Cover Reveal: My Year in the Middle, an MG by Lila Quintero Weaver

 

Dear friends: Today I’m excited to offer a sneak peak at my forthcoming middle-grade novel. This story comes straight out of my heart, and I can’t wait to share it with you! The release date is July 10, 2018.

Here is how my publisher, Candlewick Press, describes it:

Inspired by the author’s own story of growing up as an Argentinian immigrant in Alabama, My Year in the Middle introduces a sixth-grade girl with a newfound gift for running track—and a growing sense of racial injustice.

Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu’s old friends have been changing lately—acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s talent for running. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 in Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don’t mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state—and the classroom—mean that Lu can’t stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will Lu find the gumption to stand up for what’s right and to choose friends who do the same?

Three wonderful Latina authors took time out of their incredibly busy lives and wrote the following blurbs. I cannot thank them enough!

My Year in the Middle is both powerful and sensitive, offering a unique view of important historical events through the eyes of an immigrant girl who longs for social justice, friendship, and romance.” —Margarita Engle, Young People’s Poet Laureate and Newbery Honor-winning author of The Surrender Tree

“A timely and powerful story, My Year in the Middle conjures an era of American racism and shows how a strong immigrant girl can make a difference in her community. This is a book that will resonate for young readers in these fraught times.” —Ruth Behar,  author of Lucky Broken Girl

“Wonderful! A heart-touching story with a spunky heroine who shows her grit and determination during troubling times. I was cheering for Lu from beginning to end!” —Christina Diaz Gonzalez, award-winning author of The Red Umbrella and the Moving Target series

Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse of the story, I invite you to scroll down to see the cover. Its creator is Matt Roeser, art director and designer extraordinaire!

 

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Behold!

 

 

My favorite thing about it: Matt captured the essence of a girl caught in the middle of two seemingly irreconcilable worlds.

Huge thanks to Latinxs in Kid Lit for hosting this reveal! Please share this news with someone you know who digs kid lit!

Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication and will be available in Spanish in January 2018. Her next book is My Year in the Middle, a middle-grade novel scheduled for release in July 2018 (Candlewick). Lila is a regular contributor to this blog and one of its founding members. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. For news on events and publications, see her website, or follow her on Facebook, or Twitter .

 

Author Maria E. Andreu’s Life with a Double Identity

You might say I was fated to be a writer – either that, or a con-artist or a spy or some other kind of criminal – because I was endowed at birth with a double identity. – Margaret Atwood

By Maria E. Andreu

For about the first four years of my life, I wasn’t quite sure what my name was, or that it was customary to have just one. My parents called me, “Nena,” (NEH-nah) when addressing me directly, and, using the Argentine habit of adding “the” to a person’s name when talking about them, “La Nena,” when pointing out my foibles between them. “Nena” means “little girl” in Spanish. “Nena” sometimes gave way to “Cheni,” for reasons I would not decipher for a decade. Sometimes, at odd times, they’d call me something longer, compound. I’d put my head down and go back to my coloring.

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Maria E. Andreu, age 4

At four, I remember going to a playground with wonderfully, impossibly high swings of the variety that today would get a town sued and a large settlement paid for serious injuries, along with tall metal slides that burned the backs of your thighs on the way down and made your heart flutter at how high you had to climb to slide down. There were also my favorites: little horses on a metal chain at the front and back which, if you pushed the pedals, swung back and forth and sometimes caught your ponytail if you weren’t careful. This playground was heaven but for one catch: it had other children in it, most of whom only spoke English, a language I had not quite mastered. When I approached them asking if they wanted to play, they invariably asked one question: “What’s your name?”

I’ve always been a quick study, so I learned young that telling new kids my name was a recipe for confusion. I learned to dread it. My name is not Maria, you see, not just Maria. I told you through Ms. Atwood that I was born with an alias. I hadn’t yet learned to employ it at four, so, instead I would muster up my courage and tell them the long name, the one I understood was the whole enchilada: “Maria Eugenia.”

Let me stop here for a moment to tell you several things. First, the pronunciation. “Maria” you can probably pretty much get through, although I assure you the way you’ve heard it said in the United States bears little resemblance to how it’s pronounced in the Spanish-speaking world. American English has a certain confident laziness about it, like not all syllables are crucial, like enunciation is for sissies, which turns the crisp “Mah-REE-ah” to something more like “Mm-ree-uh.” Fair enough. Where it all falls apart is on the second part. Why-oh-why, parents, couldn’t you just leave well enough alone at “Maria”? Well, the reason, I later learned, is that Maria is a kind of catch-all in Catholic countries, an honor to the Virgin Mary, and so comprises at least some part of about 75% of female names from a certain generation back (I’m hoping mine was the last). In order to avoid the confusion, most Hispanic women with “Maria” in their names also have another part to them, a compound name, much like you’d add “red” to “bicycle” when trying to distinguish between models in a vast and full bicycle store.

So my middle name is Eugenia. That’s pronounced “Eh-oo-HEH-nee-ah” for those keeping score at home. (That was the source of the sometimes “Cheni” nickname, short for “Eugenia,” apparently). The full thing was real fun to share on a playground. When I gave them the whole package, Maria Eugenia, first kids would scrunch up their nose, then give it a valiant effort. “Mah-ree-HEN-ya?” I’d smile weakly and say, “Sure,” one of the few English words I had learned on Sesame Street, and lead them over to the swinging horse ponytail eaters.

When I was six we moved to Argentina for two years, where Maria Eugenia was something like Mary Sue. Everyone got it. Which is not to say I liked Argentina – I didn’t – but at least my name did not mark me a freak there (there were other things for that). Also, it’s where the second part of the story of my name really came to life for me. Maria was my father’s mother’s name, Eugenia my mother’s mother’s. We lived intermittently with both during those two years, and I was reminded again and again that my name was special, that I had been chosen, that Spain had had a queen with the same middle name as mine. I secretly wished the queen had been named Veronica instead. I loved “Veronica” ever since I encountered it in Archie comics. Maria Eugenia was the name of exactly zero snooty rich girls in any comic book in history.

I returned to the United States at age eight to peers more sophisticated in their verbal taunting. Luckily, I also returned craftier after two years of dealing with the teasing of my South American cousins: when asked my name, I decided on the fly to only offer up “Maria.” I banished the “Eugenia.” While it painted me vanilla and vaguely ethnic, it didn’t leave me exposed to outright abuse. So I went with it. It worked for me with my straight-As and my neat pigtails.

My brother was born shortly after we returned to the United States, and at about a year old, he decided my name was “Yaya.” Because what one-year-old can say “Maria Eugenia”? Once he was old enough to attempt it, it was too late. Thirty four years later, it is still Yaya, an identifier used for me by only one person.

By the time I was middle-school-aged, I was chafing against the boring-ness of “Maria.” What great actress or acrobat was ever named just plain old “Maria”? What great adventures were undertaken by Marias? What great poet fell in love with an alluring “Maria”? No one that I could find. (Later, when Mariah Carey hit the scene, I’d briefly flirt with the idea of adding an “h” to my name). When I shared this lament with my best friend at the time, she came up with a solution, my initials: “M.E.” Pronounced out loud, it sounds vaguely like the award, much more melodious than my full name. I would be M.E. all through high school and my first job. I can still identify what period of my life a friend is from based on what she calls me.

When I finished college, left my first job and started my own business, I got tired of explaining “M.E.” to every new customer. I met my husband around that time, in my mid-twenties, and he didn’t seem to get it, either. So I reverted back to “Maria,” unseasoned, color-within-the-lines, old white-bread “Maria.” I did this not with acceptance but with resignation. I lacked the energy to go through a legal name change or the resoluteness to pick the right one. Every time I heard of some American woman who had changed her name to “Shanti” or “Lakshmi,” I thrilled secretly at the courage in that. But I didn’t follow suit.

A few years later, I earned my favorite name of all: Mommy. To make up for my disappointment in my own colorless moniker, I gave my children names with Z’s and drama in them, unique spellings, flair and style. When they got old enough, they asked me why I had to make it so complicated. I suppose naming is that thing that both defines us completely and not at all: a thing that labels us but we do not choose for ourselves.

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Maria E. Andreu’s debut novel, THE SECRET SIDE OF EMPTY

I know writing convention dictates that I end this piece with a paragraph about how I’ve accepted my name, how I even love it now. And there are a few upsides to “Maria,” I will allow. I have more pop songs with my name in them than anyone else I know: the Ricky Martin “Maria” (a song that describes “Maria” as addictive and exciting and which I’m told is actually about cocaine) being my favorite. Alas, other than that small allowance, I must disappoint. I’ve accepted not accepting my name, knowing that I swim through the waters of life with camouflage, a name for every different pool, a thing that catches each different light I bask in. I like my aliases. That’s why I was so electrified to find the above quote in a passage of the writing book Negotiating with the Dead – A Writer on Writing by that most talented and smart of all writers, Margaret Atwood. In it, she explains that she was named after her mother and, as so many namesakes are, given a nickname. Her “real” name was not to be her own for many years and is the name she uses on books. But, like me, she has others.

Maybe writers need to be able to pretend to be other people. I don’t inhabit “Maria,” and for me, that’s okay. (And that’s not to disrespect the many wonderful women named Maria. This is about me personally, not a criticism of a perfectly delightful name). It’s just that when I think of naming the spirit of what I am – complicated, quirky, loving, maddeningly stubborn, inventive, sometimes afraid, always curious, I don’t think that person is captured well by the name “Maria,” or even “Maria Eugenia,” or “M.E.” or any of the others. But maybe that’s okay. Sometimes I feel like my name is something else but I just don’t know it yet. I like imagining I am something apart, unnameable, the essence of which can be approximated but never fully labeled. So call me what you will. I can learn to answer to it.

 

Maria E. Andreu is the author of the novel The Secret Side of Empty, the story of a teen girl who is American in every way but one: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby and is now undocumented in the eyes of the law. The author draws on her own experiences as an undocumented teen to give a glimpse into the fear, frustration and, ultimately, the strength that comes from being “illegal” in your own home.

Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her “two’s”: her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Secret Side of Empty has received positive reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. The novel was also the National Indie Book Award Winner and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

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.

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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.