Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 10: Emma Otheguy

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the tenth 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 Emma Otheguy.

Emma Otheguy is the author of the bilingual picture book Martí’s Song for Freedom (Lee & Low, 2017) about Cuban poet and national hero José Martí as well as the forthcoming novel Silver Meadows Summer (Knopf, 2019). Martí’s Song for Freedom received five starred reviews, from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. Martí was also named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and the New York Public Library, and was the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2018 Children’s and Young Adult Book Award in Intermediate Nonfiction.

Emma attended Swarthmore College, where she studied children’s literature with Donna Jo Napoli and graduated with Honors. Later, she worked in farm-based education, at a children’s bookstore, and as a Spanish teacher. She holds a Ph.D. in History from New York University, where she focused on Spain and colonial Latin America. Emma has held fellowships and grants from the Mellon Foundation, the American Historical Association, the Council of Library and Information Resources, and Humanities New York. Emma lives in New York City.

Silver Meadows Summer is her debut middle grade novel.

IT RELEASES TOMORROW!

 

Here is the publisher’s description: Eleven-year-old Carolina’s summer–and life as she knows it–is upended when Papi loses his job, and she and her family must move from Puerto Rico to her Tía Cuca and Uncle Porter’s house in upstate New York. Now Carolina must attend Silver Meadows camp, where her bossy older cousin Gabriela rules the social scene.

Just as Carolina worries she’ll have to spend the entire summer in Gabriela’s shadow, she makes a friend of her own in Jennifer, a fellow artist. Carolina gets another welcome surprise when she stumbles upon a long-abandoned cottage in the woods near the campsite and immediately sees its potential as a creative haven for making art. There, with Jennifer, Carolina begins to reclaim the parts of the life she loved in Puerto Rico and forget about how her relationship with Mami has changed and how distant Papi has become.

But when the future of Silver Meadows and the cottage is thrown into jeopardy, Carolina and–to everyone’s surprise–Gabriela come up with a plan to save them. Will it work?

 

Emma Otheguy

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

A. I was inspired by my parents, who read me Latin American poetry and picture books, and by my elementary school teachers, who made time for free writing and independent reading every single day. The journals I kept in elementary school were never graded or marked up, they were a private space that we were given as students to write whatever we wanted. The same was true of independent reading time (or DEAR as we called it, and some schools still do it today). Time and space for reading and writing during the school day made all the difference for me and helped me develop my own literary tastes, stamina in both reading and writing, and a true love for these activities that allowed my inner life to blossom in school. If I could give elementary and middle schoolers one gift, it would be access to print books and time to read them in school.

Q. Why did you decide to write a middle grade novel?

A. Even before I wrote Martí’s Song for Freedom, I was interested in connections between the Caribbean and New York State. Writing about José Martí gave me space to explore one of those connections, but I needed fiction to fully delve into what it is to belong to both the Caribbean and the northeast of the United States. Carolina, the protagonist of Silver Meadows Summer, comes from a Cuban-American family that lives in Puerto Rico until their move to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. Through Carolina, I was able to return to my memories of my grandmother’s house in Puerto Rico, my love of the Hudson Valley, the relationship between Cuba and Puerto Rico, and the dynamics of many cousins living under one roof.

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

A. Lots! A few of the middle-grade novels that you might find echoes of in Silver Meadows Summer include The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, Mandy by Julie Edwards, and Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. All books that feature a child’s relationship with nature and the landscape around them, and their desires to make sweet homes for themselves in new or challenging environments.

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

A. Figure out what being a Latina means to you and embrace that. Society is always telling children who they should be, and I think that Latinas often experience that pressure times two—the pressure to fit in with peers, and the pressure to be a certain ideal type of Latina. But the reality is that Latinidad is something we each carry inside of us, an identity that encompasses as many types as there are individuals.

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because they guide children through growing up, which is the most important transition of our lives. Ursula K. Le Guin said that narrative is change, and if that is true, then middle-grade novels are the definition of great narrative, the reflection of the moment in life when we become ourselves. I think that it’s not only narrative that is change—hope is also change, the hope embodied in the changes that children effect in our society when they become adults, and therefore, in their evolution as they grow. So in a nutshell, I think middle-grade novels are important because they represent change, and hope, and because the best narratives I have ever read are middle-grade novels.

 

 

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, When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

 

Book Review: Quizás algo hermoso by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, illus. by Rafael López

 

Review by Maria Ramos-Chertok

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Una edición en español lírica del aclamado e inspirador libro de cuentos ilustrados Quizás algo hermoso, ilustrado por el ganador de la medalla Pura Belpré, Rafael López.

Ganador del Premio Tomás Rivera

¿Qué pueden conseguir unas gotas de color en una comunidad gris? Viendo lo que Mira y sus vecinos descubren, ¡más de lo que nunca pudo imaginarse! Basado en una historia real, Quizás algo hermoso nos revela cómo el arte puede inspirar la transformación – y cómo incluso la más pequeña artista puede llegar a conseguir algo grande. ¡Toma un pincel y únete a la celebración!

A lyrical Spanish language edition of the acclaimed and inspiring picture book Maybe Something Beautiful, illustrated by Pura Belpré Medal winner Rafael López.

MY TWO CENTS: Quizás algo hermoso is hopeful and inspiring, not only because of its message, but because it is based on a true story.  In the book, we meet Mira, a young artist who uses colorful drawings to enliven her world and connect with people in her neighborhood.  When she meets a muralist in her community, her love of art takes on another dimension, and together they work to transform their surroundings by engaging in a collective art project.  Their desire to be inclusive shows their neighbors that artistic expression is accessible to anyone willing to pick up a paint brush. By doing so, they debunk the idea that the label “artist” should be reserved solely for those who pursue formal artistic training.   The permission to create, to unite for a common purpose, and to use beauty as a tool in community empowerment provide valuable motivation for readers imagining how to replicate this magical experience.

Aside from the message, readers will be delighted to know that the illustrator, Rafael López, is the muralist upon whom the story is based. López and his wife Candice, a graphic designer and community organizer, are the ones who envisioned this project in the East Village of San Diego, California. The illustrations are vivid, engaging, and inspiring. The art depicts a multiracial cast of characters, something I personally look for and value in picture books.

I’ve read both the English (2016) and Spanish (2018) versions of the book and thoroughly enjoyed both. I am thrilled that such a relevant and instructional book has been translated into Spanish because it allows the message to reach a wider audience.

TEACHING TIPS: At the most basic level, Quizás algo hermoso can be used to encourage children to engage in art by showing them that one does not have to be a self-identified artist to enjoy and benefit from an art project. Beyond that, the book can be used to introduce community-based art. Whenever possible, I would recommend bringing students on a field trip to view local murals. Part of that lesson might include a discussion about the value and purpose of engaging a neighborhood in such a project.

Aside from the uplifting aspects of the book, there is also a deeper layer to explore related to depressed communities – communities that are dilapidated and somber, like the one in which Mira lived. For students living in such an area, this could be a difficult conversation, but one that might give voice to some important discussions related to class, race, and community resources. There might also be an inquiry as to why pejorative words are sometimes used to describe communities (e.g., slums, ghettos) and how those words make people feel. I’d recommend this conversation for older students.

Teachers can also discuss the benefits of what happens when people come together to work on a common goal: meeting new people, talking to people you might not have otherwise spoken to, and seeing change happen. This could be an opportunity to have your class choose a group project and then have them journal throughout the process about what they are learning about themselves and others.

While the primary audience for this book is younger children, I see a benefit of using it with older children (through fifth grade), especially in bi-lingual classrooms and/or Spanish language classrooms.

 

isabel-campoyABOUT THE AUTHORS (from the book)Isabel Campoy is an author, anthologist, translator, and bilingual educator who has won many awards for her professional contributions. Her many accolades include ALA Notables, the San Francisco Library Award, the Reading the World Award from the University of San Francisco, the NABE Ramón Santiago Award, the International Latino Children’s Book Award, and nine Junior Library Guild selections. She is a member of the North American Academy of Spanish Language. She lives in Northern California.

 

THERESA HOWELLTheresa Howell is a children’s book author and editor with many bilingual books to her credit. Mutually inspired by Rafael Lopez’s efforts to transform communities through art, they combined their talents in the lyrical text of Maybe Something Beautiful. She lives in Colorado.

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López is both the illustrator of this book and the inspiration for the character of the muralist. He was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates award-winning children’s books. Rafael López divides his time between Mexico and San Diego, California.

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria Ramos-Chertok is a writer, workshop leader and coach who facilitates The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey. In December 2016, she won 1st place in the 2016 Intergenerational Story Contest for her piece, Family Recipes Should Never be Lost. Her work has appeared in the Apogee Journal, Entropy Magazine, and A Quiet Courage. Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s forthcoming anthology All the Women in my Family Sing (Jan 2018) http://nothingbutthetruth.com/all-the-women-in-my-family-sing/. She is a trainer with Rockwood Leadership Institute www.rockwoodleadership.organd a member of the Bay Area chapter of Write on Mamas. For more information, visit her website at www.mariaramoschertok.com

Book Reviews: Luis Paints the World, A Surprise for Teresita, and Maybe Something Beautiful

 

Reviews by Dora M. Guzmán

The following books are a wonderful addition to any classroom library, as well as reading about how art inspires young artists and the beauty of waiting. One teaching tip is to use Luis Paints the World and A Surprise for Teresita to compare and contrast the main characters and their response to the act of waiting. Teachers can also use Maybe Something Beautiful and Luis Paints the World to compare and contrast how the main characters use art to express their current feelings to themselves and the community. Also, teachers can use all three books to compare and contrast characters and other story elements, but most of all for young readers to experience inspirational and impacting characters and stories.

 

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

Maybe Something Beautiful CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What good can a splash of color do in a community of gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation—and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration!

MY TWO CENTS: A realistic fiction picture book in lyrical writing based on a true story, this book paints a picture of a diverse community coming together as artists to liven up the town, and their interpersonal relationships. Mira, a little girl, is an artist who decides to share her paintings with her neighbors. Soon after, the color fulfills the community’s craving for life. Neighbors begin to also contribute their ideas to the town through murals and other creative expressions like dancing, Suddenly, a gray old town turns into a warm, colorful community.

I absolutely loved this book, especially the main character, Mira. She is young, but she contributed a transformative gift to her town by sharing her paintings. Great contrast in the illustrations while Mira literally brings color and life to a gray world. This picture book depicts an essential component of a community, which is to share our joys and contributions to further enhance our lives and surroundings.

TEACHING TIPS: A great read aloud for all ages, especially those in elementary schools (K-5). When reading, teachers can:

  • focus on retelling
  • model similes and metaphors
  • use it as a writing mentor text for descriptive words and language
  • analyze the use of onomatopoeia
  • describe how the illustrations support the text

The possibilities are endless!

isabel-campoyABOUT THE AUTHORS (from the book)Isabel Campoy is an author, anthologist, translator, and bilingual educator who has won many awards for her professional contributions. Her many accolades include ALA Notables, the San Francisco Library Award, the Reading the World Award from the University of San Francisco, the NABE Ramón Santiago Award, the International Latino Children’s Book Award, and nine Junior Library Guild selections. She is a member of the North American Academy of Spanish Language. She lives in Northern California.

 

THERESA HOWELLTheresa Howell is a children’s book author and editor with many bilingual books to her credit. Mutually inspired by Rafael Lopez’s efforts to transform communities through art, they combined their talents in the lyrical text of Maybe Something Beautiful. She lives in Colorado.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López is both the illustrator of this book and the inspiration for the character of the muralist. He was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates award-winning children’s books. Rafael López divides his time between Mexico and San Diego, California.

 

 

 

A SURPRISE FOR TERESITA / UNA SORPRESA PARA TERESITA

A Surprise for Teresita CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this bilingual picture book for young children, seven-year-old Teresita anxiously awaits her Tio Ramon, who has promised her a special surprise for her birthday.

MY TWO CENTS: This realistic fiction picture book in a bilingual English/Spanish text format is about a girl, Teresita, anticipating her uncle, Tio Ramon, and her birthday gift. As Teresita goes about her day, she meets other neighbors who are also anticipating her uncle’s famous snow cones. Soon after, her Tio Ramon arrives and not only shares his refreshing snow cones, but did not forget about Teresita’s unique birthday gift!

The main character, Teresita, is every child on their birthday, experiencing the anticipation of a birthday gift, but more importantly anticipating the visit of a loved one. The book also focuses on the joy that her uncle brings to the community, so the anticipation is shared between Teresita and the community. It reminds me of numerous memories of waiting for the raspados, paletas, and elotes. The moment when Tio Ramon arrives is an endearing moment for the reader and Teresita. Great character description throughout the story!

TEACHING TIPS: A great book to use for a read aloud at any age, especially elementary aged students. Reading and writing focuses can also include retelling, predicting, analyzing character feelings and/or traits, modeling narrative structure and writing.

Virginia Sánchez KorrolABOUT THE AUTHOR: Virginia Sánchez-Korrol is a Professor Emerita at Brooklyn College, CUNY. She is co-editor of the three volume Latinas in the United States and when she is not working on history brooks, she writes a blog for the Huffington Post.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Carolyn Dee Flores is a computer analyst turned rock musician turned children’s illustrator who loves experimenting with unconventional art equipment and art mediums. She has won numerous awards. She is currently serving as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Southwest Texas Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and mentor for the We Need Diverse Books movement.

For more information about Carolyn, check out this post, one in a series that highlights Latina illustrators.

 

LUIS PAINTS THE WORLD

Luis Paints the World CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Luis wishes Nico wasn’t leaving for the Army. To show Nico he doesn’t need to go, Luis begins a mural on the alleyway wall. Their house, the river, the Parque de las Ardillas—it’s the world, all right there. Won’t Nico miss Mami’s sweet flan? What about their baseball games in the street? But as Luis awaits his brother’s return from duty, his own world expands as well, through swooping paint and the help of their bustling Dominican neighborhood.

MY TWO CENTS: A sweet story between Luis and his brother, Nico, who is deploying to another country through the Army. The reader can sense the sadness and helplessness in Luis convincing his older brother, Nico, to stay home. Luis is then inspired to paint a mural in order to show the world to his brother. While Nico’s departure is inevitable, Luis continues to paint and add to the mural, which then also inspires his mom and neighbors to add to the mural. The descriptive language changes throughout the seasons and is reminiscent of the unknown arrival of a loved one in the armed forces. Loved the story format and the thinking process behind Luis’s mural additions. Art truly was Luis’s form of therapy and measure of time of when his brother will come back home.

TEACHING TIPS: A great book to read aloud to any aged students, especially in the elementary grades. Readers can also focus on certain reading skills like retelling, questioning, and predicting throughout the story. Writers can focus on writing skills like narrative writing and adding descriptive language and adding dialogue.

Image result for terry farishABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terry Farish’s picture books, novels, and nonfiction works often focus on immigrant and refugee populations, informed by her early work for the Red Cross in Vietnam and continual research. Terry presents literacy programs for the New Hampshire Humanities Council, and she received the New England Reading Association 2016 Special Recognition Award for Outstanding Contributions to Literacy. She lives in Kittery, Maine.

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Oliver Rodriguez was born and raised in Miami, where his family settled after leaving Columbia. As a child, Oliver loved the way illustrations could bring a story to life. He received his BFA in Illustration from the Ringling College of Art and Design in 2008 and has illustrated multiple picture books. He lives in Florida with his wife, two dogs, and a collection of unique hats.

 

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-3 and also teaches an undergraduate college course in Children’s Literature. 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!

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 3: Sara Palacios, Claudia Rueda, and Tania de Regil

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the third in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. Some of them live in the US, while others live overseas. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Interview answers from Claudia Rueda and Tania de Regil have been translated from Spanish.

Sara Palacios

Sara Palacios is an illustrator from Mexico. She studied Graphic Design at Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico DF, School of Design, INBA  (National Institute of Fine Arts) Mexico DF, and Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, Mexico DF. She studied illustration at Academy of Art University, San Francisco CA, where she has been part-time faculty since 2014. She received the Pura Belpré Honor for illustration in 2012 and is the illustrator of the Marisol McDonald series by Monica Brown for Lee & Low, as well as numerous other books. Her newest picture book, One Big Family (written by Marc Harshman) will be published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers later this year.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I always liked to draw, but I didn’t know that illustrators even existed until I was pursuing my Graphic Design degree in Mexico. I was invited to an illustration exhibition. That was the first time I became aware of what illustration was. I was in awe! and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The same friend who invited me to the exhibition told me that one of the illustrators was looking for somebody to help him. My friend encouraged me to go to the interview and show my drawings and I got the job! I started washing brushes and cutting paper until little by little I was taught to paint in watercolor. That job was my first school of illustration and I’ve been doing that ever since. After finishing my degree in Mexico I went on to study for my BFA and MFA in illustration in the US.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I don’t really have a favorite medium. The first technique I ever learned was watercolor and for years that was the only medium I used until I started working toward my BFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Through the classes, I began using gouache, acrylics , pastels, the computer etc. At first, I was afraid of mixing one technique with another, but I started experimenting on my own and I realized that what works best for me is mixed media. I also like collage, so all my illustrations are done with mixed media now. I use everything from colored pencils, watercolor, markers, gouache, digital. I don’t think I can just pick one technique.

Q: Please finish the sentence “Picture books are important because…”

A: They can bring some magic to children and adults alike.

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Claudia Rueda

Image result for claudia rueda
Claudia Rueda
 is a Colombian picture book author, New York Times Best Seller illustrator and a 2016 Hans Christian Andersen award nominee. Her books have been published throughout North America, Europe and Asia and have been translated into more than ten different languages. In the United States, she is best known as the illustrator of the series Here Comes theCat by Deborah Underwood. Her concept books for young readers have been published in Spanish by the publisher Oceano Travesia.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I have always liked to draw, like all kids. And I’ve always liked to imagine things and create stories, also like kids when they are playing. Basically, when it was time to put away the colored pencils and imagination to become ‘grown up’ I decided not to do it.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: Graphite pencil on white paper is my favorite medium. The capacity for expression in the strokes, it’s simplicity and versatility goes very well with my creative process.

Q: Please finish the sentence “Picture books are important because…”

A: The combination of visual narration with the verbal enriches the experience of reading and allows the story to happen in the mind of the reader that combines the two languages.

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Tania de Regil

taniadrTania de Regil is an author and illustrator from Mexico City. When she was five, she moved to Stockholm, Sweden with her family, where she discovered her love of reading and decided that she wanted to be a professional author some day. Tania studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York City and finished her studies in her home country of Mexico. Her work as a costume designer in film and television has helped to better grasp the art of storytelling through images. Tania’s illustration work is always filled with interesting details for children to discover. She uses a variety of media in her work, such as watercolor, gouache, color pencils, wax pastels and ink to create richly textured, engaging images. Tania’s debut picture book, Sebastián y la isla Tut, which she both wrote and illustrated, was published in November, 2015 by Macmillan Mexico.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: When I was a girl, my family and I went to live in Sweden. Since I didn’t know the language, what helped me the most was reading. My teacher gave me lots of books and among them were books by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake. In that moment, I fell in love completely with the stories and illustrations and I decided that one day I would be a great writer and illustrator like them. I was eight years old.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I like watercolor a lot because I can never have complete control over it. It’s a medium full of surprises and makes it much more expressive and fun to use. I also like to mix it with other materials like colored pencil, oil pastels, gouache and ink. I liked to always continue experimenting with new materials but the basis of all my illustrations is watercolor.

Q: Please finish the sentence “Picture books are important because…”

A: They take you to worlds where the imagination never ends.

 

Books to Look For:

Brown, Monica. Marisol McDonald Doesnt Match

Brown, Monica. Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash

Harshman, Marc. One Big Family

Rueda, Claudia Is it big or is it little?

Thong, Roseanne Greenfield. Twas Nochebuena

Underwood, Deborah. Here Comes the Easter Cat

Underwood, Deborah. Here Comes Santa Cat

Underwood, Deborah Here Comes Valentine Cat

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 2: Juana Martinez-Neal, Maya Christina González & Laura Lacámara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the second in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. Some of them live in the US, while others live overseas. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

 

Juana Martinez-Neal

Children's Illustrator Juana Martinez-NealJuana was born in Lima, the capital of Peru. She has been illustrating for children since she was 16. Juana attended the best art school ever, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru – School of Fine Arts. After 3 years of a crazy 8-to-8 schedule and way too many all-nighters, she was in desperate need of a semester-break and decided to give L.A. a “test drive.” She has lived in the US ever since.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: My father and grandfather were artists. The walls of our house were full of their paintings, and we had art supplies all around the house. Drawing and painting were natural ways to use our time. Every Summer, my mom enrolled us in a different art classes. She always took us to visit Museums, and her special treat was taking us to see puppet shows. Art was part of our life. There is nothing else I could be but an artist.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I love the process more than a specific media. I think that’s the reason why I’m a mixed media illustrator. When I add materials and change my the process, the work becomes even more interesting. The idea of solving the problem makes the process so very exciting.

Q: Please finish the sentence “Picture books are important because…”

A: They expand a child’s mind, fulfill their soul, and show new points of views.

    

 

Maya Christina González

Maya Gonzalez is an artist, author, educator, activist, peacemaker, publisher, equality lover, obsessive recycler, traveler, river lover, tree talker, sky kisser……

Her fine art graces the cover of Contemporary Chicano/a Art and is well documented as part of the Chicano Art Movement. She has illustrated over 20 award-winning children’s books, several of which she also wrote, Her book My Colors, My World won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award Honor from the American Library Association and her most recent picture book, Call Me Tree was listed in Kirkus’ Best Picture Books of 2014 that Celebrate Diversity. Since 1996, Maya has been providing presentations to children and educators about the importance of creativity as a tool for personal empowerment. Her work with children in public schools helped her develop several lines of curriculum that offer a holistic approach to learning and open doors to new ways of thinking and relating in the world. In 2009 she co-founded Reflection Press, an independent press that publishes radical and revolutionary children’s books, and works that expand spiritual and cultural awareness. And in 2013, Maya co-created an online learning environment called School of the Free Mind about expanding the mind and reclaiming the creative. The School offers e-courses for those who are ready to uncover and connect with their unique and most powerful way of living and creating.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I remember as a child drawing my round Chicana face into the backs of books. I think on some level I knew I needed to see myself in my books. I didn’t. I know in many ways those early ‘self-portraits’ were my way of affirming my existence in a world that did not include me. We are born artists. Creativity is our greatest tool to express and transform our world. I think it was a natural act to be an artist. I think I’ve remained visually expressive because it is the most powerful and immediate way to communicate and create change.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I am notorious for trying different mediums in my children’s books. Acrylics, watercolors, oil pastels, ink, charcoal, painted collage, photo collage, color pencils and combinations of all of those. What I love is the feeling of exploration and not completely knowing what I’m doing. I know that’s how kids feel all the time. Everything is new and curiosity rocks. So I follow that feeling. I’ve made so much art that I’m familiar with all the materials so now I’m exploring how to use them differently. More expression. More immediate and raw. This is how kids create because this is how kids feel. I’m always exploring the edges of my expression.

Q: Please finish the sentence “Picture books are important because…”

A: Picture books are important because they are powerful tools of expression, support and potential healing. I believe children’s books are one of the most radical things we can do for ourselves and our communities.

            

Laura Lacámara

Laura_photo_2015-300 dpiCuban-born Laura Lacámara is the award-winning author and illustrator of Dalias Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia (Piñata Books), a bilingual picture book about a clever girl who transforms her unruly hair into a vibrant garden. Laura also wrote Floating on Mamas Song / Flotando en la canción de mamá, a bilingual picture book inspired by her mother, who was an opera singer in Havana. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales and published by HarperCollins, Floating on Mamas Song was a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2010 and was a Tejas Star Book Award Finalist for 2011-2012.

Laura earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach. She studied printmaking at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles and began exhibiting and selling her work.

When a fellow artist suggested Laura’s images would be ideal for picture books, Laura signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Otis College of Art and Design. She instantly fell in love with both writing and illustrating for children. It was in that class that she wrote the first draft of Floating on Mamas Song.

Laura illustrated the 2012 Tejas Star Book Award winner, The Runaway Piggy / El cochinito fugitivo (Piñata Books), as well as Alicias Fruity Drinks / Las aguas frescas de Alicia (Piñata Books). Laura is a popular presenter at schools, book festivals, and conferences, and she is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  Laura lives in Southern California with her husband, their daughter, and a lovable mutt.

Q:  What inspired you to become an artist?

A: Having an artist father, who made a living as a graphic designer and illustrator, inspired me and showed me that it was possible to be a working artist.  In high school and beyond, I had many artist friends – we found inspiration together in art classes and museum visits.  And, to be honest, as a young adult, doing art was the only job I didn’t get fired from!

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I like painting with acrylics on a variety of surfaces – my current favorite being wood. (I love the texture.)  I also enjoy adding collage elements to my paintings.  I’ve always loved bright patterned fabrics and papers – the more the colors and patterns clash, the better!

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: Picture books are important because they teach us about ourselves, our world, our feelings, our realities.  Stories with pictures can give young kids a great deal of validation and comfort.  A picture book may be the first time a child realizes, “I’m not the only one who feels that way!”

    

 

Books to Check Out:

Lacámara Laura. Dalias Wondrous Hair

Luna, James. The Runaway Piggy

Ruiz-Flores, Lupa. Alicias Fruity Drinks

Elya, Susan Middleton. La Madre Goose (coming in July)

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. Call me Tree/Llamame Arbol

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. I Know the River Loves Me/Yo se que el rio me ama

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo

Alarcon, Francisco X. Animal Poems of the Iguazu

Perez, Amada Irma. Nanas Big Surprise

Perez, Amada Irma. My Diary from Here to There

Alarcon, Francisco X. Iguanas in the Snow

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 1: Angela Dominguez, Juana Medina, and Ana Aranda

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the first in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. Some of them live in the US, while others live overseas. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but are all passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Angela Dominguez

Angela DominguezAngela Dominguez was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and lived in San Francisco. She’s the author and illustrator of picture books such as Let’s Go Hugo!, Santiago Stays, Knit Together, and Maria Had a Little Llama, which received the American Library Association Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. Recently, she received her second Pura Belpré Honor for her illustrations in Mango, Abuela, and Me written by Meg Medina. Her new books How do you Say?/Como se Dice?  and Marta, Big and Small (by Jen Arena), will both be published later this year. To see more of Angela’s work, visit her website, blog or twitter.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: Like many of my artist friends, I’ve always liked to draw. Growing up, I was obsessed with books and art in general. I’d spend evenings watching VHS tapes and drawing all night (if I wasn’t doing homework). Still, I didn’t really consider art something I could do professionally until high school. Fortunately, my high school really had a great art program and teachers who were supportive. Then I received a partial scholarship to Savannah College of Art and Design based on my skills and academics. That sort of sealed my fate as a professional artist.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I still love drawing with pencil. It feels so good in my hand. I even love the way a freshly sharpened pencil smells. I also enjoy working with ink especially with a dip pen and brush. I just like how there is less control. It forces you to work boldly and confidently. My last favorite medium is tissue paper. I just really enjoy collage and the texture it produces. It’s really fun to work with all three at the same time. In graduate school when I saw that Evaline Ness worked that way, I was inspired to do it even more!

Q: Please finish the sentence “Picture books are important because…”

A: Picture books are important because they can speak universal truths to people of all ages. They can make you cry and laugh all in the same little book. (Also there are pictures!)

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Juana Medina

Photo by Silvia Baptiste

Photo by Silvia Baptiste

Juana Medina was born in Bogotá, Colombia, where she grew up, getting in a lot of trouble for drawing cartoons of her teachers.

Eventually, all that drawing (and trouble) paid off. Juana studied at the Rhode Island School of Design – RISD (where she has also taught). She has done illustration & animation work for clients in the U.S., Latin America, & Europe.

She now lives in Washington, DC. where she teaches at George Washington University. Juana draws and writes stories from a big and old drafting table, in an even older -but not much bigger- apartment.  Juana is the illustrator of the picture book Smick! by Doreen Cronin. Her new books 1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book and Juana and Lucas will be published later this year. You can find out more about Juana on her website and blog.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I grew up in a family where pretty much everyone had some kind of artistic outlet; my grandfather was a great draftsman, my grandma was a fantastic carpenter, my aunt a potter… everyone found a way to use arts as a way to express themselves, so it took me a while to realize not everyone in the world did this! Moreover, I went to a school that valued arts very much. So for the longest time, I thought art was just one more fabulous aspect of being human. I didn’t think of art or my ability to draw as super powers; they were simply an added feature, almost as a bonus language. Now that I recognize not everyone draws, I have dedicated a lot of time to using this ability as best as possible, to tell stories.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A:  Ink is one of my favorite mediums, because I find it very expressive. I enjoy the high contrast between the stark white paper and the very dark black ink; it makes it very exciting to see lines and traces -almost magically- appear on the page.

Q: Please finish the sentence “Picture books are important because…”

A:  Picture books are important because they don’t require more than visuals -and a handful of words- to understand a story. And understanding a story can lead to a shared experience with those who have also read the book. This not only serves for entertainment purposes, but allows us to learn about other people’s feelings, struggles, and dreams. Picture books also allow us to see the world through a different point of view and they tend to teach us things we perhaps didn’t know about, like how people live in villages we’ve never visited, or what dinosaurs used to eat, or how giant squids live in the darkest, deepest waters in the ocean, all valuable lessons to be learned.

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Ana Aranda

Ana ArandaAna Aranda was born and raised in Mexico City, where she studied design. From there, she moved to France, where she lived for three years while doing her undergraduate studies in illustration. Ana now lives in San Francisco thanks to a grant from the Mexican Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA). Her biggest inspirations are her childhood memories, the vibrant colors of Mexico, and music. Her work focuses on transforming the every day into fantastical situations, and often includes images from nature and whimsical creatures. Ana’s work has been featured in different galleries and museums in the United States, France, Mexico and Italy. In San Francisco, she has painted murals in the Mission District, for the Consulate General of Mexico, and for the prestigious de Young Museum. Ana’s illustrations can be found in picture books published in France and Italy. Some of her forthcoming titles include “J’ai Mal à Mon Écorce” (Éditions du Jasmin, France, 2015). She also illustrated ¡Celebracion! by Susan Middleton Elya, coming in 2016 and The Chupacabra ate the Candleabra by Marc Tyler Nobleman, coming in 2017.

Q:  What inspired you to become an artist?

A: When I was a little girl, I lived in a colorful city in Mexico called Cuernavaca, also known as the “City of Eternal Springtime”. My childhood memories in this city full of flowers always inspire me to create colorful and joyful pieces for children of all ages.

I have also been very inspired by my family, teachers, Mexican muralists and printmakers, growing up learning about women artists such as Remedios Vario and Leonora Carrington.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I first learned to use acrylics when I was around 14 years old and fell in love with it! Since then I’ve been playing with bright colors and mixing that technique with others such as pigments, scratchboards, etc. I’m in love with color and finding how every color can be part of an emotional experience.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

Ana Aranda Cover

 

A: Picture books are important because they help you travel to different worlds!

 

Books to Check Out:

Dominguez, Angela. Lets Go Hugo

Dominguez, Angela. Maria Had a Little Llama

Dominguez, Angela. Santiago Stays

Dominguez, Angela. Knit Together

Medina, Meg. Mango, Abuela and Me

Brown, Monica. Lola Levine is NOT Mean!

Elya, Susan Middleton. ¡Celebracion!  (coming Fall 2016)

Cronin, Doreen. Smick!

Medina, Juana. 1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book (coming Summer 2016)