Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘John Parra’

What I Was Up To: Advocacy, San Antonio, and Frito Pie

The beautiful graphic created by my sweet friend R.J. Palacio

The beautiful graphic created by my sweet friend R.J. Palacio

If you follow kid lit, you probably know by now that a group of almost 300 authors took a stand on behalf of readers in North Carolina. This direct letter of support kids in NC was spearheaded by R.J. Palacio, and both Phil Bildner and Alex London did some seriously heavy lifting in terms of drafting the letter and gathering names. Thanks to SLJ for picking up the story; to the authors who we contacted on such short notice for their support; and to everyone who retweeted and showed support by sharing the message on social media.

As all this was unfolding at lightning speed, I was also on my way to San Antonio – land of the River Walk and Frito Pie. It was a wonderful weekend of meeting old writing friends and new. I also got to read Mango Abuela and Me together with my illustrator, Angela Dominguez. Such a sweet moment. Authors sometimes don’t meet their illustrators, so this was a rare blessing.

Anyway, here are a few other highlights.

At the opening cocktail party with Xavier Garza, Emma Virján, Sonia Manzano, Pam Muñoz Ryan and John Parra

At the opening cocktail party with Xavier Garza, Emma Virján, Sonia Manzano, Pam Muñoz Ryan and John Parra

My first-ever ingested Frito pie. I hate to admit how good it was.

My first-ever ingested Frito pie. I hate to admit how good it was.

Strolling the river walk that ran alongside Hotel Havana, where I stayed

Strolling the river walk that ran alongside Hotel Havana, where I stayed

With Aurora Anaya Cerda at Ocho. Don't forget that La Casa Azul is still an online bookstore.

With Aurora Anaya Cerda at Ocho. Don’t forget that La Casa Azul is still an online bookstore.

My swanky frig in my 1950s inspired room. Check out the letters.

My swanky frig in my 1950s inspired room. Check out the letters.

Emma Virján as a Pig in a Wig

Emma Virján as a Pig in a Wig. We make sacrifices for our work, people.

With Sonia Manzano and Pam Muñoz Ryan - bellísimas personas!

My geeky fan moment with Sonia Manzano and Pam Muñoz Ryan – bellísimas personas!

Monica Brown and I flanking illustrator Angela Dominguez who has worked on books by each of us

Monica Brown and I flanking illustrator Angela Dominguez who has worked on books by each of us

In the children's tent. Got to see Don Tate, and met Daniel Miyares for the first time

In the children’s tent. Got to see Don Tate, and I found my (maybe) long lost Medina cousin Daniel Miyares on the end.

My stash!

My stash!

Thanks for coming!

Was great to launch Paint Me a Story this afternoon.  I really enjoyed this collaboration with the library and am so happy that the exhibit will be on display next Friday at the Main Branch for First Fridays. Don’t miss it — or the free workshops that the Visual Arts Center will provide as an offshoot of the exhibit. Here are a few shots from our party. Lila, Joe, John: your work was so impressive.It was an honor and a pleasure to share it with new audiences.


Librarian rockstars: Lucinda Whitehurst, me, Cristina Dominguez Ramirez, and Patty Parks

Librarian rockstars: Lucinda Whitehurst, me, Cristina Dominguez Ramirez, and Patty Parks


Pondering Lila Quintero Weaver's work

Pondering Lila Quintero Weaver’s work

My books along with Joe, Lila, and Joe's wonderful works!  Wish it were the people here and not just our books!

My books along with Joe, Lila, and Joe’s wonderful works! Wish it were the people here and not just our books!

The lovely Gigi Amateau and library patrons enjoying the show

The lovely Gigi Amateau and library patrons enjoying the show

Barbara Ingber and Patty Parks talking libros

Barbara Ingber and Patty Parks talking libros

It's not a party without a pastelito...Thank you La Sabrosita!

It’s not a party without a pastelito…Thank you La Sabrosita!


My new favorite bracelet, a gift from Cristina. From AlterNatives in RVA. Gracias Cristina!

My new favorite bracelet, a gift from Cristina. From AlterNatives in RVA. Gracias Cristina!301962_10200405611960030_1827606065_n

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Paint Me a Story: Latino Children’s Book Illustration in RVA

Dia_Hi_ColorFind your calendar. Here’s something for everyone in Richmond who loves kids, books, and art.

Paint Me A Story is a free, month-long celebration of El Dia De Los Libros, the American Library Association’s annual celebration of multicultural children’s lit. Beginning on Friday, April 26, 2013, two of our favorite community resources – the Richmond Public Library and the Visual Arts Center of Richmond – have cooked up a great way to celebrate.

Librarians Cristina Dominguez Ramirez and Patty Parks have worked with me to create a gorgeous exhibit of Latino children’s book illustration featuring the work of nationally-recognized illustrators Joe Cepeda, John Parra, and Lila Quintero Weaver.  The opening reception is at the Broad Rock branch on Friday, April 26, 4 – 6 pm. (Free food, great art. Thank you Friends of the Library for your generous support!) I’ll be on hand to say hello and give you some information about books you might enjoy with your kids. For art fans, several pieces are available for purchase.


Postcard designed by John Parra

The exhibit will move to the main branch of the library on May 3 in time for First Fridays Art Walk and  will remain for the month of May. Best yet, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond will offer two, free youth art classes on bookmaking on May 4 and May 16 at the Main branch. Sarah Hand will be at the helm. (Check out her beautiful work below.)

Please spread the word, join us for the reception, and enjoy the talents of three distinguished illustrators who keep our niños laughing, thinking, and turning the page.

collage by Sarah Hand. Visit her at

collage by Sarah Hand.
Visit her at

Here’s the RPL Press Release- Paint Me A Story with the full details.

Cariños de,


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 or like Monica Brown, Children’s Author on Facebook.

John Parra and the Art of Libros

If you ask me, it’s a great time to be interested in Latino children’s books, mostly because there’s a strong talent pool – one  that includes John Parra.

John is a tall, quiet guy whose beautiful, award-winning work is well-known in publishing circles. Luckily for the rest of us, it will also be on display and for sale next Saturday at La Casa Azul, a new indi bookstore in Harlem that celebrates Hispanic authors, artists, and readers.  The show is called Infinitas Gracias (Infinite Thanks). I’ll be there to ooh and ah with all his other fans. Mark your calendars and join us.

103 Street, between Park and Lexington.
Take the No. 6

John was nice enough to put down his paintbrush and talk to us  about his work.

You are a long, long way from California, where you grew up. How did you end up in Queens? Has living in t New York impacted your artists’ palette in any way? I ask because I’m from Queens, and I find that the city creeps into my books and stories pretty often, which I love. 

I moved to New York in 2000. I actually drove across the country from California. It took about a week and was a great adventure. The main reason for the move was to do more illustration work in publishing and advertising here.  Plus I always had it in my mind that I would really like to live in New York.  I think the city has influenced my work a bit giving me a more cosmopolitan and sophisticated sensibility but more often than not I am inspired by experiences and memories from back home.


John, me, Joe Cepeda, and Isabel Campoy

You started out doing art for clients like United Airlines, Jeep, etc. What inspired you to make the shift to children’s book illustration?  Which skills transferred and which did you have to develop? 

Illustrating children’s books wasn’t a field I really pursued early in my career. It all started when Theresa Howell, an editor and art director at Northland Publishing/Luna Rising, had seen my work and contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in doing a book. Much of my work already used themes of family, childhood, and Latino culture, plus my color pallet made it a good match for doing a children’s book, so I decided to accept.

The first book was called My Name is Gabriela/ Me llamo Gabriela, written by Monica Brown that tells the story of Gabiela Mistral, a famous poet from Chile, who was the first Latina woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

A wonderful collaboration with Monica Brown


Were there any surprises – good or bad- for you about the world of children’s book illustration? 

One discovery  I was surprised with was how many adults enjoy children’s books. Whether they are parents, librarians, educators, or other, they just seem to love the stories and images as much as the kids. Additionally surprising is how many children’s books have such a rich, open, almost fine art-like, diversity represented in their different writing and illustration styles.

Are there other areas of illustration that you still might like to try? 

I would love to expand into animation. There are beautiful Latino stories that could be told in that medium which would be great!


Yuyi Morales cover

Who are some of your favorite fellow illustrators, especially those working in Latino children’s fiction?  

Too many to name but here goes: Rafael Lopez, Yuyi Morales, Joe Cepeda, David Diaz, Juana Martinez-Neal, Leo Politi, Carmen Lomas Garza, Duncan Tonatiuh, Lulu Delacre, Raúl Colón, and René King Moreno. 

Your work captures Latino culture so well, John. What are some of the choices you make as an artist to make the images immediately recognizable familiar as Latino-centered? Would you say these choices are somewhat unconscious or are you very deliberate? 

I would say both. When I was in art school I was trained with many different styles of painting, from realism, impressionism, abstraction, surrealism and everything in between. It wasn’t until one of my final semesters that I also began to introduce my Latino background and culture into my art. It seems a bit obvious now but at the time this was a big breakthrough for me. I love the richness, diversity, color, people, food, geography, architecture, and history of Latino culture that provided me with such a wealth of visual inspiration in all areas of life I cannot resist.

Have there been projects that were especially difficult to do? In general, how do you get through dry spells in your ideas (if you have any!)

My first book was actually a challenge to start. It took a bit for me to get my sea legs set and be at a happy production level where I was confident in all areas of the work. Things move much smoother these days. Most of the time also I can power through dry spells and difficult spots by sketching and researching as much I can, then I end up sleeping on it and by the next day things always look better and I find my ideas. In the end inspiration is just hard work and stick-to-itiveness.

I’m always amazed at how an illustrator completes a picture book and turns it into something new. How do you first tackle a project when it first comes to you as a manuscript? 

My first step is to read the material thoroughly and get a sense and feel for the characters, story arch, and setting. I then go through an extensive visual search looking for reference images related to the text. Up next, I work on the sketching to develop the characters and place them in various environments. Finally once the sketches are approved I begin the painting process. This is the most fun since it is where all the color comes in and brings everything to life.

Any interest in ever writing your own text? I imagine there are times when you say things like, “Why didn’t the writer do this or that?

I do feel I have a couple really good story lines for children’s books that have been on my mind for a while but just haven’t had the time to them write up. I will have to challenge myself soon on this.

Is there a piece of advice or wisdom you wish you’d had when you were just starting out in this field?

I’m not sure what category this would fall under but learning about The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) was very helpful in understanding and navigating the world of children’s book publishing. Through them you meet other professionals, talk shop, attend workshops, plus it has a wonderful sense of community and caring message to assist all in the field. Many times I am asked, “How does one go about getting a children’s book published?” To which I respond by speaking of my art process, offering my advice and letting them know about SCBWI and its benefits.

Are there any new projects we can look forward to from you?

I just turned in the art for my next children’s book entitled, Round is a Tortilla, due out in 2013. I will start its companion book, Green is the Chile, this fall with an arrival date of 2014. Both books were written by the wonderful author, Roseanne Thong.

This December you can also look for When Thunder Comes, a poetry book written in moving verse by Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis. The book profiles seventeen civil rights luminaries from around the world, each represented in portraits, showcasing their struggle and dedication to justice, peace, and tolerance. The artwork for the book was a collaborative effort split between four other artists and myself. All three of these projects will be published by Chronicle Books.

A Familia of Latino Children’s Writers and Illustrators

René Colato Laínez's newest title; Joe Cepeda illustrator

We talk a lot about the dry spells in a writer’s life – those awful times when your lack of ideas makes you crave a straightforward job as a cashier at Target or shoveling manure.

illustration by John Parra

But every so often – as happened to me this weekend at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference – a writer receives a precious gift, an experience that lights something inside and changes everything for the good.

The NLCLC is the brainchild of Dr. Jamie Naidoo at the University of Alabama, a herculean task he takes on every other year with his tireless team of current and former library science students.

I know what you’re thinking. Alabama? Why a conference to celebrate Latinos in a state with some of the nation’s most disturbing anti immigration lawsThe answer is, Sí, Alabama. What better place to send a group of passionate Latino authors, researchers, illustrators, and bad-ass librarians to fan passions, make connections, and work in the community?

“I have thick glasses and white hair,” one of the attendees confessed in our small group. “Who would suspect me?”

Some of the dangerous radicals!

It was especially exciting to tell the attendees about The Hope Tree Project (the topic of my talk). Several were interested in taking the idea for the project to their own schools and communities. Imagine all those hope trees taking root! Cindy Frellick of the Greenville Library in South Carolina even lent me a necklace of milagros she purchased in Mexico to wear for the unveiling on April 30. (Gracias, Cindy! I will wear it proudly and return it to you.)

Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada - the poinoeers

The sessions were fantastic – everything from hands-on writing experiences to discussions of community projects, craft and career paths. I was in the prestigious company of Dr. Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy– pioneers, intellectuals, scholars — and two of the most joyous women I have met. They glow when they have a chance to talk about books, youth, and the growing body of work by Latino writers and illustrators. There’s plenty to celebrate, they say. When they started in this field in the early 1960s, you could hardly find a book with an authentic representation of Latino families. But today, we have the beautiful and prize-winning work of  John Parra, Joe Cepeda, René Colato Laínez, Monica Brown, and Lila Quintero Weaver  – a rising talent – to name just a few.

Joe Cepeda's cover for Esperanza Rising

But by far the best magic happened in the quiet moments when we had a chance to meet one another as friends and fellow artists — each of us trying to name and make sense of Latino identity for kids – and, maybe in some way, for ourselves. Remarkably, we were strangers for about five minutes. After that, we found our way to each other’s hearts. My mother always says that Latinos have a special calorcito, a warmth that makes you feel as though you’re with family. I love all my writing friends, but I thought of my mother’s words more than once this weekend. My colleagues and I enjoyed professional talk, but also food, wine, laughs — even a crazy sprint across six lanes of traffic as we yelled our tongue-in-cheek, defiant battlecry. Run! It’s la migra!  

front: Jamie Naidoo, Lila Quintero Weaver, Monica Brown, me
top row: Rene Colato Lainez, Alma Flor Ada, John Parra, Isabel Campoy, Joe Cepeda

Monica Brown's beautiful tribute to the late Celia Cruz

Over our two days, we taught and we learned. We started figuring out ways to help each other along, shiny-eyed as we confessed new projects we were feeling braver to try. And, of course, we made plenty of room for silliness and laughter. (What did you expect? We’re children’s book people!) Ask John Parra to tell you about his bear camping story some time. Or Monica Brown to explain the birds and the bees of the author/illustrator relationship. Joe Cepeda will tell you why you must only send him two-line emails if you have something important to say to him. And if you ever meet René Colata Laínez, make sure he croons elevator songs for you or recites the ga-gillion words for “drinking straw” he knows from across Latin America.

It was hard to get back on a plane and say adios. Our lives will get busy, and we are a far-flung tribe. But here’s what I know. Somos de una casa. We are of one house. And for that reason I won’t ever keep them too far from my sights.

Cariños de,


If you’d like to support multicultural literature, including Latino lit, please consider making a donation to the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference 2014.  Contact Dr. Jamie Naidoo at the University of Alabama.

Meg’s next appearances:  

A writing workshop at Pamunkey Regional Library April 4;  School visit to Riverside School, Richmond, VA, April 5. See calendar tab for details!