Q&A with Juana Martinez-Neal, author-illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name/ Alma y como obtuvo su nombre

 

By Dora M. Guzmán

Q: First, congratulations on  The Princess and the Pea and receiving the Pura Belpré award. What went through your mind when you first heard the news?

A: Thank you, Dora! And thank you for the opportunity to visit Latinxs in Kidlit once again! I like it here!

The Pura Belpré call… the first thing I thought was this can’t be true, but I had heard “Pura Belpré Committee” so it was true! I couldn’t stop crying, but as the call ended, I started wondering what exactly I had won. It was all a blur. I didn’t want to call back the Committee, so the next morning I watched the livecast to find out.

Q: You’ve illustrated numerous books. What inspired you to write a children’s picture book?

A: While I started illustrating books, it felt like a natural progression to next move to a children’s book as an author-illustrator. Alma was the perfect story to take that step since I knew the story well since it has auto-biographical elements and is based on members of my extended family. Initially, Alma was the story of how I got my name and then the story grew from there.

Making Alma felt bumpy quite a few times, and Stefanie, my agent at Full Circle Literary, always knew how to help me get the story to the next level little by little. It was an exciting time when she was ready to go on submission with both the text and sample artwork. Once the book sold, Mary Lee, my editor at Candlewick, was exactly who I needed to finish making this book. Stefanie continued helping during this stage. She helps me all the time! She is my right arm, leg, and eye.

AlmaEnglish   AlmaSpanish

Q: What are the top three tips you’d give future writers looking to write their first picture book?

A: I’m still so new to children’s books that I’m still figuring things out myself! I’ll give myself three tips, and hopefully someone will find them useful.

  1. Write what you know. Alma is exactly that.
  2. It’s never too late to start something new.
  3. Breathe and keep going.

Q: In your author’s message and blog, you describe Alma and How She Got Her Name as an autobiographical story.  Who has left the biggest imprint in your life? How so?

A: This is a hard question to answer. So many people have shaped who I am today, but I will say my parents.

My dad taught me to love Peru and our rich culture, to appreciate art and books, and to enjoy discovering new places. My mom showed me that with determination and drive you can accomplish anything. She believes that no task is too simple or too small. They are all worth doing. She also made me fall in love with words. In the summer, when I was young, if I came to her with the typical “Mooooom, I’m booooreeed!”, she would send me to learn five words from the dictionary. I don’t think I ever passed the letter A, but I learned to appreciate words.

Q: As a child, what book resonated with you the most?

A: Easy answer: El Principito (The Little Prince). I received a copy for my 10th birthday from a friend who lived two houses down. The book changed the way I looked at books. This book spoke directly to me, and made me look at the world in a way I didn’t think was possible.

Q: What is one message you’d give to all the readers of Alma?

A: Learn your story; be proud of where you come from. Celebrate who you are!

I am very proud Alma will release in simultaneous English and Spanish editions, and that I was able to write and now share the book in my two languages. Spanish is my native language since I was born in Peru and moved to the U.S. when I was 24 years old. Like many bilingual children in the U.S., today I use both English and Spanish daily.

Stefanie was sharing with me that one in four children in the U.S. have at least one parent who was born in another country. That’s an enormous part of the population! Those children should be proud of where their families come from and of speaking many languages. It will be a joy to be able to share Alma with children in both of my languages, Alma and How She Got Her Name and Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre.

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Q: Do you plan to write more children’s books? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

A: I’m happy to say yes! I have another author-illustrator book coming from Candlewick.  I am also illustrating more picture books including Babymoon written by Hayley Barrett (Candlewick 2019) and Swashby and the Sea written by Beth Ferry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2020).

Final words:

¿Cuál es la historia de tu nombre?

¿Qué historia quisieras contar?

 

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. You can also find her on Twitter: @juanamartinez, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juanamartinezneal.illustrator/ and at her official website at http://juanamartinezneal.com/

EDUCATOR RESOURCES:

BOOK REVIEWS:

 

 

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!

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!