. Anyway, here's a quick list of titles (old and new) that I've loved anyway for their nudge toward all things ghostly and wise. Picture books Middle Grade/ YA (I just couldn't leave Harry Potter out...) Adults
August 4, 2015
For 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. Margarita 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. 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.…
June 22, 2015
On Saturday, I had the chance to talk about one of my favorite reads of last year. I read Caminar by Skila Brown in the fall, and I'm so glad I finally had the chance to talk about it on Weekend Reads. I'm often asked who has permission to write Latino stories. My personal view: the person with the humility, depth, research skills, and writing chops to do it. In this case, that person was Skila Brown. Here are some thoughts on violence, children's literature, and the need to tell our histories. http://www.npr.org/player/embed/415752511/416192516
September 29, 2014
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.
August 6, 2014
Kwame Alexander's latest middle grade novel, The Crossover, stole my heart this summer. It's a novel-in-verse about two brothers - both basketball phenoms – and what threatens to pull them apart. At its heart, this powerful book is about family, young men, and the choices we make as we grow up – all all told in an irresistible, thumping style. Kwame will be speaking at the James River Writers Conference, which is one of my favorite conferences each year. Here Kwame joins me for a quick taste of what he'll bring to conference-goers. We talk dialogue, why poetry makes sense for boys, and the one thing he's learned about the writing life. 1. The dialogue in He Said, She Said is absolutely amazing in evoking character. How do you go about crafting dialogue? What advice would you give writers about the line between authentic sound and going too far? Yeah, I took some chances with the dialogue in HSSS. It took a minute to commit to the language and style of the characters, but once I did, it was ON! I work with young people, through my Book-in-a-Day program. So regularly, I am interacting with them over lunch, teaching poetry, making jokes, and eavesdropping on their conversations. I am very perceptive (and nosy), so I stole a lot of what I heard, felt, participated in. Also, I try to remember how my friends and I kicked it back in the day. I think that when you’re writing for young people, the trick is…
Buttons of the winning titles. Thank you, Celia Perez! 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…
Picture the fervor of a rock concert smashed into book geekdom and strong girls. That's the Girls of Summer live launch party, being held tonight, June18, 7 pm at the Richmond Public Library (Main branch). Patty Parks, librarian, Gigi and me at Girls of Summer 2012 Gigi and I started the project four years ago, and it has grown into a vibrant partnership that has galvanized our local library, improving their children's and teens circulation numbers– not to mention their good mood. More importantly, it has connected girls in Richmond not only to good books but also to their own sense of what it means to be a strong girl in 2014. When we started this, Gigi and I couldn't have guessed how it would grow. The idea was so simple. We had both used books so heavily in helping us raise our own daughters. What were the books we'd recommend to girls and their moms now? Each year, we answer that question with the help of 20 or so exceptionally talented and generous authors who think girls are amazing, too. We've had the titans in children's literature, like Jacqueline Woodson, and we've had debut authors, like this year's Hannah Barnaby. What matters to us is the story and the celebration of as diverse a group of girls as possible. Our librarians and local friends help, too, as photographers, as copyeditors, as designers, as event planners. The sum total is a notable blog and a live launch event that has…
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. ________________________ 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 period.…
It's almost that time again! Gigi and I are putting the very last touches on Girls of Summer 2013, our annual curated reading list of summer reads for strong girls. Two dates for you: June 10, 2013: the new list and our reviews will go live on the blog (www.girlsofsummerlist.wordpress.com) June 18, 2013: Our live launch party 7 pm at Library Park, behind the main branch of the Richmond Public Library. 101 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA. Free and open to the public. Refreshments, book giveaways, and an author panel with Jeri Watts and Kristen Paige Madonia. Hope you enjoy our new trailer!
September 6, 2012
It's that time of the year again! Hispanic Heritage Month is around the corner (Sept 15 - Oct 15). Here are the picks for my nightstand. YA/historical fiction set during the Spanish Civil War. You may remember Christina from her lovely debut novel, The Red Umbrella. This one releases early October. Remember Maria from Sesame Street? This is her new YA set in Spanish Harlem in the late 1960s. She had me at the scene with the plastic slipcovers in the living room. Twelve short stories by Latina authors celebrating the power of friendship. I adore short fiction as much as I love mis amigas so I'm really excited about this one. Edited by Adriana V López.
LIE Caroline Bock St. Martin's Griffin, 2011 978-0-312-66832-7 I can't say it's a pleasure to read a book about hate crimes by teens. But since hate crimes against Latinos have seen the highest spike in more than a decade – according to the FBI, over 66% of hate crimes in 2010 targeted Latinos – I was intrigued to find LIE by Caroline Bock. This debut novel tackles the topic by taking us inside the minds of both victims and victimizers. Ten lives intersect one horrible night when two brothers - one an immigrant from El Salvador, one a natural US citizen – are brutally assaulted by a group of Long Island teenagers. The novel lays bare the land mines of power groups among teens, racism, and ineffective adults. Mostly, though, I admire this powerful book for making us consider the bigger question of how hatred this dark can take root in people who are young, bright, and at the beginning of everything. I'm honored to introduce you to Caroline Bock in my first Q & A feature, where we'll talk about both craft and content. Congratulations on a great debut, Caroline. To start us off, would you tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of what brought you to writing? What made you move from film and marketing to the world of writing for young people? Thank you so much, Meg. I feel like I’m in terrific company with you and your readers! I’ve always had dual career…
June 20, 2012
The Girls of Summer 2012 site is live -- 18 great summer reads for girls! But here are some shots from a truly magical night under the shady trees of Library Park in Richmond, VA. More than 100 girls, moms, librarians, teachers, and friends gathered for ice cream, book talks, and a chance to meet the fabulous Wendy Shang, author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. Thank you to everyone at the Richmond Public Library, to bbgb tales for kids (our bookseller), to Penelope Carrington for filming, and to the Ice Cream Connection for the fantastic refreshments and music! Winners of our picture book, chapter book, and early middle grade bag of books! Cute or what? My new magical realism book bag. A present from Betty Sanderson! The lucky winner of our middle grade and YA book titles!
May 15, 2012
Ah, it's almost time to kick back and read the way you're supposed to read in the summer: curled in a hammock or beach chair. Here comes Girls of Summer 2012. Gigi Amateau and I are updating our curated reading list with 18 new titles for this summer. It's an absolute joy to work on this project for a second year. I get to read (or re-read) books that I think celebrate girls, share time with a close friend, and talk to authors I've long admired all summer long. It doesn't get better. You'll find the spiffy new list and our comments on the website starting June 20. (We're under construction now with updates, so please be patient.) But what I really want you to do is save the night of June 19, 2012, 7 - 9 pm and join us at the Richmond Public Library for the live launch. It's free. It's fun. It's the best thing you can do on a Tuesday night. Were you there for our inaugural event last year? We promise another crazy, fun-filled evening, complete with book giveaways, summer refreshments (think popsicles) and authors on hand. Mark the date! Oh -- and don't forget Anita Silvey will be speaking on children's books at the library this Saturday, May 19. Not to be missed if you are even remotely interested in books for young people. She's amazing.
January 19, 2012
A big thank you to the Charlotte Zolotow Prize committee for selecting Tía Isa Wants a Car as a highly commended book for 2011. I'm also happy to join in a standing ovation for this year's big winner, Patrick McDonnell, whose nifty picture book, Me … Jane is the 15th annual winner of the prize. The Charlotte Zolotow Award recognizes outstanding writing in a picture book. Thanks to Patrick's book, kids from birth to age seven can learn about the incredible life of Jane Goodall.
December 2, 2011
I did some holiday shopping today, but to treat myself kindly (and to avoid becoming a lunatic by Noche Buena), I made a pit stop at my favorite public library. That's the Tuckahoe Area library in Henrico, VA, where the librarians make me feel like family and don't mind walking me around to the different shelves like a lost puppy. These days I'm on the hunt for books at every age group that really dazzle me for their appeal for girls. (All suggestions welcome.) You might remember that I'm half the brains behind Girls of Summer with my friend, Gigi Amateau. We are spending this winter and spring discovering new writers and dreaming of what will make our Must Reads for 2012. Vicky Smith at Kirkus recently posted a nifty list of best books for 2011, so naturally I got curious. Very helpful, as it's divided by categories. I picked up Inside and Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and The Fires Beneath the Sea by Lydia Millet on her recommendation. Then, because I'm a browser, I grabbed How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (Nat'l Book Award finalist for Story of a Girl) and Mary Hooper's Fallen Grace, which the Times of London compared to Philip Pullman's work on Victorian life. Finally, I took a drive to my closest indie bookstore, bbgb, where a team of design "elves" were making snowflakes and other store decorations. I picked up Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. If you follow Shelf Awareness, you know…
November 7, 2011
I love so many books, it's usually impossible for me to say that I love one more than another. It's the mother spirit in me, wanting to love them all in some special way. But all that changed this morning when I finished reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press, 2011). The chilling illustrations by Jim Kay, the balance of tenderness and rage, the magical realism -- I can't heap enough praise on this work about a boy visited by a monster during the final days of his mother's illness. Even more awe-inspiring is the fact that Patrick Ness was asked to complete a story idea first proposed by Siobhan Dowd, the human rights activist who lost her own battle to cancer in 2007, shortly after her spectacular debut novel, A Swift Pure Joy, was published. Let me just say this: I started reading this gem Saturday, while I was manning a volunteer table at a school function, and it took no time to go deaf to the world around me. Sunday morning before the sun had even come up, I ignored the chance for an extra hour of sleep and reached in the darkness for the book. A parent and child having to let each other go too early is, in fact, a monstrous event. To me, Patrick got it exactly right in this magical book, and as frightening as it is to follow a tale of a boy's grief, it is a beautiful and resonant story.
October 24, 2011
So fun to visit Holladay ES this morning. They've been reading MILAGROS in the fourth grade and also TIA ISA in the second grade. We ran out of time for questions, so as promised, I'm answering here. From grade 2: How did you get to be so good at writing? Practice, practice, and more practice. I took lots of writing classes in high school and in college. Even today, I will take a writing class to learn how to tell a story better. Best of all, I have a writing group where I share my work with author friends and get their advice. How do you go about writing a book? I usually start with a good character who has one big problem to solve -- but that's all I know. I write for a few hours every day, and I always start my day by fixing what I wrote the day before. (Sometimes that means I throw it all out and start that work again!) Slowly, slowly -- chapter by chapter -- the story starts to take shape. One secret is that I usually rewrite the first chapter after I've finished writing the whole book. Why? I like the first chapter to give a good hint about everything that is going to happen in the rest of the book. Since I don't know what's going to happen until the book is done, I have to go back and redo it. What was your favorite book when you were…
September 27, 2011
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…
September 19, 2011
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…
July 24, 2011
What are you doing Thursday night? If you’re anywhere near Central Virginia, I’m inviting you to a back porch chat with five authors – all of whom care passionately for strong girls who read. This is a relaxed night for girls, parents, librarians, and teachers to talk about how books help girls make sense of the world. We'll look at strong girls and the lessons we've learned along the way about raising them, loving them, and writing for them. If you’ve had a chance to visit Girls of Summer, you know we’ve been posting new Q & A's with the fantastic authors who grace our list. Now, it’s time to meet some of them in person. Please help us welcome: Steve Watkins, What Comes After Valerie O Patterson, The Other Side of Blue Rebecca Lauren, poet, women’s studies professor, and author of In the Fifth Grade Locker Room (special guest) Kaylan Adair, editor at Candlewick Press And of course, your hosts Gigi Amateau and me. To sweeten the pot, we're raffling off a complete set of the 18 titles on the Girls of Summer reading list. Feeling lucky? See you then! JRW Writing Show July 28, 6:30 pm, Children’s Museum of Richmond Tickets $10 in advance at www.jamesriverwriters.org
July 8, 2011
Happy Friday! Red-letter day for the Girls of Summer site. As you know, GOS is a curated reading list that I compiled with the ever-fabulous Gigi Amateau. It is 18 of our favorite books for strong girls. We launched a week ago, and the response has been terrific. Thanks to all of you who have visited and sent sweet emails. But what makes today great is that we add our new Q & A feature. Our fist interview is with Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, the Newbery Honor, the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement, the National Book Award --- do I have to go on? Jacqueline was a headliner at last year’s James River Writer’s conference here in Richmond, where I had the pleasure of getting to hear her insights on writing. I hope you’ll check in today -- and every Friday for a new author interview. Together these authors offer the most empowering images of young women today. Please continue to spread the word, visit each week, and leave comments. In other news, I’ve been spending a few mornings a week working with my LEAP students at the Steward School. There never seems to be enough time with them, but maybe every teacher feels that way. We’ll be wrapping up our writing and photography work next week. ¡Ay, Chihuahua! There is a lot to do! I’ll be sure to post some of the final projects when I get their permission. Let’s see…stuff I’m reading: …
March 7, 2011
I've been reading Sonya Hartnett lately. She's from Australia -- a Candlewick author -- and her prose is just gorgeous. True, her YA is dark and also borders on adult, but that's a line that I love to flirt with myself. Besides, isn't "dark and bordering on adult" an exact definition of adolescence? Just finished BUTTERFLY - which came out last August. Several sections veer straight into the adult perspective, but she captures these characters so well that I don't mind at all. (Cydar is especially fantastic.) Other Hartnett titles I've admired: SURRENDER and THE GHOST'S CHILD.