Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

Posts tagged ‘Ruta Sepetys’

Helping new voices get heard: VAASL Conference 2017

IMG_0908Back in 2011,  I was invited to attend the VEMA conference, an annual gathering of school librarians in my state. The event was held in Richmond that year. I had one book out, Milagros, Girl from Away, and so, like a lot of new authors, I sat at a table by myself for most of the evening while other more seasoned authors signed copies and chatted up fans.

Here’s what I most remember of that night: one school librarian came to talk to me. Her name was Schenell Agee, and she listened patiently as I stumbled through my conversation about my work and diverse voices and Latino themes. She told me that she organized an end-of-year author event at her middle school. An author visit on the last day of school? I thought. Nuts. Still, we exchanged cards, and she told me that she’d keep me in mind for the future.

I expected exactly nothing. I was just grateful that someone had stopped by to ask me anything at all. Eventually, I did go to her school (Metz Middle) – alongside the amazing Floyd Cooper, as I recall. It was a fabulous school visit – not only for how well-organized it was, but also for all it taught me about why it matters to take risks on new writers.

A lot has happened since then. VEMA has changed its name to VAASL (Virginia Association of School Librarians). I’ve got a few more titles under my belt. And Schenell Agee is now the supervisor of professional development and library services for Prince William County. But as I drive to Northern Virginia this Friday to take part in the VAASL conference,  I’ll be taking with me what I learned from her and all the librarians I’ve worked with since then.

With Lamar Giles at the Highlights Foundation where we served as mentors last summer

Here’s what I mean. If we’re serious about changing the landscape of children’s lit by building collections that represent a wide range of experiences, then encouraging new authors – especially diverse ones – is vital.  These are largely new voices, just entering now, who might be sitting at tables by themselves somewhere. There’s no time to waste in getting these authors up and connected. Kids need and deserve to hear from them. The best way to do it is through librarians.

I’m using my workshop time on Friday afternoon to book talk 20 titles by a few favorites but also many up-and-coming Latino authors who had work published in 2017. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s as much as I could read in a couple of months. Book talking isn’t necessarily my best skill, but I’m going to give it a shot. And if I’m lousy at it, as least there’s a giveaway of much of the list. (Many thanks to the publishers who sent me freebies for this purpose.) Librarians are crazy busy, and it’s hard for them to keep up with the huge number of titles competing for shelf space. If I can introduce them to fresh names and faces, I’ll be satisfied. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely want librarians to stock my stuff on their shelves, too. But the truth is that the body of my work represents one voice – and only one. There are parts of the so-called Latino experience that I can’t tell, parts that someone else should.

Mutual fans – with Ruta in Tucson

On Saturday, I’ll be moderating and participating in How Books Connect: Views and Ideas from Five Favorite Multicultural Authors. Joining me will be people who need no introduction: Ruta Sepetys, fresh from adding the Carnegie medal to the list of accolades for her exceptional historical fiction, Salt to the Sea; Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg, long time buds and now co-authors of the well-received, This is Just a Test, and one of my dearest friends in this business, Edgar Award nominee Lamar Giles (Overturned.) Our plan is to talk the way five friends would over breakfast (except not criticizing runny eggs.) Our focus will be the way we use our books to tell stories of varied people in a way that combats erasure or stereotype.

Wendy and Madelyn about to take the stage at this year’s National Book Festival in Washington, DC

So, if you’re a school librarian heading to Chantilly, I hope to see you this coming weekend. You can check out the full roster of events here.  Some amazing speakers are coming, and I’ll be sitting in on as much as I can!

 

Lord I Was Born A Ramblin (Wo)maaaan

By far the busiest week I’ve had in a while: 6,412.8 miles in ten days. Whew!

Some photos from the road…as many as I remembered to take, starting at the Tucson Festival of the Book.

The view from my window in Tucson

The view from my window in Tucson

Another courtyard

One of the courtyards at the Lodge on the Desert

Beautiful pots all over the place

Beautiful pots all over the place

This saguaro cactus towers over you. I'm told that the "arms" don't grow on it until its old...60 years or so.

This saguaro cactus towers over you. I’m told that the “arms” don’t grow on it until it’s old…60 years or so.

The hotel is one of the oldest in Tucson and was recently remodeled. Lots of lovely alcoves and tile work

The hotel is one of the oldest in Tucson and was recently remodeled. Lots of lovely alcoves and tile work

Crystal Allen, Monica Brown, Kirby Larsen, and Natalie Lloyd made up the Mighty Girls panel

Crystal Allen, Monica Brown, Kirby Larsen, and Natalie Lloyd made up the Mighty Girls panel. I couldn’t resist sitting in on a panel with such a good title!

What a panel! With Dan Gemeinhart and Ruta Sepetys (who taught me how to say her name)

What a panel! With Dan Gemeinhart and Ruta Sepetys (who taught me how to say her name)

At the author dinner with Kendal Washington White, Ass't VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students (and her son Robert)

At the author dinner with Kendal Washington White, Ass’t VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at the University of Arizona (and her son Robert)

The juniors and seniors from Tucson High School who interviewed me about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Burn Baby Burn

The juniors and seniors from Tucson High School who interviewed me about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Burn Baby Burn

Some teenagers really know how to win me over!

Some teenagers really know how to win me over!

 

On to the Virginia Festival of the Book…

More ceiling tiles...

The students’ country of origin are celebrated on the ceiling tiles of Jack Jouett MS in Charlottesville VA

Great VA Book Fest panel on writing family with Lamar Giles (Endangered), Kelly Fiori (Thicker Than Water) Hannah Barnaby (Some of the Parts)

Great VA Book Fest panel on writing family with Lamar Giles (Endangered), Kelly Fiori (Thicker Than Water) Hannah Barnaby (Some of the Parts)

And wrapping up in Fort Myers Florida for the Southwest Florida Reading Festival.

Eric Elfman (who was my writing coach) and Neal Shusterman (Challenger Deep) I bought the whole Accelerate Triology. Here they are at the statue of Edison who had a winter residence in Ft. Myers

Eric Elfman (who was my writing coach) and Neal Shusterman (Challenger Deep) I bought their whole Accelerati Trilogy. Here they are at the statue of Edison who had a winter residence in Ft. Myers

Mere moments after I got fully drenched by a sheet of water that slid off the tent. See puddle at my feet. No. I am not amused.

Mere moments after I got fully drenched by a sheet of water that slid off the tent. See puddle at my feet. No. I am not amused.

With the lovely Cuban American author, Chantel Acevedo. Pick up A Falling Star or The Distant Marvels!

With the lovely Cuban American author, Chantel Acevedo. Pick up A Falling Star or The Distant Marvels!

So fun to meet Trish Doller (The Devil You Know), who also writes strong girls

So fun to meet Trish Doller (The Devil You Know), who also writes strong girls

Trish Doller carries this little one around.

Trish Doller carries this little one around.

Reading Mango Abuela and Me moments before the sky opened up with lightning and we were all rushed inside!

Just managed to finish reading Mango, Abuela and Me before the skies opened up and lightning forced everyone inside!

I am not Meg Cabot. Perhaps this photo can help. (But it would be nice!)

I am not Meg Cabot (although it would be nice.) Perhaps this photo can help you tell us apart.