Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Posts tagged ‘middle grade fiction’

The First Rule of Punk: A Guest Blog Post by Celia Pérez

Feliz Año Nuevo, everyone!

The holidays, a chest cold, and assorted family emergencies kept me off this blog for a few weeks. Sorry about that!  But I’m back with the best launch into 2018.

As we head into award season, I’ve had a chance to think about so many of the books that I especially loved last year. Among my favorites of 2017 was a little gem of a middle grade novel: The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez (Viking Books for Young Readers 978-0425290408)

Celia is a librarian, a mom, and a zine addict who has confirmed for me that, yes, folding those suckers can be the hardest part.  She’s also an advocate for quality Latinx lit for kids.

What I especially love about Celia’s debut is that, like a good zine, she puts pieces of a girl together to give us something that feels completely fresh and new. Maria Luisa (MaLú) is the daughter of a college professor and a musician. She’s a punk rock fan – including Mexican punk rock –  and a kid from a blended heritage.  She’s also a kid who has to move to a new city for middle school because her mom has taken a teaching position in Chicago. Suddenly, MaLu is attending a majority Latinx school, where she’s promptly labeled a coconut – brown on the outside, white on the inside.

This is a sweet and thoughtful novel, deserving of its many starred reviews and accolades.  Moving is never easy for a kid, and Celia handles all the questions about friendship and identity with a wise touch. Along the way, the novel takes us on a fun  journey of discovery about Chicago, about zines, and most of all about music. All told, Celia wonderfully captures the experience of US-born Latinx kids, which is now the typical experience.   If The First Rule of Punk is not yet in your classroom library, you need to order now.

So, to kick off 2018,  Celia agreed to take my readers and me on a photo-tour of the city where she lives, and where her lovely novel unfolds. (This is no small feat in a Chicago winter, people.) Take a look. Makes you want to book a trip this spring…

Welcome Celia!

Chicago, A novel Photo tour

by Celia Pérez

When Malú, the young protagonist in The First Rule of Punk, is forced to leave behind everything that is familiar to her, she can’t imagine ever thinking of Chicago as her home. But it’s hard not to love Chicago. It’s a city made up of diverse, unique, and vibrant neighborhoods and is rich in arts and culture. I know, I sound like Malú’s mom trying to sell you on Chicago, right? How about a little photo tour of the city as it appears in The First Rule of Punk instead? I pulled inspiration from several places and neighborhoods. Here are some of the ones included in the book.

One of the locations people often ask about, with the hope that it really exists, is Calaca Coffee. Unfortunately, Calaca isn’t a real place, but it was inspired by two coffee shops that are. The inside of Calaca was modeled after Kopi Cafe in the Andersonville neighborhood. Like Calaca, Kopi has floor seating, short tables with lots of pillows set in a loft area you take a few steps up to. It also has a warm, inviting look and feeling to it that I wanted to be a part of Calaca. But Cafe Jumping Bean in Pilsen has the vibe I wanted for the coffee shop. There aren’t any album covers up on the walls or a paper mache Frida Kahlo greeting you at the door, but it’s funky and colorful, and they always play cool music. It’s definitely the kind of place Malú would fall in love with.



Cafe Jumping Bean

Speaking of Pilsen, while Malú’s new ‘hood is never named, it was heavily inspired by Pilsen, one of two historically Mexican neighborhoods in the city. Like a lot of Chicago, Pilsen is a neighborhood where past and present come together. There continues to be a large working class Mexican community, but it also has a thriving arts scene of young Mexican Americans creating work that, much like in Malú’s story, combine history and traditional culture with more modern influences. Art is everywhere in Pilsen so keep your eyes open!

Pilsen: El Corazón


Pilsen Manhole cover

When Malú first moves to Chicago, her mom takes her all over the city on the L to check out the sights of their new home. These are some of the places they visit.

Pilsen 18th St L


Pilsen NMMA


Pilsen NMMAL LaCatrina

Lake Michigan! Did you know it’s the only one of the Great Lakes located entirely within the United States? It’s also pretty cold year round, but not as cold as it was when I took this photo!

Lake Michigan

At the Art Institute downtown, Malú sees Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.



Malú gets her new library card at the Harold Washington Library Center, the headquarters of the Chicago Public Library (and the biggest public library building Malú has ever seen). It’s a beauty!

Library and L


They also make a visit to Chinatown for tea and custard buns. Yum!


And finally, yes, Laurie’s Planet of Sound is a real record store. It’s in the Lincoln Square neighborhood right next to a brown line train station. You can find vinyl records, DVDs, magazines, T-shirts, and maybe even a cassette tape or two!


Laurie’s New & Used Records CDs & Video

I really enjoyed writing a story set in the Chicago. I was eager to see Malú find her place in her new home. I was excited for her to see the Chicago I love and to maybe learn to love it too. It’s a city of treasures. Some of these treasures are obvious, and others require that you really open your eyes and your mind to see them.


March Madness – Bookish-style

I’ve been writing like a crazy woman against an upcoming deadline for a new middle grade novel. Right now, I’m at the point when I’m turning to algebra for some sort of comfort –which is a stretch, considering that math was always my worst subject. Still, in my head, I keep looping a word problem that goes like this: “Meg has 140 pages written. If she writes 2 pages a day for 3 days per week and then tosses one page a week, when will she reach an arbitrary  (but kind of respectable) number like 250 pages? And, more important, will they be good?”

Anyway, I’ve been working fairly close to home since December, which has felt like a blessing. It’s quiet. I have the comfort of my coffee pot, my dog, stretchy pants and fuzzy slippers. I can slip into someone else’s wonderful book when I’m lost. (Thank you Kelly Barnhill for The Girl Who Drank the Moon.) My spring calendar is almost all within the mid Atlantic, too.

But there are a few presentations to mention. As I look ahead to March, I have a day trip to Orlando for a Girl Bullying and Empowerment Conference and  a few school visits. (Schedule here). In the spirit of staying close to home, though, I especially wanted to highlight two events that are happening in my area, in case you want to join in.

The first is a shared book talk at the University of Richmond with my good friend, Lila Quintero Weaver.  Several literature and Spanish classes have read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass as well as Lila’s painstakingly researched graphic memoir, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White (2012), which chronicles her family’s experience as Argentine immigrants in Alabama during the height of the civil rights struggle. (See what I loved about it in my post on Girls of Summer.)  Darkroom is soon to release in a Spanish edition (Cuarto Oscuro), translated by Dr. Karina Vázquez.











I instantly adored that book, and upon meeting Lila, felt the same about her. Anyone who knows her will tell you that she’s talented and gracious, but you might also like to know that she’s one of the forces behind Latinxs in Kid Lit, one of my reliable go-to places for finding new authors and titles. And, best of all, I hear there’s a new book, The Year in the Middle Row, coming from her in 2018 through Candlewick.

9781101934593On the other end of March, is my state’s joyous VA Festival of the Book. There is so much good stuff in there this year – including Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston on Sunday. (His new book is A Life in Parts.) I hope you’ll take the time to go through the schedule and spend some time in Charlottesville. As always, there is something for everyone.

I am in moderator mode this time around, but I’ve got quite a seat. On Saturday morning, March 25 (10 am, Village School), kids and teachers will have the pleasure of welcoming Soman Chainani (The School of Good and Evil), Ellen Oh (The Prophecy series) and me as we talk about our work in Flying Lessons & Other Stories. The anthology has earned five starred reviews and has been mentioned in Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, too. Grab a kid, and come join us!

The day couldn’t end on a brighter note than my afternoon panel (4 PM, Omni Monroe Room.) Drawing and Writing Libros will be a conversation among Pure Belpré-winning picture book authors and illustrators on books, culture, access, and publishing. The authors are this year’s Pura Belpré winner, Juana Medina (no relation, sadly), veteran Lulu Delacre, and the lovely Angela Dominguez. Please spread the word! Meanwhile, here’s a little taste of an art talk Juana did on how she created her award-winning artwork for Juana and Lucas.