Q&A with NYTimes Bestselling Author Anna Banks About JOYRIDE


22718685By Cindy L. Rodriguez

The latest novel by Anna Banks, the New York Times Bestselling Author of the The Syrena Legacy series: OF POSEIDON (2012) OF TRITON (2013) OF NEPTUNE (2014), releases today. JOYRIDE, a contemporary with a Mexican-American main character, is a change for Banks, but you’ll see that she was ready to cleanse her fantasy palette and that the seeds for this particular story were planted years ago.

First, here is a description of the book:

A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

CINDY: This is a genre shift for you after the very successful Syrena Legacy Trilogy. What sparked you to shift gears and write contemporary fiction?

ANNA: Before we begin, I just want to say it is my pleasure and an honor to be here today. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I enjoy your website and am very supportive of its goals and focuses.

JOYRIDE was sort of a palette cleanser between fantasy worlds. I was ready to write a standalone for once, and Carly’s story kept haunting me at night. To be honest, writing something in the real world was more of a challenge because I had stricter boundaries to abide by, and my characters had only their natural abilities to use to get them out of situations. But it was also a pleasure to have those boundaries, because writing characters who had to use their natural resources, to me, made them stronger and more realistic.

CINDY: And while we’re talking genre, JOYRIDE really is a mix of realistic, romance, and thriller. Was this intentional while you were plotting? Did you want to have some twists that are not always typical with a straight contemporary, or is that just where the story went as you were planning?

ANNA: While I was writing JOYRIDE, I didn’t realize I was writing so many twists in it. To me, it seemed like the natural way things would have to go. Of course, I’ve never written contemporary before (and if I’m being honest I don’t read much of it either), so I wasn’t aware there were sort of “rules” to writing a straight contemporary. Now I realize I’ve written this steroidal hybrid, and I hope contemporary readers can move past that and embrace it. Pretty please? :.)

CINDY: Let’s talk about craft for a bit next. You have a dual narrative, but you use a first-person point of view for Carly and a close third-person for Arden. As both a reader and writer, I’m always curious about these kinds of decisions. Why did you decide on this format instead of a dual first-person?

ANNA: This is me recognizing a weakness I have in writing. I can write a strong female heroine in first person, but for the hero, I need to take a step back and put some distance between myself and him, to distinguish my voice from his voice. I don’t want readers as familiar with my hero and his most inner feelings and thoughts in the way writing in first person would give them access to. In fact, I considered writing JOYRIDE from only Carly’s perspective, but Arden was just too funny to put behind stage.

CINDY: The topic of immigration and deportation are complex, often contentious, social and political issues. What made you want to write about the life of a Mexican-American girl whose parents were deported? What kind of research did you have to do? Was it difficult to write outside of your cultural experience?

ANNA: Living in the Florida panhandle, I live and work and play among many Mexican immigrants—both documented and undocumented. When I was a teenager in particular, I worked at a restaurant where there were some undocumented immigrants, and as we became friends, they told me their stories. They told me their anxiety about being deported, about missing their family, about the fear of being separated from the family they’ve established in the United States. It really left an impression on me. As a teen, I wondered what I would do if my parents were deported, if I was here all alone. I guess Carly was planted in my head all those years ago and I didn’t even know it.

I didn’t have much research to do, because I learned it first hand from my friends and coworkers. That you didn’t want to get pulled over because instead of a speeding ticket, you’d get deported. That you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself. That you sent money home as often as you could. That there were people they called coyotes who helped them cross the border and desert, who demanded large sums of money to help them get set up in the United States. That when you cross the border, you cross with what you can carry, and that’s it.

I’m white, and so writing outside my own cultural experience was terrifying. I wanted to do it respectfully and realistically, because I deeply respect the work ethic and the family values of immigrants, and I wanted to share their plight with the world. But sometimes in writing it, I did wonder if it was my place to do so. But I had a story to tell, and I felt it was an important one, so I kept going.

CINDY: Do you plan to write more contemporary YA? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

ANNA: Right now I’m working on an Egyptian based fantasy called NEMESIS and its sequel, ALLY. It’s about a princess who possesses the power to create energy who escapes her father, who wishes to weaponzie it, only to be captured by an enemy kingdom where she discovers her powers could be used to fight a terrible plague.

I write when I have a story to tell, and usually my muse takes me across a lot of different genres. As for writing contemporary again—sure, why not? But I have to have a story to tell. If I find myself wanting to add time travel or wormholes in the contemporary, I’d better just set it aside. :.)

Book Review: Super Cilantro Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera


1016493By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: What happens when a small girl suddenly starts turning green, as green as a cilantro leaf, and grows to be fifty feet tall? She becomes Super Cilantro Girl, and can overcome all obstacles, that’s what! Esmeralda Sinfronteras is the winning super-hero in this effervescent tale about a child who flies huge distances and scales tall walls in order to rescue her mom. Award-winning writer Juan Felipe Herrera taps into the wellsprings of his imagination to address and transform the concerns many first-generation children have about national borders and immigrant status. Honorio Robledo Tapia has created brilliant images and landscapes that will delight all children.

MY TWO CENTS: Upon learning that her mother has been detained at the border, Esmeralda Sinfronteras transforms into a superhero to rescue her mother from ICE. She uses the power of cilantro to grow taller than a house, with hair longer than a bus, and skin so green it could have only come from cilantro. Super Cilantro Girl flies to the border, climbs the dark and dreary detention center to her mother’s window, and simply picks her up and puts her in her pocket and they fly home.  The ICE agents are so mesmerized by the power of cilantro that they do not notice or prevent Super Cilantro Girl from rescuing her mother.  The next morning, Esmeralda makes a huge discovery about her and her mother.

Author Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrator Honorario Robledo Tapia have created a magnificent children’s book about the transformative power of imagination. Esmeralda is emblematic of the many children who have been separated from their families due to unjust and xenophobic immigration laws. Herrera and Tapia go beyond common debates about immigration to give a face and a voice to the children impacted. Esmeralda gains the power and courage she needs to confront ICE from the environment around her. Her grandmother and the land serve as vessels for alternative knowledge that guide Esmeralda through her journey. Furthermore, Herrera’s and Tapia’s reclamation of the color green juxtaposes Esmeralda’s power with the cultural and social power of the “green card.”  In Esmeralda’s imagination, her power is much stronger than anything ICE or a green card could ever have.

There are several ways to read race, gender, and class into this story in order to come up with a thorough analysis of how immigration impacts Latina/o children and their families. What I appreciate most about Herrera’s children’s book is that hope and empowerment are central to the narrative. Giving Esmeralda superpowers reveals the possibility for change that manifests from a child’s imagination. Super Cilantro Girl encourages children to dream, hope, and fight for their rights even if it means going against an entire state apparatus like ICE.

TEACHING TIPS: Super Cilantro Girl can be taught thematically by focusing on issues of (im)migration.  The story’s emphasis on alternative healing methods is resonant of Gloria Anzaldua’s Prietita and the Ghost Woman and Friends from the Other Side. All three texts pay particular attention to holistic healing methods that include using nature as a resource. This is especially important because it allows the children protagonists to gain empowerment from their environments—much in the same way that Esmeralda finds power in cilantro.

Focusing on the superhero theme presents an opportunity to connect art activities with reading. Yuyi Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World prompted the creation of Niño masks to accompany the story—something similar can be done with Herrera’s Super Cilantro Girl.  The relationship between social justice and superheroes in this story can be addressed by asking students to draw and imagine their own superhero. Students can imagine what a superhero in or from their community might look like or students can find inspiration from their community to create a superhero. Xavier Garza’s Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid is another excellent example of a child protagonist using his culture and community to be heroic.

There are several Latino kid’s books that focus on lucha libre that will pair wonderfully with Super Cilantro Girl. Lucha libre connects superhero-like characters with fantasy and reality and that can generate a powerful conversation about superheroes in our communities and culture as well as how children and youth can be their own heroes. Morales’s Niño Wrestles the World and Xavier Garza’s Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask are a few examples that tell stories about children and luchadores.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Super Cilantro Girl,  visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.orggoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.


headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Book Review: Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Gaby Lost and FoundDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: When Gaby Ramirez Howard starts volunteering at the local animal shelter, she takes special pride in writing adoption advertisements. Her flyers help the dogs and cats there find their forever homes: places where they’ll be loved and cared for, no matter what.

Gaby is in need of a forever home herself. Her mother has recently been deported to Honduras and Gaby doesn’t know where to turn. Meanwhile, Gaby’s favorite shelter cat, Feather, needs a new place to live. Gaby would love to adopt her–but if Gaby doesn’t have a place that feels like home to her, how can she help Feather?

MY TWO CENTS: I’m a sucker for stray animals and have more than once scooped up a roaming dog and delivered him to a non-kill animal shelter. So, Angela Cervantes had me from Chapter 1, which places the protagonist Gaby up a tree trying to rescue a cat. From this point on, Cervantes presents Gaby’s story with a great mix of heart-wrenching moments and humor. Some parts of the book are light and soooo middle school–I know; I teach in one–while other parts deal with the more serious issue of deportation and the effects on children when a parent is gone.

Since her mother has been deported to Honduras, Gaby must live with her father, who is ill-equipped to raise a sixth-grade girl. Gaby would much rather live with her best friend Alma and her family. Better yet would be if her mom were able to come back home, but this trip is expensive and dangerous.

Cervantes parallels Gaby’s situation with the sixth-grade class community project at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter. Both the animals and Gaby have less than ideal living arrangements are in need of new permanent homes. During the community service project, Gaby has the special job of writing descriptions of the animals on fliers that will be displayed around town and on the shelter’s website.

Eventually, Gaby writes a flier for herself. In part it reads:

Gaby Ramirez Howard: …Three months ago, my mom was deported, and now I live with my father, who looks at me like I’m just another job he wants to quit. I’m seeking a home where I can invite my best friend over and have a warm breakfast a couple times a week. Waffles and scrambled eggs are my favorite!

GAH! My heart, Angela Cervantes!!

In between the chapters that caused me to clutch my heart and give my daughter random hugs, I literally laughed out loud. Scenes with the four friends–Gaby, Alma, Enrique, and Marcos–are hysterical. In one, Alma, who is trying to train a spirited shelter dog named Spike, tests the commands on the boys. “Back! Down! Sit and stay!” In another scene, three firefighters arrive at the shelter to adopt a dog for the firehouse. Alma says to the other girls, “Let’s go see what’s smoking,” and then the girls nickname each of the cute firefighters: Hottie, Smokey, and Sizzler. Very funny.

If you are a middle school teacher, librarian, or parent, you should have a copy of this book on your shelf. To make it easy for you, Angela Cervantes is giving away a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found, along with a poster and T-shirt. Click on the Rafflecopter link here to enter.

TEACHING TIPS: Gaby, Lost and Found could be used in a Language Arts or social studies classroom. In Language Arts, students could track the plot and make predictions along the way about how Gaby’s situation will be resolved. Students could also be creative and write “fliers” for any number of people or things: their siblings, pets, themselves. A social studies could easily use the novel in a unit about the history of immigration in the United States. Ideally, after reading non-fiction texts, students could read a novel-length book–either fiction or narrative nonfiction–that centers on immigration. In addition to Gaby, Lost and Found, teachers could offer books about people from other countries so that students could compare/contrast immigrant experiences.


Angela Cervantes

AUTHORAngela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas, with most of her childhood spent in Topeka in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Angela has a degree in English and an MBA, and she is the co-founder of Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group that has developed into the Latino Writers Collective. In 2005, her short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In  2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys.” In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine.

Gaby, Lost and Found is her first novel.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Gaby, Lost and Found visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and Scholastic.

Author Angela Cervantes On Publishing & Her Animal-Loving Latina Protagonist

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Today, we are thrilled to have a Q&A with author Angela Cervantes, who talks about her debut novel, Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic), her advice for pre-published writers, and a little about how she crafted a wonderful middle grade novel that’s both funny and heartbreaking. Angela is also super generous and is offering a signed book, a poster, and a T-shirt to one lucky winner. Click on the Rafflecopter link here or at the end of the post to enter!

Gaby Lost and FoundCR: Since this is your debut novel, can you tell us about your publishing journey. Were there any things you did in particular that, in hindsight, you think were particularly helpful as you pursued an agent and book deal? What advice would you give to pre-published writers?

AC: My middle grade novel, Gaby, Lost and Found has been out almost 10 months now, and I’m still learning things about myself and the publishing journey. In the beginning, when I was a simple wanna-be-Kid Lit author with a manuscript, the idea of facing the publishing industry was scary.If you had met me then, I would have told you that I’d rather pick up a hitchhiker with face tattoos than have to face the world of slush piles and soul-less rejection letters.

Eventually, I realized that if I loved my book enough, I had to be willing to take on rejection. After all, the worst things they can do to you is ignore you completely or reject your work. Tough, but big deal. Every writer in the history of the written world has received a rejection or been passed up at some point, right? If they rejected my work, I was in good company.

I could go on and on with advice for pre-published writers. Never pick up hitchhikers with face tattoos! Really, I’ve learned so much. First, I would start with the very basic: If you’re going to go the traditional publishing route, like I did, then you must finish that manuscript. You have to show the agent something fast when they ask for a partial or full manuscript. My second advice is to take that completed manuscript to a writing critique group. Feedback is crucial. I belong to a critique group called the Firehouse Five (although we are six now) and we meet monthly to provide critique to each other’s work. It’s priceless. My final advice, take your writing-group-critiqued and completed manuscript to a local writers’ conference and sign up for a pitch or first pages sessions with an agent. I met my agent through a writer’s conference. She liked my pitch, but made it very clear there was plenty of work to be done on my manuscript before she’d offer representation. I did the work and I was signed. With her guidance, I made more revisions and it was sent off for submission. Soon, the first rejection arrived. It didn’t kill me. A week or so later, I received an offer for my first novel. Yay!

Angela C and brother

From her website: Angela, age 10, with her brother Enrique and their dogs, which were the inspiration for Spike in the novel.

CR: I love how you mixed Gaby’s story with the animals’ stories, how they were both in new situations and looking for new homes. How did you get the idea to address the subject of immigration for a MG audience, using homeless animals as a link to Gaby’s situation?

Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really didn’t start with the idea to address the subject of immigration. I’m character-driven in my writing so I started with just Gaby, a funny, smart, and brave girl who is also a serious animal lover like her mom. I think if I had started out subject-driven with the intention to write a book on the issue of immigration, it would have been a much different novel. It would have come across as more lecturing and I don’t like to lecture or be on the receiving end of a lecture. No thank you. And kids don’t want to be lectured to either. At school visits, kids always ask me about deportation, but more in the context of why or how this happened to Gaby. They always tell me that they want Gaby and her mom to be together. They’re invested in Gaby’s happiness. It’s precious.

CR: Even though Gaby is dealing with the serious issue of her mother being away, she is also a “typical” MG girl, laughing and doing silly things with her male and female friends. Was this a conscious decision on your part, to show a range of emotions and not have it be an “issue” book or overly depressing?

AC: It’s funny that you ask that because my original drafts were even more depressing! I pulled a lot out during the revision process because the story was going in all sorts of directions. What got me back on track was again focusing on Gaby and who she was and not what she was going through. Gaby is an eleven year old girl. She loves animals. She loves glitter. She can climb trees and beat the boys at a water balloon fight. Would Gaby be defeated by bullying at school, the loss of her mom, the neglect of her father, and poverty? Or would this young girl rise up, even if she responds with some missteps, and show us what she’s made of? For me that was the only conscious decision on my part in writing this novel. I had to be true to Gaby and not define her by what she was going through, but show where she was going.

CR: Are you an animal lover? Did you have to do any particular research about animal shelters or spend time at one to capture what happens there?

AC: Besides my many years of experience as an animal lover and pet owner, I did visit several local animal shelters for information and inspiration. At the animal shelters, I asked tons of questions, held a lot of cats, wrote a lot of notes and pet a lot of dogs for this book. Why can’t all research be that much fun?

CR: What are you working on now? Can you share what’s next for you?

AC: Sure! I’ve completed my second middle-grade novel and I am now in the throes of revision. Fun stuff! Wish me luck.

Angela Cervantes

Angela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas, with most of her childhood spent in Topeka in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Angela has a degree in English and an MBA, and she is the co-founder of Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group that has developed into the Latino Writers Collective. In 2005, her short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In  2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys.” In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine.

Gaby, Lost and Found is her first novel.

Click HERE to enter the giveaway. One winner will receive a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found, a poster, and a T-shirt. You can enter for free once each day. A winner will be chosen on Saturday, 5/24/14. Good luck!!