Happy Book Birthday to My Year in the Middle!

Happy book birthday to My Year in the Middle! What you are gazing at is my debut children’s book. It’s a middle-grade novel featuring a 12-year-old Latina character named Lu Olivera— a story of friendship, self-discovery, athletic challenges, and the courage to stand up to racism. 

Here is what Shelf Awareness wrote about My Year in the Middle: “Weaver, who previously published a graphic memoir called Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White, writes vividly about the spaces in the middle, between black and white. Any reader who has struggled to find a safe and happy place between polarities will appreciate Weaver’s deep understanding of just how difficult–and rewarding–this can be.” (You can read the whole review here.)

And now, for a quick rundown of the story’s major points, follow this picture essay, complete with sticky notes and chalk dust.  

NOTE: Each chapter starts off with a pencil drawing that I created. I hope young readers enjoy the vintage touches these images bring.


And did I mention there’s running? One day in PE class, it hits Lu that she can run like the blue blazes! Field Day is around the corner—and with it comes the chance to race against a fierce and accomplished competitor.

Racial and political drama is everywhere—in the headlines, at the breakfast table, in the classroom. Based on historical events that I remember from my own youth, the gubernatorial primary playing out in the story’s background serves as a textbook case for nasty elections. Somehow Lu gets caught in this tangle.

Is there romance? Oh yes!

Also: MUSIC. Lots of timeless rock & roll and delicious soul music, just the way Lu and her friends dig it!

Okay, this is only a blitz tour! If you’d like to learn more about the novel itself and the story behind the story, please visit my website. There, you will find extensive information, including a downloadable discussion guide developed by education specialists at Candlewick Press, as well as links to early reviews—plus some My Year in the Middle extras for young readers!

Please ask your librarian to acquire My Year in the Middle for your community or school library! It’s also available for sale at many independent bookstores and all major national booksellers. It’s listed here in Candlewick’s catalog. 

One more thing: I wrote a from-the-heart guest post for Nerdy Book Club. Please check it out by clicking HERE—and while you’re there, enter their giveaway (time sensitive). Each of four winners will receive a copy of My Year in the Middle, plus one of the original art pieces I created for the book. Here’s an advance peek of what winners will receive.


Book Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp


Reviewed by Cindy L. Rodriguez


10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won’t open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

MY TWO CENTS: As a parent and teacher, both at a middle school and community college, the possibility of an on-campus tragedy is my worst nightmare that proves to be a school’s horrific reality on a too-regular basis. Author Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel chronicles a heart-wrenching 54 minutes of terror by dropout Tyler Browne, who returns to Opportunity High School the first day of a new semester to take revenge on the classmates he blames for his feelings of loss and abandonment. The story is told from four first-person perspectives: Claire, Tomás, Sylvia, and Autumn.

Claire, Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, is outside the school when the shooting begins. She’s a track star and JROTC member who runs for help with her best friend, Chris. Claire’s brother, Matt, is inside the auditorium. Claire agonizes over what she could have done to stop Tyler. Did she see any signs? Did she know this would happen? She also feels helpless being on the outside and wants to do something, anything, to help.

Tomás and Sylvia are fraternal twins and unspecified Latin@s. Tomás and his friend, Fareed, who is Afghan, is inside the school but not among those trapped in the auditorium. Before today, they were most known for pranks and picking on Tyler, but now they call for help and plan a way to free those inside the auditorium, all the while worried about loved ones inside and whether their efforts will help or cause more harm.

Autumn is a ballerina, Tyler’s sister, and Sylvia’s girlfriend. Autumn and Sylvia are locked inside the auditorium and targeted by Tyler. Autumn’s complex relationship with her brother and their abusive father in the wake of their mother’s death is revealed trough flashbacks. Tyler blames his loneliness on Autumn’s ambitious dance goals and her relationship with Sylvia.

The reader will get a fragmented picture of Tyler’s good and bad sides: protective brother, comforting boyfriend, rapist, killer. When something like this happens, we often ask why and hope to get answers, but the reasons are never enough. Nijkamp explains in our Q&A that she made the decision to have this story not be about the shooter, but about the victims, which is why we never get his first-person point of view.

For me, not really knowing Tyler added to the story’s intensity, leaving me feeling the kind of hurt, confusion, and uncertainty experienced by the fictional victims.

And since we’re a site dedicated to Latin@ Literature, let’s focus on Sylvia and Tomás for a moment. The two are loyal to friends, family, and each other, while having a typical sibling relationship that is sometimes loving, sometimes contentious. Sylvia is a Latin@ lesbian and a main character, which makes her one of the very few in the YA world. She is also accepted by her family when she comes out, as told in a flashback, which is refreshing because this counters the Latin@ families who reject a LGBTQIA+ member because of conservative religious or cultural beliefs. Coming out continues to be devastating for many LGBTQIA+ youth, unfortunately, but I appreciate that Nijkamp portrayed an accepting Latin@ family to show another possibility/reality.

This is Where it Ends, a gripping, heartbreaking thriller, released with Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016. Click here for a discussion guide.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Marieke landscapeABOUT THE AUTHORMarieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages and holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends, a contemporary story that follows four teens over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in January 2016. She is the founder of DiversifYA and a senior VP of We Need Diverse Books. Find her on Twitter.



photo by Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She was born in Chicago; her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Brazil. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

How and Why I Wrote My Graphic Memoir

by Lila Quintero Weaver

Final CoverreducedLast September at the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn, NY, I listened as Daisy Hernandez stated her belief that memoir writing arises from the unanswered questions a writer has about her own life. For me, by contrast, starting a memoir is what led me to realize I had questions.

Before beginning my writing journey, it had never occurred to me that there was anything remotely fascinating about my life. I’d grown up as an immigrant child from Argentina in Marion, a tiny dot of a town in the Black Belt region of Alabama, where for most of our 12 years in residence we were the only Latin@s. But then I realized that our isolation at this time and in this place was a story.Demographic pie

How big of a role did this cultural setting, with its legacy of racism, play in making me who I am? That was one of my biggest questions, and eventually, my outsider status and my awakening to racial inequity formed the narrative core of my graphic memoir, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White (The University of Alabama Press, 2012).

[Note: All the art in this post is from Darkroom. Click on images to enlarge the view.]

My family’s arrival in Alabama synched up perfectly with several hallmark events in the Civil Rights Movement. We first briefly lived in Birmingham, where within six weeks of our arrival, the Freedom Riders rolled up to the bus depot and into the hands of a vicious mob. Then we moved to Marion, where racial segregation ruled every conceivable setting. Most white people seemed perfectly at home with this arrangement, but it made me deeply uneasy, even at age six.

Whites only

In 1965, African Americans across the Black Belt region were attempting to register as voters, but local officials obstinately barred the way. That February 18th, in Marion’s city square, a white mob clashed with a group of mostly local black protesters, while police stood idly by or participated in the beatings. My father witnessed some of these horrors and so did a host of other citizens, yet none of my teachers ever addressed these events. February 18th and everything surrounding it was quickly swept aside as if it had never happened.

Literacy TestI’d always known that a young black activist had been shot by a state trooper that night, but I’d never actually heard his name—Jimmie Lee Jackson. I did not know that his death—eight days later at Good Samaritan Hospital, in nearby Selma—had triggered Bloody Sunday, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

My father died in 1995 before I ever thought to press him for details of what he saw during the violent clash. Among other things, I would have asked how witnessing such brutality at close hand affected his view of America. For decades, the only reason his account of that night didn’t fade from memory completely was because of some home movies he’d taken around the same time. They showed peaceful protest marches in the days leading up to February 18th.

After the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, civil rights activists set their sights on desegregating public schools. This time, I was the eyewitness to history—not that any child understands federal court orders, states’ rights battles, or the long, embittered tug-of-war to sort them out. Those questions would come later.

In 2004, I went back to college to complete my degree. That’s when I started to make up lost ground on the history of my region. The last thing on the checklist before graduating was a senior project.  The graphic memoir Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, gave me the idea to combine a written account with images, as an artistic exploration of my family’s immigration journey and the racially troubled times we encountered in our new homeland.

One of my goals was to find out exactly what happened that February night. I also wanted to pay homage to my father’s sideline work as a photographer and the crucial contribution that other photographers, as journalists, made to the Civil Rights Movement.

Darkroom joined spread

Grabbing the motif of photography helped me unify a complex story through metaphor and add a visual nod to the documenting power of the camera. So this is how my senior project looked: forty pages of drawings and captions, assembled in a photograph album. My drawings stood in for the photos. IMG_0031

At this stage, editors from The University of Alabama Press saw my work and offered me a contract for an expanded version. I said yes before I knew what I was getting into–a project that would consume the next three and a half years of my life.

To prepare, I dug down into family memorabilia and photos. I researched the current events of my childhood and gained a degree of perspective that wasn’t possible while the news reports were still fresh.

Darkroom process

One daunting aspect of putting the book together was teaching myself the bare necessities of digital graphics programs. First, I created my drawings traditionally, on paper—more than 500 in all. Then I experimented with different ways of digitally layering the scanned drawings and combining them with text. The effect I was going for was a scrapbook of photos and ephemera.


When the book launched in 2012, people in far-flung places showed interest in my story, including a publisher in France and college instructors from around the country who placed my memoir on their reading lists. Although I didn’t write the book with young readers in mind, it has also received a welcome in some middle school and high school classrooms.

Throughout this decade, the nation has been celebrating the 50th anniversaries of civil rights milestones. The Selma march has come to life in a major motion picture, and in a graphic novel series co-authored by U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Many eyewitnesses have published their stories, forming a rich tapestry of personal accounts. Teaching Tolerance, a division of the Southern Poverty Law Center, recently produced an instructional film for classrooms about the campaign for voting rights. It’s entitled Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot. It features visual documentation from previously untapped primary sources, including footage from the home movies that my father shot.

Bloody Sunday lies half a century behind us, yet racial tension and violence continue. I sometimes ask myself: what has actually changed? I remember the days of Jim Crow, which are, thankfully, well behind us. Yet, it seems like the passage of fifty years would’ve brought us deeper, more enduring changes.

Marching feet for Chpt 8

You may be left wondering: where’s the Latino component to my memoir? It’s there, in my initial struggle with learning English—a struggle that soon turned into a childish rejection of Spanish. It’s there, in my family’s generational divide on American culture and how fervently to embrace it.

School bus page

It’s there, in the troublesome fact that my family was spared overt bigotry because in Alabama in the middle of the 20th century, Latin@s were an almost invisible minority that posed little threat. I see this now, through the lens of history. If our immigration journey had taken us to a different region of the U.S., one where Latin@s were openly reviled and denied equality, I would’ve experienced things from a starkly different perspective. I can’t begin to guess what my life’s questions would’ve been then. For that, I turn to the stories of others.

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. She’s working on a second book, a middle-grade novel. If Lila’s name looks vaguely familiar, it may be because she’s a regular co-blogger on Latin@s in Kid Lit. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at her official author site.

Changes I’ve Seen, Changes I Hope to See


For our first set of posts, each of us will respond to the question: “Why Latin@ Kid Lit?” to address why we created a site dedicated to celebrating books by, for, or about Latin@s.

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Lila, the bookworm, way back in the day.

Lila, the bookworm, way back in the day.

1963, Small Town, Alabama: I’m an immigrant kid in the second grade, well in command of English by now and eighty percent Americanized. Nobody brown or trigueño whose last name isn’t Quintero lives around here. Matter of fact, we’re one of the rare foreign families in the whole of Perry County—a bit of exotica, like strange but harmless birds that show up in the chicken yard one day.

With our nearest relatives in Argentina, seven thousand miles removed, my mother’s best friend is a war bride from Italy whose nostalgia for the old country goes hand in hand with Mama’s pining for Buenos Aires. Their conversations are peppered with overlapping terms from the Romance languages of their backgrounds. My father has his own ways of navigating the cultural void. He’s no communist, but he listens to Radio Habana Cuba on the shortwave radio. Fidel’s propaganda is something to ridicule, yet nothing else on the dial delivers Spanish. And he craves Spanish. That’s what your native tongue does—transports you back to the place you sprang from.

In 1963, nobody uses the terms Latino or Hispanic. Diversity may be in the dictionary, but if anyone’s applying it to ethnic groups, it hasn’t reached these backwaters of the American South. And as far as I know, the word multicultural hasn’t been invented; for that, we’ll have to wait another twenty years.

When I, the second-grade immigrant kid, drop by the Perry County Public Library, it’s to a creaky old clapboard house whose floors sag under the weight of books. The library at my elementary school is much the same, dusty and clogged with outdated materials. Luckily, my dad’s faculty status at a local college gives me library privileges. There, a small but gleaming collection of children’s books entices me up to the second floor.

I’m a bookworm. I devour everything published for kids. The books I love best entrance me through the power of story, not by how well their characters reflect me. Even so, I can’t help but notice that none of the characters has snapping brown eyes and olive skin. The girls in the books I read have names like Cathy and Susan. No one stumbles over these girls’ surnames and their parents don’t speak accented English. The closest thing to a Latino character I come across is Ferdinand, the Bull. ¡Olé!

Thirty-eight years later, when my youngest daughter is in fifth grade, we read aloud together almost daily. In Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, it’s wondrous to encounter a Latina character that feels like a real girl, not a shadow puppet with easy gestures that stand in for Hispanic. Fast forward to 2013, when Dora the Explorer is almost as well known as Mickey Mouse, and authors with names like Benjamin Alire Saenz and Guadalupe Garcia McCall show up in the stacks of the local public library with regularity. Compared to the Latin@ offerings of my childhood, this feels like an embarrassment of riches.


Lila, the bookworm and author, today.

In March 2012, just after publishing my coming-of-age graphic novel, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White, I find myself at the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference. There, my eyes are opened. I discover that the exploding population of young Latin@ American readers is still under served. On the whole, children’s publishing favors a model that reflects the Anglo world familiar to most editors, agents, and booksellers. The terms diversity and multiculturalism roll off the tongue easily now, but books about minority kids are still not rolling off the presses in sufficient numbers to match the need.

Through this blog, together with my younger collaborators— all of whom grew up in an era far more open to diverse cultures—I have the glorious opportunity to make a difference. I can celebrate the Latin@ characters that do exist in children’s books. I can help promote authors and illustrators who incline toward such stories or whose heritage broadcasts the message to Latin@ youth that they too can write and illustrate books. I can connect parents to new offerings in the biblioteca and hunt down librarians, scholars, and teachers eager to share their expertise with a non-academic audience. That’s what I’m here for—to dig out books, authors, and experts that affirm Latin@ identity and give them a friendly shove into the limelight.