Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Chantel Acevedo

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Chantel Acevedo.

Chantel Acevedo was born in Miami to Cuban parents. She is the acclaimed author of adult novels, including The Distant Marvels, which was a finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and she is also a professor of English at the University of Miami, where she directs the MFA program. Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse is her debut middle grade novel. Chantel lives with her personal Muse Squad, aka her family, in Florida. You can visit her online at http://www.chantelacevedo.com.

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Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse just released last week, on July 7, 2020!

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Here is the publisher’s description:

Callie Martinez-Silva didn’t mean to turn her best friend into a pop star. But when a simple pep talk leads to miraculous results, Callie learns she’s the newest muse of epic poetry, one of the nine Muses of Greek mythology tasked with protecting humanity’s fate in secret.

Whisked away to Muse Headquarters, she joins three recruits her age, who call themselves the Muse Squad. Together, the junior muses are tasked with using their magic to inspire and empower—not an easy feat when you’re eleven and still figuring out the goddess within.

When their first assignment turns out to be Callie’s exceptionally nerdy classmate, Maya Rivero, the squad comes to Miami to stay with Callie and her Cuban family. There, they discover that Maya doesn’t just need inspiration, she needs saving from vicious Sirens out to unleash a curse that will corrupt her destiny.

As chaos erupts, will the Muse Squad be able to master their newfound powers in time to thwart the Cassandra Curse . . . or will it undo them all?

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Chantel Acevedo

Q. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

My earliest writing memories are from elementary school. I wasn’t popular, or an athlete, or outgoing. But I could write, and I enjoyed crafting these little stories about my friends, slotting them into superhero roles, or imagining their happy futures. My friends loved seeing themselves on the page, and I loved that they enjoyed it so much. But I didn’t think of writing as a career for a long time. I earned an MFA, published my first book, and even then, didn’t think of myself as a “real” writer, whatever that meant. It took me years to shake that off!

Q: Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

I’ve written four novels for adults before turning to middle grade. Partly, I’d been waiting patiently for the muses to send me a good kid-book idea, but also, I have two daughters who straddle the middle grade age bracket, and so their voices, and that of their friends, were swirling around in my head when I finally dreamed up MUSE SQUAD. I love this age, and these voices so much!

Q: What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

There are too many! Anything by Kate DiCamillo. Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar, Magic series is such a delight, and I recommend it all the time to parents. I just finished and loved Adam Gidwitz’s medieval story, The Inquisitor’s Tale. And one I’m really looking forward to is Adrianna Cuevas’ The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez!

Q: If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

First, I’d give myself the biggest hug. Then, I’d say, “Be yourself. I know it takes courage, but you’ve got that in spades. Dale, que tu puedes.” I think I hid a lot of myself from others in middle school, thinking the things I liked were too uncool, or “little kid stuff.” I wish I’d embraced what made me different a bit more.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

Because middle grade is when that tiny, buzzing, critical voice starts to worm its way into our brains. Middle grade novels can help young readers see that they aren’t alone in their worries, their fears, or their joy. Also, when main characters make mistakes and then problem-solve, readers do so along with them, and hopefully, the memory of these stories will be available to them when facing their own challenges.

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photo by Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Reina Luz Alegre

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Reina Luz Alegre.

Reina Luz Alegre lives in the Miami area with her family. She’s dreamed of becoming an author since the second grade, and grew up to work on various other professional dreams—including as a freelance journalist and lawyer—before debuting her first novel, The Dream Weaver. When she’s not writing, Reina loves to read, sing, and salivate over baking shows.

The Dream Weaver just released last week, on June 23, 2020!

 

Dream Weaver Final CoverHere is the publisher’s description:

Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From start-up companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.

So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother, José, will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!

After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together…until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it.

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Reina Luz Alegre

Current Author Photo Reina Luz AlegreQ. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve wanted to become a writer since second grade. I remember we’d be assigned to make up a story, and it felt like the classroom around me just disappeared. I’d become totally absorbed by the page in front of me, on which I wrote whatever scenes started streaming through my head like a TV show. And I’ve just never stopped wanting to escape into writing a story.

Q: Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

I really love the sweet hopefulness in middle grade. I’m a huge fan of happy (or at least not unhappy) endings.

Q: What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

I have so many favorites! IVY ABERDEEN’S LETTER TO THE WORLD by Ashley Herring Blake, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks, LOVE SUGAR MAGIC: A MIXTURE OF MISCHIEF by Anna Meriano, just to name a few, plus I’m so excited to read my fellow Musas’ books on LasMusasBooks.com.

Q: If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

I think I’d do almost everything differently if I could go back to middle school! First, I’d tell myself to relax because I took everything—and especially myself—way, waaay too seriously. I’d tell myself to have a bit more fun and not worry so much about what other people thought. I sometimes counted myself out before anyone else could. I more or less assumed popular kids could never become close friends because they were too cool.  I was just so extremely self-conscious and insecure about all the social stuff.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

Middle grade novels are important because they help middle grade readers feel less alone as they navigate all those big changes and feelings that are part of adolescence. I also think middle grade novels are awesome for teens and adults because (at least all the ones I’ve read so far) always leave you feeling fairly uplifted and hopeful.

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photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Kim Baker

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Kim Baker.

Kim Baker’s first middle grade novel, PICKLE, has been selected for many reading lists and was a CBC Children’s Choice Awards Book of the Year finalist, a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist, and an SCBWI Crystal Kite winner. Her next book, THE WATER BEARS, will be released from Wendy Lamb Books, Random House on April 21, 2020. When she was thirteen, she lived above an old theater and drove a rusty VW van to odd jobs. Now she lives in Seattle, near tide pools but usually far from bears. Find more at www.kimbakerbooks.com

Water Bears releases tomorrow, April 21, 2020.

 

Here is the publisher’s description:

Newt Gomez has a thing with bears. Last year, he survived a bear attack. And this year, he finds an unusual bear statue that just might grant wishes. Newt’s best friend, Ethan, notices a wishbone on the statue and decides to make a wish. When it comes true, Newt thinks it’s a coincidence. Even as more people wish on the bear and their wishes come true, Newt is not convinced.

But Newt has a wish too: while he loves his home on eccentric Murphy Island, he wants to go to middle school on the mainland, where his warm extended family lives. There, he’s not the only Latinx kid, he won’t have to drive the former taco truck–a gift from his parents–and he won’t have to perform in the talent show. Most importantly, on the mainland, he never has bad dreams about the attack. Newt is almost ready to make a secret wish when everything changes.

Tackling themes of survival and self-acceptance, Newt’s story illuminates the magic in our world, where reality is often uncertain but always full of salvageable wonders.

 

Kim Baker

KimBaker_headshot

Q. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I wanted to be a writer for my whole life. I love reading. I love spending time around books and story makers. Shelves of books are my happy place. I volunteered after school in the school library during fourth and fifth grade. I would bike across town to go to the used bookstore and soak up that vanilla smell that comes off the yellow pages. Some of my favorite places are libraries and bookstores. My parents and teachers were supportive, so I wrote a lot as a kid. My second grade teacher, Ms. Moyer, wrote, “Hope to see you as a writer someday!” in my yearbook. She probably wrote that in every student’s yearbook, but I took it to HEART. I felt like she really saw me that way. For a long time, I didn’t think writing stories for a living was practical, so I pursued other careers. After a move, I switched gears and took writing classes when my kids were little. I got involved in our regional SCBWI community. I attended conferences and workshops, read craft books, and wrote crappy stories. I honed my abilities and took a shot. Now, I’m inspired to keep writing by the book community. I want to stay in this club forever.

Q. Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

Sometimes, when I teach workshops, I have writers make a list of their five favorite books growing up. Not just the first ones they remember, but the ones that they identified with that filled their hearts. It’s a good gauge to find where your voice might be. Most of my favorites came from the middle grade years. They call it the golden age of reading, when kids pick out more of their own books and look for those windows and mirrors. It’s outwardly focused as kids look for where they might fit in the world. When I really started diving in and considering middle grade as a direction, I’m continuously amazed by how much great writing and potential there is with the form.

I didn’t have a lot in common with the characters as a kid because they didn’t reflect a lot about my life. There weren’t a lot of Latinx families, or working class families, or blended families. I really like that stories are reflecting more realities now and giving kids those opportunities to see themselves as the heroes.

Q. What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

The quality of middle grade novels is amazing these days! There’s so much more choice now than when I was young. It’s so hard to narrow down, but I’ll read anything by Kate Messner, Jason Reynolds, Meg Medina, or Rebecca Stead. We’ve seen some amazing debut novels in the last couple of years— Front Desk by Kelly Yang, The Line Tender by Kate Allen, I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day, Into the Tall, Tall, Grass by Loriel Ryon, and Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros. And I’m preordering so many books by new Latinx authors, like my fellow writers in Las Musas. How cool is that?

Q. If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

I would say that anything is possible and never to count myself out.

Q. Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

They offer hope.

 

Also by Kim Baker:

 

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads

Book Review: Queen of Tejano Music: Selena by Silvia López, illus. by Paola Escobar

 

Review by Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Selena Quintanilla’s music career began at the age of nine when she started singing in her family’s band. She went from using a hairbrush as a microphone to traveling from town to town to play gigs. But Selena faced a challenge: People said that she would never make it in Tejano music, which was dominated by male performers. Selena was determined to prove them wrong.

Born and raised in Texas, Selena didn’t know how to speak Spanish, but with the help of her dad, she learned to sing it. With songs written and composed by her older brother and the fun dance steps Selena created, her band, Selena Y Los Dinos, rose to stardom! A true trailblazer, her success in Tejano music and her crossover into mainstream American music opened the door for other Latinx entertainers, and she became an inspiration for Latina girls everywhere.

MY TWO CENTS: As a middle-grader, Selena was my idol! I wish I had found her music earlier, but it was perhaps a year or so before her death. When the news broke, I was devastated and found solace in listening to her music and learning about her as much as possible. To this day, her music is a big part of my life. I had her CDs and her doll, I learned her songs and movements, and sometimes I even made up my own choreography. I approached this book, then, not only as a reviewer of children’s books but also as a lifelong fan of Selena.

 How does one introduce to children the life of such an important icon of Latinx music whose life ended so tragically and so soon? Queen of Tejano Music: Selena tells the story of Selena Quintanilla, from her childhood in Lake Jackson, Texas to her successful career as a trailblazing singer and fashion designer. Presented in twenty short vignettes, López perfectly presents enough details on each page without overwhelming the reader with too much text.

Selena Quintanilla was born on an Easter Sunday, on April 16, 1971 to Marcella and Abraham Quintanilla, who, as a young man, had dreams of a music career. Selena “had been singing almost since she could talk” and soon after her parents realized she had perfect pitch. With her brother A.B. on guitars and her sister Suzette on the drums, music became a family affair. Through the years, the family band performed anywhere they could, and after a few years, Selena y Los Dinos was born. Through this history of Selena’s life and music career, López reminds readers of the challenges she faced: overcoming the language barrier, stepping into a male-dominated music landscape, and her father’s initial opposition to Selena’s romantic relationship with Chris Pérez.

This biographical account of Selena’s life and work is inspirational. Along with some of the obstacles that Selena encountered, the author highlights so many of the singer’s achievements that paved the way for women in music. At age fifteen, Selena won a Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, an accolade she continued receiving for years, along with other ones. She later received a Grammy Award for Best Mexican American Album. Yet, her success was not only measured in awards. López writes about Selena as a philanthropist, fashion designer, entrepreneur, and caring human who loved her family.

The narrative part of the book does not explicitly mention Selena’s death. Rather, this information is offered on the back pages of the book. I debated whether this part of Selena’s story should have been included in the main narrative or not. Yet, I thought it was handled gracefully. By writing the main text in past tense, López alludes to her passing and then offers more information about it after the last vignette. At this point, readers are presented with a timeline that begins with Selena’s birth in 1971 and ends in 1997, when the movie Selena starring Jennifer Lopez opened in theaters. Following the timeline, the book presents “A Little More About…,” a section with short pieces of information about Tex-Mex Music, Quinceañeras, and Corpus Christi, among others, as well as more details about Selena, including her tragic death. One observation to make here is the section titled “Hispanics or Latinos” seems to present the terms as synonyms: “Tejanos are part of a larger group of Americans, called Hispanics or Latinos, who have Spanish-speaking ancestors.” While many Latinxs are also Hispanic, there are some differences that could have been easily explained there. Nevertheless, the information is accessible, clear, and easy to understand.

The colorful illustrations are as vibrant as Selena’s smile and capture the singer’s bubbly personality. Paola Escobar creates a medley of double-page spreads and illustrated vignettes that depict in more detail specific moments in Selena’s life and specific aspects of her culture. One page depicts five moments as if they were Polaroid pictures, inviting the reader perhaps to think of her song “Fotos y Recuerdos” (pictures and memories). I noticed that on almost every page or spread, a flower is illustrated, whether it is a print fabric, picture, real flower, or even a pin. Details such as this one are just an example of how Escobar’s illustrations enhance and complement López’s writing to create an engaging work of art.

There have been several books and media about Selena’s life, in addition to musical tributes, fan-made merchandise, anniversary albums, and makeup lines, to name a few. In October 17, 2017, Google honored her with a doodle, as part of the launch of a virtual exhibit on Google Arts & Culture. Joining these tributes, Queen of Tejano Music: Selena is a celebration of the singer’s life—her music, her fashion, her memory, and her legacy, still alive and strong 25 years after her passing. A perfect addition to any picture book collection!

Queen of Tejano Music: Selena releases August 25, 2020 in both English and Spanish.

 

IMG_6548.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) A Cuba native raised in Miami, Silvia López holds degrees in English, library science, and educational technology. Her career as a children’s librarian at schools and public libraries spans over three decades. She is a published author of books for children, including biographies and picture books such as Just Right Family: An Adoption Story, and a collaboration with Italian artist Guido Daniele, Handimals: Animals in Art and Nature. Also, her digital book, Zuzuncito: Un Cuento del Pájaro Abeja Cubano, was named Best Children’s Picture eBook of 2017 by the International Society of Latino Authors.

 

Paola Escobar Biography - pickledinkABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Paola Escobar is a Colombian graphic designer and illustrator. She has illustrated books for a variety of publishers in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, as well as for digital and print magazines. Some of her work includes Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, written by Anika Aldamuy Denise, and Little Guides to Great Lives: Anne Frank, written by Isabel Thomas. She is currently drawing and living very happily in Bogotá with her husband and her dog, Flora.

 

 

headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Currently her research examines representation in transitional chapter books that feature Latinx characters. In addition, she is managing editor of Anansesem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine. She has presented on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. At present, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

 

Book Review: A New Kind of Wild by Zara González Hoang

 

Review by Romy Natalia Goldberg

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: For Ren, home is his grandmother’s little house, and the lush forest that surrounds it. Home is a place of magic and wonder, filled with all the fantastical friends that Ren dreams up. Home is where his imagination can run wild.

For Ava, home is a brick and cement city, where there’s always something to do or see or hear. Home is a place bursting with life, where people bustle in and out like a big parade. Home is where Ava is never lonely because there’s always someone to share in her adventures.

When Ren moves to Ava’s city, he feels lost without his wild. How will he ever feel at home in a place with no green and no magic, where everything is exactly what it seems? Of course, not everything in the city is what meets the eye, and as Ren discovers, nothing makes you feel at home quite like a friend.

Inspired by the stories her father told her about moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child, Zara González Hoang’s author-illustrator debut is an imaginative exploration of the true meaning of “home.”

MY TWO CENTSRen, an imaginative young boy, lives at the edge of El Yunque, a tropical rain forest whose lush vegetation is the perfect setting for daily magical escapades. A move to the city (location unspecified) leaves Ren homesick and lonely. He sees no room for magic in the urban landscape. Ava, on the other hand, is at home in the city. Equally imaginative, she delights in the hustle and bustle.

When she meets Ren, Ava is determined to help him see the city through her eyes. But her enthusiastic city tour only makes Ren more homesick and they part ways frustrated with each other. From his apartment window, Ren observes Ava, noticing she is as happy and at ease in the city as he used to be in El Yunque. When they meet up again, Ren apologizes, explaining how everything feels different to him. Ava listens first, rather than barreling into action. Armed with a new understanding of Ren, Ava takes him on yet another tour of the city. This time, Ren is able to see the magic she was trying to show him all along.

I thoroughly enjoyed A New Kind of Wild’s take on how the unfamiliar can become familiar with the help of an understanding friend. It would have been easy to simply have Ava show Ren around, resulting in him immediately seeing all the magical possibilities he missed before when experiencing the city alone. The message there would be “All it takes is a friend!” However, González Hoang’s approach is different. When Ava first approaches Ren, she eagerly bombards him with questions, so many “he thought his head would explode.” When Ren explains his discomfort with his new surroundings, “all Ava heard was a challenge.” Ava enthusiastically shows Ren her world, but it is only after she has truly listened to Ren and understood where he came from that she is able to connect with him and help him feel welcome. In a time when we are (too) slowly realizing good intentions aren’t always enough, the lessons this book imparts can be powerful and useful both at home and in the classroom.

I also appreciate A New Kind of Wild’s depiction of magic in a working class, urban setting. Often the “positives” of urban areas are all upper class signifiers, but González Hoang’s delightful watercolors show us children finding inspiration and fun in basements and on rooftops, rather than on outings to museums or large fancy parks. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many garbage bags in a picture book, but I loved it. 

TEACHING TIPSA New Kind of Wild could be used to start a classroom discussion about moving, be it from one country to another or simply one type of community to another. Where would students take Ren if he moved to their community? Another possible activity is to take a photo of an everyday place (a street corner, a storefront) and have students use mixed media to overlay imaginative elements.

A New Kind of Wild releases April 21, 2020.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from her website): Zara González Hoang grew up in a little bungalow in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. Surrounded by snow, she spent her days dreaming, doodling and listening to the colorful stories of her Dad’s life growing up in Puerto Rico while trying to figure out where she fit in as a Puerto Rican Jew in a sea of Scandinavians. (She’s still figuring that out.)

These days, she lives outside of DC in a magical suburban forest with her Mad Man husband, human-shaped demon, and curly coated corgi. She still spends her days dreaming and doodling, but now instead of listening to stories, she’s starting to tell some of her own.

To learn more about Zara González Hoang, click HERE to get an inside look at her studio and HERE to for a brief Q&A as part of our Spotlight on Latina Illustrators series.

 

 

RNGoldberg-profile.jpegABOUT THE REVIEWER: Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators. Learn more at romynatalia.com

 

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 14: Ernesto Cisneros

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the 14th in an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.

Today, we highlight Ernesto Cisneros.

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first book. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him online at www.ernestocisneros.com.

 

Here is the publisher’s description:

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.

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Ernesto Cisneros

Q. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

A long, long time ago, during my senior year in high school, my teacher Sharon Saxton invited Helena Maria Miramontes to speak with our classroom about her anthology, The Moths and Other Short Stories. I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone else saw the world through a similar lens as me—same Latinx lens. Her story made me feel connected, grounded. This was the first time that the idea of being a writer ever entered my mind. It also served as my motivation for writing my first short story—which I am now turning into my very own YA novel, entitled: The Writing on the Wall.

Q. Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

After giving up on a career writing screenplays, I decided to drop writing altogether and began teaching instead. The itch to write proved to be to powerful. I began writing short stories that served as prompts and writing samples for my students which they began to really enjoy. Before long, my students began pushing me to write. Eventually, I joined SCBWI and met a handful of individuals who helped me find my way.

Q. What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?

There so many fantastic middle grade novels out there, but the ones I turn to every time I need further encouragement are: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli because of they way it deals with serious issues of race, running away, and mental health in a way that’s accessible to young children. There’s also Operation Frog Effect by Sarah Scheerger. I love the way she captures the voices of such diverse characters in an entertaining fashion—makes it all seem so effortless, although I know better.

Q. If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?

My advice is to believe in myself and to value my heart. It is easily my most important asset I have because it definitely seeps its way into everything I write.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…

…they reach children while they are still at work shaping their views of the world. I feel that books can serve as moral compasses that can help instill morals, characters, and empathy—all things the world really needs.

 

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel is When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018) and wrote the text for Volleyball Ace, a Jake Maddox book (Capstone 2020). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads