Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘La Casa Azul’

The Big Apple: BEA and Book Con 2015

city-new-york-nyc-united-states-panoramic-heightI’ll be spending almost the whole week in the Big Apple! This year I’ll be part of Book Expo America and BookCon for the first time, which feels exciting. Here are the highlights, including some off-site places where I’ll pop up, too.

Back to the scene of the crime in Queens on May 27!  I’ll be talking about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and my other books back at the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library, mere blocks from where I went to junior high school – and tangled with my own real-life bully so many years ago. Flashbacks here I come.

Cornelia Connelly Center in the Village, May 28:  Interestingly, this gig came as the result of a Jesuit priest who heard me speak at a Hispanic Heritage talk I gave at the Federal Reserve Bank last year. So excited to speak to the young women at this Catholic School.

IMG_2890Speed dating at the ABC/CBC Tea, Friday, May 29, 3:30 PM, Javits Center Room 1E12/13:  Booksellers will be getting lithos of my upcoming picture book Mango, Abuela, and Me, which hits bookstores in August.

Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 9.03.50 PMPublic We Need Diverse Books reception at my favorite bookstore in Spanish Harlem, Friday, May 29, 7 PM:  Join We Need Diverse Books authors at La Casa Azul, which is – hands down – one of my very favorite bookstores. Such a beautiful spot and a thoughtfully curated collection of works by Latino authors writing in Spanish and English. (143 E 103 Street, near Lexington.) The store recently won a Chase Mission Main Street grant to further its important work in the community. Check it out.


Get free copies of my books while supplies last:  Candlewick is generously offering free F&Gs for Mango, Abuela and Me on Friday, May 29, 1:30 PM and the paperback of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass – a summer reading list title (Tri-Li ) in New York – on Saturday, March 30, 1- 2pm. Stop by Candlewick booth number #2857, and I will be happy to sign for you.

WDNB_withtag copyDiversity talks, room 1A Javits Convention Center, Sunday May 31:  Come out on Sunday 11:15 where I’ll be with Aisha Saeed, Libba Bray, Jacqueline Woodson, David Levithan, Soman Chainani, and IW Gregorio talking books, diversity, how far we’ve come – and what’s yet to be done. Signing immediately following at 12:30, autograph area, table 5.






RJ Palacio and Me: Compassion Fans and old BFFs

In Flushing riding a bike that my father gave me

Me, in Flushing

You never forget your childhood best friends. There’s something sacred about that special someone who shared sleepovers and ran races in the school yard  just to see who was fastest. Or, as in my case, acted out Greek myths and enjoyed the mysteries of the Jew’s harp.

imagesThis Saturday, I have the extreme pleasure of reuniting with my grade school best friend,  RJ Palacio, whose lovely book WONDER, is a # 1 New York Times Bestseller and is on just about everyone’s favorite list.We’ll be at La Casa Azul, noon – 2 pm, to talk books, compassion, and friendship.

Raquel, Meg, and Patty

Just couldn’t resist doing the bunny ears. With Raquel and our friend, Patty, in my apartment. Queens, NY

Raquel and I grew up in Flushing, Queens, about a block from each other. We were in the same class and were generally inseparable, until middle school dispersed us and we lost touch for nearly 30 years. But Raquel and her family left an imprint on me that has lasted to this day. Her parents, Neli and Marco, extended affection and time my way like surrogate parents. When I think of my happiest days as a kid, I invariably think of our times together. Watching Neli comb out Raquel’s hair with the help of a dab of Breck cream conditioner; weekends feeding goats at the Catskills Game Farm; my first ride on roller coasters at Six Flags Great Adventure; and visiting Niagra Falls. All of those good times – and countless others – were with Raquel.

Yaqui_frontcoverfullIf anyone had told us all those years ago when we were  playing kickball that we’d be writing books, I’m not sure we’d have believed it. I would have bet that Raquel would have become a visual artist, her specialty being horses way back then.  She might have guessed theatre for me because I was, after all, a pretty good ghost in our sixth grade production of Fiddler on the Roof. But life has taken lots of turns for each of us, and here we are, two resilient girls who insisted on living the creative lives that always appealed to us. We ended up becoming wives, mothers, and authors of WONDER and YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS,  books about compassion in one way or another. Is there a reason we both came to this topic?  Is there a shared vision for what we think about books and kids? I suspect the answer is yes to both, but I’m sure we’re going to cover a lot of interesting ground.

Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 9.03.50 PMJoin Meg and RJ Palacio at La Casa Azul this Saturday, May 18, 2013. Noon. La Casa Azul,  143 E. 103rd Street, New York, New York. (Between Lexington and Park Avenue.) No. 6 train to 103 St. stop

Meg’s next appearance:  SundayMay 19, 2013, 5 pm. Politics & Prose, Washington DC’s coolest indi bookstore, to sit on a panel about the history and future of picture books in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal. Moderated by Leonard Marcus. With Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Neal Porter, Chris Myers, Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

A symposium in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal

A symposium in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal

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.