Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Posts tagged ‘Candlewick Press’

Who Are You to Say? Why I’m part of a censorship panel at Bank Street College

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If you care about kids and the books they read, maybe you can make room in your schedule for a half-day conference on censorship this Saturday at Bank Street College in NYC.

banned-buttonI’m no stranger to dust ups about what’s inside my books, sadly – mostly in the form of soft censorship. Just shy of an out-and-out challenge, it means that barriers are thrown between the reader and the book. Barriers like being disinvited to schools. Or having the title of my book changed to dollar signs for the s’s in ass. Or requiring parental notes to read the novel. Or simply not carrying the novel in the library, despite its recognitions by the ALA and other reputable sources.

BurnBabyBurn_cvrSktch-7 copy 2And I’m guessing that someone will find plenty of reasons to oppose my latest historical fiction novel, Burn Baby Burn, too, for its mention of contraception, Planned Parenthood and maybe even foul language.

I’ll need my brain and my crocodile skin, so this conference actually comes at a good time for me.

What’s especially appealing to me about this particular conference is also this:  As the conversation about diverse representation deepens, new and compelling controversies have erupted. The only solution that makes sense? Think, learn, and talk.

Here’s the set up for the day: We’ll be given a brief look at the history of censorship in books for young readers by the eminent children’s book scholar, Leonard Marcus. The panels that follow will consider how authors come to these stories to begin with; the common reasons books get in trouble with censors; and finally, the more recent controversies, including those that have put usual allies in conflict with one another.

I hope you can join us. Here’s a little visual and a guest list so you know what to expect.

Books we’ll talk about with their authors and/or editors:

and tango enhanced-buzz-wide-22567-1391614085-7 the-miseducation-of-cameron-post Tyrell+cover+hi+res-1 512R2aJ0iLL._SX341_BO1,204,203,200_ 61eSz7BpJlL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_BurnBabyBurn_cvrSktch-7 copy 2Yaqui with medal

Other uber librarians and publishing experts on hand:

Allie Jane Bruce, Children’s Librarian, Bank Street College of Education; Fatima Shaik, Children’s/Young Adult Books Committee, PEN American Center; Andy Laties, Manager, Bank Street Book Store;
Kiera Parrott, Reviews Director, School Library Journal; Cheryl Willis Hudson, Editorial Director, Just Us Books, Inc.; Elizabeth Levy, author; Joan Bertin, Director, National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC); Hilary Van Dusen, editor Candlewick Press; David Gale, editor, Simon & Schuster; Shelly Diaz, YA reviewer, School Library Journal

 

Not anywhere near New York?

You can follow the conversation from afar on #CensorshipConversation, Saturday, April 16, 9 am – 1 pm.

How do I get in? Why a lousy beginning can still help you write a good novel

In between promotion travel for Burn Baby Burn, I’m turning my attention to writing my next projects with Candlewick. I have an anthology story due soon, and a middle grade manuscript due in December.

I have friends who have mastered the art of airplane and hotel room writing. Some even write for as little as six minutes before going off to jobs in offices every day. But writing on the run has always been a struggle for me. I need a lot of quiet to sink deeply enough inside my imagination to connect with my characters, especially at the beginning.

IMG_3147So, I was cleaning up my computer desktop – which is what I do when when I’m trying to avoid something unpleasant, like battling my writing insecurities. The process of beginning never seems to get easier, even after all this time. (The only thing worse is writing endings, but more on THAT another day.) I still spend weeks circling like a vulture above the story. I can see the characters vaguely. I can see their neighborhood, their school, the general shape of their lives, but I can’t quite zero in on where to start. I can be caught like this for a long while, writing and rewriting the first 30 pages as I flesh out the book’s world, looking under every rock for the heart of my main character.

I bring this up because I stumbled upon hard evidence of why I should just embrace this wandering and stop worrying. Right there on my desktop was a file that contained the draft of how I had originally planned to start Burn Baby Burn.  Back then, I decided I would open in the winter of 1977, on the day that news outlets were reporting about the suicide of Freddie Printze. Here it is as a pdf, if you’re interested. ORIGINAL BEGINNING OF BURN BABY BURN

51XeXLoY3VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I remember how cold it was that year in New York – almost as extreme as the summer heat that would follow. But what I was really after was the emotional window of Freddie Printze’s death. Who didn’t watch Chico and the Man? I loved that Latin God and all the ways his show spoke to me, wrapping its comments about racism in humor. Here was this good looking Puerto Rican-playing-a-Mexican, in tight jeans and puppy dog eyes. I was in love. News of his suicide left me stunned – and his death somehow became entwined in my mind with the long unraveling of the city that year. Something in the loss of a cultural hero brought me to the story of New York City in 1977. It reminded me that every piece of innocence and hope we had was at risk that year.

With Kate

With Kate

So what made me change my mind and abandon that opening? I’d love to claim that it was my own fantastic sense of storytelling, but really it was my editor, Kate Fletcher. To her credit, she politely stepped over my original beginning for months until we were very late into our editorial process. Finally, she pointed out the obvious. So much was going on in the novel that maybe I needed to narrow the timeframe a bit to keep the focus. Spring to summer seemed about right.

Kate. This is her gift. She knows just when to offer a suggestion so that I can hear it.

Had she insisted on this change earlier, who knows what I would have said? Likely, I would have fought her because Freddie Printze’s death was my way inside my own memories, and those memories are what gave me the courage to sink into research and the unfamiliar hard work of writing historical fiction.

I was reminded yet again that beginnings almost always change substantially once you’re “finished” writing. They are not sacred – except for those fragile, early days when they are what give us permission to reach inside ourselves.

So, where am I on my next novel? At the beginning. Or, so I think.

Just for you: You might like this master class CD about writing beginnings with Richard Peck.

 

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Huge Win for Latino Authors at ALA: Mango, Abuela and Me Among medalists

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It’s been a huge and unexpected day for me, to say the least.

But it has been a HUGE day for Latino authors and illustrators all the way around.  A ceiling-shattering day.  A day that represents such an astounding shift in respect and perception that it brings tears to my eyes as I am typing this.

For the first time, we have Latino winners and honor books in so many of the major awards – the Feldman, the Seilbert, the Printz, the Caldecott, the Odyssey, non fiction awards and the very highest one, the Newbery. I am so very proud of my friend, Matt de la Peña, for his gorgeous book, Last Stop on Market Street. (The full list of ALA winners is here.) 

MANGO_jacket_for_Meg copyIf you were watching the ALA awards this morning, you know that Mango, Abuela, and Me was given the 2016 Pura Belpré honor book award for literature, as well as receiving an honor for the illustrations. Congratulations, Angela! (Full list of Pura Belpré winners here.)

This award celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  Since its inception, the Pura Belpré award has sought to shine a light on the Latino experience in children’s literature. In so many ways, this has become my life’s work. To have this medal on my book – this year in particular – is such an affirmation.

A huge congratulations to Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez winners of the Pura Belpré medal for literature and illustration, respectively. I feel so humbled to have my work included alongside yours. Congratulations to all the winners. Wow.

I can’t thank the committee members enough for believing in my work.  (They are Ana-Elba Pavon, Chair; Sylvia Cecilia M. Aguinaga; Patricia Rua-Bashir; Maria F. Estrella; Maria C. Mena; Teresa Mlawer; Abigail Yvonne Morales; and Oralia Garza de Cortes, REFORMA, Cultural Competency.) I know it couldn’t have been easy to volunteer your time so generously, especially in a year when so many wonderful books were up for consideration.

A big hug to Kate Fletcher, my editor, and to all my friends at Candlewick who make me feel like a winner every single day. (Special kudos to designer Heather McGee and Ann Stott who art directed along with Chris Paul.) Much appreciation, too, goes to my agent, Jen Rofé, for her friendship and tireless advocacy on my behalf.

But mostly, I’m grateful to everyone who has read and shared Mango, Abuela and Me. Thank you for using this book to help children feel proud of who they are and to help us all celebrate the many ways to speak the language of love and respect.

Cariños,

Meg

On conga lines, a seaside library, and the surprise of a girl’s rehab center: REFORMA Nat’l Convention V

You haven’t lived until you’ve done a conga line to the strains of Miami Sound Machine with a bunch of happy librarians. That’s precisely what I did during the dance party/dessert reception at the fifth annual REFORMA national conference in San Diego last week.

757799_c6a406e46c834299bba5a0f4540a55de.png_srz_p_913_281_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzI’ve mentioned REFORMA here before. That’s the arm of ALA dedicated to library services to Latinos – and a partner in the Pura Belpré award, along with ALSC. This year about 300 librarians, authors, teachers, and community leaders – many sporting pins with slogans like Sí – hablo español – gathered to share ideas and best practices.

Photo via Sonia Bautista

Photo via Sonia Bautista

It had a lot of the usual conference fare: panels, keynotes (mine at the pool on a broiler of a day). But the event had the unmistakable feeling of friends coming together for support and fun, too. Maybe that’s what Ana Elba Pavon meant when she called it “time with my REFORMA family.”

Look, you can’t blame me for being a little giddy about going to San Diego, land of the eternal sunny-and-low-70s weather, especially after this winter. But I got a lot more than a few days in the sunshine.

I was surprised to run into Teresa Mlawer, who has been duking it out with the translation for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, which she says is the hardest book she’s ever had to translate. (She’s done quite a few, like classics, Where the Wild Things Are and Caps for Sale.) She’s trying her best to keep the voice and idioms, all while making the book sound not like a translation, but as though it was originally written in Spanish. She promised to come on this blog – or sit on a panel with me some time – to talk about this tricky process. All translations are not equal. All Spanish is not the same. It’s a minefield, I tell you.

Selfie with librarian Jennifer Lawson.  Hey, same glasses!

Selfie with librarian Jennifer Lawson. Hey, same glasses!

Another fantastic surprise was the morning I spent at the Girls Rehabilitation Facility through a program called the Juvenile Court Book Club. Thanks to librarian and board member Jennifer Lawson of the San Diego County Public Library, I spent the morning with girls, all under 18, who are  incarcerated, but who have earned privileges for good behavior. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be walking into an entire room full of Yaqui Delgado’s?  What I found was an incredibly engaged teacher named Yolanda (originally from Philly) and a smart group of girls with good questions. So little separated them from the middle and high school girls I meet everywhere else.

If you’ve read Yaqui, you know that it takes a look at living through violence, making mistakes, and finding the strength to regroup. The girls at the center have probably felt lost in the face of all they’ve seen. Their mistakes or lousy circumstances have cost them dearly. But here they are, strong girls trying to find a new way to see themselves. It felt like a gift to spend time with them, and I am very grateful to Candlewick, my publisher, for donating copies of the book that they could keep.

Encinitas branch of San Diego Public library

Encinitas branch of San Diego Public library

Nice entrance to the library

Nice entrance to the library

Take a look at the Encinitas branch of the library where I did a small panel with Mary Pearson (The Adoration of Jenna Fox, among other titles) and Stephanie Diaz, who, at age 21, is about to publish her third book in a sci-fi trilogy with St. Martin’s Press. Amazingly, Stephanie wrote her first novel and query letter at age thirteen. Check out her website and share it with every kid who tells you they’ve got their novel ready. All things are possible.

With Mary Pearson and Stephanie Diaz

With Mary Pearson and Stephanie Diaz

Then it was off to REFORMA. I took in a few sessions, including one about DIA celebrations. I’ve done DIA events in the past (Paint Me a Story, remember?), and I’ve tried to be part of the diversity celebration every year since then. ALA has recently referred to Dia as Diversity in Action, to include all cultural groups. But in California, where they’ve been celebrating April (especially April 30) for ten years or more, they largely still call it Dia de los niños/dia de los libros as it was originally conceived by the legendary Pat Mora.

I think a missing piece is still DIA programming for teens. As luck would have it, the Dia day that I’m part of at the Library of Congress YRC at the end of the month is geared to parents, librarians and teachers of middle grade and high school youth. Here’s the invite: DIA UPDATED INVITE

The authors on the panel are all middle grade and YA authors representing a range of cultures. It’s a good start, but now my wheels are turning (uh-oh) on how to tap into diverse authors, especially YA Latino authors, to do a month-long Teen Dia something-or-other. (I can already imagine my writing friends reading this and trying to figure out how to put email blockers on me.)

Dancing based on Aztec storytelling at Noche de Cuentos.

Dancing based on Aztec storytelling at Noche de Cuentos.

The conference also had evening events at the San Diego Downtown library, which is a spectacle of a building with enormous glass book sculptures, and architectural wonders that make a book geek’s head explode. It even includes a school inside. Go visit.

Folkloric music from Mexico at the dessert reception.

Folkloric music from Mexico at the dessert reception.

And, finally, yes, there was the dancing. What can I say? We watched folkloric dance for about thirty minutes, and then the DJ showed up. It took all of four notes for the REFORMA past president and the San Diego County Library director to take the dance floor. After that, everyone was up and moving. Before I knew it, Keith Michael Fiels, ALA’s CEO, and I were boogying and following the conga line around the room. Pictures will surface, possibly with blackmail notes. I’ll keep you posted.

Okay – AWP in Minnesota is up next. And guess what, they’re predicting snow showers. Okay, it’s not 70-degrees-and-sunny. But who knows? I might find some great surprises there, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new book trailer: Mango, Abuela, and Me

film-clipart-dT8eGr6TeDo you need a book trailer? Plenty of authors will say no, but trailers are fun to make, even if you don’t have any visual art skills. The one below was made on i-movie, plain and simple. Personally, I like the exercise of distilling an entire book idea down to a minute or less.  It’s a visual “elevator pitch” and another way to get readers engaged in what’s coming.

Anyway, here’s the trailer for my next picture book, Mango, Abuela, and Me, due from Candlewick Press on August 25, 2015. Illustrated by the lovely Angela Dominguez.

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

The Arkansas River

The Arkansas River

That’s pretty much what everybody asked me this week.  Maybe it’s because it’s hard to imagine a Cuban from Queens hanging out near Oklahoma where the wind does, in fact, come sweeping down the plain. But there I was: Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Fort Smith is a quiet place with one of everything, as Ines, one of the district’s English Language Learners coordinators, told me. One Staples. One bridal shop. One mall. Church life is central to life here, which made me laugh when I toured their visitor center –  a restored brothel called Miss Laura’s Social Club. You can walk along the beautiful Arkansas river here, eat something called a Frito Chili pie, or find excellent Vietnamese food. You can experience a tornado drill on a moment’s notice or tour gallows and other bone-chilling artifacts of the “wild west.”IMG_2577

Such a mix of unexpected things. Including people.

Miss Laura's living room

Miss Laura’s living room

Like a lot of small towns in the US, Fort Smith is warm and close-knit – and it now finds its demographics shifting. Schools that were once 90 percent white, now have Latino populations of over sixty percent, compounded in some cases by significant financial need. The challenge, of course, is to embrace change as normal and to pull from it the rich experiences that a truly multicultural community can provide.

With Amanda Baker and Ines Robles-Hough

With my talented and wonderful handlers: Amanda Baker and Ines Robles-Hough

As I’ve had the chance to do  elsewhere, I spoke to kids about my books, culture, and where those two meet inside a writer. I had to tread lightly on Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and (maybe predictably) the school personnel asked that I talk more about my other books, especially Tia Isa Wants a Car, and  The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, a story which is, at its heart, about hope and migration.  As usual  the young people were funny and open. They asked me good, hard questions beyond how old I was and how much money I made. We shared so many laughs about being bicultural, and it was lovely to receive their many hugs and love letters, where they promised to reach inside themselves for what they truly want.

I move through the world as a person who believes in the power of our shared stories and experiences, especially in the lives of children. Books offer so many ways to help kids understand themselves and others. For newcomers, they can provide a way to become literate both in their parents’ home language and in English, a surefire plus in life. Books can help communities quilt together something beautiful from the many people who find themselves in the same place together, wondering how they will fit. My deepest wish is that Ft. Smith – like all the other towns I’ve visited this year – continues to take risks. The kids are counting on all of us to innovate.

handmade quilt representing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Made by Suzanne McPherson

handmade quilt representing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Made by Suzanne McPherson, Supervisor of Special Programs

I’ve traveled a lot this year as a result of last year’s Pura Belpré medal – including to places like Fort Smith. The medal made it possible for me see this country through the eyes of young people whose lives are so different from mine. What an honor to have met them, along with the adults who work so hard to serve them.purabelpremedal2

I’m typing this with just a few hours to go before the Superbowl. No, not the Seahawks and Patriots. I mean the one for book geeks like me: the ALA Midwinter meeting that is going on right now in Chicago. Picture it: 10,000 librarians and book lovers freezing their tails off for the love of kids and reading. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be drinking my coffee and listening to the webcast as a new slate of medal winners is announced.  I can hardly wait to see who joins the Pura Belpré family this time, as well as which of the many amazing books I’ve read this year will be awarded medals.

With a grateful heart, I say this: It has been an unforgettable year of learning and making connections. I hope all of the new winners enjoy the same enthusiasm and hospitality that was offered so abundantly to me.

Cariños de,

Meg

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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!