Book Review: Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

 

Review by Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.

Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.

And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?

MY TWO CENTS: While we’ve had a strong list of Latinx YA fantasy and magical realism books building for some time, most middle grade books by Latinx authors tend to fall into the genres of realistic fiction or historical fiction. So I was absolutely delighted to read this series opener by Anna Meriano which gives a traditional literary fantasy arc a Latinx, and specifically Mexican-American, voice. Meriano riffs on so many tropes here, including the family with a secret, the youngest child who is desperate to be included, and the sorcerer’s (here, bruja’s) apprentice whose attempts at magic go awry.

One of my favorite things about this book is how the author creates a protagonist who doesn’t speak Spanish (her abuela, who looked after her older sisters and taught them Spanish, died when she was little) and uses it as an obstacle that drives the plot. Magic spells are written in Spanish, so it makes sense that Leo struggles with following them—but also that she perseveres and sees them as her birthright. Not all Latinx kids in the US speak Spanish, for a variety of reasons, and I loved seeing that incorporated into the narrative.

The family relationships in this book are just outstanding. Each sister is individual, and the conflicts between them feel real and lived. I would read an entire book about Marisol and her journey. Meriano doesn’t take the easy way out by having the parents absent or conveniently clueless for most of the narrative, instead making Leo sneak around, constantly worried that her magical efforts will be found out. Of course she is wrong, and the consequences are my favorite part of the book. Leo has to work to fix her mistakes. There is no waving a wand or finding the right words or having a mentor pick up the pieces. She has help, (some of it from an…interesting…source) but she has to do the heavy lifting and figure out the steps to reverse the effects of her spells. Magic systems are tricky to write, and I appreciate that Meriano has created a world with clear rules and expectations, even if they can be bent or broken occasionally.

I would go so far as to say this book is a textbook example of a story that includes specific cultural details, holidays, and language without having them be the focus of the book. So much pop culture centered around Latinx characters uses the Day of the Dead celebrations as an entry and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it gets old after awhile. I loved how Meriano uses the Day of the Dead festival as a set piece, (it’s nice to see how the Logroño family aren’t outsiders in their town), but the book itself isn’t about Day of the Dead. Being a bruja has nothing to do with Day of the Dead. Being Mexican-American is about more than Day of the Dead, a fact that some in the media have yet to grasp.

My favorite line in this book is what Mamá tells Leo when she asks what it means to be a witch.

“A witch can be anyone. A bruja is us. And what does it mean to be a bruja? That’s like asking what it means to be a Texan, or a girl, or curly haired. It doesn’t mean anything by itself. It’s part of you. Then you decide what it means.”

I’m so thrilled that young kids, just hitting middle school, struggling with their identity, will have Leo and her family to make them laugh and guide them to a better understanding of who they are who they want to be in the world.

TEACHING TIPS: There is so much to unpack here for a literature circle or book group at a school. Leo makes lots of choices, which have consequences for many different people, so students can have a field day debating what she should or shouldn’t have done at many different points in the story. Spanish classes, start translating some of those spells! Students could test some of the recipes in the back of the book and bring in their efforts to share with classmates (there is even a gluten-free option). The fantasy elements of the book provide a means for students to write personal narratives imagining themselves into that world: what magical power would you like to have? What are the pros and cons of Isabel’s power versus Alma and Belén’s?

Image result for anna merianoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Meriano grew up in Houston with an older brother and a younger brother, but (tragically) no sisters. She graduated from Rice University with a degree in English and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis on writing for children from the New School in New York. She has taught creative writing and high school English and works as a writing tutor. Anna likes reading, knitting, playing full-contact quidditch, and singing along to songs in English, Spanish, and ASL. Anna still lives in Houston with her dog, Cisco. Her favorite baked goods are the kind that don’t fly away before you eat them.

RESOURCES: 

Interview with us about being a middle grade author: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/01/05/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-3-anna-meriano/

Interview on BNKids blog: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/kids/baking-brujas-interview-anna-meriano-love-sugar-magic-dash-trouble/

Excerpt on EW: http://ew.com/books/2017/06/29/love-sugar-magic-dash-of-trouble-excerpt/

Pitch America interview: https://pitchamerica.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/interview-with-anna-meriano-author-of-love-sugar-magic/

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Q&A and Cover Reveal with Author-Illustrator Tony Piedra

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Tony Piedra, a former film animator who worked on several awesome Pixar movies, including the Oscar-winning Coco! Tony will have his debut picture book released by Arthur A. Levine Books later this year. Before we get to the Q&A, here’s some background information on the author-illustrator:

tony piedraFrom his website: In a previous chapter of my life, I was a Sets Technical Director at Pixar Animation Studios. For nine years, I collaborated with some of the most talented artists and storytellers in the world to help realize the environments in films, such as, UpCars 2The Good DinosaurInside Out, and Coco, as well as several of Pixar’s short films, including The Blue Umbrella. Now, I am taking the skills and experiences from my time working in the film industry and putting them to use as an author and illustrator of children’s books. My debut picture book, The Greatest Adventure, will be released Fall 2018 through Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Now, here’s a brief description of The Greatest Adventure:  Eliot imagines sailing wild rivers and discovering giant beasts, right there on his block. But he wishes his adventures were real. Eliot’s grandpa, El Capitán, once steered his own ship through dangerous seas, to far-off lands. But he can’t do that anymore. Can Eliot and El Capitán discover a real adventure… together? Come find out All aboard The Greatest Adventure.

Now….here is the beautiful cover of the book, which releases September 11, 2018.

 

 

GREATEST ADVENTURE Cover

ALSO, CLICK ON THE LINK TO GET A GLIMPSE OF THE INSIDE ART: Greatest Adventure

 

Q. What picture books do you remember from when you were growing up? Are there any stories or artists that were especially meaningful or inspirational for you?

A. In a bright red building I affectionately remember as the “Red Library,” I discovered a book called Album of Sharks, illustrated by Rod Ruth and written by Tom McGowen. This book left such a vivid impression on my mind due to Ruth’s striking full page illustrations, that over 20 years later, when I tried to locate a copy of the book with absolutely no information other than my childhood memories, I was able to do so because I remembered each and every one of Ruth’s illustrations so clearly. I find it funny how at such young age we are intrinsically drawn to certain subjects, and for whatever reason I was then, and still am, drawn to sharks. I love the danger, mystery, and wonder they conjure in my mind, and Ruth’s illustrations captured this in a way that no photo has ever been able to do.  Later I learned that Rod Ruth and Tom McGowen paired up on over a half dozen “Album of” books, each beautifully illustrated, and I imagine, entertainingly written—I wasn’t such a good reader back in those early days.  As an homage to Album of Sharks and more specifically as a small, but deeply felt thank you to Rod Ruth, I inserted a token of admiration for one of Ruth’s most memorable paintings in my debut picture book, The Greatest Adventure.

 

Q. What are your favorite art materials to work with? How much (if any) of your process is digital?

A. Just give me a pencil and some white computer paper, and I will be distracted working for hours. These have been my default materials since the beginning. I dabble with gouache, acrylics, and oils, but they are not my natural mediums. If I need to do some thinking or planning there’s nothing better than pencil and paper. I followed that same practice on The Greatest Adventure. Throughout the planning and dummy stage of this book I solved compositions and decided on scene staging with these simple materials and time. All the heavy lifting happens at this humble stage. When I’m finally satisfied with a composition and ready to do a final illustration, I scan in the sketches and begin the meticulous process of painting them digitally in Photoshop.  My final paintings are 95% digital with subtle touches of texture scanned in from traditional media.

Q. You’ve come to picture books from animation (congratulations on Coco’s many wins!). How is the artistic process for the two kinds of storytelling similar or different? Are there any secrets about Coco (or Pixar in general) you can share with us?

A. Thank you for the congratulations. Coco represents the final year and a half of my career at Pixar, and I’m very proud of the film, and the work I helped bring to the screen, namely the cemetery in Miguel’s hometown of Santa Cecilia.

Fundamentally, the process of creating a picture book and an animated film are very similar in that both mediums require a team of individuals to bring to life a story and world that had never existed before. Where they differ most strikingly is in the number of individuals per team and their level of specialization. Picture book-making, though clearly a team effort, does not require an army of individuals at the creative stage. Much of the work is realized by the author and illustrator in collaboration with the editor, designer and production team. And so, in general terms, the publishing team is smaller and the skillset of each individual on that team fairly broad when compared to the specialization required in producing a computer-generated film. A typical Pixar film employs 250-300 highly-specialized people to collaborate on a singular vision. Just to give you an idea of how specialized the work on these films is, there are specialists known as “groomers,” whose sole responsibility is to create hair, and trust me this is a full-time job, especially, when you’re trying something as innovative as the wild, red locks of Merida in Pixar’s Brave, or you’re styling the hair for an entire town as was required in Coco. Imagine the equivalent in the picture book world, an illustrator who only draws hair!

My area of expertise is called Set Dressing. It is not too different from interior decoration. Think of how interior decorators bring rooms and homes to life with their choices of color and arrangement of decor. There is, however, one key difference: the set dresser’s goal in arranging objects on a film is to reveal aspects of the characters through their environment, which requires a great deal of story specificity. Think of a college dorm room versus the bedroom of someone who is obsessively organized. How would these rooms be arranged differently? What would each room say about its owner’s character? The answers to these questions are provided by set dressing. My work on Coco required the careful arrangement of flowers, candles, and foods on the graves which made up the cemetery in the film. These ofrendas were arranged to show the love and respect family members paid to their deceased relatives on Día de los Muertos. It took me nearly a year and a half to set dress the entire cemetery, and this is but one part of the process required to bring to screen one scene in the film.

Q. What are some books you’re looking forward to from Latinx creators? These can be picture books or chapter books.

I have admired the work of Julia Sardá for many years. Her work is primarily known in Europe, but I think that she is one of the most talented children’s book illustrators out there today. Somebody please bring her to the American children’s book market! I’m also excited to see what comes next from Lorena Alvarez, a Colombian children’s book author and illustrator, whose exciting work I came across last year with the release of Night Lights published by Flying Eye Books.  I also just discovered JOAN PROCTOR, DRAGON DOCTOR: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles written by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala. The book was recently released and it speaks to me both through Felicita’s beautiful illustrations and the subject’s love of lizards, which I can completely relate to. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Q. What do you want your next great adventure to be? Is there anywhere you want to travel to or wonders you’d like to see?

At the beginning of last year, I wondered the same thing: what would be my next adventure? I had just left Pixar to pursue a full-time career in children’s books, and one of my goals outside of finishing up my first book was to find ways to travel the world as an independent artist. For the longest time, I had admired how my best friend’s sister had managed to see so much of Europe and South America with the help of playwright grants. So naturally, I figured somebody for some reason must need an author/illustrator to go to the rainforest! I then stumbled upon an artist-in-residence program called Voices of the Wilderness.  This residency sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service brings artists of all sorts to remote areas of Alaskan wilderness to witness their beauty and share the importance of conserving these wild corners with the American public. I applied for the residency and a few months later found myself standing in the rain on Admiralty Island, a 1,500 square mile rock covered in a swath of temperate rainforest and home to the greatest concentration of coastal brown bears in the world. This was not the adventure I had envisioned; it was grander. And this island and one bear in particular on it have become the centerpiece of my next story for children. Where next?  Who knows!

 

 

Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name/ Alma y come obtuvo su nombre, by Juana Martinez Neal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming to a shelf near you on April 10, 2018!

Reviewed by Dora M. Guzmán

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

MY TWO CENTS: What is in a name? A name is a gift given to you at birth and you carry it through all your stages of life. Parents and guardians spend months deciding on their baby’s name, sometimes even long before a baby is in the picture. But what if your name doesn’t fit on your paper because of its length?

In a world where we tend to question our differences, this story does quite the opposite. Growing up in the United States, one tends to have a single first name, maybe a middle name, and just one last name. However, this differs in certain other countries, including in Latin American, where it is not out of the ordinary to have more than one name.

Meet Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, the main character of this story. Yes, her name is long. However, wondering about the length is what leads Alma on the journey to discover the story behind her name. Throughout the book, we learn the rich history and origins of each of Alma’s names. Many of her names were inspired by her ancestors and their humble traits and contributions to the world. The people behind her names influence Alma’s passions and character, even as she embraces each person and the love they gave her as a baby. She quickly learns that those same traits are present in her everyday life, and she rightfully claims that name through her affirmation of “I am____”. Alma soon learns that with claiming her name comes a lot of love and culture. She will now be able to contribute those gifts to the world. As Alma declares, “I am Alma, and I have a story to tell.”

This story wonderfully illustrates how to embrace YOU and the name you carry throughout life. In this story, Juana demonstrates that our name is a spotlight on not only our ancestors and the imprints they left on our lives, but also a forever part of us and what we can give to this world.

This picture book illuminates an essential connection to ancestors. Inspired by her own name, Juana reminds readers that our names are not just our own, but a reflection of our culture as well.

I am always amazed at Juana’s illustrations, especially in this picture book. The beauty of the main character connecting to her past is captured in colors and soft shades that will delight the reader’s eye. Juana also brings attention to each name through the addition of colorful accents and font styles. In page after page, the illustrations offer a collective reflection of everything that Alma’s ancestors represent, forming a visual reminder that who we are is a collection of everyone who came before us.

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers of all grade levels can use this picture book to illustrate our Latinx identity. This book is a perfect addition to an identity unit, where readers can delve into their own names and family trees. Teachers can also use this book as a reading mentor text around the main character’s learning process, as well as understanding the author’s message. The Spanish version is authentic to the Spanish language and perfect for bilingual/dual language classroom settings. Alma and How She Got Her Name/Alma y como obtuvo su nombre is a definite must add to all libraries in classrooms and homes!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Juana Martinez Neal is an award-winning illustrator and artist. Her passion for art started as a child and led her to study at one of the best schools in fine arts in Peru. Her journey as an illustrator led her to the United States, where she continues to illustrate a variety of children’s books. For updates on her art, follow her on Instagram @juanamartinezn. Juana’s official website can be found at http://juanamartinezneal.com/

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading and Language. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile!

Q&A With Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara about her debut picture book, The Field

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Jacqueline Alcántara was featured in a previous round-up of Latina illustrators here on Latinxs in Kid Lit, and we got more information about her when we found out she was also the inaugural recipient of a mentorship from the We Need Diverse Books organization. Now, we’re catching up wit Alcántara since her first picture book, The Field, written by Baptiste Paul, was released last week by NorthSouth Books. Here is the official description of the book, which received a starred review from Kirkus, and the cover:

A soccer story–for boy and girls alike–just in time for the World Cup.

Vini Come The field calls, ” cries a girl as she and her younger brother rouse their community–family, friends, and the local fruit vendor–for a pickup soccer (fútbol) game. Boys and girls, young and old, players and spectators come running–bearing balls, shoes, goals, and a love of the sport.

“Friends versus friends” teams are formed, the field is cleared of cows, and the game begins. But will a tropical rainstorm threaten their plans?

The world’s most popular and inclusive sport has found its spirited, poetic, and authentic voice in Baptiste Paul’s debut picture book–highlighting the joys of the game along with its universal themes: teamwork, leadership, diversity, and acceptance. Creole words (as spoken in St. Lucia, the author’s birthplace island in the Caribbean) add to the story and are a strong reminder of the sport’s world fame. Bright and brilliant illustrations by debut children’s book illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara –winner of the We Need Diverse Books Illustration Mentorship Award–capture the grit and glory of the game and the beauty of the island setting where this particular field was inspired.

Soccer fan or not, the call of The Field is irresistible.

TheField_Cover_JacquelineAlcantara.jpg

Congratulations on your first picture book! Can you tell us a little bit about the media you used to create the illustrations? Is it one technique or were you mixing several different ones? 

Thank you so much! It’s quite exciting to finally be able to celebrate this book and years of hard work! And thank you very much for supporting me and The Field!

These illustrations are a combination of pencil, marker, gouache and Photoshop. Every day ,I understand more and more what it is I love about each medium – so instead of trying to make one “say it all,” I work mixed-media so I get the beautiful line-work of pencil, the speed and consistency of markers, the flat opaque color and beautiful texture of gouache, and the limitless possibilities of working in Photoshop! I also scan my work at multiple points along the way which allows me to push the illustration without fear of taking it too far into ruin.

There is so much amazing movement in this book. How did you decide when to use panels and when to use full page spreads? What was your research process like for the figures and movements of the players? 

I really love illustrating people and movement. I think that was a big reason I was so attracted to the project in the first place! To begin, I watched movies, fútbol games, documentaries, looked through photographs etc – and drew hundreds of figure sketches of kids and adults playing soccer, really trying to find the most dynamic and natural poses. It was so interesting to see how people’s styles, circumstances, settings, and techniques all changed country to country. The thing that didn’t change, was the look on people’s faces after the game – the looks of joy, friendship, exhaustion.

After I created my cast of characters, I went back through all my figure sketching and decided which movements or styles of kicking, running, and playing felt right for each character. Who was the confident player? Who was the more shy and awkward player, etc?

11_MomDribbling_WEB

Carlitos_Kicking

I felt the beginning of the book was a series of static moments. Connected, but individual moments that focused on the players. I felt this would be best portrayed in panels so we could focus on each moment. As the story progresses, we see ‘The Field’ itself becoming the main character. The Field unites the players, creates friendships, teaches lessons, makes memories! So it felt right to fall back and show the field in its entirety – making the place, the people, and the action more united.

The men’s World Cup is coming up soon. Are you a fútbol fan? If you are, which team will you be cheering for? 

I am! While I don’t love watching sports on TV, I LOVE  watching world events like the Olympics and the World Cup. My favorite team is Barça, so for the World Cup I’ll be rooting for Spain!

 

photo credit @eyeshotchaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from her website): Jacqueline Alcántara is a freelance illustrator and spends her days drawing, painting, writing and walking her dog. She is fueled by electronic and jazz music, carbs and coffee. Jacqueline studied Art Education and taught high school art and photography before transitioning to illustration.

In combination with freelance illustration, Jacqueline has a wide range of work experience in other art and design related positions. She managed an art gallery and framing studio in Chicago, worked in the set decoration department on NBC’s “Chicago Fire”, and was the Member Relations Manager at Soho House Chicago where she cultivated a community of Chicago creatives in fashion, advertising, fine art and more. She has a never ending interest in learning new skills and taking on new challenges.

Her experience working with children has led her to focusing on children’s literature and specifically in pursuit of projects featuring a diverse main character. She won the 2016 “We Need Diverse Books Campaign” Mentorship Award and is excited to be working to promote inclusiveness and diversity in children’s literature and the illustration field.

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

MY TWO CENTS: I had a difficult childhood. I was queer and Latinx and stuck in a home with parents who did not understand either identity and certainly not the intersection of them. (I was adopted.) It meant that I felt that I existed in constant friction with them. That friction manifested in a deep, existential desire in me: I wanted acceptance. I wanted to live.

I found that same desire within the pages of The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo’s masterful and gut-wrenching debut. Told in verse, I devoured this book in one sitting, only taking a break to wipe at the tears that welled in my eyes. Acevedo has crafted a living, breathing world in Xiomara, and you can tell that from the very first page. Her unique voice, coupled with an engaging story about acceptance, rebellion, and identity in this Dominican-American teen, makes The Poet X a powerful read.

There’s nothing here I could nitpick, even if I tried. The pacing is brilliant, and my heart was racing as I approached the climax. Acevedo’s prose, which is informed by her years of work in slam poetry, is vivid, lyrical, captivating. There were countless sentences or lines that knocked me flat on my ass, and you’re certain to find one of your own. But it’s the characterization that gripped me the most. I related so intensely to Xiomara’s desire to live beyond the prescriptions of her mother’s religion that at times, I felt that Acevedo had reached deep down into a well within me, extracting the pain, terror, and—ultimately—vindication I experienced when I clashed with my own parents about my sexuality, my body, and my need to be my own person. The supporting cast is well-rounded and memorable (particularly Xiomara’s twin brother, Xavier, since I am also a twin), and they each affect the story in meaningful ways.

This is an astounding accomplishment, and I’m so thrilled that Dominican-Americans (and those who identify as Afro-Latinx) have a book that so brilliantly represents them. For fans of Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros (particularly The House on Mango Street), and Liara Tamani’s Calling My Name.

TEACHING TIPS: Another reason I admired The Poet X is because Acevedo so seamlessly addresses weighty topics with ease and care, and the book never feels like it’s teaching you a lesson. The novel addresses issues such as sizeism, street harassment, homophobia, misogyny, sexual shame, and abuse, particularly when that abuse is paired with religion. Because the book is composed in verse that work like vignettes, it will be easy to assign essays or discussions based on specific poems. Acevedo’s language is modern and youthful, so I expect teens will connect with it quicker than most other works.

WHERE TO GET IT: The Poet X released on Tuesday. To find it, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

                        Photo: Bethany Thomas

Photo: Bethany Thomas

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit.

She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over twelve years of performance experience, Acevedo has been a featured performer on BET and Mun2, as well as delivered several TED Talks. She has graced stages nationally and internationally including renowned venues such as The Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, the Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts, and South Africa’s State Theatre, The Bozar in Brussels, and the National Library of Kosovo; she is also well known for  poetry videos, which have gone viral and been picked up by PBS, Latina Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Upworthy.

Acevedo is a National Slam Champion, Beltway Grand Slam Champion, and the 2016 Women of the World Poetry Slam representative for Washington, D.C, where she lives and works.

Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Puerto Del Sol, Callaloo, Poet Lore, The Notre Dame Review, and others. Acevedo is a Cave Canem Fellow, Cantomundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She is the author of the chapbook, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016)  and the forthcoming novel, The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018).

 

 

Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and television series unspoiled. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015. He is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors and is usually busy trying to fulfill his lifelong goal to pet every dog in the world. His YA Contemporary debut, Anger is a Gift, is out May 22, 2018 with Tor Teen.

 

Guest Post by Author NoNieqa Ramos: Voice Lessons

 

By NoNieqa Ramos

I’ll never forget the sweltering summer in NY, when my soul mate and I dined with a friend and editor from a NYC publishing house, partially because we spent 300 dollars on appetizers. I mean for 20 bucks we could have had arroz con habichuelas y maduros and a friggin bistec, you know?

But we had all gotten into the friend zone–where you want to be when your friend happens to be a Big Wig–and I was loving being back in Manhattan, where I used to bus to the Port Authority and cab it to the Village to get various body parts pierced.

The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary was a Work-in-Progress. I met said editor at an SCBWI pitch conference and she had told me, “I was the reason she came to these conferences.” That even though the plot of my manuscript was “crazy town”– I was writing about a Korean boy named Yin Coward who shot his nemesis and true love and ended up hiding in the walls of his Catholic school–my “voice” was “OMG.”

Yin Coward later got rejected by a hotshot agent who said “Alas, it had too much voice,” and was eventually put to bed in a C drive. Ultimately, years later, when my agent Emily Keyes sent the completed The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary to my friend and editor at the aforementioned publishing house, she declined, saying “It was too beautiful.” Now I sit with reviews from Kirkus calling my voice “hard to process” but “inimitable” and “unique.” I’m speaking at the ALAN Conference at NCTE to discuss The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary on the Panel: “Giving Voices to Difficult Experiences.” BookList says my writing is “exceptional” and “I’m a voice to watch.”

It fascinates me that Kirkus called the syntax of DDG a “stylistic choice.” What’s of great fascination to me, is as a Nuyorican from the Bronx, it wasn’t until my thirties that I found my own voice, my own place at the table, so to speak. I’ve spent my life, like my protagonist Macy Cashmere, being defined by other people.

In the Bronx, I was 100 Puerto Rican. Let me ‘splain. With my people, it was a source of pride and defiance. In my family, my elders had started in the barrio and worked their way from poverty to being lab techs, social workers, principals, and vice-presidents in the ‘burbs.

In my reality, I learned, there were hidden definitions. So there was this Italian boy I had a crush on. He used to give me extra cannolis with my orders. I’m thirteen. One day I’m walking home and he’s standing on the corner.

He’s saying things like come over here and talk to me. I smiled, but kept walking, not knowing, really, what to do with my skinny-ass self. Then the cursing started. I was a Puerto Rican slut. (Whaaat?) etc. etc. This was one of many delightful experiences with race. I learned boobs weren’t the only thing to enter a room first. My brownness did, too.

Back to that editor and friend. There was wine and three-hundred-dollar lobster rolls. Did I want an actual entree? Well, having a need for food, shelter, and insurance–I had a Catholic teacher’s budget at the time–made that a hard NO.

Anyway, there was witty repartee to fill me up. Have I mentioned, I’m that English teacher that delights in witty repartee, the use of active voice, and sentence diagramming? Then I did it. I code switched. Can’t remember exactly what ungrammatical thing I said. But I do remember being corrected by this friend, this editor, this white lady in public like I was a child.

About the English teacher thing. Command of the English language has empowered me (and my family) throughout life to get awards, attention, scholarships, employment, respect, and lots of comments like “What are you?” (Puerto Rican and literate, that’s what I am bee–)

Losing the Spanish language has done the same, and is one of the biggest tragedies in my cultural life. My protagonist Macy Cashmere’s ungrammatical language is not a “stylistic choice.” It is an outright rebellion. Nod if you feel me. As Macy would say, “Just because you monolingual motherfoes can’t speak my language ain’t my problem. I mean, you could read Faulkner, but you can’t get me because I say ‘a’ instead of ‘an’?”

The thing is, we need diverse voices that speak grammatically correct. We need diverse voices that crush stereotypes like cockroaches under chancletas. We writers love to write from the perspective of the diamonds-in-the-rough who also happen to be literary geniuses. Well, guess what?

Macy’s there, too. If you’re not going to make room at the table for her, she’s bound to do something about it. Maybe sit right on your lap. Maybe toss the table. You find her story hard to read? Intense? Remember the Macys of the world are living that story. She’s been silenced all her life. She doesn’t look right. She doesn’t act right. But she’s stronger than you. If the whole damn world ended, she’d still be standing because her world has ended a thousand times. But what, you want to filter her? Don’t get me wrong, I gave Macy Miss Black. I want Macy to make it. I  want to get her counselors and tutors and have her rescued by librarians.

But Macy doesn’t exist for me or for you. The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary is BY Macy and FOR Macy. As Kirkus said, Macy is “aggressive, angry, and intimidating.” And, hello, that’s because she doesn’t get the luxury of magic powers or magic foster parents. One of my foster kids left me to be adopted by her aunt. Years later, I found her back on a foster kids website–now having been abused by her mom and rejected by the only sane relative she had—hoping desperately for someone to be her “forever family” at the age of thirteen. The age kids almost NEVER get adopted. This book is for that kid. Take a listen.

CLICK HERE for our review of The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary.

 

NoNieqa Ramos spent her childhood in the Bronx, where she started her own publishing company and sold books for twenty-five cents until the nuns shut her down. With the support of her single father and her tias, she earned dual master’s degrees in creative writing and education at the University of Notre Dame. As a teacher, she has dedicated herself to bringing gifted-and-talented education to minority students and expanding access to literature, music, and theater for all children. A frequent foster parent, NoNieqa lives in Ashburn, Virginia, with her family. She can be found on Twitter at @NoNiLRamos.