Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Archive for the ‘Random howls into the world’ Category

I’ve Been Quiet Lately. Thinking.

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. (more…)

This month at Pine Camp: Paintings by Salvador González Escalona

IMG_0186I’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.

FullSizeRenderFrom 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.

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.”



My favorite MLK celebration: the Virginia way

MLK_Memorial_NPS_photoThis 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.

logoMy 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 are our best hope to forge reconciliation and understanding. They tell our most difficult stories as a country through the personal stories of the people who lived them.  If you haven’t been to the Moton, put it on your list.


A.B. Westrick, Gigi Amateau, and me getting ready to take our seats in the theater. We were in the second row!

When we think of people whose rights have historically been ignored, we can certainly include young people with disabilities, too. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of traveling  to DC with my pals Gigi Amateau and A.B. Westrick. We went to see Mockingbird, a family theater performance at The Kennedy Center. I’d never been to the Kennedy Center, so that felt like a thrill in  and of itself. But even better, we were there to see our friend’s book performed as theater. The play, adapted by Julie Jensen and directed by Tracy Callahan, is based on Mockingbird, winner of the 2010 National Book Award, and written by our friend (and fellow Virginia author) Kathy Erskine.  We were crazy proud. Really, all we were missing were pom-poms.

The play captured the delicate balance of grief, hope, and healing that Kathy laid out in her novel. Told through the eyes of Caitlin, a girl with autism, the play allows the audience inside the  heart and mind of a young woman whose challenges can easily keep her isolated. It is by turns hilarious and touching – but also unerringly true about grief, families, and love. Everything from the use of technology in the set design to the nuanced performance by Dylan Silver in the lead role was absolutely perfect. I’ll tell you right here, bring tissues.  The play runs through Feb.1. Tickets are $20.  Highly recommended.


The Candlewick Holiday Video

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!

Underwater Dreams airing on MSNBC

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: 


header_logoI 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!


Check Your Drawers: My hopes for you in 2014

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.

Image 1Image 2The 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.Image

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 would probably never have the chance to “write from my desk at home” and “produce books that made me feel proud.” Who was I to want such grand things, and how on earth was I going to cobble together a career as a writer? When I came upon the exercise buried in one of my old desk drawers, I was shocked to see that a lot of what I once thought impossible has slowly come to be.

Meg's work space 2013.jpg-largeSo, here I am, writing from a newly moved and polished table in my living room, where I work on books that name the experience of growing up. I’m part of my city’s writing community, and my books are earning lovely honors. I don’t know if it matters that I wrote my heart’s true wish down. But somewhere along the line, I must have decided to get past my fears – just as my mother did all those years ago.

In 2014, I’m wishing you the same courage, maybe even the same cheesy exercise. I’m wishing you people who leave lasting, if imperfect, imprints. I’m wishing you the power of dreams.

Cariños de,


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

imagesThis one is for teens who have a camera and wouldn’t mind winning $1,000 and a trip to New York.

1268848_300I 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!

A Gift from Tía Isa

Beech-Nut-Goya-Introduce-Hispanic-Inspired-Baby-Food-Line-MainPhotoThree 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.

tia_isaWhich 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 you’ve read this blog over the last year, you know that Isa also surprised us by surviving a massive stroke.

Dear Niece...

Dear Niece…

“Mira, niña,” Isa said.

“What is it?” I sighed. It had been a long day for me, and I was irritable from the endless and sometimes irrational demands I have to meet to keep my mother and aunt comfortable. I can be called on to close curtains another inch, run to the Dollar Store, “fix” the remote, explain junk mail, fight with Humana, empty a bedside commode. My writing time is crowded out more often than I want to admit.

But this time, she handed over a few sheets of handwritten looseleaf.

“Querida sobrina,” it said. Dear Niece. As I read aloud in Spanish, I realized to my complete shock that she’d written me a letter containing all she can remember of her life in Cuba. It was four pages, which is a lot of writing for an 80-year-old stroke victim. It begins with her birth in 1933 during the Great Depression, and the last entry is about the night before she left in 1968. In between, she mentions hurricanes, life in a “colonia,” building a schoolhouse, my grandfather crossing the river on horseback. It’s a Cliff’s Notes version, but it has a great ending. “Que Dios Bendiga America!” God Bless America!  

I sat on the edge of her bed, speechless for a minute.  I could hear the urgency in her voice as she told me why she’d done it.

Ysa's high school graduation picture

Isa’s high school graduation picture

“So you can keep writing after we’re gone.”

You’re Never Far From Your Story

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.

Thirty years. Holy moly. Here we are arriving in Croatia

Thirty years. Holy moly.
Here we are arriving in Croatia

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.)

Javier in Oia (Santorini)  Marble sidewalks. The Mediterranean. Cave houses. Too beautiful for words.

Javier in Oia (Santorini)
Marble sidewalks. The Mediterranean. Cave houses. Too beautiful for words.

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.The Thief Lord

“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.

Probably deliciously spooky in there.

Probably deliciously spooky in there.

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! My friend’s book is officially an international sensation!

Wonder by R J Palacio right there on the bottom shelf!

Wonder by R J Palacio right there on the bottom shelf!

Finally, in Croatia, among the various street performers, we found this man displaying his parrots. I zeroed in on the red one immediately. My upcoming picture book, Sunset Colorá, is about a girl, a grandmother, and a bright red parrot. It was a nice reminder of home.

Proof positive that you are never far from your story

Proof positive that you are never far from your story


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