Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘HarperCollins’

Traitor Angels: How motherhood helped Anne Blankman tackle Milton and Galileo in a YA novel

I have a new neighbor –  and it’s none other than the fabulous YA author, Anne Blankman!  Anne, a former youth services librarian, is the author of three historical novels for teens, including her latest –  Traitor Angels – starred by Kirkus.

 I invited Anne to post on writing the strong girl in history – and how she manages to tackle even the most sophisticated content so that teen readers can relate. Milton’s Paradise Lost? No problem… Here’s Anne Blackman.


 

Anne and Kirsten in Edinburgh, ScotlandMy daughter was six months old when she gave me the courage to write. Yup, you read that correctly. Although I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid, as an adult I couldn’t find the courage to “put myself out there.” Once I’d had my daughter and the first few sleep-deprived foggy-minded months had passed, though, I found myself gazing at her tiny, perfect face and knowing I wanted to be a good role model for her—which meant I had to stop surrendering to fear. I needed to start writing.

y648Fast-forward a few years and two books later, and it was time for me to start drafting my third novel, the YA romantic historical adventure Traitor Angels. The idea had been growing in my mind for a decade, ever since I took a college course on English poet John Milton.

One day in class I noticed something strange about the poem we were studying. Milton’s famous epic, Paradise Lost, is supposed to be about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—but Milton alludes to one character who shouldn’t be there: Galileo, one of the most well-known scientists in history. How weird, I thought. I wondered if Milton had included Galileo as some sort of cryptic message to readers. When I later learned that Milton had secretly met Galileo after the latter had been sentenced to house arrest by the Italian Inquisition, I began daydreaming about the men’s possible conversations. From these initial questions, Traitor Angels grew into an adventure that includes a scavenger hunt stretching across Restoration Era England, clues concealed in literary masterpieces, a fierce girl skilled in weaponry, a mysterious Italian scientist, and a conspiracy that, if it got out, could shake the foundations of civilization.

It took me a long time to write this story. One of my biggest stumbling blocks was the main character: Elizabeth, the fictitious sixteen-year-old daughter of John Milton. I wanted her to be a strong character, but mid-seventeenth century customs and Puritan culture were working against me. How, I wondered over and over, could I make Elizabeth a gutsy girl who would resonate with modern readers? It was easy enough to put a sword in her hands, but what else could I do?

Once again, my daughter inspired me. At the time, she was four years old and fascinated with the night sky. “Can I stay up late to look at the stars?” she begged me and her dad. We laid on lawn chairs in the backyard, watching stars wink into life overhead. As I saw my daughter’s eyes widen with delight, I knew I had figured out how to make my Puritan protagonist a “strong” heroine: Her true strength would live in her mind. She would want to be a scientist—a revolutionary ideal in the mid-1600s.

Tower of LondonLater that summer, my husband, daughter, and I flew to the United Kingdom so I could speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We traveled throughout England, visiting the city of York where I had once lived and walking the streets of London where my main character had walked. Throughout it all, I watched my daughter’s reactions: her fearlessness when she clambered onto the lion statues in Trafalgar Square, her interest in the ravens flying across the grounds of the Tower of London, her joy as she ran up and down the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. This was who I wanted Elizabeth to be—someone who’s brave enough to be herself, no matter who’s watching. Someone who studies what fascinates her, regardless of whether it’s deemed “appropriate” for her gender. Someone who loves the mystery and beauty of the stars.

 

Traitor Angels is in bookstore tomorrow, May 3, 2016

Watch the trailer:

Other books by Anne Blackman:

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Here Come the Américas Awards! Q & A with author Monica Brown

This Friday, I’ll be trekking back to DC for another happy occasion. For starters, I will be visiting the Library of Congress for the first time, one of country’s most beautiful buildings. But even better is the fact that I’ll be there  for the Américas Awards. Established in 1993 by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, the Américas Award honors outstanding fiction for children that offers realistic portrayals of Latin American culture.This year’s winners are Monica Brown and illustrator Julie Paschkis, for their lovely picture book Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People (Henry Holt, 2011); and Margarita Engle for her novel in verse, The Hurricane Dancers (Henry Holt, 2011). I have been an admirer of their work for a long time, and it’s exciting to be able to join in honoring them.

Monica Brown

I got a chance to ask Monica some questions in preparation for the big day – pretty amazing considering what she’s up to. She’s just back from a trip to Peru, on the cusp of  pubbing a new picture book, and (of course) frantically packing.

How did you turn to writing and literature? Were you always passionate about books and story? What were the books and stories that inspired you as a child?

I’ve always loved books, of all sorts.  As a young child I like everything—Dr. Suess, ghost stories, and National Geographic books.  As a teenager, I can honestly say books helped me survive adolescence.  I entered college a declared English major at 17, and have built my career around words—first as a journalist for an American-owned newspaper in Guadalajara, then as a graduate student and then professor and scholar of Latino/a and Latin American literature, and finally, as a children’s book author.

Your nonfiction picture books have covered a wide range of personalities, from the very famous (such as Salsa Queen Celia Cruz) to Luis Soriano, a man delivering library books by mule in Colombia. How do you decide who or what will make a good subject for a picture book? Are there criteria to help you make a strong selection?  What, for example made Pablo Neruda a good choice for young readers?

I write about those that inspire me in different ways.  In addition to the folks mentioned above, for example, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez are my civil rights heroes, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez my favorite novelist.  Choosing to write about Pablo Neruda was lovely, because his poems are so moving and his subjects so appealing to children.  I also appreciated how he spoke out about worker’s conditions in his country, at his own personal risk.  Waiting for the Biblioburro (Random House, 2011) was inspired by Luis Soriano, but it is actually  work of fiction.  I wanted to explore the life of Ana, a fictional character who is inspired to write because of the “biblioburro” and all the stories it brings.

Julie’s illustrations for Pablo Neruda: The Poet of the People(Henry Holt 2012) are stunning. Do you have a favorite image or spread?

Every single one!  Seriously, I love Julie’s work and the ways she incorporated Spanish words into the art.  When she found out she was going to illustrate this book, she actually traveled to Chile to see the very places that inspired Pablo Neruda.  

She’s not the only fabulous illustrator you’ve worked with, of course. Rafael Lopez has partnered with you (My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz), as well as Joe Cepeda and John Parra, among others.  What is your favorite part of seeing your work interpreted visually?

Illustrated by Rafael López

My favorite moment of the entire picture-book process is the day I first receive/see the final, painted art.  It is always such a joy to see the way my words have been interpreted and brought to life. I consider Rafael, John, and Joe brilliant artists, as well as very dear friends, so it makes working with them all the more special.  John Parra and I have two books together, and Rafael and I have a 2013 book forthcoming!  We published our first book together, and we are excited about Tito Puente, King of Mambo (HarperCollins 2013)!

How would you compare the challenges and joys of nonfiction picture book vs fiction, such as Marisol MacDonald Doesn’t Match?  Does one feel easier or more enjoyable to you than the other?

I would say that neither are easy and both are joyful. At this particular moment I’m enjoying writing fiction very much—in particular the character of Marisol McDonald.  She will have a new book in 2013—Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash.  For the Marisol books, I’ve drawn from my own childhood, so I suppose the lines between fiction and nonfiction are not so clear after all!

You are, of course, at the forefront of an exciting group of Latino authors producing work in English and in bilingual formats for young readers. What are your thoughts on the responsibilities of multicultural authors as a group, particularly as it applies to social justice?

I hope to contribute to a more socially just society both in my personal and professional writing life.  I have been given a wonderful education and many opportunities to share my vision and voice and participate fully in our democracy.  As a teacher, writer, and citizen I hope my work supports others doing the same.  I also believe those of us who have a public forum have even more responsibility to those whose voices are often overlooked or silenced.

You are just back from Peru. Tell us about your trip!

I’ve just returned from Peru, the country of my mother’s birth, where I was a guest of the U.S. Embassy there.  It was a truly amazing, humbling trip.  I did numerous events over five days—in Lima, Arequipa, and Puno.  I counted seven flights in seven days in fact!

Teachers at the Centro Cultural Peruano NorteAmericano

I was a featured author at the Arequipa International Book Fair. I visited impoverished elementary schools in each city; I gave public talks; and I offered several teaching workshops while I was there.  It was awesome to meet so many beautiful children and teachers and each and everyone was excited about literature!  Only a week before I left, I put a call out to my friends and fellow Latino children’s authors, and they came through.  Together, we donated many books to schools that wouldn’t otherwise have them.  The students loved them!

Students holding their new prized books in Pachacamac Peru

I ended a wonderful week by spending a few days with my family in Peru—many of whom I hadn’t seen in years and years.  The other thing that made the trip special was that I was able to bring my teenage daughter Isabella, who celebrated turning 15 in the Lima airport. Quinceañera!

 

To learn more about Monica Brown, visit www.monicabrown.net or like Monica Brown, Children’s Author on Facebook.