Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 6: Torrey Maldonado

 

We are back from our summer break with lots of great, new interviews, book reviews, and events planned. We start today with a Q&A with middle grade author Torrey Maldonado, who is celebrating the release of his latest novel, Tight.

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the sixth 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 Torrey Maldonado. And it’s an extra-special day because…

Torrey’s latest novel, Tight, releases TODAY!!

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, TORREY!!

 

Here’s a description of the novel: Bryan knows what’s tight for him–reading comics, drawing superheroes, and hanging out with no drama. But drama is every day where he’s from, and that gets him tight, wound up.

And now Bryan’s friend Mike pressures him with ideas of fun that are crazy risky. At first, it’s a rush following Mike, hopping turnstiles, subway surfing, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But Bryan never really feels right acting so wrong, and drama really isn’t him. So which way will he go, especially when his dad tells him it’s better to be hard and feared than liked?

But if there’s one thing Bryan’s gotten from his comic heroes, it’s that he has power–to stand up for what he feels.

Torrey Maldonado delivers a fast-paced, insightful, dynamic story capturing urban community life. Readers will connect with Bryan’s journey as he navigates a tough world with a heartfelt desire for a different life.

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And here’s more about Torrey: What do you get from teaching nearly 20 years in a middle school in the Brooklyn community that you’re from & you’re an author? Gripping, relatable novels and real-life inspiration. Voted a “Top 10 Latino Author” & best Middle Grade & Young Adult novelist for African Americans, Torrey Maldonado was spotlighted as a top teacher by NYC’s former Chancellor. Maldonado is the author of the ALA “Quick Pick”, Secret Saturdays, that is praised for its current-feel & timeless themes. His newest MG novel, Tight, is a coming of age tale about choosing your own path. Learn more at torreymaldonado.com

 

And now, here’s our Q&A with Torrey Maldonado:

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

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Torrey and his mom. Photo given by Torrey Maldonado.

A:  My mom inspired me to become a writer. When I was a boy, maybe no taller than a fire hydrant with my Jackson 5 Afro probably bigger than my head, she told me, “I read out loud to you when you were in my belly.” But a lot fought against my Mom trying to build me into a reader and writer. In the Brooklyn Red Hook housing projects, where I was born and raised, and in lots of neighborhoods, boys were and are bullied for our bookishness, and it happened to me. Currently, a buzz-phrase is “safe spaces.” My mom made our apartment my safe space to be bookish. The rapper 50 Cent’s debut album was Get Rich or Die Tryin’. My mom’s attitude was “Get My Kid into Lit or Die Tryin’.” My whole life, her apartment was the only in our projects where I saw a library. For being bookish, I got bullied outside and in school, then cuddled with Ma on our couch as she read to me. When she read and wrote, her eyes always smiled. As I got older, she took me far out of our projects to authors’ readings. She is my heart, loved writing, and admires writers. My motto is “Kids will be what they see,” and it’s fitting that I followed her footsteps. I represent her writing-spirit out in the world.

 

Q. Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?

A. I have taught middle school for nearly twenty years. I see my students as me at their ages. The middle school years are “crossroad years” where tweens need direction. Plus, so much of their awesomeness should be spotlighted. I see them unplug from books because a lot of required readings aren’t culturally responsive mirrors and windows. It inspires to give my students and other middle schoolers essential books that I needed at their ages. Pretty cool related news: a teacher recently tweeted that Tight is the “most essential reading for middle grade teachers recommending books to their readers this fall.” Let’s hope my middle students and others agree.

 

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

A.  My favorite middle grade novels do for readers what my favorite books did for me. Best books are a fleeting magic carpet-ride out of problems yet show kids the magic around them. They help kids feel that their world is bigger than their zip code. Also, my favorite middle school books are culturally responsive mirrors and windows. Some think books fall in different categories: windows here and mirrors over there. My favorite middle grade books are both windows and mirrors.

 

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

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Torrey in middle school. Photo given by Torrey Maldonado.

A. What I’m about to share is what I wish I knew sooner because it would’ve steered me from drama and sped me toward my life goals faster. Here’s my advice: accept and develop all helpful sides of you and know how to code-switch, meaning switch what you show others depending on where you are. My characters of Tight do that. Here’s why accepting and developing all helpful sides of you matters. That perfect person you see over there? They’re not perfect. Everyone is not perfect. That’s a reason Insecure on HBO by Issa Rae is a hit. On it, Issa is herself, a mess, insecure, and quirky with many sides. Millions of people and I love her because we relate. Now, here’s the thing about accepting and “doing you”—you have to know how to code-switch. Issa code-switches when she talks to her boss because she knows what Bryan in Tight knows—you can’t show all of you all of the time. President Obama kicked slang with Jay-Z and Beyoncé then spoke mainstream American English in his White House meetings with advisors. Why code-switch? You see in Tight how you need to shield your candle flame so know one blows it out. Code-switching is a shield. Then the right time comes when you can bring out and shine a different light and others will welcome it. People shielded my light until I learned to shield it, and it helped me be a bullied bookish, insecure, quirky boy who developed his many sides on the DL. In time, I grew into a published book author who is lucky to be invited to shine and share light in cool interviews like this one.

 

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because middle school youth are awesome, multidimensional, heroic in many ways and all of that should be spotlighted.

 

Torrey’s novels:

   

 

 

 

photo by Saryna A. JonesCindy 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: One of a Kind Like Me/Único como yo written by Laurin Mayeno, illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo

 

Reviewed by Maria Ramos-ChertokUnico_00-Rob Liu-Trujillo_72 dpi

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Tomorrow is the school parade, and Danny knows exactly what he will be: a princess. Mommy supports him 100%, and they race to the thrift store to find his costume. It’s almost closing time. Will Danny find the costume of his dreams in time? One of A Kind, Like Me / Unico como yo is a sweet story about unconditional love and the beauty of individuality. It’s a unique book that lifts up children who don’t fit gender stereotypes, and reflects the power of a loving and supportive community. The book is written by Laurin Mayeno, illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo, and translated by Teresa Mlawer.

MY TWO CENTS: One of a Kind Like Me/Único como yo is a book every elementary school should own. It takes the subject of gender identity out of the public discourse, where morality and religion weigh heavily in the debate, and puts it into the personal realm of a young boy named Danny/Danielito. Teaching readers about gender expression from a child’s point of view does exactly what children do best – cut right to the heart of the matter. Danny is clear about wanting to dress as a princess for the school parade. His determination and creativity were inspiring to me as an adult reader, yet the book offers a beautiful lesson about the importance of listening to yourself and following your dreams to young and old readers alike. Beyond the gift of the story itself, the book is written in both Spanish and English, providing entry to ideas about gender expression that I have not often encountered in traditional bilingual books. Finally, the ultimate confrontation that Danny/Danielito has with his friends offers a promising way for readers to consider how to react to someone who expresses them self in a way that challenges notions of binary gender roles. While the book is written for children, I’d recommend it as a gift to anyone who might expand their thinking on gender expression.

TEACHING TIPS: One of a Kind Like Me/Único como yo can be used in any elementary school class to begin a discussion on self-expression. A discussion question like: What are the different ways we express to the outside world who we are inside? might be an interesting entree. I’d also strongly recommend it to discuss bullying. For example, What did the kids at school do to make Danny/Danielito cross his arms? How did he deal with it? This could also be a way to get children to talk about experiences they’ve had with bullying, both as perpetrators and victims. That conversation can easily lead to having children brainstorm ideas of how to respond effectively to bullies. For older children in fourth and fifth grade, this book can be used to discuss gender identity and gender expression and how peer groups influence choices about what we share about ourselves and how we share it. It connects well with a talk about peer pressure and how to get in touch with our own sense of what is right for us and what isn’t. Finally, there is an excellent note at the back of the book to parents, caregivers and educators that provides an additional resource where one can access videos, books, guides, organizations, and other services that can be of assistance to anyone wanting to learn more about gender diversity.

photo credit: Scott Hoag of @rockwellcreative

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For more than 17 years, Laurin Mayeno has provided consulting services to numerous organizations, resulting in greater diversity, more inclusive and equitable work environments, and improved effectiveness working with diverse populations. Laurin’s experiences as a mixed race woman growing up during the social movements of the 1960s, led her to work that fosters inclusion, equity and full appreciation for cultural diversity. Her experience as the mother of a gender-expansive, gay son, also gave her a deep appreciation for importance of responding to gender diversity, which is now a central focus of her work. Her Proud Mom videos and her bilingual children’s book One of a Kind, Like Me/Único como yo are among the resources she has developed to spark dialogue and understanding.

Robert Trujillo by Tiffany Eng

Photo by Tiffany Eng

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (From his website): My name is Robert Liu-Trujillo. I am the author and illustrator of Furqan’s First Flat Top. I was born in Oakland, California and raised all across the Bay Area. I’m a visual artist, father, and a husband who employs the use of illustration, public art, and storytelling to tell tales. These tales manifest in a variety of forms and they reflect my cultural background, dreams, and political / personal beliefs. My motivation to do what I do is to unearth beautiful and un-told stories, to be a positive and nurturing influence on my son, and to honor my ancestors and family who worked so hard for me to be here. I love music, nerdy things, and can get along well with most people. I seek fun, ice cream, and justice. I’m also a co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to Rad Dad,  and the founder of Come Bien Books.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Maria Ramos-Chertok is a writer who lives in Mill Valley, CA. She is the founder and facilitator of The Butterfly Series, a writing and creative arts workshop for women who want to explore what’s next in their life journey. Her work, most recently, has appeared in San Francisco’s 2016 Listen to Your Mother show (www.listentoyourmothershow.com) and in the Apogee Journal of Colombia University. Her piece Meet me by the River will be published in Deborah Santana’s anthology All the Women in my Family Sing  (2017) and she will be reading in San Francisco’s LitCrawl in October 2016.  For more information please visit www.mariaramoschertok.com

Q&A with Author Estela Bernal About “Can You See Me Now?”

can you see me nowBy Edith Campbell

This Q&A was originally published on Edi Campbell’s site.

Estela Bernal made her debut as an author this past May with Can You See Me Now? (Pinata/Arte Publico). As you get to know her today and find out a little more about Can You See Me Now? you’ll be impressed, but you’ll be even more impressed to know that she’s donating 100% of her proceeds to education and animal rights.

Just a little about the book. Kirkus says:

Tragedy strikes on Mandy’s 13th birthday when her father is struck by a drunk driver and killed. Now grief—both her own and her mother’s—complicates the already confusing landscape of early adolescence.

With her mother working more and more hours in the wake of her father’s death, Mandy begins spending most of her time living with her grandmother. Often the target of bullies, loner Mandy approaches Paloma to be her partner for a school project. Paloma is also a misfit, but she carries herself with a self-assured grace that Mandy finds compelling. As she becomes closer to Paloma, she learns about the practices of yoga and meditation, which are foundational in Paloma’s family. An overweight boy in class, Rogelio, is also touched by tragedy when his family’s home burns down, and Paloma invites him to join their yoga crew. As the three continue practicing together, they each begin to cultivate their own peace amid the chaos in their lives. Though each faces personal challenges, they find friendship and support in one another. Bernal has succeeded in crafting a story that acknowledges tragedy without wallowing in it, placing her emphasis on resilience and personal growth. The quick pace and distinctive characters make for a smooth, well-crafted read.

Middle-grade readers should respond to this tender story of learning to connect with others through open eyes and an open heart. (Fiction. 10-13)

estelaAnd here’s Estela’s interview:

Edi: Where did you grow up?

Estela: I grew up in South Texas (the Rio Grande Valley).

Edi: Do you have any pets?

Estela: I love animals and have had many pets through the years. I currently have two cats.

Edi: What were some of the first books you found as a child that turned you into a reader?

Estela: I grew up in a home where we had no books. There were no public libraries in my hometown either. Despite the lack of age-appropriate reading material, I fell in love with books as soon as I learned to read. I remember reading the Weekly Reader and whatever else I could get my hands on at school. Although I don’t remember where I got it, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth was one book I read and re-read. I’ve always been a dreamer and this book opened up an exotic, new, and very fascinating world to me.

Edi: Meat or vegetables?

Estela: Vegetables, absolutely! As an animal lover, I volunteered with many animal welfare organizations until I was able to form my own. Through it, I do community education and help provide low-cost spay/neuter services to residents’ pets in underserved communities. It would be hard to justify rescuing some animals while eating others. Besides, I find that when I eat a healthy diet, I feel so much better.

Edi: Which famous person would you most like to have write a review for your book?

Estela: So many famous and not-so-famous people come to mind. It always makes me happy to hear about celebrities and other public figures who are also great philanthropists and who help raise awareness about some very important issues facing society today. But there are also many unsung heroes quietly working to help make their communities better places to live. I sincerely believe we all have the potential to do good and that, after all, is what really matters. Two of my own favorite causes are education and animal welfare so my choice would have to be someone with similar ideals.

Edi: What three things would you like to add to a list of national treasures?

Estela: Although man-made treasures are priceless, I believe that natural treasures are absolutely essential. I’d love to see all public waterways, land (public, private, agricultural), and all living beings protected and preserved for our well-being and that of future.

Edi: Why would you be up at 3 am?

Estela: Usually, I’m only up at that time if I’m traveling and have to catch an early flight.

Edi: What book(s) are you currently in the middle of reading?

Estela: I’m currently making my way through a 100 Greatest Books for Kids list and just started Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Becoming Naomi León. I’m also reading my latest copy of Glimmer Train.

Edi: What made you decide to write about a teen who discovers yoga?

Estela: One of my nephews died accidentally a few years ago. The accident happened in front of his wife and children and I began to wonder how such a tragic event would affect any family who witnessed it. That also got me thinking about how a child, already weighed down by grief, would cope with the additional burden of parental abandonment and being bullied on top of everything else. Adolescence is tough enough as it is, and adding all this other stress can lead to such despair that anyone could easily be overwhelmed. I wanted to introduce the idea that there are alternatives to violence, that there is help even when we think there is no safe way out of certain situations, and most importantly, that there are ways to access inner peace.

When I first discovered yoga, I was going through a stressful period in my life and still remember the feeling of calm and well-being that I experienced when I was able to slow down the thoughts racing through my mind long enough to catch my breath and try to put things in perspective. The character Paloma seemed the perfect vehicle through which to introduce the topic and Mandy, of course, was the ideal student.

Edi: I’m sorry to hear your family experienced such a tragedy. I can definitely see how that experience could inspire your writing.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read Can You See Me Now?, but I do know it’s about a thirteen-year-old girl whose father dies in a car accident and her mother blames her for it. At 13 (or there about) to which adult were you the closest?

Estela: I was a very shy child and at thirteen I was closest to my mother. Because I was the youngest child in my family and my parents were old enough to be my grandparents, the fear of losing them seemed to always be in the back of my mind. If my mother wasn’t there when I got home from school or from playing with my friends, I panicked.

Edi: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Estela: Again, this is a hard question to answer because there are so many authors I admire, but I’d have to say Harper Lee ranks pretty high on my list along with Sandra Cisneros. Although their work is very different, I find the characters so easy to relate to and the stories so hard to forget.

Edi: What’s the trick to writing humor?

Estela: I’m sure there is a trick to it and I suppose part of it is to be naturally funny. I don’t set out to write humor, but because I do write about serious issues which can be hard to address when writing for a younger audience, I try to ease the tension by including bits of humor here and there as I weave the story. The humor I use is based on things that tickle my own funny bone.

Edi: What does diversity mean to you?

Estela: Diversity to me is inclusivity. I try to write about things that all readers can relate to regardless of their racial or social background because, no matter what other commonalities we may or may not share, there are certain things that we all have to experience at some point in life.

Speaking of diversity, I’m glad to see that the need for diversity in children’s literature is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. Although the need has always been there, it’s great that diversity among the writing population is also changing, however gradually.

Edi: Thanks, Estela! It’s a pleasure getting to know you!

Visit Estela’s website.

Edith CampbellEdith Campbell is a mother, librarian, educator and quilter. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Cincinnati and MLS from Indiana University.  Her passion is promoting literacy in all its many forms to teens and she does this through her blog, CrazyQuiltEdi and in her work as an Education  Librarian at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. Edith currently serves as the IN State Ambassador for the United States Board on Books for Young People and is a past member of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection committee.

Book Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

By Edith Campbell

YaquiMeg Medina is an accomplished author who has won awards for Tia Isa Wants a Car and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Her latest book, Yaqui Dalgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is acquiring a growing list of recognition, including the Pura Belpré (a complete list of awards is at the bottom of this post). By the title, you might think that Yaqui is the main character in this realistic YA novel, but she’s not. This is Piadad “Piddy” Sanchez’s story. Just like with any bully, Yaqui seems to have taken things over.

When the novel begins, Piddy has just moved, leaving behind the school and neighborhood where she’s always felt at home. Medina quickly paints the picture of the new territory this young Latina must navigate, one where skin tone, country of origin, accent and ability to speak Spanish define where you sit as well as your place in the pecking order. Piddy shakes her hips in ways that unintentionally get too much attention and it’s on: Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy’s mom can just look at Yaqui and know she’s up to no good. While Piddy’s mom may have no use for tough girls like Yaqui, Piddy cannot avoid them in her new school.

Piddy’s at that awkward age where she’s no longer a child, but not quite grown, either. She still cherishes the elephant necklace she got a few birthdays ago, but now even though she likes the idea, she knows she’s too old to celebrate her birthday like she did that time at the zoo. If she were still a little girl she could take her problems to her mom and could probably still do so if she were just a bit more mature. But Piddy doesn’t fully trust herself, and she’s also got this bully frightening her so much that—before long—she doesn’t even recognize herself.

When Piddy begins to have problems at school, she reaches out to her mother’s friend, Lila. Lila is like an aunt to Piddy. She’s the fun one who taught Piddy to dance and how to wear makeup, and she’s the one Piddy turns to when she wants to find out what really happened to her father.

Lila is part of the community in which Piddy’s story is grounded. Lila, her boyfriend Raul, the women at the beauty shop, and even the Ortegas provide spaces of comfort and familiarity for Piddy, and they nurture her as she struggles to find out who she is becoming. Piddy has two problems: she wants to know about her dad, and she can’t get Yaqui out of her head. For solutions, Piddy turns first to Lila and then to her old friend, Mitzi Ortega, who has recently moved to another area. These women are her touchstones as she moves from girl to woman. She wants to face Yaqui, but not even the support of Lila, Mitzi, and the others is enough to make that happen. We know that no one can give you this kind of strength; it comes from inside.

In her coming of age, Piddy finds Joey, a neighborhood boy who has had a very tough life. Medina writes their relationship as one that gives Piddy room to explore. While his character is not thoroughly developed, it is complete enough for the story, and their relationship helps us see a special tenderness in Piddy. Medina captures Piddy’s feelings and emotions in ways that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has been the new kid or the kid who has been picked on. Piddy becomes a victim, losing any idea of who she is or for what she stands. Readers become part of the community that supports Piddy and wants her to stand up to Yaqui.

I’ve heard many shy away from this book, afraid of how rough it may be or turned off by the title. This is not a rough story! Despite the “ass” in the title, there’s no profanity, no drugs or alcohol, and only one scene of adolescent petting that is quite effective and touching. Piddy is a good student who wants to be a scientist and she comes from a thriving community. The novel illustrates that bullying can (and does) happen in any community, and in this book, the victim happens to be Piddy. Being a victim is rough, but Piddy is not a rough girl.

So, put the tape of the cover if you must, but put the book in your library. There are reasons for all the awards and recognition!

LEXILE: HL670

Edith Campbell

Edith Campbell is a mother, librarian, educator and quilter. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Cincinnati and MLS from Indiana University.  Her passion is promoting literacy in all its many forms to teens and she does this through her blog, CrazyQuiltEdi and in her work as an Education  Librarian at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. Edith currently serves as the IN State Ambassador for the United States Board on Books for Young People and is a past member of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults selection committee.

Author Meg Medina Talks About Writing Villains

 

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Meg Medina knows how to connect. When she writes, her words crackle with strong storytelling and believable characters. When she stands at a microphone, her Cuban-American-inflected vitality will reduce you to tears—of laughter. You can imagine how much her young readers love her. So do we! And we’re delighted to present an interview with Meg about her latest book.

First, here’s an introduction to her earlier work. She’s the author of a picture book, Tía Isa Wants a Car, winner of the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award; a middle-grade novel, Milagros: Girl from Away; and a previous novel for young adults, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind.

Tia Isa Wants a Car      Milagros: Girl from Away      The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind

Meg’s most recent contribution to YA bookshelves is the Kirkus starred Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, 2013), a gripping story set in Queens, NY, where sophomore Piddy Sanchez lands after a crosstown move. Readers come to know Piddy at her best and worst, as she grapples with a new high school environment. Let’s just say that everything gets dicier when she enters a bully’s lair.

What can we learn from Meg’s gift for storytelling? For one thing, she writes with a keen eye toward characterization. Her eponymous villain, Yaqui Delgado, is a craft lesson on legs. Happily, Meg has agreed to unpack a bit of her villain-making magic for us.

Latin@s in Kid Lit: Meg, thank you for talking to us about craft. Your novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass puts the protagonist in a terrible bind. Before we discuss Yaqui, can you give us a better sense of who Piddy is and how she lands in this fix?

Meg: Unfortunately, Piddy is at a new school. Essentially, she’s the little gazelle that got separated from the herd. Never good. Up until that point, she’s an ordinary girl. She’s bright, engaged in school, but like lots of us at 16, she’s struggling with her mother and is starting to question the choices her parents have made. The fact that she gets targeted is purely random. A horrible fact of bullying is that it has very little to do with the victim. Kids can get bullied for virtually any reason…for being smart or for being slow; for being unattractive or for being too attractive; for being poor or for having too much money. The reason for the attack usually resides in what makes the bully nervous or insecure. Kids can easily forget that. It’s easy to internalize the message that they are in some way a loser.

Latin@s in Kid Lit: You give readers a wicked combination of physical and cyber-bullying. How did you become interested in girl bullies? Can you share tips about using hot-button issues in fiction?

Meg: To be honest, I don’t think about hot button issues to write about. They change too quickly! In this case, I had been invited to write a short story for an anthology about Latinas as a turning point in their lives. As I thought about turning points in my own life, I decided to base the story on a bullying incident I lived through long ago, mostly because it made such a lasting negative impact on how I saw myself and how I moved through the world. The anthology project died, but my editor at Candlewick asked me to turn the story into a novel. I layered in new characters and dimensions that hadn’t been part of the story, and I added in the details that are part of bullying today, such as YouTube and social media.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Latin@s in Kid Lit: Yaqui fits a certain type of inner-city bad girl that many of us know only from the movies, but by the end of the story, she’s achieved a dimensional status that satisfies and amazes. What was your process like for keeping Yaqui from collapsing into stereotype?

Meg: I really just concentrated on writing the truth about my own bully long ago. My feelings were a strange mix of hatred, dread, and admiration for all her power. The fact is, no one is all good or bad, and the gloriously bad character is often charismatic or fearless in a way that’s really interesting. Also, no one behaves so violently or poorly without a reason. We don’t have to excuse a character’s awful behavior, but it helps to understand it. I dabbed all of those things on Yaqui as a character to make her compelling, and to make her a worthy foe.

Latin@s in Kid Lit: Through much of the story, Yaqui remains aloof and doesn’t enter Piddy’s space until the right moment. Your portrayal of her evokes a wolf silhouetted against the moon. Chilling. Please share more about enhancing dread through this technique.

Meg: Well, dread is actually the perfect word. I worked on dread inside Piddy as character and inside the reader. For the reader, watching Yaqui circle closer is like watching the fin cut through the surface of the water behind a swimmer at the beach. Oh no! Something horrible is coming, but you can’t stop it. In this case, it’s not an ocean, but a school and neighborhood, places where we think we ought to be safe. In terms of building dread inside of Piddy, I tried to recreate the feelings we might have when we’re in a room or social situation with someone we really dislike. Think of how that goes: You avoid eye contact. You try your best to think of something else, to look calm, to avoid the spot where that person is standing. But all you can think of is that person and the awkwardness of being nearby. Their presence becomes oppressive.

Latin@s in Kid Lit: There’s a powerful scene where Piddy begins to adopt Yaqui’s look. She pulls her hair back into a severe bun and plucks her brows to a thin line. She puts on dark lipstick and steps back to admire her handiwork as “expressionless and strangely vicious.” It’s a horrifying turn of events. Can you talk about pushing your protagonist this close to the edge of villainy?

Meg: Pain can lead us to some terrible places. In Piddy’s case, she tries on the Yaqui costume, so to speak, as a way to explore and protect herself. If you’re scary and vicious, who will bother you? I took her to that edge because as a writer you always make sure the stakes are very high for your character. I was after a problem that threatened her very sense of who she was, a problem so tangled that an easy answer was hard for her – and for the reader – to solve.

Latin@s in Kid Lit: Piddy’s best friend, Mitzi, has moved, too. She’s blossoming in the paradise of the suburbs and is mostly unavailable to Piddy. She reminds us of what Piddy’s life used to be. What else does sweet Mitzi contribute? What do apprentice writers need to know about using secondary characters for the benefit of the story’s arc?

Meg: Yes, Mitzi definitely shows us the “old” Piddy. She wasn’t in my first draft except in that sentence that refers to Piddy’s friend moving away. But as I worked on the manuscript, I built up scenes to show the old Piddy and also to keep a path open for the way back. I also liked how she worked as yet another version of a normal Latina girl: brainy, scientific, sports-impaired, middle class.

Photo credit: Petite Shards Productions

Photo credit: Petite Shards Productions

Latin@s in Kid Lit: Meg, mil gracias! We celebrate your achievements in Latin@ kid lit and look forward to your next book!

To learn more about Meg’s work, the latest on her author appearances and much more of interest to readers and writers, please visit and follow her blog.