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picture books

See you at the Nat’l Book Festival!

By Appearances, Awards and news, The Writing Life

A quick post to say muchisimas gracias to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, which will be part of the 2013 National Book Festival September 21 – 22. This year, the Foundation has selected Tía Isa Wants a Car to represent Virginia at the Pavilion of the States.  How’s THAT for a surprise? Here’s the press release. [VFH Invited to National Book Festival.] The National Book Festival will be held on the mall in Washington DC.  Free and open to the public…just a gigantic gathering of book lovers. I’ll be at the tent for a little while on Saturday enjoying the joyous mayhem. Otherwise, you’ll find me strolling around and catching some of my favorite authors. (That, and buying too many books, as usual!)  Amazing lineup, to be sure. See you there!

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RJ Palacio and Me: Compassion Fans and old BFFs

By Appearances, The Writing Life

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. This 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 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. If anyone had told us all those years ago when we were  playing kickball that…

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I Can Almost Smell the Sunscreen: Girls of Summer 2013

By Community work, picture book, middle grade, YA

[wpvideo KSVNExkw] It’s almost that time again!  Gigi and I are putting the very last touches on Girls of Summer 2013, our annual curated reading list of summer reads for strong girls. Two dates for you: June 10, 2013:  the new list and our reviews will go live on the blog (www.girlsofsummerlist.wordpress.com) June 18, 2013:  Our live launch party 7 pm at Library Park, behind the main branch of the Richmond Public Library. 101 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA. Free and open to the public. Refreshments, book giveaways, and an author panel with Jeri Watts and Kristen Paige Madonia. Hope you enjoy our new trailer!

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

By Appearances, Community work, Latino Life

Find 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. 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…

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Here Come the Américas Awards! Q & A with author Monica Brown

By Guests

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. 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…

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Tía Isa Wants a Car wins the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award

By Awards and news, The Writing Life

I just saw the official press release announcing that I’ve won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award for 2012 for my picture book. I’m still a little stunned, but very happy. This is an enormous honor, and I am so especially proud that it comes for a story that pays tribute to the valiant women in my family. Thank you to everyone who was involved in finding and sharing this story, those I know, like Gigi Amateau, Kate Fletcher, Jen Rofé, and Laura Rivas, and those who have been secret cheerleaders in far flung places. I’m sending you all muchos abrazos fuertes! Here is a little snippet from the release to tell you about the award: “Fifty years ago, Ezra’s book The Snowy Day, which featured an African American child, broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s book publishing when it was embraced by families across racial, economic and ethnic lines,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “Like Ezra, this year’s Book Award winners have, in their own way, celebrated the similarities—and differences—of people whose life experiences are dramatically varied.” Since 1985, the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award has been awarded annually to an outstanding new writer and new illustrator of picture books for children (age 9 and under) by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by the late Keats and dedicated to enhancing the love of reading and learning in all children. The Book Awards come to the de Grummond for the first time this year from…

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A Spot on the Amelia Bloomer Prize List

By Awards and news, The Writing Life

Today my whole day was brightened by finding out that Tía Isa Wants a Car won a spot on the 2012 Amelia Bloomer Prize list.  This is a list of best feminist books — which I am so thrilled to say includes picture books for our youngest readers. Thank you to the committee for such an honor. Of all the happy things that have come my way as a result of this book, this is one that I am so proud of. Mil gracias, chicas…

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Charlotte Zolotow Award

By Awards and news, picture book, middle grade, YA, The Writing Life

A big thank you to the Charlotte Zolotow Prize committee for selecting Tía Isa Wants a Car as a highly commended book for 2011. I’m also happy to join in a standing ovation for this year’s big winner, Patrick McDonnell, whose nifty picture book, Me … Jane is the 15th annual winner of the prize. The Charlotte Zolotow Award recognizes outstanding writing in a picture book. Thanks to Patrick’s book, kids from birth to age seven can learn about the incredible life of Jane Goodall.

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For my Holladay ES Peeps

By picture book, middle grade, YA, The Writing Life

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…

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A Day at Marie Reed Elementary School

By The Writing Life

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

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Four Days as a Kid’s Book Radical: CHLA

By The Writing Life

I’m just back from four days at the Children’s Literature Association’s conference. This year’s theme? Change and Insurrection in Children’s Literature. The conference was held at Hollins University. For me that meant a three-hour ride through some of the most beautiful countryside in Virginia. Scholars of children’s literature from universities across the world came to present papers and debate ideas about books for kids.  I sat in on sessions about apocalyptic heroines and the use of music as a catalyst in YA literature; on racial whitewashing in The Babysitters Club and “kick-ass slayers and teen terminators;” on gendered portrayals; on how Maurice Sendak tackled taboo. Often, it made my brain hurt the way a good workout reduces my muscles to Jello. Here are a few other reasons I’m so glad I got invited. Steve Withrow’s documentary The Library of the Early Mind. Steve is a children’s book author and now a film producer. His documentary is a collection of the big names in children’s literature – authors, influential critics, librarians — talking about the books that are on everyone’s shelves. It is by turns informative, heartbreaking and hilarious. (Yes, Lemony Snickett is just as over-the-top in real life). I hope this movie gets shown everywhere and that it finds its way to PBS because it’s fantastic. Beyond the absolute “cool factor” of seeing what each author looks and sounds like – it’s an intriguing look at why and how writers compose.  Here’s a peek at his trailer. A beautiful exhibit on…

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Tips on book launches

By The Writing Life

This past weekend I celebrated two important milestones: my birthday and the launch of my new picture book. I love birthdays, even though the numbers are getting uncomfortably high. Books signings and launches? Hmmmm. I’m still new enough on the block that I get really excited — and then paralyzed by fear — at the thought of these events. The thought of an empty bookstore is my most gruesome professional fear beyond (1) developing a terminal case writer’s block, and (2) earning bad reviews from places I respect. Luckily, I was spared this time. In fact, I had a great launch that left me feeling grateful for the many blessings I’ve received as a writer. So, by way of sharing helping writers who are getting started, here’s what I learned. Pick a sensible launch spot: Richmond has many big box and fantastic independent bookstores. I chose the magical bbgb tales for kids. It’s  a tiny bookstore with a huge heart, loyal customers, and the kind of personal attention that I need to feel comfortable. Jill, Janessa, Diane, and Juliana love kids, love good books for kids, and they have a creative spirit that I admire. The shop was just the right size for me since I’m a mid-list author right now who needs a cozy spot to fill. You can see  the detail they put into my welcome signs,  the window display, and the refreshments. Plan early: I started my conversation with bbgb about three months out. We decided that 2…

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Girls of Summer

By The Writing Life

It’s nearly 100 degrees in Richmond, and my air conditioner is broken. It’s going to take a lot to make me happy this week, folks. So, thank God for a project I’ve been working on with my friend and fellow Candlewick author, Gigi Amateau.  It’s called Girls of Summer, and it’s our own answer to those official summer reading lists that used to suck the joy out of reading for both of us. How we kept reading, we’ll never know. If you’re not familiar with our stuff, you should know that Gigi and I both write about strong girls. Hers are southern, mine Latina – but we write about tough cookies, and it turns out, those are the same the world over. This summer, as our own beautiful daughters are graduating from high school, we’ve decided to celebrate girl power through the thing we love most: writing. Here’s a little taste of what we have in mind via a Mac-made trailer. (Thank you Chris Cheng at SCBWI for teaching me how!) But you’ll have to be patient. We’re still putting the finishing touches on things. In the next few weeks, we’ll roll out the blog with our selections and why we like them. We hope you’ll comment, read interviews with the authors and enjoy hearing snippets of work. Then on July 28, 2011 we’ll feature the list as part of James River Writers’ July Writing Show in Richmond, VA.  You’ll be able to hang out with librarians, teachers, kids, and writers — and…

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Win my book on Latin Baby Book Club

By The Writing Life

I took my son, the baby of our family, to see colleges this weekend — a road trip that featured a lot of sweet memories, perhaps fueled by eating too much ice cream made on an on-campus creamery.  Yum. But that wasn’t the only delicious thing that happened. I was also featured on Latin Baby Book Club.(Check it out;  you can win a free copy of TIA ISA WANTS A CAR). How I wish I’d had a blog like that 15 years ago when I was raising my own “latin babies” and teaching them to love books – and their roots.  We live in Richmond, Virginia, a southern city with a growing Latino population, but it’s not like other places we’ve lived, like South Florida, where Latino culture has so significantly shaped communities. Nobody here was whipping out an empanada from their lunch sack. Cinco de Mayo  and Three Kings Day was about all anybody knew. My three kids are all American in so many ways. In fact, they speak Spanish so poorly that their abuelas can barely forgive me. Back then, they read Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse and the Magic Treehouse series and Harry Potter. Still, something like Latin Baby Book Club might have helped me do the important work of making my kids proud of where they come from. Sure, you can’t  keep Latino kids from being as American as anybody else in their class. (Ask my mother; she’ll tell you.) It’s inevitable; you belong to the place you…

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A SURPRISE IN MY MAILBOX: TIA ISA

By The Writing Life

After a long day of sitting at the library, where I wrestled endlessly with a chapter, I came home to a great surprise. My editor, Kate, sent me a finished copy of Tía Isa Wants a Car — my picture book that pubs in June. Thank you Claudio Muñoz for the beautiful, retro art and all of your insights.  Thank you Kate for loving this little story. And muchisimas gracias to the real tía Isa who taught me that everyone has the power to get behind her own wheel.

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¡Mucho gusto!

By Intros, Uncategorized

Introductions are always a little awkward, except when you’re an author meeting kids of any age. Thankfully, they go right for what matters, no small talk. So here, by way of introduction, are my vitals in kid format. I live in Virginia with my family (husband, mother-in-law, three teens), a black, shaggy dog (Noche) and a fierce hunting machine cat named Wolfe. My house is, in fact, messy, especially around deadlines, when I forget to bathe and I wander around mumbling dialogue. My favorite candy is MilkDuds, no matter what my dentist says. I buy the extra big box at the movies every time. I write for about four hours a day at a little desk tucked in my livingroom. When I can’t think of what to write I walk Noche or throw in some laundry. Yes, I speak Spanish and English. My family is from Cuba. No. I’m not especially rich or famous. I don’t need extra big sunglasses or anything. You can ask me other burning questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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