Book Review: Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El Cabello Maravilloso de Dalia by Laura Lacámara

By Sujei Lugo

18654384DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK: A Cuban girl transforms her long and unruly hair into a garden.

MY TWO CENTS: In this bilingual picture book, with a Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura, Laura Lacámara brings us a whimsical Caribbean tale of a young Cuban girl and her luxuriant hair. Lacámara’s colorful illustrations express the joyful spirit of the main character and transport us to the sunny, tropical Caribbean.

The story introduces us to Dalia, a young girl who one day wakes up and finds out that her hair has grown straight up and as tall as a Cuban royal palm tree. Many children would panic with such news, but Dalia can’t hold the excitement of her new wondrous hair. She then embarks on a journey to add to her hair different natural elements of a Caribbean tropical island, such as wild tamarind, coontie plant, and violet leaves. Her purpose is to show her mother the different types of “trees” she can recreate using her hair, ending with a beautiful and unique one.

What stands out in this picture book is Lacámara’s ability to portray through her paintings the endearing relationship between Dalia and her mother and their lives in harmony with nature. The expressions on their faces capture the happiness and warmth of a loving mother and daughter bond. Other characters in the book, Señora Dominguez, Señora Soledad and Soledad’s daughters, all play supporting roles to Dalia’s “hairy” journey and to their connection to the natural world. Through this all-women set of characters, we see a growing sense of community and a sympathetic portrayal of peculiar characters we can encounter in a rural neighborhood.

By situating their home in rural Cuba, the author incorporates the Caribbean’s particular flora and fauna into the story. Through beautiful landscapes that fill the book with a graphical sense of the fresh air and natural environment of this tropical island, the book introduces young readers to different components of the natural world: royal palms, sugar cane fields, wild tamarinds, moonflowers, coontie plants, wild violets, caterpillars, birds, fireflies, ponds, and the ocean. Even the characters’ clothing are filled with flowers and leaf patterns, giving us powerful images that convey a reverence to the natural world.

According to a statement on the first page, the publication of Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El Cabello Maravilloso de Dalia was funded by a grant from the city of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance and published by Piñata Books, the children’s literature imprint of Arte Público Press. We should acknowledge their efforts, along with other great publishers,  to continuously provide a space for the publication of Latino/a authors and illustrators.

TEACHING TIPS: This bilingual picture book is recommended for children ages 4-7. It works well as a read aloud and for early readers. At home or at the library, librarians, parents, grandparents, family members or guardians can read with their young ones in English, Spanish or both, while teaching new words and identifying different colors, animals, and plants. The author provides a guide to create your own butterfly garden at home, a fun activity for everyone to enjoy.

Language Arts, Science, and Art teachers can create different activities where students can learn new words, identify adjectives mentioned throughout the story, and learn about different types of plants, trees, and animals. The book includes notes of Cuban natural world references (in English and Spanish) that are part of their stories, with a description. Art teachers can use this book to incorporate science to their classrooms. Students can draw, paint, or use different materials to create their own version of Dalia’s hair, using as reference words learned and natural elements of the story. 

AUTHOR: Laura Lacámara is a Cuban-born children’s books author and illustrator. Lacámara holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach and studied printmaking at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles. Her love for writing and illustrating children’s books grew when she signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, California.

She is the author of Floating on Mama’s Song/Flotando en la Canción de Mamá (Junior Library Guild Selection, Fall 2010 & Tejas Star Book Award finalist 2011-12) and illustrator of The Runaway Piggy/El Cochinito Fugitivo (winner of 2012 Tejas Star Book Award) and Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las Aguas Frescas de Alicia.

Laura Lacámara is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and frequently serves as a presenter at conferences, book festivals, and schools. She currently lives in Southern California.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El Cabello Maravilloso de Dalia, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

The Road to Publishing

 

Where do you find yourself along the road to publishing?

Check all that apply:

__Shopping for a vehicle

__Mapping a route

__Calling for roadside service

road signs

Image from Creative Commons

__Arriving at your destination

Let’s say this is your first publishing quest. How nice if you could enjoy the ride and worry less about breakdowns and wrong turns. We know how you feel. Over the coming weeks, our posts will provide tips for the rewarding, but arduous journey toward seeing your book in print.

To get things rolling, please enjoy a few insights from our experiences:

What made you realize THIS was the book you wanted to share with the world?

Zoraida: I had been working on some contemporary stories about a young Ecuadorian girl (we were very similar), but it just wasn’t going anywhere. Then one day after wanting to read a mermaid fantasy with action and cute boys, I decided to start writing the story myself. It is true what “they” say: you have to write the story you want to read.

Stephanie: I’ll apply this question to my upcoming series, Betting Blind and its sequel, Out of Aces, which will be pubbing in 2015. Both books were inspired by my youth in Las Vegas. I lived on my own at sixteen in a colorful, funny, sleazy, interesting city. It gave me a lot to write about.

Cindy: I am a visual person, so I “saw” the opening scene in my head long before I knew how the entire story would unfold. I was in the middle of a master’s program and had no real plans to be a novelist although writing a book was always in the back of my mind. I tried mentally to set aside this “daydream,” but it wouldn’t leave me alone. One night, although dead tired, I was compelled to write out the scene. After that, I had to keep going. The basics of the story–teens, teaching, depression, Emily Dickinson–are all familiar to me.

What’s on your recommended-reading list for all things publishing?

Ashley: Many things helped me on the journey to professionalization, but none was more crucial than agent and editor Noah Lukeman’s excellent little e-book, How to Write a Great Query Letter. Lukeman’s advice cuts straight to the heart, and once I revised my query letter (about 7 times!) according to his advice, I started getting requests for partial and complete manuscripts.

Zoraida: When I was in high school, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott was my writing bible. I haven’t read it in years, but I always think about it when I’m working on a novel. I recommend it to anyone who asks.

Stephanie: For more soul-feeding, encouraging material, especially for those who also teach writing, I recommend Wallace Stegner’s On Teaching and Writing Fiction. He writes with candor and clarity about the rejections, the wait time, and all the other thorns in the path to publication, but ultimately his message is really encouraging.

Lila: Mary Kole’s Writing Irresistible KidLit is a solid resource. The bulk is about craft, but you’ll also find advice on querying and approaching agents. I also tune into reliable blogs and newsletters. You can’t go wrong with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  

Cindy: I searched online for most of my information. The places I found most helpful were: SCBWI, YALitChat, YA Highway, and Query Tracker. SCBWI and YALitChat introduced me to critique groups, regional and national conferences, and other people like me chasing the dream. YA Highway is a popular site with loads of information about the process provided by writers. Query Tracker is a free–FREE!–online database of agents and editors. This is what I used to find agents to query and to keep track of my process– when a query was sent, what was the response, etc. It was a great resource and led me to my wonderful agent, Laura Langlie.

On our Facebook page, Samantha Villarreal asked: “Is it best to have an agent? Are the major publishing companies actively searching for Latino children’s lit or is it better to try smaller companies that focus on Latino lit?”

Ashley: I would say yes to the agent question. Whether you aspire to ultimately publish with a larger publisher or with a smaller press like Cinco Puntos or Arte Público, an agent can help you manage the decision-making and handle the business side of things. Later, we’ll be sharing more on how we connected with our agents and publishers.

Lila: I can vouch for the fact that it’s possible to break in without an agent.  My book was published through an academic press. Within six months of its release, the exposure that the book brought me led to contact with an agent.

Cindy: To seek an agent or not, to aim for big or small publishers, or to self-publish are all personal decisions based on your strengths and needs. From the start, I knew I wanted an agent and would pursue traditional publishing. I had no experience or connections in the publishing world, and I had little confidence in my abilities to produce and promote my own novel as a self-publisher. For these reasons, I decided I would do the writing and rely on an experienced agent and editor to guide me through the rest of the process.

Have agents and editors preserved your artistic vision?

Zoraida: My agent, Adrienne Rosado, is very encouraging. Even though I’m sure she gets an ulcer every time I say, “I have an idea…” My editor at Sourcebooks Fire, Aubrey Poole, is great at looking at my fantasy world and asking the questions I don’t ask. And she pushes my hero in the right direction. We’re working on the last book in the trilogy and I’m excited for the final product.

Stephanie: My editor has been completely supportive of my artistic vision. She’s never asked me to make changes I disagreed with, and she has always left the final decision in my court. We’ve worked on three books–soon to be four–together, and I love the smooth partnership we’ve developed.

Cindy: As a first time writer, I can say the search for an agent and editor is like literary e-harmony. You put yourself out there and wait until you find the perfect match for you and your project. Both my agent and editor loved my story, which is why they both said, “yes.” That’s what you want and need–an agent and editor who fully support your choice of subject matter and your writing style. They need to love it because they will be wedded to it–and you–for a long time during the publishing process.

Suppose your efforts to capture an agent’s interest haven’t gone anywhere: what then?

Cindy: Analyze what may not be “right.” Is the writing as good as it can be? Is the query the best you could do? Are you aware of what the agents and editors are looking for when you are querying? Then I would say go to a conference, have a one-on-one, join a critique group…do something you’re not already doing.

Image from Creative Commons

Image from Creative Commons

So now we’re off on a roll. Join us in the coming weeks as we bring you more advice from agents, editors, and other authors traveling the road to publishing. AND, we would love to hear from you! What has your journey taught you?