Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 5: Angela Cervantes


By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the fifth 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 Angela Cervantes.

Her latest middle grade novel, Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring releases tomorrow!! Go get this book with the beautiful cover and awesome premise. Here’s a little more about it:

A room locked for fifty years.
A valuable peacock ring.
A mysterious brother-sister duo.
Paloma Marquez is traveling to Mexico City, birthplace of her deceased father, for the very first time. She’s hoping that spending time in Mexico will help her unlock memories of the too-brief time they spent together.
While in Mexico, Paloma meets Lizzie and Gael, who present her with an irresistible challenge: The siblings want her to help them find a valuable ring that once belonged to beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Finding the ring means a big reward — and the thanks of all Mexico. What better way to honor her father than returning a priceless piece of jewelry that once belonged to his favorite artist. But the brother and sister have a secret. Do they really want to return the ring, or are they after something else entirely?

And now more about Angela: She is the beloved and award-winning author of several middle grade fiction novels. Her first novel, Gaby, Lost and Found, was named Best Youth Chapter book by the International Latino Book Awards and a Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of 2014. Angela’s second middle grade novel, Allie, First At Last, received a starred-review from Kirkus and was a finalist for Florida’s Sunshine State Young Readers Award. Angela’s next middle-grade novel is the junior novelization of Disney Pixar’s animated film, Coco, was released in October 2017. Angela’s fourth novel, Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, will be released by Scholastic on March 27, 2018.

Angela Cervantes

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

A. My love for books inspired me to be a writer. Books were my first friends, and I relied on them to get me through some tough times, like my parents’ divorce, the loss of my abuelos, and issues around poverty. At an early age, I decided that I wanted to tell stories about girls like me. There’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to be in my life.

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

A. It was my agent, Adriana Domínguez at Full Circle Literary who diagnosed me with a promising voice for middle grade fiction. Once I let that soak in, I knew she was right. I dived head-first, and I’m so happy I did, because I love middle grade novels and writing for middle grade students.

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

A. How much time do you have? There are so many! Growing up, I was obsessed with the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis. They are still my all-time favorite books. More recently, I’m a big fan of Rita Williams-Garcia. Her books, One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven are amazing. Other faves that I’ve read recently include Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan; The Smoking Mirror (Book One) by David Bowles; Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson and The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez. I also love, love, love Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe García McCall.

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

A. Don’t throw away your stories. They’re not stupid. Someday, you’ll wish you could read them again. 🙂

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because young people need a safe place to let their dreams, curiosities and imagination play.





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, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books (2015). She will have an essay in Life Inside My Mind, which releases 4/10/2018 with Simon Pulse. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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,,,,, 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!!