By Monica Brown
Why write a chapter book series?
I love this age of reader and I love this age. It really is an honor and a delight to write an #ownvoice chapter book series because my books might be the very first “novels” a child will be read, and the first read on their own! There are plots, subplots, world creation, and all those things that go into any novel. It’s a challenging genre to write in, but it’s an important one, because chapter books can establish a true love of reading. It is also one that has had a paucity of diverse main characters, and even fewer authors of color. While most librarians will know exactly who Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody are, we just don’t have multicultural chapter books with that reach and readership, and we desperately need them.
I’m very proud of the books my amazing illustrator Angela Dominguez and I created with this series! Picture books, middle-grade, and YA get a lot of literary attention–chapter books much less so. When I decided to write a chapter books series, my agent told me it would be a challenge to publish because there are fewer houses that publish them and a series is a big investment. Against all odds, Angela and I did it, and our books are among the first, if not the first, Latina-authored and illustrated chapter book series.
When I was in second grade, I would have loved to meet a rough and tumble girl like Lola Levine. You see, I spent a fair bit of time on the bench at recess! Apparently I talked a lot in class, played tag a little too competitively, and jumped in puddles on purpose. I do remember that my mother was called more than once to bring me dry shoes. In fiction, as in life, rascals and rebels might have more fun, but I learned to channel that mischievousness into creative outlets and team sports, not to mention a great deal of humor. Like Lola, I was also a child of two cultures, and I know first hand that mixed-race children, like myself and my daughters, are sometimes described as “half” this or “half” that, instead of beautifully whole. Lola Levine isn’t a fraction; she is made up of multitudes! As a mother, a teacher, and a writer who meets thousands of children each year, I’ve also observed the way girls (and boys) who don’t quite “fit in” can experience social exclusion, teasing, and even bullying.
These are some of the reasons I created the chapter book series focusing on this irrepressible character of Lola Levine, who is boldly, fiercely, herself. Lola teaches us that girls can be competitive and loud and funny, but sensitive and nurturing, too. This series is also covering new territory. For example, in the upcoming Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream (Book 5), Lola goes to Peru with her family and visits her beloved Tia Lola. She stays in the house her mother grew up in and learns about her own complex history and Peru’s. This may be the first chapter book that addresses themes of indigenous identity and colonization in Peru.
As a writer, I’ve been inspired by director Guillermo del Toro, famous for the film Pan’s Labyrinth, who in relationship to art, imagination, and childhood once noted that there is “a particular moment that we all go through when we are asked to stop believing and stop choosing who we are and become who everybody else tells us to be.” He goes on to say, “we should not obey . . . imagination should not comply.” There is such a freedom in being oneself, and that is a gift I bestow on my character Lola. It was a dream and a pleasure to create a smart, diverse, multicultural character who each day chooses to be herself, and whose imagination certainly does not comply! Viva smart, bold girls, and viva Lola!
Interested in more Chapter Books featuring Latina Characters? In her recent blog on “Latina Girl Power! Chapter Books with Latina Characters,” librarian Mary Ann Schuer highlights Lola and other chapter books featuring Latina characters.
To the left is Monica Brown as a young soccer player; to the right is her daughter, JuJu, the original “Lola.”
Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Waiting for the Biblioburro, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/ Marisol McDonald no combina The Lola Levine series including: Lola Levine is Not Mean!; Lola Levine, Drama Queen; Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, and Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Find Monica on Facebook at Monica Brown, Children’s Author, on twitter @monicabrownbks, or online at www.monicabrown.net.