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Random howls into the world

Take 2: Revisions

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life
I still have sand stuck in the hinges of my sunglasses, and I'm feeling a little blue. Last week, my family and I escaped to the beach for a much-anticipated vacation on Emerald Isle. As everyone headed back to school, we made the trek to North Carolina where I spent my time shelling, reading, and biking. But now I'm back, and it's time to face copyeditor revisions on what will be the final Merci Suárez book. Sunset over the marshThe view from my back deckMy daughter, Cristina, and me at the Bogue Pier Prev 1of6 Next I find myself coming to the task with the same mix of emotions I had about coming back home. I think it has to do with grieving a magical time - as that is what the "Merciverse" has been for me. By the time Merci Suárez Plays It Cool publishes next fall, I will have been writing the Suárez family and the world of Seaward Pines Academy, in one form or another, for six years. The characters and their journeys have become so real to me. It's no wonder that I'm sad about ending their story. It's hard to let go of old friends, even imaginary ones. It's always exciting to get to this stage, of course. It's when the book starts to feel real somehow. I wrote for a little under a year. Then, Kate (my editor) and I worked on the manuscript all of May and June, trading ideas for Merci's new...
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8+ suggestions for bookish self-care

By Random howls into the world, Self-care
So much is going on in the world, in our careers, and in our personal lives that it's easy to feel fried. And while the term "self-care" can sound indulgent when so many people are struggling to survive right now, I've begun to see that it's an essential survival skill for your mental health. The pandemic. The election. The demands for social justice. The surreal divisions in our country. The sudden pivot to all things virtual. It's not hard to see why, as a nation, we've turned to our vices against such a toxic backdrop for whatever personal crises we've also faced. In my own life - which often seems so shiny with book news on social media – there have been challenges. Both my Tía Isa and my mother-in law died unspeakably lonely deaths this year because of pandemic restrictions. Our middle daughter, a nurse working in ICU, contracted (and thankfully survived) Co-Vid two weeks ago. Are you wearing a mask to help protect people like Sandra? So, yeah, this has been a year when I've had to remind myself that it is OK to make time to take care of myself and those closest to me. Here are the top five things that have helped me. Getting good sleep:  For rest I turn to reading and ritual. I may read books written for children or I may venture into the world of books for grown-ups. Regardless, I make a ritual of warming some milk with vanilla and cinnamon (recipe...
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September: A Celebration of Friends and a New Picture Book

By Appearances, Random howls into the world
Hi everyone! September, how I’ve longed for you.  My new picture book, Evelyn del Rey is Moving Away, is finally out in the world on September 8th – in both English and Spanish. So far, so good. It’s garnered five starred reviews and the honor of being selected as the Jumpstart 2020 Read for the Record title. Have you pre-ordered and signed up for the pledge? Until then, enjoy the most delightful book trailer...  __________________________________________________________ Are you missing your friends? Evelyn’s publication has had me thinking a lot about friends, those from childhood as well as the ones in both my personal and professional life now. I found this old shot from one of my birthdays back in Queens. (I can still feel the plastic slipcovers on that couch.) My elementary school friends. Anybody see R.J Palacio in there? Anyway, I really find myself longing for my friends now, and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. It’s just the little things that I miss. Meeting someone for coffee. Hugging a hello. Taking in a movie or a drink somewhere. These days, even photos of myself with maskless friends, readers, and librarians can make me a little a little teary. But you know what? The universe has a way of helping sometimes. This month it turns out that I am doing a lot of video events in support of author friends, from debut to superstars.  Four conversations in eight days – and I’m asking all the questions. Here’s the lineup:...
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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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Nothing is ever really lost: a picture book resurrected in a time of pain

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life
Summer 2020. What will we say about all this one day? When the pandemic first hit, I was asked by School Library Journal to join other writers in explaining how I was dealing with the sudden changes to writing life. You can read the piece here. Photo credit: Mark Gormus, Richmond Times Dispatch When I reread it this morning, I was struck by how quiet and contemplative all of us seemed compared to how things went after we all witnessed George Floyd’s murder – and Breonna Taylor’s and Ahmaud Arbery’s and Rayshard Brooks', all in the span of a few weeks. I would love to feel calm, but the truth is, that everything is boiling over. Here in Richmond, where I live, we’re dealing with the long-standing disconnect between the police and black communities, and, of course, with the overdue push to remove our city’s racist iconography, the most of any other city in the US. And, of course, at the heart of it all, are the searing conversations that have to be had right now about dismantling all the systems that have been allowed to erase, injure and oppress generations of black people in this city and throughout the country. Lots of reading lists are being shared for classrooms and libraries. I’d like to add one suggestion. Try The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love, and Truth, edited by Wade and Cheryl Hudson and due out next month. It features a long list of some of your favorite names in...
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Virtually Mad: how author life has morphed

By Random howls into the world, Self-care, The Writing Life
Is it Monday? Of what month? Did I wear this shirt yesterday? Is my hair clean? Why am I sleeping until 10 am? It must be because I’m binge-watching all six seasons of Downton Abbey like a crack addict. Welcome to Authors in Pandemics, where book nerds like me are being stretched harder than any at-home yoga app can do. Here we are at the start of another week of my new, virtual author life, where everything, right down to my office, has become part of a video. That means it’s you, me and my phone camera, my friends. Let's just hope I remember to point it in the right direction. Here's the schedule this week: Tuesday, April 28: a takeover of the Texas Book Festival Instagram feed during which I plan to make a café con leche in my kitchen and ponder 'what would the Suárez family do in a pandemic'? Thursday, April 30: video panel for the Virginia State Reading Association’s virtual seminar series, featuring me and fellow Virginia authors A.B. Westrick and Steven K. Smith, along with teacher extraordinaire, Pernille Ripp following us. Friday, May 1: keynote as part of the much-anticipated Everywhere Book Festival, launched largely to help authors with books pubbing during the pandemic shut-downs. Texas Book FestivalEverywhere Book Festival Prev 1of3 Next   In the past few weeks, children’s and YA authors have been scrambling to stay calm while we help teachers, librarians, and kids survive the pandemic as best we can. Some folks...
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I’ve Been Quiet Lately. Thinking.

By Random howls into the world

Straight up. It has been a tough summer. Three weeks ago, while I was on my annual beach vacation, my aunt, Tia Isa, collapsed.  Her legs had been weakening for a while, and now , at last, they stopped working just as she was being helped from the bathroom to her wheelchair. By the time I returned, she was also struggling with a deep cough I didn’t like. It rattled in her chest and made her wheeze. So, before I had unpacked a single thing, we drove to the hospital where we spent the next six days trying to stabilize her.

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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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My favorite MLK celebration: the Virginia way

By Random howls into the world

This weekend I traveled from one corner of Virginia to the other – from the rural mountains of Farmville all the way to Arlington/Washington DC area. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated the spirit of Martin Luther King Day. My first stop on Saturday was in Farmville. I was invited by the folks behind the Virginia Children’s Book Festival to tour  the Moton Museum and other sites for the upcoming VCBF (Oct 16 – 17, 2015). The Museum, as part of its commitment to children in the Farmville area, is a founding partner in the festival. The Moton is also an absolute gem. It’s the former Moton High School – and the historic site of a student walkout led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns and fellow students who demanded better conditions. Their case eventually got picked up by civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and became part of the five cases that made up Brown v. Board of Education.  Justin Reid, the museum’s associate director for operations, led us through the exhibits, which are a visual chronology of Virginia’s role in the early civil rights movement. Many of the families who were part of movement – as well as those who wished to keep schools segregated – still live in Farmville.  Prince Edward County participated in Massive Resistance, of course, shuttering schools rather than integrating, so there is an especially poignant personal element to all the photos and artifacts. But there’s also a spirit of forward movement and strength. Places like the Moton…

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The Candlewick Holiday Video

By Random howls into the world

It’s not every day your publisher sings their holiday greetings. But here you go – another small example of why I love Candlewick.  (The bloopers especially give you a sense of their personality.) Enjoy! And if you are on Pinterest and want a list of the books they used, go here. Remember to tuck in a book or two as holiday gifts for the little ones! [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY6MccBoIwg&w=560&h=315]

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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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Check Your Drawers: My hopes for you in 2014

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life

I was overpowered by New Year Mania and spent last week having my oldest daughter’s room painted, which somehow led  to an entire overhaul of my living room/writing lair. In the process of digging out my old desk, I came across a few things that made the whole back-breaking process worthwhile. The first was my mother’s plane ticket from Cuba, dated May 19, 1960 and her subsequent application for citizenship to the US.  I had stored them after discovering them in a box last fall when I was closing her condo in Florida. The documents made me wonder what she was thinking all those years ago on the verge of losing her country, and though it wasn’t known to her yet, on the verge of losing her husband, too. I’ve decided to have the pieces framed and put over my desk. My family’s story in this country began with what felt like a disaster to her, and my story as a writer and as a woman begins with her long journey to survive. The second treasure has to do with dreams – and grit. Several years ago, when I wanted desperately to be a full-time writer but lacked the courage to do it, I found an exercise in one of those awful self-help books. I was asked to write a paragraph that described what I wanted my future “author’s life” to look like. I remember feeling embarrassed to jot down such dreams. I braced myself for the fact that I…

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Lights, Camera, Censorship! NCAC’s teen film contest

By Community work, Random howls into the world

This one is for teens who have a camera and wouldn’t mind winning $1,000 and a trip to New York. I got a note from the National Coalition Against Censorship about their annual Youth Free Expression Film Contest. If you’re 19 years old or younger, you have until December 13 to enter a short film about censorship on video games. This year’s theme: “Video Games in the Crosshairs.” Here’s the pdf of info: NCAC Film Contest 2013 The winners get a cash prize ($1000, $500, $250), a scholarship to take classes at the New York Film Academy and an all-expenses paid trip to New York City for the awards ceremony. All they ask is that you bother to make something with more pizzazz than just a headshot of you talking into your phone. Spread the word and good luck!

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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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You’re Never Far From Your Story

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life

Big milestone: At the end of the month, I will have been married to my husband, Javier, for 30 years. To celebrate, we planned what we both consider a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Croatia, Italy, and Greece. My eyes and my heart and still full of the beautiful sites I took in, particularly Santorini, with its wide marble streets, the domed churches, and Bougainvillea vines along the windows. And, of course, I’m still full in other ways, too — mostly from my nearly constant visits to the pasticcerias and gelato stands. (I had NO IDEA that food could be this good.) Here are three fun literary tidbits that happened along the way. When my kids were in elementary school, we read aloud The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. (She is one of my favorite children’s authors. Check out her website; it’s amazing.) Every night, we’d let our imaginations take us to Venice where a band of masked orphans lived hidden in boarded-up opera houses along the Grand Canal. “I want to go to Venice one day,” my son told me. I never forgot that moment when a book connected him to the larger world than he knew. So, here is a photo from Venice that I took last week. It’s a perfect reminder of a place where I think those orphans might have lived. Surprise number two came when I rounded one of those serpentine streets in Venice to find a lovely bookstore. Look who’s in the window!  RJ Palacio’s WONDER!…

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Going All Ninja

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life

It’s the start of a new year, so it’s time for a writing exercise plan to shake off the winter flab. I’m pushing out of my comfort zone by experimenting with new forms and voice. I’ve been reading a lot of early readers, for example, studying their length and style. (If you’re on GoodReads, you can catch up with what I’m reading.) My favorite so far has been Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke, a little gem of a series that has all the seeds of a great literary piece for kids who are seven and eight. Nice trick, right? It won’t be long before I start trying my hand  there. I’m also venturing into adult writing for a few precious weeks – which feels like sacrilege for someone who adores writing for kids as much as I do. But it’s true. Starting this Monday night, I’ll be joining my friend Valley Haggard as a student in her Creative Non Fiction class at the Black Swan bookstore. This is a stretch for me. For starters, I have a really erratic memory. I can remember the exact pattern of the sofa in my mother’s living room when I was eight, but I can’t remember a name I’ve just learned. My husband claims that I’ve forgotten entire chapters of my life, like the Genesis in concert at Madison Square Garden, which I flatly deny attending, despite his very damning details about people, clothing, where we sat. But the bigger problem is about courage. Unlike Valley…

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Illustrators I Love: Ana Juan

By Community work, Random howls into the world

I couldn’t resist sharing Ana Juan’s work. She has several very successful works all over the globe, but in case you don’t know this wonderful Spanish illustrator,  here’s the link to her site.  Also, I wanted to mention that this spring, Cristina Dominguez Ramirez of the Richmond Public Libraries and I will be collaborating to bring a children’s book illustration exhibit to Richmond in celebration of El Dia De Los Libros (the Day of Books)/ El Dia de los Niños in late April. Stay tuned for details of some of the incredible artists and activities we’re cooking up for you — and for how you can help.

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Gracias Sandra Cisneros

By Adult books, Random howls into the world, What I'm reading

So, I got home from the Nat’l Book Festival on Saturday. I had dusty toes and a tired back, but my head was swirling with gratitude for the way of the world. True, the lines inside the Barnes & Noble tent were obnoxiously long, but it was a great event in every other way. My friend Katharine and I set out by train – a pleasant two-hour ride – and spent our day strolling the  grounds, eating Snicker bars in the sunshine, and generally marveling at the mass of people who came from all over the country to celebrate the best our country has to offer in terms of books and authors.  I got to meet illustrator Rafael López and his lovely wife, Candice, who chatted with us about their mural projects, their new Obama poster, and our shared friends, whose talents we both admire. But in the afternoon, I received a gift I never expected from this festival. I’d managed to snag a chair inside the tent where Sandra Cisneros was speaking.  I read The House on Mango Street in the 1980s, of course, and I’ve been a fan ever since, devouring her short stories, picture books and novels as soon as they’re published. Her voice always rings fierce and true, and like so many other Latina authors, I can point to her work as an influence on why I like to capture Latino culture in fiction. She is, in my view, a literary madrina to our whole country….

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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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Joys and Horrors of the Bookcase Purge

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life

I got back from a much-needed family vacation this week. I should know by now that sunshine and sea breezes make me ridiculously optimistic. Maybe that’s why I decided to face the horror of my bookcases at last.  The truth is that I form unnatural attachments to books. I like to think it’s a job hazard and not simply a mania. I still have my Pelican Shakespeare from college – covered in dust bunnies, but still.  I keep paperbacks until acid has yellowed their pages and the mold makes me sneeze. I pile books in every room of my house, thinking of them as comforting friends waiting for a chat. How could it be otherwise? My whole journey as a reader and a writer are in those pages. The high brow books and beach reads, the books I once read to my kids in the hopes they’d love stories as much as I do, the books that marked my own childhood (which I later bought for old time’s sake), the books written by dear and talented friends. For years I haven’t had the heart to toss a single one. Each volume celebrates so many wonderful moments for me that it seems an unthinkable crime to let them go. But the world is a mysterious place, my friends, and sometimes it gives us exactly what we need. Just this week, WriterHouse  announced that it would begin accepting donations for its annual book sale. The idea of my books helping to raise money for…

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Loving Walker Books: It’s the little things

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life

It’s no secret that I love my publisher Candlewick Press and its parent company, Walker Books in the UK.  I thought I’d show you just one example of why. This was in the mail from Walker. It’s publication day for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind in the UK (and my birthday, as it happens). This little card made my day even better. What a lovely thing to do for a writer. Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Walker!

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A Random Howl: Is writing for children “really writing?”

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life

Okay, friends. Earthquakes, hurricanes, book deadlines, sending a kid off to college: It has all hit me in the last month. I  hope you’ll forgive my silence on this blog. This morning, I’m just going to post a quick Random Howl. I do this kind of post from time to time when faced with inexplicably ludicrous moments that happen in every writer’s life. Recently I was toying with the idea of applying for an Artist Fellowship Award in fiction. (That’s not the ludicrous part, although some could argue otherwise.) Only four fellowships of $5,000 are awarded in my state, so the chances were to be very slim. Virginia, I’m proud to say, has no lack of exceptional writers who live and work here. Still, according to the arts commission’s web site, the fellowship application process is “open to Virginia-based writers of fiction.” Why not try? I reasoned. Turns out, I needn’t have bothered. When I called the commission to check on the grant details, they confirmed what I had already suspected. The award is geared for writers of adult work. Interestingly, I could find nothing in the application itself that would not apply to a children’s book writer, most certainly to anyone who writes YA.  This is all especially disappointing as Virginia continues its Minds Wide Open celebration for 2012: Children and the Arts.  I love our arts commission. They support lots of programs that would flounder without them, and they have to fight for survival in the General Assembly every year….

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Living la vida loca

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life

I haven’t written in more than a week, but that’s because my life has sped up like a Toyota with a stuck gas pedal. It’s hard to complain, though. My days are crammed with things I love. The Girls of Summer Q & As are coming in. I hope you caught Cathryn Clinton this week — and Jacqueline Woodson before that. (Every Friday, a new author answers our questions, so stay tuned.) I’ve been corresponding with students who are working with author (and professional gummie bear eater) Wendy Shang in northern Virginia, and my own summer residency with the Latino Education Advancement Program wrapped up. Here’s Freddie’s piece so you can see why I love this group. ESL had just finished, and I jostled my way towards the lunch line. Passing by the fifth grade hallways, I was hoping to be as big and smart as they were one day. I got in the cafeteria line and as usual, the cafeteria cashier smiled and said, “Have a good lunch, my little tootsie roll.” I went to the table where my class sat and talked to my friends: Tyler, Patterson, Michael, Michael, and Conner Lugio.  As we swapped our lunches, I had to crush my napkin because my mom left me a note saying she loved me. Although it was in Spanish and my friends could not read it, it was still embarrassing.   It was halfway through lunch when I saw her: Alexa.  She had blonde hair and green eyes, and…

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Where do YOU come from?

By Random howls into the world

Today I started my annual volunteer work at a place that I will never stop helping. The Latino Education Advancement Program (LEAP) is housed at the Steward School, one of those blindingly beautiful independent schools here in Virigina. The program serves about fifty Latino middle and high school youth from all over the Richmond area. It’s free thanks to the dogged efforts of Program Director Melanie Rodriguez and Head Master Ken Seward, who cobble together deals with a whole range of small and large funders.  (I’m grateful to James River Writers for being among them.) The result is four weeks of classes that prepare Latino kids to take more challenging classes in their own high schools, which in turn, opens doors for them when it’s time to pick colleges and beyond. None of that is why I show up every summer. I go because I think that Latino kids need the tools to find and tell our story. For all the ways this country has embraced  JLo, Pitbull, Sophia Vergara, and even zumba, you can’t get away from all the negative messages about Latinos in the media, images our youth soak up before they can even name their shame. Scan the newspaper and see what you find. “Illegal aliens” blamed for starting fires in Arizona. Graphic stories of drug wars in Mexico s[illing across our borders. Gang violence in DC. Drop out rates. Job stealing (whatever that means). The list goes on, ignoring, of course, the story of most Latinos in this country,…

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A love letter to librarians

By Random howls into the world

Tomorrow is National Library Worker’s Day. How are you celebrating? By happy coincidence, I’ll be speaking at the spring conference of the Richmond Area Reading Council. RARC is a group of Virginia book lovers banded together across sixteen counties to celebrate books and get people reading. Naturally, librarians and teachers will make up most of the mix. Nice! Hands down, there’s no edgier group than librarians. For a relatively new author like me, they’re my lifeline in a sea of splashy commercial titles. When they’re not battling censorship from the foolish, they’re figuring out how to stretch their measly budgets to bring living, breathing authors – big time and small — into the lives of kids. To Lucinda Whitehurst and Shelly Dean. To Janet Craft and Cindy Ford. To Sue Van Tassell and all the rockin’ librarians who love books, writers and readers. To all of you who have so generously helped me get started, gracias. So, how to celebrate? Let’s laugh. Here’s Betty White’s interpretation of the stereotype from The Middle. (If only BW made friends with a librarian, all her techno woes might be over!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B52IydOYrL0

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Tía Isa: the book and the woman

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

I never thought of myself as a picture book writer, but this June all that changes. TÍA ISA WANTS A CAR (Candlewick Press) will be in bookstores. It’s the story of a girl and her favorite aunt working together to buy the first family car. I wrote the text when I was in between novels and needed to play with words for a while to clear my mind. I’d been thinking about my aunt and our first family car – an old Buick Wildcat. It was a dented heap that never wanted to start, and it stalled at the most inconvenient times – like in the middle of a u-turn with on-coming traffic. Truth is, though, that the car was only half the trouble. My aunt – the real tía Isa – was a lousy driver. She’d arrived in this country in 1968, having completed a year of required labor in Cuba’s sugar cane fields to earn her way off that island. Maybe as the result of all she’d been through during the revolution (or maybe just because she was cursed with “anxious genes” as is common in my clan), tía Isa was a ball of nerves, filled with ticks and odd habits that sometimes frightened me as a kid. Her jumpy lip always reminded me of a bunny’s. In any case, when she came home one day with her driver’s license, the family was shocked but grateful for the milagro. A car – even an   old jalopy like the…

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