Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘Hispanic Heritage Month’

Banned On the Run…

It’s a double whammy! Banned Books week and Hispanic Heritage month, so I’ve been on the road with no sign of rest in the near future.

Fellow REFORMISTA Loida Garcia Febo just shared this link to Latino books that have been challenged and banned, including the book that turned me to writing in the first place: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  Que cosa mas grande...

imagesGracias, Loida. Lists like this inspire me to write more books that might cause alarm and discomfort – and hey, even thought. And they make me feel especially fired up about my first teaching gig at Las Comadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn this weekend. Las Comadres is more than a conference. It’s a movement based on the core principle of mentorship and culture. On Saturday, established Latina authors and publishing pros will come together at Medgar Evers College to help yet-to-be published authors learn the ropes. What’s in it for me?  Mostly getting more Latino voices at the literary table, especially those writing for kids since this year, for the first time,  our public schools will be a majority minority. Besides, I’ll be helping to create more amazing books that will end up on banned book lists.

So, hermanas, if you have a story, if you’ve been too shy to admit that you want to be a writer, if you just don’t know where to begin, register for Las Comadres.

Finally, here are a few pictures from my recent travels to the DC area.  I’m exhausted, but so grateful to Candlewick Press for helping to make some of these visits possible. And as always, I am so grateful for the lovely people I meet everywhere along the way. (I’m waving at you, Osbourn Park High School…even if you DID schedule a fire drill.)

Meg’s next appearances:  

Las Comadres Writers Conference, Medger Evers College, Brooklyn, New York, September 27, 2014

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Richmond, VA, September 30, 2014 (by invitation only)

Las Américas Awards Teaching Workshops, Exploring Immigration and Identity in the K-12 Classroom, with Duncan Tonatiuth at Busboys and Poets, Washington, DC. October 3, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBoosk founder Ellen Oh surrounded by adoring fans from Iguana Books at North Atlantic Booksellers Association

#WeNeedDiverseBoosk founder Ellen Oh surrounded by adoring fans from Iguana Books

The beautiful Library of Congress. Stay tuned for details about an exciting YA event on April 30, 2015

The beautiful Library of Congress. Stay tuned for details about an exciting YA event on April 30, 2015

Thank you letter from my appearance at the Library of Congress with bilingual students last year.

Thank you letter from my appearance at the Library of Congress with bilingual students last year.

Or maybe I was having a bad hair day?

Or maybe I was having a bad hair day?

Some of the great students I met at Osbourn Park HS

Some of the beautiful students I met at Osbourn Park HS

 

 

 

 

 

Q & A with Christina Díaz Gonzalez

Christina Diaz Gonzalez

It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Christina Diaz Gonzalez as we head into the final week of Hispanic Heritage Month. You may remember her from her debut novel, The Red Umbrella. Her follow-up, A Thunderous Whisper, is also historical fiction, this time set in Europe during the Spanish Civil War. Told through the eyes of 13-year-old Ani, the novel shines a light on yet another corner of World War II.

Before we jump into your new novel, I’d like to know a little bit about you. I understand that you were an attorney at one time. Now, you live in Florida and write lovely books that celebrate Hispanic history. How did you go from one career to the other? 

I was a practicing attorney when my kids learned to read.  Watching their love for books grow rekindled my secret, childhood dream of being a writer.  Soon there was no stopping me and I became passionate about writing.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

One of the things I most admire about A Thunderous Whisper is that it brings world history to life for American kids.  You take us to a very specific corner of history (specifically to the Spanish Civil War as it connected to Franco’s relationship with Hitler during WWII. You also introduce young American readers to the Basques. Why did this particular episode in history attract you? 

A series of seemingly unrelated events (spread out over the course of several months) led me to write A Thunderous Whisper.  There was a brief discussion with a friend about Pablo Picasso’s famous painting called Guernica, a renewed interest in my family’s Basque roots, a random photo of a sardinera and my discovery of the events surrounding the Basque children during the Spanish Civil War.


This isn’t your first successful foray into historical fiction.
(The Red Umbrella) was set against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution.) How did you do your research for this new novel?

I read several primary sources and first-hand accounts by the Basque children who survived the bombing of Guernica.  I was also lucky enough to travel to the beautiful cities of Guernica and Bilbao where I was able to meet the director of Guernica’s Museum of Peace and the president of the Historical Society of Guernica.  Being in Spain and meeting such knowledgeable people gave me an invaluable glimpse into life during the Spanish Civil War.

War is a horror of the adult world, and it’s driven by the clash of ambitions and ideals. Yet this story is told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Ani, who is brought into a spy ring. Were there challenges of representing war through a young person’s eyes? And, since we are talking about Ani, how did you decide that she – a lonely sardine girl, would be your protagonist?

I believe young people are active participants in the world that surrounds them.  Ani, having a parent fighting in the war and facing the imminent danger of attacks, would have a strong sense of the war, but would still be limited in her understanding of the reasons behind it.  As for creating the character of Ani, she actually popped into my brain fully formed and so I credit my writing muse for delivering such a wonderful character to me.

For me, the novel’s poignancy was found in the terrible price that children pay during war. The depressive state of their parents, separations, death. Ani faces all of them yet we never doubt that she will survive. What, in your opinion, was the source of her resilience?

Ani’s resiliency stems from an inner strength and belief that, despite what she’s been told, even a whisper of a girl can make a difference.

Mathias, a young Jewish boy, befriends Ani. They grow very close in the novel, but there is a real shift in their relationship immediately following the bombing. And then, of course, he leaves to do what Ani finds unimaginable. Can you tell us a little bit about how you made decisions about Mathias’s story? (And, for the writers out there, how you kept his story from overshadowing Ani’s? He could have had his own novel!)

I wish I could say that I had crafted Mathias’ story because it fulfilled a great literary plan of mine for his character’s arc, but, truth be told, my characters make their own choices and I just write what they do.  Perhaps it’s because I feel like these characters are real people and so I give them permission to do things that I had not originally planned.  One way to keep some of these strong characters in check (not letting them overshadow my main character) is to maintain the focus on the main character’s perspective and always show how the main character reacts to the actions of others.

Your work is part of a growing body of literature by Latino children’s book authors at a time when the national rhetoric surrounding Latino issues is running high.  What are your thoughts on the role, if any, that Latino literature can make in building bridges of understanding?

First of all, there needs to be more literature that has Latino protagonists.  These books should transcend race/culture and be, at their core, good stories.  We live in a diverse society and children’s literature should reflect that! By having more books with Latino characters we can erase some misunderstandings, give insight to problems/situations and bring people together through the power of stories.

How are you celebrating the publication of the novel these days?

I am celebrating by having a mega-launch party in Miami (if anyone is in town on October 13, please come by Books & Books in Coral Gables at 5 pm – I’d love to see you) and I am participating on a blog tour in October and November. I am so excited to have everyone finally be able to read this book!

Finally, are there new projects in the works?

There are always new projects in the works, but it’s still too early to talk about them. Don’t want to jinx them!

In stores October 9, 2012

A THUNDEROUS WHISPER, ALFRED A. KNOPF, OCTOBER 2012,

978-0-375-86929-7

To learn more about Christina and her work visit her on the web

A Little Bit of Fiesta at City Hall

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! This is a month for everybody to channel their inner Latino, but don’t worry if you don’t know an empanada from a salsa. I can help you, especially if you’re in the downtown Richmond, Virginia area next week. That’s because on Monday, September 17, 2012 The Hope Tree Project comes to the lobby of City Hall at Broad Street and 9th Street! (Map here.) We’re having a little lunchtime party as the kickoff, and I hope you’ll come.

You’ll remember that this exhibit of the hopes and dreams of Richmond’s young people started out as a collaboration between me, eight area high schools, and the folks at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden last spring, when The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind first pubbed. Well, we’ve moved the exhibit to its final phase —  the concrete jungle — where the public can see what our kids are thinking about themselves and our community. The exhibit is, of course, free and open to the public.

The lobby doesn’t have trees (bummer) but I have a plan. Or I should say… my friends at Pine Camp Art Center (Shaun Casselle) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (Tanya Gonzalez) have a plan. All those twigs that fell out of trees during last month’s gusty days?  Yep, they’re being recycled into the show. (How’s that for clever use of resources?) We’ll be spending our Saturday putting them in place.

If you work downtown, please come down and join us for the  reception on Monday, September 17, noon. I’ll have some nice treats from Spanish Soul, a new Puerto Rican restaurant near my home. The exhibit will run through October 12.

Cariños de,

Meg

Where to buy Meg’s books and audiobooks.

What I’m Reading for Hispanic Heritage Month

It’s that time of the year again! Hispanic Heritage Month is around the corner (Sept 15 – Oct 15). Here are the picks for my nightstand.

YA/historical fiction set during the Spanish Civil War. You may remember Christina from her lovely debut novel, The Red Umbrella. This one releases early October.

 

Remember Maria from Sesame Street? This is her new YA set in Spanish Harlem in the late 1960s. She had me at the scene with the plastic slipcovers in the living room.

Twelve short stories by Latina authors celebrating the power of friendship.  I adore short fiction as much as I love mis amigas so I’m really excited about this one. Edited by Adriana V López.

The Hope Tree Project

There are all sorts of ways of launching a new book into the world. This time around I’ve decided to go big. I’ll have my regular launch at the ever-fabulous bbgb tales for kids on March 17. But when The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind pubs next month, I’ll have about 500 high school students to help me celebrate, too.

That’s because they’re part of a project I’m working on in partnership with The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and eight area high schools here in Richmond. The Hope Tree Project is a connection of art, reading, and community building for young people – a good addition to the Virginia Commission of the Art’s Minds Wide Open 2012 celebration of children and the arts.

The students and their art or ESOL teachers have agreed to create Latin American ex votives — or milagros — that symbolize a hope or dream that they have for themselves or for the community. When they’re done, we’ll decorate five crape myrtle trees in the beautiful children’s garden with their collective wishes.

Milagros are part folk art and part religious votives in Latin America. The tiny charms are attached to statues of saints, to the walls of churches, or even to women’s jewelry. Why? To ask for a favor or to thank a saint for help, of course. It’s a connection of the sacred or mystical to every day needs. Not that this is new, of course. The ancient Romans made them, too, as did many cultures across the world.

The hard part of the project won’t be making the milagros. Over the years I’ve spent working in schools, I know that high schoolers have the technical skill to produce some drop-dead gorgeous work. What will tax them, I think, is the question I’ve asked. It’s hard to be 17 and at the beginning of everything. Exciting, sure, but there are so many unknowns. But what I told students at the Steward School yesterday is that putting your wishes out in the world is the first step in making them become a reality. If you don’t make a dream for yourself, others are only too happy to rush in and fill in the vacuum. It’s what my main character, Sonia Ocampo found out.  And really, we should all be asking ourselves this question as we chart a path in life.

So folks, I’m giving you a lot of advance notice. Please mark your calendars for Monday, April 30, 2012 at 6 pm for the unveiling at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens where you’ll meet me and some of the artists from the following high schools: Steward School, Huguenot, Meadowbrook, L.C. Bird, Tucker, Hermitage,  Henrico, and Lee Davis. (You’ll even be able to add your own milagros to the collection.) The display will continue through July 4, and then selected pieces will move to City Hall for a display during Hispanic Heritage month in September.

For my Holladay ES Peeps

So fun to visit Holladay ES this morning. They’ve been reading MILAGROS in the fourth grade and also TIA ISA in the second grade.  We ran out of time for questions, so as promised, I’m answering here. From grade 2:

How did you get to be so good at writing?
Practice, practice, and more practice. I took lots of writing classes in high school and in college. Even today, I will take a writing class to learn how to tell a story better. Best of all, I have a writing group where I share my work with author friends and get their advice.  
How do you go about writing a book?
I usually start with a good character who has one big problem to solve — but that’s all I know. I write for a few hours every day, and I always start my day by fixing what I wrote the day before. (Sometimes that means I throw it all out and start that work again!) Slowly, slowly — chapter by chapter — the story starts to take shape. One secret is that I usually rewrite the first chapter after I’ve finished writing the whole book. Why? I like the first chapter to give a good hint about everything that is going to happen in the rest of the book.  Since I don’t know what’s going to happen until the book is done, I have to go back and redo it. 
What was your favorite book when you were in 2nd grade?

I can’t remember exactly from second grade, but I can tell you some of the books I loved in elementary school. My all-time favorite book was Charlotte’s Web. Such a sweet story of friendship. I also liked that it was set in the country. I grew up in the city, and the idea of cows and pigs and country fairs seemed so wonderful.

But there were so many books I loved. Here are some of the old book jackets of the stories I loved most. Some of them are still in print today, but they may look very different. Do you love any of these? 


City Mouse Visits Country Mouse, pictures by Richard Scarry

A Day at Marie Reed Elementary School

Last Thursday, I trekked up to DC to spend a day at Marie Reed Elementary School in Adams Morgan.

View from my seat on Amtrak

Four years into my life as a published author and I’ve realized that I’d rather do a thousand school visits than a book signing, which for me are often skimpy on attendance. There’s something about being around little people with no teeth that is much more satisfying.

Marie Reed is a lovely school, if a little oddly appointed. (Partitions offer a reminder of the open education experiment of the 1960s.) Truly, if Christine Reuss, my host, hadn’t been with me, I would never have found my way around. There’s a surprise around every corner. They have a garden that Michelle Obama planted to help them attract butterflies, and they have murals of the late salsa goddess Celia Cruz (¡azucar!) and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. The auditorium is an amphitheater.

What I loved most about this little gem of a school, though, is that it offers both an English only and a dual language curriculum. This seems so much more sensible to me than trying to teach a language in middle school, when we all know that their tongues go thick and their courage, thin. To see an Asian kindergarten student rattling off “Asi Baila Juanito” like a native is about the loveliest thing I can imagine.

I read to the students, told them about how I wrote Tia Isa Wants a Car and Milagros.Then I listened to their songs and dances, and got treated to a writing project where students wrote – in Spanish or English – something they wanted to work hard to achieve – just the way Tia Isa had worked hard to get her car. Counting to big numbers. Reading for a long time. The list was impressive.

But maybe what I will remember most is the part of our day when I asked the kindergarten and first graders where they would go if they could have a car. Chuckie Cheese was a popular choice. Also, the beach. But one little girl came down the steps to where I was standing with my microphone.

“¿Donde quizieras ir en tu carro? Where would you want to go in your car?

“I would go to El Salvador to see my family,” she said. “I miss them.”

I thought of her the whole train ride home.

Meg’s next appearances:  SCBWI Midatlantic Conference, Arlington, VA, Oct.22 

Holladay Elementary School, Henrico, VA, Monday, Oct. 24

Sweet Endings

Whew!  We just finished the JRW Conference – two amazing days of friendship, good writing, and inspiration. My own high points were being on a panel with fabulous children’s book authors Kathi Appelt and Troy Howell. Mermaids, dragons, revision, writing across age groups – we chatted about all of it.  I also reconnected with poetry thanks to Hermine Pinson, whose wisdom and calm drew me in completely. This year, the conference ended with a hilarious, nail-biting session of Pitchapalooza, where authors had a mic and 1 minute to pitch their novels to an agent panel. Two hundred people doing belly laughs and erupting into applause is a wonderful thing to experience. I was actually sad to see the conference end.

But speaking of endings…

We’re also getting to the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. I’ve been sharing recipes this month, so how about a sweet ending to our meals, too. Today, amigos, I bring you my flan recipe.

Ingredientes

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups of sugar (divide into 1/2 cup and 1 1/2 cups)

Instrucciones

Heat oven to 350 degrees

In a pan, melt 1 1/2 cups of sugar. It will take about 5 – 7 minutes over medium heat. You want to stop at a light brown liquid. Remove from heat as soon as the last of the sugar dissolves. Pour into a bundt pan and coat all sides.

In a blender:  eggs, all three milks, 1/2 c sugar.  Stir in the teaspoon of vanilla.


Pour into the bundt pan.

Place bundt pan in a larger roasting pan and fill pan with water to read about 1/3 of the way up the sides of the bundt pan. (Baño Maria)

Cook for exactly one hour and 10 minutes. Insert knife. If it comes out clean, you’re done. If not, keep cooking in 2 minute increments until the knife comes out clean. You are after a consistency that is a little sturdier than creme brulee, but if you cook this too long, you end up with a porous mess instead.  So, what I’m saying is: DO NOT OVERCOOK.

Allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight (or at least for 4 hours).

Para servir:

Run a knife carefully along the sides to loosen. Place a large plate  (larger than the pan)on top of the bundt pan. In one fast motion, flip the pan and plate, so that the flan will drop out onto the plate. The caramelized sugar will drip down the sides into a glorious mess.

Enjoy! (Oh wait – a warning about clean up. Your bundt pan will have to soak overnight in soapy water to dislodge all the sugar. Be patient!)

Meg’s next appearance:  Oct 13, school visit to Marie Reed School in Washington, DC.

Oct. 15, 1 pm, Barnes & Noble, Chesterfield Towne Center, Richmond, VA. 

Latino reads for you

Last Saturday I did a Hispanic Heritage presentation at Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore. Here is the list a couple of you have asked for. These are some of my favorite Latino reads, oldies and new releases, from picture books to adults. I could list dozens more, but here is a start. Feel free to add recommendations in the comments section. (P.S. Fountain had most of these titles on their shelves, so give them a call.)

Picture books 

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales

A poetic spanglish romp on Halloween night. Gorgeous illustrations. Fantastic bilingual vocabulary

http://marisamontes.com and http://yuyimorales.com

La Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos

A farm maiden decides to make arroz con leche – rice pudding. Energetic, bilingual vocabulary, gorgeous illustrations.

www.samanthavamos.com

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, by Carmen Agra Deedy

Carmen is a storyteller of Cuban origins. Also the author of Growing Up Cuban in Decatur Georgia. This is a classic folktale about how to find the right mate in life. The illustrations are gorgeous and the text gets at kids funny bone.

http://carmenagradeedy.com/

My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown

Brown presents a beautiful bilingual biography of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. In 1945, Mistral became the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.

http://www.monicabrown.net

Middle Grade 

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis

This middle grade novel is about the early life of poet Pablo Neruda. It is written in a style that parallels Neruda’s THE BOOK OF QUESTIONS. Here Muñoz weaves Neruda’s love of the natural world, his struggle against his father, and the sounds of poetry in the every day and ordinary.

http://www.pammunozryan.com

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

A look at the savage presidency of Trujillo (Dominican Republic) through the eyes of 12-year-old Anita. Excellent historical fiction.

http://www.juliaalvarez.com

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle 

Margarita Engle’s work captures historical fiction through verse. In the Firefly Letters, she retells the life of Fredrika Bremer, a Swedish suffragette who traveled to Cuba in 1851. It’s a slim book that touches on women’s rights and slavery tucked inside often forgotten history.

http://margaritaengle.com/

Young Adult

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Published in 1984, this is the classic coming-of-age YA story told through interwoven short stories. Fierce and gritty. Often taught in schools.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

The Cuban War for Independence as told through the eyes of Rosa, who knows how to heal sickness with medicines made from wild plants. (Herbera). In verse. Creates amazing tension and characters in this look at war.

http://margaritaengle.com/

We Were Here by Matt de la Peña

Miguel finds himself in juvie and eventually on the run from the law on his way to Mexico. Gritty characters, funny and tragic. Matt creates full characters and shows their humanity as they try to find forgiveness and redemption.

http://www.mattdelapena.com/

Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

(author of The Mambo Kings…) Racism. The narrator is a Cuban in NYC during the 1970s, where being light-skinned has its problems. Runs away to Wisconsin, only to find a new kind of racism.

The Red Umbrella by Cristina Gonzalez

Cuba 1961 – The Peter Pan flights – during which parents sent their children to live with American families in order to give them a chance to escape Cuba.

http://www.christinagonzalez.com

Adult

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

An annual family trip from Chicago to Mexico City descends into generational family storytelling that really tries to find out why Awful Grandmother got to be awful. Funny and powerful.

http://www.sandracisneros.com/

The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

Non-fiction about her life. Picks up where Paula left off. Unflinching look at herself – endearing, appalling, fabulous in every way.

http://www.isabelallende.com/

Women with Large Eyes by Angeles Mastretta (in translation)

Mexican writer. Amazing group of stories that feature strong women.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Stunning, sexy, and funny. Through the most creative use of footnotes I’ve ever seen, Junot gives us a history of the Dominican Republic against a sad-sap story set in Washington Heights today.

http://www.junotdiaz.com/

In Her Absence by Antonio Muñoz Molina

Molina is a highly decorated writer from Spain, but he is only now gaining a reputation here in the states. In this short novel, Mario López is working as a draftsman in the small city of Jaén. The novel chronicles his passionate and painful relationship with Blanca, his artistic and wandering wife of six years.

Before Night Falls by Reynaldo Arenas

Memoir that describes life inside Castro’s Cuba for gay writers.  Set in the 1970s and early 80s. Powerful and tragic – and a testament to the artistic spirit.

Moors and Christians

Our foodie celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month continues…

¡Ay  frijolito negro! No Cuban kitchen is without black beans of some kind. You can serve  them as soup, thicken and pour them over white rice, or…you can make moros con cristianos — Moors and Christians. The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Arab influence in Spain. In our house, we serve this dish at major holidays — including Thanksgiving.

Ingredientes

  • bag of dry Goya black beans
  • 3 C white long grain rice (Tío Ben brand is our favorite)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 6 strips of bacon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 T oregano
  • salt
  • 1 envelope of Sazón Accent sin Achote or 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar
  • Pressure cooker or large pot

Instrucciones

Inspect and rinse bag of beans in a colander.

Fry bacon strips and crumble. Remove from pan.

Shhh! Don't tell your doctor.

Sautee vegetables in remaining bacon oil until onions are transparent. (Sorry cardiologists!)

In a pressure cooker place rinsed beans, sauteed vegetables, vinegar, and 6 cups of water. Cover and pressure cook for 20 minutes after the steam starts spouting. When 20 minutes are up, remove cooker from stove and put it in the sink. Run cool water over the lid until the steam stops completely and it is safe to open. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker (!que pena, chica!), simmer this mixture covered in your pot until the beans are soft but not mushy…maybe an hour or so.)

Using a colander, drain the beans from the liquid. Measure 6 cups of liquid. If you are short, add water to reach 6 cups.

Rinse 3 cups of white rice until the water runs clear. Place rice in large pot.

Add beans, liquid, and sauteed vegetables. Add oregano, bay leaves, salt and Sazon accent sin achote (if you have it). If you don’t have Sazón accent, use cumin.

Bring mixture to boil and lower to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the rice surface looks porous. When you turn it over, the bottom of the pan should have no liquid left.

Sprinkle with bacon bits.

Now, who cooked the pork chunks?

Meg’s next appearances for Hispanic Heritage Month: Children’s Museum of Richmond, October 1, 2011. Readings throughout the day, with art activities in the museum studio. Make your own maraca…and then go next door to the Que Pasa Festival on the grounds of the Science Museum of Virginia.