Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Sharon Sordo, Tatiana Gardel, Luciana Navarro Powell

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By Cecilia Cackley

This is the twelfth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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 soon. 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!

Sharon Sordo is an illustrator, cat hugger, and expert soup maker. As a Mexican girl growing up in the United States, Sharon found it difficult to relate to the many characters in children’s books that were available. Since then, she strives to represent different cultural backgrounds through her art. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband and cat.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: The magical way a story book can transport you into a new world through colorful illustrations captured my imagination as a young child. This is what inspired me to become an artist. Sharing my own stories and drawings with the people I love and igniting a sense of wonder in them, this is what will inspire me to do it forever. 

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

A: Through digital art, I have all of the traditional mediums at my disposal without the clean up and I can erase with ease. I don’t need a huge studio to store canvases and stinky oil paints, my pigments will never dry up, and sharing my art with the world and clients is amazingly simple. Drawing and painting in Adobe Photoshop along with my Wacom Cintiq, has made art more fun and stress free. One minute, I can try pastels, layer some watercolor on top, and finish it off with ink, never worrying about how these mediums will interact. I was introduced to digital art in college. It was there that I learned the basics. I’ve since continued to learn about different softwares for producing art and eventually landed on Adobe Photoshop as the most versatile and user friendly. I still dabble in traditional art, mainly ink and colored pencil, but I don’t think I will be illustrating children’s books this way anytime soon!

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

A: Picture books are important because they allow children to escape into different worlds and adults to keep our inner children alive and happy. We can learn great lessons from the stories we read and share. Also, we all get to own a piece of unique and original art.

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Tatiana Gardel is a Brazilian illustrator and teaching artist based in New York City. She started her career in fine art, and while exploring other ways to express her creativity, she found a passion for storytelling and illustration. Tatiana co-founded #LatinxPitch and is a member of the Black Creators in KidLit. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators in New York and American Illustration.

She is the illustrator of the upcoming books Xavier’s Voice, written by Ashley Franklin (Innovation Press, 2023) and Painting the Sky with Love, written by Mary Baca Haque (Feiwel and Friends, 2023).

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

 A: My grandfather had a passion for drawing and was the one to encourage me to draw when I was a child. I also grew up watching lots of cartoons, animes, reading comics, mangas, and playing video games. All of that sparked my interest in creating art and imagining stories. But it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned I could have a career as a professional artist.  

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

 A: I’m a traditional artist who transitioned to making digital art. In the past 2 years, I went from scanning and adjusting images to mixing up techniques to working fully digitally. This was an organic process and my goal was to mimic my traditional pieces. I really enjoy the freedom of working with this medium, how you can combine and explore possibilities without having to recreate the whole image. My portfolio is a blend of traditional, mixed media, and digital artwork.  

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

 A: Picture books are important because they are a gateway to imagination, knowledge, empathy and connection.

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Luciana Navarro Powell is an artist living in San Diego, California, with her husband and two children. She has illustrated many children’s books over the years and has now started writing them as well. Her first two as both author and illustrator are My Dad Is the Best Playground and My Mom Is the Best Circus.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: There was not a single event or artist in particular that inspired me. Ever since I can remember myself as a child I was always drawing and reading, so storytelling through drawing evolved in an organic way. My father is an architect and I remember watching him sketching and marveling over beautiful architectural renderings, so I am sure that played a part as well. When it was time for me to go to college, there wasn’t a school that offered an Illustration major where I lived. I graduated with a degree in Industrial Design, which I enjoyed a lot and it had some classes that offered a good foundation for Illustration. I worked as a designer for a few years while I freelanced doing illustration projects. Eventually I circled back to become a full-time illustrator.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc.

A: I worked in a variety of analog media in the beginning of my career – acrylics, color pencils, printmaking;  but most often watercolor and pen and ink for black and white illustrations. When Photoshop came into the picture for me, it was a perfect way to integrate traditional media and digital art. My favorite artistic medium is mixed media, I used analog painted bits mixed with digital brushes. If I work on a book, the final art phase will usually last for about 3 months – when I finish it I usually take a few days off the computer by doing some analog-only projects on the side. Lately I have also enjoyed immensely doing sidewalk chalk art around my neighborhood and also plein-air painting with watercolor whenever I travel. You can check all these side projects at my Instagram account, @lucianaillustration !

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

A: …they offer a merger of imagery and language that will be an essential building block for a child life-long love of reading!

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Book Review: Like a Love Song by Gabriela Martins

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Reviewed by Alexandra Someillan

Cover for Like a Love Song (Underlined Paperbacks)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Natalie is living her dream: topping the charts and setting records as a Brazilian pop star… until she’s dumped spectacularly on live television. Not only is it humiliating–it could end her career.

Her PR team’s desperate plan? A gorgeous yet oh-so-fake boyfriend. Nati reluctantly agrees, but William is not what she expected. She was hoping for a fierce bad boy–not a soft-hearted British indie film star. While she fights her way back to the top with a sweet and surprisingly swoon-worthy boy on her arm, she starts to fall for William–and realizes that maybe she’s the biggest fake of them all. Can she reclaim her voice and her heart?

MY TWO CENTS: Like a Love Song was the ultimate light-hearted book to get me out of my book funk, and it was the kind of book that reminded me why I love rom-coms so much. Gabriela Martins captures pop culture celebrities today and what it’s like living in a microscope. Natalie faces the pressures of being an international pop star as a young Latina trying to please everyone while dealing with one of the most humiliating breakup in front of the whole world.

As a registered celebrity-obsessed addict, nothing fascinates me more than a book that discusses the complexities of social media and how every move a celebrity makes is dissected and judged, even more so when it comes to young female stars. Natalie is the kind of character that reminds us of famous pop stars like Selena Gomez or Britney Spears and the intense media scrutiny they endure daily. She faces the heartbreaking reality of the constant expectation to be the poised and perfect pop star even after having her celebrity boyfriend break up with her on live television seconds before receiving her award.

Just like in the typical pop culture of today, Natalie getting dumped becomes a meme that is constantly posted and retweeted on social media. The author explores the distinction between male and female celebrities in a nuanced way and provides a realistic portrayal of who the public usually chooses to target in the aftermath of a scandal. Unfortunately, Natalie is the target, and her ex-boyfriend Trent comes out unscathed while her PR team scrambles to save Natalie’s career. Of course, the PR strategy involves getting her a fake boyfriend when all Natalie wants is to hide under the covers and stalk her ex-boyfriend’s Instagram.

Even though I thought that the relationship between Natalie and William was one of the most adorable opposites-attract love stories with all the rom-com feels, I came out of the story wanting more between these two characters. Normally, I am all about insta-love stories. Still, I felt that the relationship that developed between Natalie and William was a bit rushed, and this is probably due to the book being a relatively short read. Other than that, there were plenty of swoon-worthy parts in this book, and there were many times I caught myself smiling from ear to ear, loving the dynamic between a world-famous, glamorous pop singer and an indie actor with quirky socks.

One of Natalie’s main struggles that I found deeply relatable revolves around the theme of identity and what it means to be Brazilian. Throughout the story, Natalie questions her heritage and feels alienated from her Brazilian family. She chooses to assimilate to American culture, but she knows deep inside that something is missing. I loved the journey that Natalie goes through to find herself, and it’s something I can understand growing up Cuban-American in an extremely Americanized family.

This book is needed in Latinx publishing because it is one of the few rom-coms written by a Brazilian author, with a Brazilian main character, with queer representation, and features all the rom-com tropes we all know and love! Like a Love Song is the kind of story that reminds us to be ourselves instead of trying to meet other people’s expectations. When you are yourself, the people who accept you are the people who will be around you for life.

TEACHING TIPS: Gabriela Martin’s book could be used in a life skills class, where students could discuss the pressures of representing certain parts of yourself on social media and how to deal with online bullying.

The resource I recommend is from Mike’s Math Mall on https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Anti-Bullying-Campus-Social-Media-Campaign-using-Language-Arts-Story-Elements-436818.

There is a great activity where you can divide students into groups of four. You can have them create a social media campaign poster, skit, video, Instagram post, or short story related to online bullying, challenging the pressures of social media and learning how to protect yourself from cyberbullying. The activity includes many graphic organizers and templates students can use to organize their ideas.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website https://www.gabrielawrites.com/): GABRIELA MARTINS is a Brazilian kidlit author and linguist. Her stories feature Brazilian characters finding themselves and love. She was a high school teacher and has also worked as a TED Ed-Club facilitator, where she helped teens develop their own talks in TED format to present. She edited and self-published a pro-bono LGBTQ+ anthology (KEEP FAITH) with all funds going to queer people in need. When she’s not writing, she can be found cuddling with her two cats, or singing loudly and off-key.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Alexandra Someillan is a freelance book reviewer and teacher who lives in Miami, FL. She has written for Frolic Media, where she has raved about her favorite Latinx romances. Currently, she has been accepted in the Las Musas mentorship and is working on her Latinx contemporary novel with Nina Moreno. Usually, you can find Alexandra obsessing over nineties pop culture and eating too many pastelitos.

Down the Rabbit Hole: a Brazilian-Brit in the USA

 

By Juliana Spink Mills

When I was eight, my English father and Brazilian mother boxed up our lives and moved our family from London, UK, to São Paulo, Brazil. There were many reasons behind the move – jobs, lifestyle, extended family – and it was definitely one of the biggest milestones of my young life. I’ll never forget the sensation of heat and damp when we stepped off the airplane, or arriving at my grandparents’ house to lush gardens and a kidney-shaped pool glowing like a jewel in the grass.

As a travel gift, I was given the full set of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. After arriving in a country where I didn’t understand the language or customs, those books were my lifeline. I bonded with Lewis’ characters over the strangeness of arriving in a world where everything was new and amazing, and also a little bit scary. And although my parents had read The Hobbit to me when I was small, this was probably where my love of fantasy novels comes from: that absolute identification with Lucy Pevensie and all the others who traveled through wardrobes and down rabbit holes, having to adapt and to reassess everything they knew.

I lived in Brazil for most of my life. I absorbed the language and the culture. I learned to embrace my duality: a dual citizen not just on paper, but in manner and speech, too. And I learned what it’s like to be the eternal gringa – not quite entirely English, nor wholly Brazilian.

My love of the fantastic in fiction grew throughout my life. I was the hobbit in Lord of the Rings, trying to navigate and understand a vaster world than the one I’d started out in. I was Leia in Star Wars: princess, politician, warrior, strategist – a bit of everything and at the same time still searching for meaning and a place to belong. Science fiction and fantasy gave me a space where I wasn’t the only one a little lost, a little strange, and a little bit of a stranger, too.

Four years ago, my husband and I – in a curious mirroring of my own parents’ decision all those years ago – packed up our house and kids and moved to Connecticut, USA. I was the gringa again, the one with the weird sort-of-British-but-not-quite accent that I get asked about over and over. I was back down Alice’s rabbit hole, and once again finding solace in speculative fiction. But this time, I was the one putting words to paper, and creating my own imagined realms.

My YA series, the Blade Hunt Chronicles (Woodbridge Press), is urban fantasy, a genre where fantastic and supernatural elements rub shoulders with modernity. My demons use cell phones, and my angels drive around in SUVs. I like the idea that the guy next to you in the grocery store might have an entire “secret identity”; in my stories, he might be a werewolf, or a pixie. I’ve always loved tales that bring us worlds within worlds – perhaps because I grew up feeling that I belonged to different universes at the same time. And writing fantasy lets me play around with this as much as I want.

My novels also gave me a chance to put little bits of my own identity into my work. I have an English vampire knight, and an entire clan of Brazilian-American witches who get plenty of page space in book 2, Night Blade. I have mentions of books, TV shows, and sports teams that are tributes to loved ones. Scattering personal Easter eggs into my writing helps make sense of these wardrobes I keep tumbling through and, together with the books I read, serves to anchor me and let me find my place in my own real life story.

 

       

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Juliana Spink Mills was born in England, but grew up in Brazil. Now she lives in Connecticut, and writes science fiction and fantasy. She is the author of Heart Blade and Night Blade, the first two books in the young adult Blade Hunt Chronicles urban fantasy series. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and online publications. Besides writing, Juliana works as a Portuguese/English translator, and as a teen library assistant.