Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Milagros and Middle Grade: Bookends on my career so far

Meg’s first book signing 2008, Narnia Bookstore, RVA

I found a picture of myself at my first-ever book launch. Back in 2008, my first middle grade novel, Milagros: Girl from Away, was published by Henry Holt. To celebrate, Narnia Bookstore (which would later become bbgb books in Carytown) hosted my friends and family in the shop. “If I die tomorrow,” I told my husband, “know that I was happy, and that I did what I always dreamed I would.”

Well, I’m not dead and I’m glad  because there are still things left to do and books left to write. And while that sentiment still holds true, I look back and realize it was euphoria talking. But that’s the beauty of a first book, I suppose. I wrote Milagros in the beautiful bubble called The First Novel – that wonderful space where no one was waiting for a manuscript, where there were no expectations, no real notion of what reviews meant, and where the process of writing a manuscript all the way to the end was my crowning accomplishment. It was all wonder and hope.

The other thing I know is that I mostly wrote with no idea of what I was doing, which is maybe exactly the wild abandon we need, especially early in our careers. If we get bound up in our heads and in the business landscape of publishing, I think we risk losing the book that is coming from our heart. In my case, I had taught creative writing, but I hadn’t ever written a children’s book. I drew from the first stories I ever heard at my grandmother’s knee, and from the style of stories I loved to read as a girl – magical adventures. To my surprise, what emerged was a story about stingrays, pirates, healers and mothers  –and the sad truth of what it means to endure a migration.

cover illustration by Joe Cepeda

I’ve been thinking a lot about Milagros these days. For one thing, I’m at work once again on a middle grade novel, this time for Candlewick. And nine years later, I know a lot more about what to worry about in birthing a book. Not that it makes things easier. Actually it’s the opposite. On the plus side, I’m probably better at craft. I can ask myself harder questions than I once did about the characters and how relatable they are to a young reader in 2017. I know enough to give long and compassionate thought to presenting a thorny and sad issue to someone who is ten years old. I worry the details about whether I’ve written with sensitivity to all the people represented. I think about vocabulary and spaces for humor and what role to give adults in this novel so that they are not saviors but not absentees, either. I read and reread with an eye to the page turn and tension.

But it’s what I’ve learned on the publishing side that can give me the real angst, mostly because I can’t really control any of it and because it’s rooted in vanity. My late night questions swirl. How will this compare to my other books? Will anyone review it? Will they give it a star or simply a polite nod? Will copies even sell? Will this win an award, get on such-and-such list? Or will it die a quiet death?  None of those worries ever occurred to me when I wrote Milagros. I tell you, it was bliss.

With all that said, though, it’s also true that I’m not only thinking about Milagros with nostalgia. What’s also drawing me is that so much of our news has been truly disturbing lately, particularly as it relates to the idea of who “belongs,” which is, of course, one of the big threads of that story.  Travel bans, threats of deportations, desecration of cemeteries, attacks and murders on people who are told to “go back to where they belong.”  I can’t keep it at arm’s length or read about it coolly in the newspaper as if it doesn’t affect me. Because it does. In my daily life, dear friends and acquaintances confess their fears, their contingency plans, their sense of not knowing where to turn or whom to trust, and worst of all, their worries about their children.

Writing a book sometimes feels like the biggest thing you can achieve. But it can also feel like a small thing in the face of so much misunderstanding and hate. That’s especially true of a first book where, unsure, you once cut your teeth.  That’s how it has been for me with Milagros, anyway.

All these years later, and at a time of so much division and suspicion, I find myself struggling to hold on to the wonder that marked the book’s first steps into the world. Stubbornly, I’m still hoping that stories – the act of remembering, the act of sharing, the act of connecting – help us find a way to love each other despite it all.

Milagros: Girl from Away .99 on Kindle, March 2017

Also about migration, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. (Young Adult)

 

 

 

March Madness – Bookish-style

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 Quintero Weaver.  Several literature and Spanish classes have read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass as well as Lila’s painstakingly researched graphic memoir, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White (2012), which chronicles her family’s experience as Argentine immigrants in Alabama during the height of the civil rights struggle. (See what I loved about it in my post on Girls of Summer.)  Darkroom is soon to release in a Spanish edition (Cuarto Oscuro), translated by Dr. Karina Vázquez.

lila-and-meg-talk-march-2017-poster-image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I instantly adored that book, and upon meeting Lila, felt the same about her. Anyone who knows her will tell you that she’s talented and gracious, but you might also like to know that she’s one of the forces behind Latinxs in Kid Lit, one of my reliable go-to places for finding new authors and titles. And, best of all, I hear there’s a new book, The Year in the Middle Row, coming from her in 2018 through Candlewick.

9781101934593On the other end of March, is my state’s joyous VA Festival of the Book. There is so much good stuff in there this year – including Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston on Sunday. (His new book is A Life in Parts.) I hope you’ll take the time to go through the schedule and spend some time in Charlottesville. As always, there is something for everyone.

I am in moderator mode this time around, but I’ve got quite a seat. On Saturday morning, March 25 (10 am, Village School), kids and teachers will have the pleasure of welcoming Soman Chainani (The School of Good and Evil), Ellen Oh (The Prophecy series) and me as we talk about our work in Flying Lessons & Other Stories. The anthology has earned five starred reviews and has been mentioned in Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, too. Grab a kid, and come join us!

The day couldn’t end on a brighter note than my afternoon panel (4 PM, Omni Monroe Room.) Drawing and Writing Libros will be a conversation among Pure Belpré-winning picture book authors and illustrators on books, culture, access, and publishing. The authors are this year’s Pura Belpré winner, Juana Medina (no relation, sadly), veteran Lulu Delacre, and the lovely Angela Dominguez. Please spread the word! Meanwhile, here’s a little taste of an art talk Juana did on how she created her award-winning artwork for Juana and Lucas.

 

 

 

Take that winter! Burn Baby Burn a 2016 LA Times Book Prize Finalist

image001A wonderful surprise to beat back my February blues, which have really been a challenge this year.

Burn Baby Burn was named a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize today.

It’s quite a list, including the award-sweeping MARCH by John Lewis, so I’m especially honored – and also not envious of the judges. The fun/harrowing thing is that you don’t know who actually wins until the day of the event. So stay tuned for April 21 at the kick off for the LA Times Book Festival this year.

Thank you, LA Times, for inclusion on this lovely and thought-provoking list. And thank you, Candlewick, for my brand NEW pair of disco ball earring to wear for the occasion. I’ll be traveling west with my editor, Kate Fletcher, to attend the ceremony. Fingers crossed ( and TUMS in my purse.)

BurnBabyBurn_cvrSktch-7 copy 2Press release here.

Young Adult Literature
Socorro Acioli/ Daniel Hahn (Translator), The Head of the Saint, Delacorte
Julie Berry, The Passion of Dolssa, Viking Books for Young Readers
Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree, Harry N. Abrams
John Lewis. Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, March: Book Three, Top Shelf Productions
Meg Medina, Burn, Baby, Burn, Candlewick

#CelebrateYoungReaders grand opening at the Library of Congress

yrc-grand-opening

 

 

The Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress is having a grand opening for its Saturday hours this weekend. That means, when folks visit the capital, their kids can have a place to rest from museums and seek shelter in a story time with mom and dad.

697_234I’ll be kicking off the festivities with our beloved Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden. I’ve planned a Mango, Abuela and Me read-aloud and book talk, followed by Q& A with kids from around the country.

There will be games, book talks, and performances led by Erica Perl author of Capybara Conspiracy, for older kids, as well. I hear through the grapevine that there’s a wrap up that honors the Chinese New Year (Rooster), too.

I plan to stay the whole day, so whether you’re a fan of picture books or a YA reader, please come keep me company! Now more than ever is the time to celebrate books, reading, and knowledge.

Our twitter hashtag for the day: #CelebrateYoungReaders

PDF for you to download: yrc-grand-opening

 

For All the Nasty Women and Girls: The 2017 Amelia Bloomer Top Ten

2017ameliabloomertopten

I can’t tell you how exciting it feels to have Burn, Baby, Burn included in the Amelia Bloomer Top Ten list of 2017, especially on the heels of such an awe-inspiring weekend when we witnessed the mobilization of thousands upon thousands of women across the globe.  We have work to do – and we’re willing to do it.

And for those of you who foolishly slept in this morning, here’s the link to the results of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I didn’t win any shiny stickers from ALA this year, but there are so many amazing titles here that did. Time to order up, folks. Congratulations to all the winners and their publishing teams!

 

A letter to RVA about Girls of Summer 2017

January 16, 2017

img_0609It’s MLK Day in our nation, during a time when our country is heartbreakingly fractured. On Saturday, January 14, 2017, the two of us took a stand and walked in the March on Monument, a peaceful coming together of the various social justice groups that serve the Richmond community.  Two thousand or so of our neighbors stood shoulder to shoulder chanting a call and response:

Show Me What Democracy Looks Like! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!

What do we need? LOVE. When do we need it? NOW. What do we need? Unity. When do we need it? NOW.

There were older women and men. Parents pushing strollers and carrying signs. Old Basset hounds. Seasoned activists and college students. Wheelchair users. Artists, writers, musicians. And, members of the faith community.

Looking around, we saw our community celebrating diversity and inclusion at the statue of Robert E. Lee asking, How do we knit ourselves together in strength? How can we make our community a place where all people are respected and cared for? What can each of us offer?

We had been thinking long and hard about Girls of Summer, our curated reading list for strong girls, now approaching its seventh year. To be frank, last year, we wondered if it might be time to let the list go. Exhausted and overscheduled, we could point to dozens of other reading lists for girls to choose from.

But then the world got upended in deep and disturbing ways, most notably in an infamous video and talk of grabbing women by their genitals. And we realized that now was not the time to stop. There is still so much work to do together to make this world safe, secure, and nurturing of girls.

So plans have changed.

For the next four years, not only are we not letting go of Girls of Summer, but we are going to grow it big. We’ll use every ounce of our strength as authors, mothers, and literary citizens to build it up as a resource to empower young women of all ages to become lifelong readers and learners, with the tools to find their voices, to stand up, and to protect themselves.

So, here is the first of what will be many exciting changes this year:

Our Girls of Summer team is growing. We are joined by new and dynamic friends with loving ties to our city. These are book women, strong women, and advocates who will be helping to choose our list, plan our event, and spread the word to girls here at home and around the country. They are:

stacyhawkinsadamsheadshotStacy Hawkins Adams

amanda_headshot-cropped-300x294Amanda Nelson

aisha-saeed-headshotAisha Saeed

maya-smart-headshot-2016Maya Smart

 

 

 

In the coming months, you can expect to hear about new a partnership with Richmond Young Writers, too, as we develop new ways for young people to have access to our visiting authors. You’ll hear about a literary breakfast event organized by our longtime champions at the Richmond Public Library and about new schools and organizations who have asked to join us in this effort. And it’s our hope that you will, in fact, engage with us through attendance, earmarked donations to the Richmond Public Library foundation, and support with new and urgent energy.

We linked arms as we marched on Saturday, in effort to stay warm and in thanksgiving for this friendship of ours. Encircled by thousands of new friends, we got caught up in the spirit of loving kindness and the spirit of justice that rolled down Monument Avenue. How did this happen, we wondered? Just two girls: one with roots in Cuba and one from Mississippi, two friends who have found that it’s our differences that make us strong and our shared values that keep us brave.

Our friendship is what sparked Girls of Summer, but we know that friendship alone isn’t what sustains this important project. For that kind of sustenance, we need a community filled with smart people who care about books and reading in the lives of every day folks. (Here’s looking at you bbgb books and Kris Spisak – champions from the start.) We need a community that is invested in respecting and empowering females, from ages eight to eighty-eight. We need neighbors who insist on equality and inclusion where we live, work, and play.

And in Richmond, Virginia, as it turns out,  we have found exactly that.

Stayed tuned.

Meg Medina and Gigi Amateau are authors of works for young readers. Among their many projects, they are the cofounders of Girls of Summer List, a curated summer reading list for strong girls. They live (proudly) in Richmond, Virginia.

Photo round-up of my post election travels

Hi all –

I’m heading to NCTE in Atlanta tomorrow, but my head is still buzzing from the election and all that it means for many of the vulnerable children and families that I meet in my life as an author.

In the days to come, I’ll especially need to remind myself to balance aggravation with joy.  So here is a bit from the joyful side. Yesterday,  Burn Baby Burn was named a Best Book of 2016 by School Library Journal and also by Amazon.

As you know, I was in NYC last week. My trip offered me really beautiful experiences at Bank Street College and also at the ever-fabulous Book Riot Live Conference, where people came from as far away as Australia and Sweden. I’ve pasted some of my favorite shots below – everything from political protest to utter joy and silliness.

Other than that, my friends, I’ll touch base with you again in a few weeks. Hide the knives if you have to and enjoy a peaceful Thanksgiving with your families.

Scenes from the Union Station subway station where citizens voiced their opposition

Scenes from the Union Station subway station where citizens voiced their opposition to the election results

The wall of sticky notes extended so long...

The wall of sticky notes extended so long…

Yes.

With RJ Palacio and Jennifer Brown, talking about childhood friendships and how they can lead to a literary life

With RJ Palacio and Jennifer Brown, talking about childhood friendships and how they can lead to a literary life

With Jennifer Brown and Dr. Cynthia Weill at Bank Street. Photo credit Cheryl Simon

With Jennifer Brown and Dr. Cynthia Weill at Bank Street. Photo credit Cheryl Simon

There are no friends like the ones we know and love from childhood. Photo credit: Cheryl Simon

There are no friends like the ones we know and love from childhood. Photo credit: Cheryl Simon

She found an old picture of us at Niagra Falls when we were 11. Photo credit: Cheryl Simon

She found an old picture of us at Niagra Falls when we were 11. Photo credit: Cheryl Simon

Where Raquel and I did our photo shoot for the New York Times

Where Raquel and I did our photo shoot for the New York Times on what has to have been the windiest day on record. Whew. I’ll let you know when the story runs.

My favorite guy at Book Riot

My favorite guy at Book Riot.

courtesy of Raquel Matos Stecher from Candlewick

courtesy of Raquel Matos Stecher from Candlewick

The Book Riot panel of librarians reminded me of the essential role the public library plays in our lives, now more than ever

The Book Riot panel of librarians reminded me of the essential role the public library plays in our lives, now more than ever