“A poet, América knows, belongs everywhere”: Healing & Latin@ Children’s Literature

By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

As a child what I desired most was to be rescued from the violence I experienced at home. I was undocumented and domestic violence was far too common. While I now know that these are real experiences for many Latino homes, these were secrets that I walked around with for fear that my family would be separated if I said anything. Retrospectively, what I probably needed, aside from the violence to stop, was to understand why the violence was happening in the first place. There was nothing or no one around to explain my feelings of anxiety, fear, and/or self-hate around the violence I witnessed and then internalized. At the time, shows like “Boy Meets World,” “Saved by the Bell,” and “Full House” only reaffirmed for me that my family was different, did not belong, or that there was something wrong us. I was reading a lot, too, but I only got more and more frustrated that the books I read did not speak to my reality. I was obsessed with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona because she was everything I wanted to be—free, adventurous, and happy. And while characters like Ramona fueled my imagination they explained nothing about the violence I endured.

My investment in Latina/o children’s and young adult literature stems from my desire to explain why violence is more prevalent in certain communities than it is in others. But it is also driven by what I have seen is the genre’s potential to provide paths toward healing for Latina/o children and young adults. Recent conversations about the need for diversity in children’s literature have discussed at length the impact that being or not being represented in books can have on a child’s self-esteem and where they see themselves positioned in society. These conversations have made visible the discrimination within publishing industries and the ways that children of color stand to lose the most. Diversity is important to my project simply because stories about children of color can save their lives.

696056I was first introduced to Luis J. Rodriguez’s América is Her Name as a graduate student and it was the first children’s book I read with a Latina protagonist. I was a taken aback that a kid’s book actually talked about immigration and included scenes of violence. Mainstream children’s literature is no stranger to violence, gruesomeness, monsters, and the like; however, it is out of the ordinary to see a story about immigration, gang violence, and abuse at home that does not depend on stereotypes or is read as ethnography. América Soliz, the protagonist, is a recent immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico to Pilsen, Illinois— one of Chicago’s predominantly Mexican communities— who struggles to find a voice in a place that seeks to silence her. Throughout the text, the reader is privy to the discrimination she faces in the classroom, the violence in her community, and the patriarchal oppression in her home. What I found most powerful about the book was that América is given a tool to challenge the oppressions around her. Poetry becomes her outlet, and it allows her to process the violence she witnesses and experiences. In this way, the violence does not overwhelm her, but instead, she is able to find strength despite it. Rodriguez’s book opened a new world of children’s books for me, and it allowed me to see this genre as having the potential to create social change.

One of the biggest personal challenges that América faces is feeling like she does not belong. As an undocumented student in an ESL classroom, her fear is reaffirmed by her teachers:

Yesterday as [América] passed Miss Gable and Miss Williams in the hallway, she heard Miss Gable whisper, “She’s an illegal.” How can that be—how can anyone be illegal! She is Mixteco, an ancient tribe that was here before the Spanish, before the blue-eyed, even before this government that now calls her “illegal.” How can a girl called América not belong in America? (n.p)

América’s genuine question signals a history of systemic oppression demarcating who gets to belong and who is excluded from the American imaginary. By tracing her indigenous roots, América seeks to challenge who can lay claim to the land her teachers wish to erase her from. Upon first reading Rodríguez’s book, I found América’s question rather painful. Even though América is a child, her teachers have no qualms about criminalizing and excluding her. At nine years old, there is very little that América can do to challenge her teachers’ ignorance and discrimination; however, the tension in the classroom shifts when Mr. Aponte, a Puerto Rican poet, visits America’s class. Mr. Aponte encourages the class to write poetry about what they know and in whatever language they feel comfortable. América writes about Oaxaca and shares her poetry with her family. Eventually, her mother and younger siblings take part in writing. At the end of the book, Ms. Gable gives América a high mark on one of her poems, which brings great joy to América and her family.

While América remains undocumented at the end of the story, she finds that her poetry gives her a sense of belonging that she did not feel at the beginning. She says: “A real poet. That sounds good to the Mixteca girl, who some people say doesn’t belong here. A poet, América knows, belongs everywhere” (n.p.). Writing has given America a way to challenge and transform the oppressions around her. Her poetry serves as a voice and power that she lacked and has since shared with her family. When I teach this book, I am very careful about talking about the conclusion as the “happy ending.” Instead, I encourage my students to read this moment as part of América’s healing process. Leaving the book with the assumption that everything works out for América is a disservice to the book and those like it. The fears and perils of immigration do not go away because América learned to write poetry. Instead, what she has learned is a set of skills that will help her express how immigration impacts her identity and will help her challenge a system that seeks to exclude her. Reading the ending as a moment in a much larger healing process instead of a resolution further allows me to demonstrate how Latina/o kids lit can transform the lives of Latina/o children and young adults.

If a book like América is Her Name had been available to me as a child, I can imagine it having made a real difference. Feeling excluded or not belonging is a very common theme within traditional coming-of-age stories. However, those feelings become rationalized as “growing pains” or generalized as “everyone feels left out,” or they become a lesson on “not everyone is going to like you.” These motifs often learned in mainstream coming of age stories and in common (mis)understandings of American childhood do not capture América’s experience. América is excluded for specific political and historical reasons. If she were a real child, she will probably be excluded her entire life because she is an (im)migrant. Even if she were to gain legal citizenship, someone will someday ask her “where are you from?” and assume that she does not belong. When I talk about Latina/o children’s books as having the potential to heal, I mean it in reference to these specific moments of exclusion and violence that unfortunately are a reality for Latina/o children. How do we teach our children to answer questions like “where are you from?” or to respond to comments like “you don’t look American”? How do we make them feel like they belong when the world around them may be telling them otherwise? Latina/o children’s literature does not have all of the answers but it is creating conversations on the topics that still require much attention.

Other Latina/o children’s books with immigration as a theme:

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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: Yes! We Are Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

Yes We Are LatinosDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Juanita lives in New York and is Mexican. Felipe lives in Chicago and is Panamanian, Venezuelan, and black. Michiko lives in Los Angeles and is Peruvian and Japanese. Each of them is also Latino.

Thirteen young Latinos and Latinas living in America are introduced in this book celebrating the rich diversity of the Latino and Latina experience in the United States. Free-verse fictional narratives from the perspective of each youth provide specific stories and circumstances for the reader to better understand the Latino people’s quest for identity. Each profile is followed by nonfiction prose that further clarifies the character’s background and history, touching upon important events in the history of the Latino American people, such as the Spanish Civil War, immigration to the US, and the internment of Latinos with Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy’s informational yet heartwarming text provides a resource for young Latino readers to see themselves, while also encouraging non-Latino children to understand the breadth and depth of the contributions made by Latinos in the US. Caldecott Medalist David Diaz’s hand-cut illustrations are bold and striking, perfectly complementing the vibrant stories in the book.

Yes! We Are Latinos stands alone in its presentation of the broad spectrum of Latino culture and will appeal to readers of fiction and nonfiction.

MY TWO CENTS:  Yes! We are Latinos belongs on every essential reading list of Latino children’s literature, as is often true of books co-authored by the acclaimed duo of Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy. No single work can cover every expression of Latino life in the United States, yet this book for middle-grade readers provides a generous glimpse of historical, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic aspects of the community. The authors’ approach pairs thirteen character vignettes, written as monologues in free verse, with matching expository sections of historical and cultural information. Collectively, the alternating sections deliver vivid, easily digestible insights into what is meant by Latino. There is no single Latino identity, the characters seem to say, and each of us is worthy of your attention.

The authors’ commitment to showing a wide representation of Latino life comes through in the vignettes. The featured characters reflect a generous range of ethnic and regional groups, some of which speak no Spanish, mirroring the fact that many Latinos come from bicultural and transnational families. In one vignette, we meet Susana, a Sephardic girl who lives in San Francisco. In another, we’re introduced to Dominican-born Santiago, who now calls Detroit home.

Sometimes young Latin@s would love nothing better than to break away from traditions they consider too confining. The story of Gladys, a Puerto Rican living in Philadelphia, is the best example of this. She watches the preparations for her sister’s quinceañera, expecting that before long her mother will want to start planning Gladys’s “quinces.” But Gladys’s dreams are pulling her in another direction, toward college.

Julio is from a farm migrant family originating in Teotitlán del Valle, a village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Like other members of his original indigenous community, Julio speaks Zapotec. When his family moves to Stockton, California, he must navigate two foreign languages, English and Spanish, in order to function in a primarily Spanish-speaking Chicano community, within a mainstream American setting. He’s adjusting to life in the new country, but still looks back on his homeland with longing and pride, recalling the beautiful and prized tapestries that Teotitlán’s weaving looms are known for.

In one pair of monologues, two Latinas with Asian backgrounds form a friendship. Lili is a Guatemalan of Chinese descent, whereas Mikito’s heritage is Japanese and Peruvian. The families of both girls passed through multiple immigration journeys. In the educational follow-up, we learn about waves of Asian immigrants that landed on the shores of South and Central American countries and the descendants of these immigrants who eventually drifted northward. The section on Japanese Latinos reveals a troubling detail of American history: Wartime internment camps built to contain Japanese Americans also held Japanese families who were deported at the urging of the United States by the Latin American countries where they resided. In these internment camps, Japanese Latinos often found themselves socially isolated, since they spoke only Spanish and few others in the camp could communicate with them.

The factual sections that follow the monologues highlight each character’s nation of origin. In Santiago’s case, it’s the Dominican Republic. A brief review of the island-nation’s history includes important facts about the Trujillo dictatorship, although the achievements of outstanding Dominicans receive greater attention. These include acclaimed novelists Julia Alvarez and Junot Díaz, haute-couture fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, and professional baseball players David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

Spot illustrations by Caldecott medalist and Pura Belpré winner David Díaz add a striking, black-and-white counterpoint to the text. His signature style, evident in the dozens of children’s books that he has illustrated, often features silhouetted figures in profile, with elongated, almond-shaped eyes that suggest indigenous art from the Americas, tastefully adapted for contemporary young readers.

Outmoded characterizations of Latino life give everyone the same background, the same history, the same traditions and tastes. This book’s emphasis counteracts generalizations and brings forward Latinos’ complexity. In each vignette, the authors touch on multiple elements, including the scattered geographic settings where the characters live, the varied occupations their parents work in, and the traditions their families celebrate. Yes! We Are Latinos offers an important and long overdue contribution to children’s literature.

TEACHING TIPSYes! We Are Latinos is the work of educators and seems custom-made for later elementary and middle school classrooms. The poetic narratives bring life to the informational sections, which in turn invite further exploration of the countries and histories they feature. Teachers may want to assign students paired sections to expand upon through written reports or artistic responses. For example, students could design posters depicting specific Latino cultures. Another idea is to have students compose poetic vignettes of imaginary characters reflecting geographic regions not covered in the book.

ESL instructors are likely to appreciate the book’s short, digestible sections, which contain not only interesting stories, but also broad vocabulary.

Older readers may want to dive into Cristina Henriquez’s recent novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, reviewed here by Ashley Hope Pérez.

For additional resources:

Alma Flor AdaALMA FLOR ADA

A native of Cuba, Alma Flor Ada is an award-winning author, poet, storyteller and scholar of literature. She has published more than 200 books for children, many of them in partnership with Isabel Campoy.

In this interview, Alma Flor Ada discusses the development of Yes! We Are Latinos and other topics, including poetry and bilingualism.

 

Isabel CampoyISABEL CAMPOY

Isabel Campoy is a Spanish storyteller, poet, playwright, songwriter and educator in literacy and language acquisition. She is fluent in multiple languages and her work in the field of publishing includes translation. She is an award-winning author and a frequent writing partner of Alma Flor Ada.

 

 

Video visits with the authors:

Alma Flor on literacy, stories, family connections, teaching, and writing books:

Isabel discusses stories and recites lines in Spanish:

Isabel talks about her life and work:

 

 

 

Book Review: Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario

By Lila Quintero Weaver

Enrique's JourneyPUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, this astonishing story puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States. Now a beloved classic, this page-turner about the power of family is a popular text in classrooms and a touchstone for communities across the country to engage in meaningful discussions about this essential American subject.

Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers.

MY TWO CENTS: The best creative non-fiction takes you straight down into the messy, contradictory, gut-wrenching heart of a subject, and awakens your appreciation for its complexity. By every measure, Enrique’s Journey is such a book. It’s the riveting epic of a Honduran teenager driven to escape intolerable conditions and fueled by the hope of crossing the border into the United States. The original version was published in 2007 as adult nonfiction. This edition, adapted for readers as young as the seventh grade, was released in 2013. It also updates the story. (Young-reader adaptations are a growing trend in nonfiction publishing.)

As Enrique launches his eighth attempt to reach the United States by means of train hopping, the risks are clearer than ever to him: death, dismemberment, robbery, extortion, and sexual victimization. But the way he sees it, staying in Honduras presents its own bleak and terrifying future. Gangs and violence are rampant, poverty is entrenched, and opportunities for work and self-betterment are virtually nonexistent. Worst of all, Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, has been absent from his life for an achingly long time. A single mother with no dependable means of support, she left for the United States when Enrique was five, entrusting her two children into the care of relatives. Enrique’s sister has weathered the eleven-year separation reasonably well, but it takes a heavy toll on the young boy. During his teen years in Honduras, he spirals down into serious drug use and antisocial behavior. As his life grows ever more troubled, Enrique imagines that reuniting with his mother will repair the hole in his heart.

In this vivid and comprehensive account, Sonia Nazario retraces Enrique’s eighth attempt, following his 1,800-mile route through the heart of Mexico, an odyssey lasting 47 days. She expands the picture to cover conditions facing others on a similar migratory path. The chapters are embedded with fascinating micro stories of places and people who assist, deter, or exploit the thousands of Central Americans flowing northward through Mexico on train roofs and other modes of transportation. The narrative captures the flavor of distinct geographic zones. The most notorious stretch is Chiapas, in extreme southern Mexico. Chiapas is dense with gangs, bandits, immigration patrols, and unsympathetic residents who look down on the migrants as the “stinking undocumented.” In this region, migrants are easy targets of crime, since as a rule, they’re too fearful to report it, and in many cases, the police collude with the criminals. At one point, gang members chase Enrique along the top of a moving train. After they catch and beat him, he jumps off the train and sustains a serious injury.

Migrants like Enrique also encounter good-hearted people, who are typically quite poor themselves. Some of them make it a regular practice to toss food and water to migrants clinging to the roofs of passing trains. Some even open their homes to strangers with nowhere to shelter between train departures. There are agencies and churches that offer assistance, including a few that give the severely injured a place to heal. These accounts of compassion touched me to the core. I was also moved by the camaraderie that develops among train riders, who often sacrificially share with strangers whatever small comfort they can—blankets, food, water. Although they pool resources, exchange information, and organize lookout duty so others can sleep, individual migrants often find themselves in terrifying circumstances beyond the reach of kind, but equally vulnerable, strangers.

When Enrique arrives at the border with Texas, he’s finally able to call his mother, yet his ordeal is far from over. After many complications and long delays, Enrique makes a perilous crossing. There is no fairy-tale reunion. His anger over the heartbreaking separation spills out in words and self-destructive actions. Gradually, things get better as Enrique matures, finds work, and begins to seek legal status.

For kids who like dystopian stories, here’s a true-to-life dystopia to check against those from fantasy. This book is not light reading, nor is it meant to be. Most young readers will endure the gritty parts if only to find out what happens to Enrique, who, like teens everywhere, holds a mix of dreams and demons. Some readers may have a hard time getting past the controversies that swirl around undocumented immigrants, but the slant of this book is not toward proposing policy or resolving debates. By concentrating on the story of one boy from a broken society—a boy whose resilience and courage seem at times superhuman in the face of nearly insurmountable odds—Sonia Nazario brings deep human dimension to a thorny issue of our times.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: In the official website for Enrique’s Journey, under the tab Educator Resources, teachers can locate extensive lesson plans and activities across the disciplines, along with a list of recommended movies and documentaries. The publisher has also released a Spanish edition, La Travesía de Enrique, and the site includes lessons geared toward students of Spanish.

Sonia Nazario has been a frequent guest on television and radio shows, including On Point, with Tom Ashbrook. Her views were featured in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Enrique’s Journey is being used as a text across America. This report focuses on the book’s impact in college classrooms.

Which Way Home is one of the movies on the publisher’s recommended list. Here is a radio piece about it.

In 2014 the number of unaccompanied children and youth attempting to cross our southern border reached crisis proportions, demonstrating the need to understand what drives Enrique and thousands more like him to make the journey.

Sonia NazarioSONIA NAZARIO is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years in the industry. Enrique’s Journey is her first book-length project. Her official bio can be read here.

 

Guest Post: Self-Publishing Often the Only Recourse for Writers of Color

By Zetta Elliott 

“I am an immigrant.” When I visit schools, I always start my presentation with these words. Next, I ask the students to guess my country of origin. Their answers are often predictable and sometimes surprising: the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico—Italy! When I tell them that I don’t speak Spanish but I do speak a little French, they call out a different list of countries until someone gets it right: Canada.

I open with my immigrant status in part because I once had a Latina approach me at the end of a presentation in Brooklyn and say, “I hate that word.” I didn’t ask about her status, but it was clear that she felt there was something shameful about being an immigrant. So I announce my own status with pride and use my presentation to demonstrate how my early years in Canada helped to shape the writer I became after I migrated to the US twenty years ago.

Immigration is a charged issue here, and though Canadians aren’t generally mentioned in the national debate, there’s still a pretty good chance I could run into trouble in Arizona. As a mixed-race woman of African descent, I often get read as Latina. Here, in New York City, I walk with my driver’s license, my passport, and my green card at all times because my Afro-Caribbean father taught me that some protections are reserved for citizens only (and only those citizens who aren’t brown like me). My father also urged me not to get involved in social justice movements, but I chose to disregard that advice.

I’m a black feminist—or what my father would call “a troublemaker.” I began to write for children over a decade ago because I couldn’t find culturally relevant material to use with my black students. I came to the US to attend graduate school, and there I developed a deeper understanding of intersectionality and invisibility. The title of one black feminist anthology encapsulates this perfectly: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. Black women too often find themselves erased from discussions of racism and sexism, and when it comes to children’s literature, it can be just as easy for Afro-Latin@ kids to fall through the cracks.

Published by Skyscape, 2010

In 2000, I started a book club for the girls in my building. They were all black and we had been meeting for weeks before I realized that half the girls in the group were Panamanian. When they were with me, they spoke the black vernacular of their African American peers, but at home they spoke Spanish. When I wrote my YA time-travel novel A Wish After Midnight, I decided to give my protagonist a hybrid identity—Genna Colon’s mother is African American but her father is an Afro-Panamanian immigrant. When her father leaves the family to return to Panama, Genna yearns for a connection to her Latino heritage, but her jaded mother insists that race trumps ethnicity: “in America, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Black is black and you might as well get used to it.”

Such a simplistic understanding of race is not uncommon, but many scholars, activists, and artists advocate for an appreciation of multiplicity—recognizing and respecting the specificity of blackness instead of reducing it to a single generic identity. As a black feminist writer, one of my goals is to counter the marginalization of black children in literature by writing stories about kids who are silenced and/or rendered invisible. I try to avoid the all too familiar “types” that seem to show up over and over again. Hakeem Diallo is a gifted basketball player but he’s also Muslim, biracial (black and South Asian), and he dreams of becoming a chef one day. Dmitri is a bird-watching math whiz who loses his mother to cancer and so lives with his elderly white foster mother. Judah is a Rastafarian teen from Jamaica who dreams of moving to Africa.

munecas_front_covercorrected

Self-published through CreateSpace under Rosetta Press

In 2009, I went to see the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella Coraline. I had some issues with the representation of women in the film, and went home thinking of a way to write a story about black boys and dolls. The end result was Max Loves Muñecas!—one of four chapter books that I self-published in May. The story follows three homeless boys in 1950s Honduras who are taken in by a kind woman who makes dolls. I was inspired by my father’s childhood in the Caribbean. He was raised by his grandmother on the island of Nevis, and with no money to spare, my father learned to make his own toys out of recycled materials. They were poor but my great-grandmother made sure my father was always presentable and well behaved. Respectability meant a lot since the family had so little.

I knew I wanted my story to take place within the Caribbean basin, but I had limited knowledge of Latin America. I chose Honduras for the setting of Max Loves Muñecas! because the best doll maker I know is Afro-Honduran designer Cozbi Cabrera. Also my community college student Saira, a Garífuna woman, gave a presentation in class about the murder rate in Honduras—the highest in the world. This is due, in part, to street violence fueled by gang members who have been deported from the US. My story isn’t set in contemporary Honduras, but the book does challenge gender norms and exposes the tender, creative side so many boys are forced to conceal.

I often write about boys because I have seen firsthand how expressive, sensitive boys shut down as they mature and assume the hard, unfeeling posture of a young “thug.” Boys around the world are socialized in a way that leaves them unable to reveal their authentic selves and the consequences can be devastating—especially for girls, but for boys and men as well. As a feminist I realize that if I want to end violence against women and girls, I have to start paying more attention to boys.

These issues mean a lot to me, but social justice is not generally a priority for the children’s publishing industry. For the past five years I have written essays and given talks about the glaring inequality within publishing, and the issue has garnered more attention recently thanks to the social media campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Several editors rejected Max Loves Muñecas! (the last one wrote, “Zetta is such a lovely writer and I did enjoy this story – but I just don’t think we can find a big enough market for it”) and so the story sat on my hard drive for five years until I finally decided to self-publish it. I found a Honduran illustrator, Mauricio J. Flores, on Elance; he completed ten black and white illustrations and I used the print-on-demand site CreateSpace to publish the book.

The biggest challenge with self-publishing is finding a way to connect your books with readers. The Brown Bookshelf recently ran a series called “Making Our Own Market,” and I contributed a guest post in which I shared my core objectives:

  1. To generate culturally relevant stories that center children who have been marginalized, misrepresented, and/or rendered invisible in children’s literature.
  2. To produce affordable, high-quality books so that families—regardless of income—can build home libraries that will enhance their children’s academic success.
  3. To produce a steady supply of compelling, diverse stories that will nourish the imagination and excite even reluctant readers.

If these objectives resonate with you, I hope you’ll give my books a chance. The bias against self-published books is hard to overcome; major outlets refuse to review them, and only a few book bloggers are willing to give self-published books a chance (thank you, Latin@s in Kid Lit). Many are poorly written and shoddily produced, but when publishing gatekeepers exclude so many talented writers of color, self-publishing is often our only recourse. If we wait for the industry to change, another generation of children will grow up as I did—without the “books-as-mirrors” they need and deserve.

 

IMG_1198Born in Canada, Zetta Elliott earned her PhD in American Studies at NYU. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies, and her plays have been staged in New York and Chicago. Her essays have appeared in Horn Book MagazineSchool Library Journal, and The Huffington Post. Her picture book, Bird, won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Elliott’s young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight, has been called “a revelation…vivid, violent and impressive history.” Ship of Souls, published in February 2012, was included in Booklist’s Top Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Titles for Youth and was a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Book Award. Her third novel, The Deep, was published in November 2013. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

Other books by Zetta Elliot. For a full list, visit her blog.

Published by Lee and Low, 2008

Published by Skyscape, 2012

The Phoenix on Barkley Street

One of four kids books self-published, 2014

 

 

Book Review: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu

By Stephanie Guerra

18079898DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: M.T. is undocumented. But she keeps that a secret. As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But she hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

But it’s getting harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems

In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants

Told in M.T.’s darkly funny voice and full of nuanced characters, The Secret Side of Empty is a poignant but unsentimental look at what it’s like to live as an “illegal” immigrant, how we’re shaped by the secrets we keep, and how the human spirit ultimately always triumphs.

MY TWO CENTS: This is an ambitious book, taking on a range of powerful topics including immigration, domestic abuse, and suicide. Maria Andreu approaches her themes head on and unflinchingly. Her writing is raw and honest, and as a result, the book engages at a deeper level than the average YA.

Monserrat Thalia, or M. T., is a conflicted, loveable character and a convincing portrait of a teen struggling with the challenges of “illegal” immigrant status. M. T. is from Argentina, but her desire for rootedness, her grief, and her uneasy relationship with America and Americans all speak to common threads experienced by immigrants from many cultures. As M. T. approaches high school graduation, the differences between her situation and that of her friends emerge in stark contrast: because of her undocumented status, she has no possibility of a degree, and no chance for a job and the trappings of a “successful” life. Meanwhile, her friends are college and career bound.

As M. T. grows increasingly bleak about her dead-end future, even contemplating suicide, her father enters his own spiral of immigration-related frustration, inadequacy, and violence. The book raises provocative questions: When does disciplinary hitting cross a line into abuse? How frequently or severely must violent episodes occur to justify a call for help? What are the products of intersecting adult insecurity, fear of deportation, cultural background, and violence?

I applaud Maria Andreu for taking a courageous look at all these questions through a snapshot of M. T.’s senior year. Andreu’s writing is clean and accessible with sharp-edged wit and darkly ironic undertones sure to appeal to teen readers. Characterizations are strong, with a special flair for finely drawn secondary characters. Best of all, no easy answers are offered. This book calls for thoughtful discussion, and is ideal for illuminating and humanizing an experience that many readers understand only through media coverage and political debate.

Maria AndreuAUTHORMaria E. Andreu is the author of the novel The Secret Side of Empty, the story of a teen girl who is American in every way but one: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby and is now undocumented in the eyes of the law. The author draws on her own experiences as an undocumented teen to give a glimpse into the fear, frustration and, ultimately, the strength that comes from being “illegal” in your own home.

Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her “two’s”: her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT The Secret Side of Empty, visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out worldcat.org, indiebound.org, goodreads.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

Seven Things You Need to Know About After the Book Deal

By Maria E. Andreu

18079898Have you ever noticed that, in romantic comedies, the end is very often a wedding? What’s up with that? Love stories don’t end at a wedding. That’s when real life begins, the business of figuring out who does the laundry, where you’re going to live, and how in the world you figure out where you spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s the same thing with publishing. The day you ink the book deal may be the happy ending in the movie version, but in real life it’s just the start of the story.

After many years of dreaming of being a writer, I got my movie-worthy happy ending. I got the first agent I pitched for The Secret Side of Empty, from a house so prestigious just reading their client list gives me goose bumps. We sold the book in the first round of submissions to a publisher who has done amazing things for the book, truly an ideal publisher for my first time at the rodeo. (And there was more than one offer to weigh). Anyone who hears my publishing story wants to stop me there and sort of bask in the moment, happy in the knowledge that it does happen that way sometimes. And it does.

But then you wake up the next day.

Just like no one tells you what to do once you get back from the honeymoon, here are 7 things no one will tell you about what it’s like AFTER the book deal.

  1. Editing is terrifying. Sure, you’ve edited before. You’ve joined critique groups. Maybe you’ve been brave and gone to pitch slams and other places where your words have been torn apart and criticized. Great. Now you’ll have a team of bona-fide professionals poring over your every word. I got an editorial letter so detailed that I shut the document immediately after seeing its page count (let’s just say this: it was in the double digits) and couldn’t make myself open it for 2 weeks. Be prepared. It’s not about you. It’s about making the work the best it can be.
  2. Book promotion is exhausting. Yes, you’ve waited your whole life for it. Yes, you’re going to love most of it. And you’re going to be exhausted anyway. You’ll be thrilled to learn that your publisher will schedule a blog tour for you (maybe, if you’re lucky). You’ll forget that it means you’ll have to actually write all those posts, answer all those interview questions, send head shots, book covers and photos of your frizzy hair in the 8th grade or the bicycle you learned to ride on. Then you’ll go to schools, libraries, festivals, and grocery stores and auto body shops too, if they’ll take you. Fun, yes. Mostly. Take naps now.
  3. Your launch date is not real. Just like a lot of brides stress the wedding and forget it’s actually a marriage they should be planning, so too a lot of authors obsessively plan the Twitter party and Tumblr extravaganza that will be their Launch Day, forgetting that it isn’t really even a Real Thing. My books shipped almost 3 weeks early. When I asked, a helpful professional told me, “Unless your name is J.K. Rowling, no one’s taking up warehouse space to perfectly orchestrate your big reveal.” It will help you to remember that book promotion, like a marriage, is something that you’re in for the long haul. So don’t stress the day so much and come up with a long-term strategy.
  4. It’s a crowded marketplace. You thought it was hard to get attention when you were in the throng of hopefuls? Wait until you see your book on a shelf full of all the others who broke out of the pack. You’ve got a couple of seconds to catch a potential reader’s attention, online and off. If the competition of trying to get published bothers you, you should know it doesn’t stop after your book is out in the world.
  5. Reviews hurt. Bad reviews can cut you to the quick. Even good ones can sometimes leave you scratching your head. Much ink has been spilled advising writers not to let critics get to them. That’s great advice. Also pretty hard to follow, particularly at first when you’re hungry for any sign of how your book is doing and what people think. My advice is to ignore reviews completely – good and bad. It is advice you will not follow. Hold on, I’ve got to go check my Goodreads page real quick.
  6. People will find things in your book you didn’t realize were there. I’ve had readers ask me about love triangles I didn’t intend to include and legislation I didn’t mean to reference. I’ve had readers write to tell me they love a character and a whole bunch of others reach out to tell me how much they loathe that very same character. All with supporting evidence. When you release your book out into the world, it is no longer yours alone.
  7. It will be hard to find time to write. Do you struggle with finding time now? Imagine having all the responsibilities you have now, except take away a lot of your free time on weekends and evenings (because you’re at book festivals and you’re writing blog posts). Now write. That’s what it’s like to try to write books # 2, 3 and beyond.

Lest I seem like too much of a downer, let me say that publishing my debut novel has been magical, the culmination of a lifelong dream. I’ve been honored to speak at schools and libraries and events all over the country and have received wonderful attention from the trade reviewers. I’ve gotten the tingles when I discovered that my book is in libraries as far away as Singapore, Australia, and Egypt, as well as across the United States. Just imagine… my words being read by someone right now somewhere halfway around the globe. Amazing! I share my “things no one will tell you” not to discourage you, but to invite you to look at the whole picture. Like anything worth striving for – a marriage, parenthood, career – publishing a book is a massive undertaking with highs and lows. Once you reach the peak of Published Author, there is another one, just as big, right in front of you. Then another, and another, all the way to the horizon. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Maria AndreuMaria E. Andreu is the author of the novel The Secret Side of Empty, the story of a teen girl who is American in every way but one: on paper. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby and is now undocumented in the eyes of the law. The author draws on her own experiences as an undocumented teen to give a glimpse into the fear, frustration and, ultimately, the strength that comes from being “illegal” in your own home.

Now a citizen thanks to legislation in the 1980s, Maria resides in a New York City suburb with all her “two’s”: her two children, two dogs and two cats. She speaks on the subject of immigration and its effect on individuals, especially children. When not writing or speaking, you can find her babying her iris garden and reading post apocalyptic fiction. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Secret Side of Empty has received positive reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. The novel was also the National Indie Book Award Winner and a Junior Library Guild Selection.