Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart by Pat Mora, illus. by Raúl Colón

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The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We will be marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Raúl Colón. The book won the 2006 Pura Belpré Illustration Award. You can find our book talks on our new YouTube channel!

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Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

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Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Juliana Perdomo

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By Cecilia Cackley

This is the ninth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out soon. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

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Juliana Perdomo

Juliana Perdomo is a writer and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, surrounded by nature, bright colors, music, weird fruits, sunshine, animals, friends and a huge and loving family. She currently lives there with her wonderful son, Luca.

Having a background as a psychologist and art therapist, she discovered the positive effects that art and narrative had on the kids she worked with. She then found her passion in children’s literature, and being inspired by her culture, has been creating her own illustrations and stories ever since. Her work is very heartfelt and personal, folkish, a bit retro and joyful, with a Latin touch.

She has illustrated numerous books, including Somos lo que somos and Alcánzame una Pera for Penguin Random House Colombia, Rainbow Colours, What is Baby Going to Do? What is Mommy Going to Do? and What is Daddy Going to Do? for Quarto.

EL CUCUY IS SCARED TOO, written by Donna Barba Higuera, will publish with Abrams in 2021.

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

A: I remember having a feeling when I was a little kid. I got it every time I was in my uncle Ismael’s art studio. The smell of the oil paints, the colorful splatters on the floor, the ceiling painted like a sky, the jungle of plants that intertwined with a thousand little quirky objects that made no sense. I felt a fire, a spark inside my chest. Something that told me I wanted to live like that, be like him.

I had the same warm feeling when I saw my grandma’s hands sewing, I sat next to her and explored the piled tin boxes full of buttons, and threads and shiny sequins. I wanted to use them all, somehow blend with them. It amazed me that everything Carmen Rosita (grandma) touched became beautiful.

Later on, I realized I could tune into that feeling when I looked through art and picture books, when I drew and colored my own scenes and characters, when I built little sculptures with wild berries, mud, and sticks in nature. 

Art made me a joyful kid, then saved me as a sad teenager, and finally gave me the chance to find peace and my path as I became a kid’s illustrator.

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


A: Right now I work mainly digitally. I use a tablet and a drawing pen. I like it because I can carry it anywhere, use as many textures, brushes and colors and make all the mistakes I want. 

I transitioned into digital art when I worked as a graphic designer some years ago, but from time to time I also give myself a day for playing with other art mediums. 

Crayons, pastels, watercolors, gouache, acrylics, they are all so much fun! 

It’s like a regression to my childhood when I use them. I also love that they open up a chance for me to connect with my 8-year-old son. We collaborate in improvised art projects that end up being precious conversations without words.

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

A: They provide a space where the reader can approach the world through visualization. 

This is especially important for kids. As they flip through the pages, the pictures and the sound of spoken words combined with written ones, allow a wholeness in the communication experience. 

Verbal and non verbal information is given at the same time as an emotional connection is created with the art, the contexts, characters, stories and even the person who reads the book.

Picture books are a wonderful tool for imagination, language development, thought patterns, identity exploration, personality, social and cultural behavior, empathy, among other important traits of humanity. 

This is why I feel there is a huge responsibility for all of us in the children’s literature industry, to create a spectrum of content, rich in diversity.

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

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Juliet Menéndez 

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By Cecilia Cackley

This is the eighth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out soon. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

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Juliet Menéndez 

Juliet Menéndez is a Guatemalan American author and illustrator living between Guatemala City, Paris, and New York. While working as a bilingual teacher in New York City’s public schools, Juliet noted the need for more books that depicted children like the ones in her classrooms. She studied design and illustration in Paris and now spends her days with her watercolors and notebook. Latinitas is her first children’s book.

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

A: My family is full of art and artists. My grandmother was a poet, my grandfather was a painter, my father is an architect, my mother is an art enthusiast who lined all of our walls with bookcases full of art books, and I have aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides of my family who are musicians, photographers, designers, and filmmakers. So, I have been surrounded by art for as long as I can remember.

But I do have a particular memory of when I started to feel like an artist myself.

When I was four, my older sister bought me a little easel with paints on one side and pastels on the other. It was immediately my favorite toy and when friends would come over I would ask them to “play easel.” Most of my friends insisted that it wasn’t a game, but one little boy, my best friend at the time, was happy to “play easel” with me and we would have so much fun painting together, adding little things to each other’s drawings, and timing each other to see what we could come up with before the timer went off. It sounds so incredibly nerdy, but we loved it.

I think that is really when I began thinking of art as something I could do. And the idea of art being a form of play has stayed with me. Even now, illustrating sometimes for 14 hours at a time, I still try to make it feel a bit like a game, giving myself the chance to experiment and “play.”

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

A: The work I do now is all done in watercolor. I wouldn’t say I ever really learned watercolor technique and it probably shows. The only ones I use now are Old Holland and they are really more like gouache than watercolors and I use them that way.

I had always worked with mixed media before: inks, pens, collage, oil pastels. But on a freezing cold day walking to the subway in New York, I popped into the art store to warm up.  I stumbled upon these adorable Old Holland watercolors locked away in a fancy glass case. I think I must have been staring at them like pastelitos and a sales assistant asked me if I needed him to open the case. I really didn’t have the money to be buying anything at all, but somehow I said yes and picked out four little tubes and walked out with them in a tiny paper bag.

To be honest, I thought about returning them. But the colors… rose, emerald, honey yellow, and manganese blue were just so beautiful. They reminded me of the painted signs, advertisements, menus, and sun bathed street murals in Guatemala. I don’t know if it was the memories of being warm that made me keep them, but once I used them, I was hooked.

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

 A:…they are children’s first windows into worlds outside of their own and connection to the people in it.

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Juliet Menéndez’s debut is Latinitas. Click on the cover for more information.

We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Magdalena Mora, Gaby D’Alessandro, and Fátima Anaya

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By Cecilia Cackley

This is the seventh in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out soon. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

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Magdalena Mora

Magdalena Mora is a Minneapolis-based illustrator. Her debut picture book Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America (Beach Lane Books), written by Deborah Diesen, was released in February 2020. Her upcoming picture book, I Wish You Knew (Roaring Brook Press), written by Jackie Azúa Kramer, will be out in May 2021. 

Magdalena grew up in Chicago and graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English. She is a 2019-2020 Loft Literary Center Windows and Mirrors Fellow. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter. 

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

A: I grew up in a family of would-be artists. Though no one in my immediate family made art themselves, they all participated in the arts in some form. My dad, with his love of books, music, and crude cartoon drawings on napkins. My mom had an eye for interior design and filled our home with the most beautiful colors and textiles and my grandparents were vivid storytellers. All together, these gave me a deep appreciation and understanding of the value of art. 

As far as specific artists, I loved the books of Shel Silverstein and Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and the artwork of Carmen Lomas Garza, whose work resonated with me as a young Latina growing up in Texas. 

When I was a teenager, my family also lived a few blocks away from the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, and I would go there a few times a month or whenever there was a new exhibition. Those museum trips were incredibly formative.

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

A. I like to dabble in a bit of everything: watercolor, gouache, ink, pastels, charcoal, digital. I didn’t go to art school and so I feel like I’m constantly trying to make up for it by experimenting with every medium possible.

My favored medium can change according to the project I’m working on, and I often use several mediums in an illustration. But overall I still love pencil. It’s how I begin every illustration and the simplicity of it allows me to best capture an idea. As much as I admire the looseness and spontaneity of watercolors and inks, I’m still drawn to the control that you get with a pencil. It’s also useful that I can erase it when I make mistakes – which is often!

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

A: They can help kids imagine different worlds and possibilities. And we’ll need an abundance of imagination and creativity in the future.

Books illustrated by Magdalena Mora. Click on the book covers for more information.

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Gaby D’Alessandro

Gaby D’Alessandro is a Dominican illustrator based in Brooklyn. Her clients include The New York Times, The Library of Congress, and New York City’s MTA. Gaby’s work has been recognized by The Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, and American Illustration. She illustrated the upcoming books The Cot in The Living Room and Stolen Science

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

A: I’m very introspective and I’ve always enjoyed telling stories as a way to express myself and connect with others. When I was in high school, I did it through theatre, and a few years before going to college I discovered I also had an affinity for drawing and I learned that I could communicate via illustration.

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

A: Lately, my favorite medium has been my iPad. I’ve had it for two years and it has changed the way I work, freeing me from my desk and allowing me to take my studio anywhere. This has made my job feel much more playful and enjoyable. 

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

A: They expand our imaginations, invite us to view the world from other perspectives, and can be a source of endless knowledge and entertainment.

Books illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro. Click on the book covers for more information.

We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org  Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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Fátima Anaya

Fátima Anaya is a graphic designer and children illustrator based in El Salvador. She loves working on projects about diversity, family, love, and friendship. The Bright Agency has represented her since 2016, working on various books, magazines, and projects for kids.

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

A: When I was a child, my brother and I used to play with two pumpkin plushies, and we eventually started to draw “comics” based on them. Playing with my younger brother inspired me to become an illustrator to tell other people’s stories and make kids happy as I was when I used to be a little girl.

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

A: I used to love colored pencils until I got my first digital tablet. I guess I love digital techniques because they are a little bit cheaper than buying papers, pencils, and all the traditional tools. Here in El Salvador is very limited in that way as well.

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

A: Picture books are important because it makes us live different adventures every day.

Books by Fátima Anaya. Click on the book covers for more information.

We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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