Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘Monica Brown’

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!

Kaywell Award and Texas Book Festival Photos

Running like a mad woman today, so I’m putting up some photos of last week’s travels. Met so many wonderful people – educators, literary philanthropists, fellow authors. This was also the first time that Ahora Si! magazine sponsored a tent at the Texas Book Festival where Latino authors and programming were available all day. Very cool!

Here are just a few shots.

With Melanie Griffin, archivist at USF, Dr. Joan Kaywell, and Kaywell committee chair James Leggett

With Melanie Griffin, archivist at USF, Dr. Joan Kaywell, and Kaywell committee chair James Leggett

How's THIS for a set of wheels? My ride after the awards ceremony in Tampa. Thanks, Donna Heath!

How’s THIS for a set of wheels? My ride after the awards ceremony in Tampa. Thanks, Donna Heath!

Visiting cousin Carlos

Visiting cousin Carlos

A walk along the path. I love Spanish moss in the trees.

A walk along the path. I love Spanish moss in the trees.

Yep. We're in Austin.

Yep. We’re in Austin.

The day begins in the best way: Maya Smart is my Texas Book Festival contact for the day

The day begins in the best way: Maya Smart is my Texas Book Festival contact for the day

Thank you Texas Book Festival and Candlewick Press!

Thank you Texas Book Festival and Candlewick Press!

Maya and I handing out books after my talk with Reading Rockstars

Maya and I handing out books after my talk with Reading Rockstars

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Clay tiles in Zavala ES's garden, which has chickens, goldfish, a bridge. Such a great space!

Clay tiles in Zavala ES’s garden, which has chickens, goldfish, a bridge. Such a great space!

rooftop with the fab Nikki Loftin and Lydia Gil

rooftop with the fab Nikki Loftin and Lydia Gil

The view from the amazing penthouse home of arts patrons Sandra and Walter Wilkie

The view from the amazing penthouse home of arts patrons Sandra and Walter Wilkie

Jamie and the lovely Maya Smart

Jamie and the lovely Maya Smart

The view from the author green room. Every party in Austin seemed to have a rooftop angle.

The view from the author green room. Every party in Austin seemed to have a rooftop angle.

Day 1: Renee Watson! We were both in polka dots and offered to be bestseller Eric Litwin's back up singers for Sing and Dance in Your PolkaDot Pants. We await your call, Eric.

Day 1: Renee Watson! We were both in polka dots and offered to be bestseller Eric Litwin’s back up singers for Sing and Dance in Your PolkaDot Pants. We await your call, Eric.

Catching up with Monica Brown and Katheryn Russell Brown (Little Melba and her Big Trombone)

Catching up with Monica Brown and Katheryn Russell Brown (Little Melba and her Big Trombone)

Book women trying to be divas in the restroom of the Four Seasons. With Jamie Tan from Candlewick, and authors Monica Brown (Lola Levine is Not Mean...and countless other award-winning titles) and Maggie Thrasher (Honor Girl)

Book women trying to be divas in the restroom of the Four Seasons. With Jamie Tan from Candlewick, and authors Monica Brown (Lola Levine is Not Mean…and countless other award-winning titles) and Maggie Thrasher (Honor Girl)

Our Throwing Shade panel: moderated by Holly Green (left). Authors are Jessie Ann Foley, I. W. Gregorio and me

Our Throwing Shade panel: moderated by Holly Green (left). Authors are Jessie Ann Foley, I. W. Gregorio and me

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.

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,

Meg

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!

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.