Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales

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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.

Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about Just A Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales. The book won the 2003 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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Cover reveals for May Your Life Be Deliciosa and They’re So Flamboyant by Michael Genhart, illus. by Loris Lora and Tony Neal

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We are delighted to host the cover reveals for TWO of Michael Genhart’s upcoming picture books: May Your Life Be Deliciosa, which releases September 14, 2021 with Cameron Kids, and They’re So Flamboyant, which releases October 19, 2021 with Magination Press.

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First, here’s a description of May Your Life Be Deliciosa:

“What is the recipe?” I ask. Abuela laughs. “It is in my heart, Rosie. I use mis ojos, my eyes, to measure. Mis manos, my hands, to feel. Mi boca, my mouth, to taste. My abuela gave it to me, and I am giving it to you.” Each year on Christmas Eve, Rosie’s abuela, mamá, tía, sister, and cousins all gather together in Abuela’s kitchen to make tamales—cleaning corn husks, chopping onions and garlic, roasting chilis, kneading cornmeal dough, seasoning the filling, and folding it all—and tell stories. Rosie learns from her abuela not only how to make a delicious tamale, but how to make a delicious life, one filled with love, plenty of spice, and family.

A delicious and fortifying picture book inspired by the author’s family, featuring the Mexican tradition of holiday tamale-making

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Now, here is some information about the creators:

Michael Genhart, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in San Francisco where he sees children, teens, and adults, specializing in matters impacting the LGBTQ+ community.  He is also the author of several picture books.  In 2021 his books include MAY YOUR LIFE BE DELICIOSA (Cameron Kids/Abrams) and THEY’RE SO FLAMBOYANT (Magination Press).  Other recent releases include ACCORDIONLY: ABUELO AND OPA MAKE MUSIC (Magination Press, 2020), RAINBOW: A FIRST BOOK OF PRIDE (Magination Press, 2019) and LOVE IS LOVE (Sourcebooks, 2018).  Michael is a SCBWI Marin County Co-Coordinator.  He is represented by Nicole Geiger of Full Circle Literary.  Check out his books at www.michaelgenhart.com.

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Loris Lora is a Los Angeles based illustrator and designer.  She is a multi-disciplinary artist who has worked with various publications, surface design, and featured in galleries across the globe. Her work is largely inspired by her Mexican upbringing and appreciation of mid-century design.

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And, here’s what the illustrator had to say about the process of creating the cover:

Growing up, the holidays have always been filled with color and warmth. It’s the time of year when you can gather with loved ones and enjoy cooking together. I wanted the cover to reflect the warm connection Abuelita Pina and Rosie have while learning to make tamales. The family relationship is so important in this book and I wanted to show that bond between the two characters. I was also inspired by the bright color palette often found in Mexican artisans and folk art. Things like floral oil cloths, decorative tins & tinsel, and cazuelas de barro are some of my favorite inspirations and I was happy to be able to include them in the cover. 

Finally, here is the cover of May Your Life Deliciosa

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GORGEOUS! BUT WAIT….THERE’S MORE!

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Here’s a description of They’re So Flamboyant:

flam·boy·ant – a person (or bird!) who tends to attract attention because of their confidence, exuberance, and stylishness

This fun and funny bird’s-eye tome to individuality, community, and harmony follows the reactions of a neighborhood full of birds when a “flamboyance” of flamingos moves in. Each band of birds—a gaggle of geese, a dole of doves, a charm of finches, a brood of chickens, a scream of swifts, and an unkindness of ravens—all have their feathers ruffled and express their apprehension about the new and different arrivals. Bright pink colors, long legs, how dare they! Even a watch of nightingales patrols after dark. When the band of jays decides it is time to settle down the neighborhood, the pride of peacocks takes the lead, with support from a waddle of penguins, a venue of vultures, a mob of emus, and a gulp of cormorants. Finally, they all land at the flamingos’ welcome party only to realize that they had all been birdbrained. Their new neighbors are actually quite charming, and not so scary and different after all. Includes a note from the author on helping children to learn about acceptance, avoid stereotyping, and model welcoming behavior.

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Now, here is some information about the illustrator:

Tony Neal is an illustrator from south Leicestershire, England. His passion for art and illustration has led him to a blooming career in children’s book illustration – where he now creates works for various publishing houses and clients worldwide. Tony’s work is inspired by everyday life and the quirky details that surround us. He loves to create charming characters in whimsical scenes and telling stories with his pictures.

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And, here’s what Tony had to say about the process of creating the cover:

Creating the cover for They’re So Flamboyant, I thought it would be nice to show the flamboyant flamingos and their colourful house centre stage! Their feathered neighbours are not too sure about the new arrivals, so I wanted to show this also, with some fun character expressions overlooking and peeking out of their curtains. I decided to use more muted colours for the neighbouring houses to help contrast with the colourful pink flamingo house for more impact. The artwork was created digitally in photoshop using a drawing tablet.

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Now, here is the cover of They’re So Flamboyant:

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LOOK AT THOSE FABULOUS FLAMINGOS!

Both May Your Life Be Deliciosa and They’re So Flamboyant are available for pre-order. Click on any of the links in this post to go to Indiebound.org

Book Review: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay

Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD and Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this new Vamos! title, Let’s Go Eat, Little Lobo is excited to take in a show with wrestling star El Toro in his bustling border town. After getting lunch orders from The Bull and his friends to help prepare for the event, Little Lobo takes readers on a tour of food trucks that sell his favorite foods, like quesadillas with red peppers and Mexican-Korean tacos. Peppered with easy-to-remember Latin-American Spanish vocabulary, this glorious celebration of food is sure to leave every reader hungry for lunch!

OUR TWO CENTS: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay centers Little Lobo, his dog Bernabé, and his rooster friend, Kooky Dooky. Little Lobo takes his delivery services to El Coliseo to meet Luchador star, El Toro, who asks Little Lobo to get lunch orders for him and all of his famished wrestling friends before the big show that night. Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky visit different food trucks and food stands in the area to find some of their favorite Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, churros, aguas frescas, and many more delicious treats. 

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat is crowded with fun, humorous characters from cover to cover: from a snake with a sombrero slithering up a utility pole, to a tortoise driving a “Tortas Tortuga” truck with “despacito” blazoned across the side, to “Armor Dillo,” a luchador armadillo covered in armor, and so much more. The illustrations are also action-packed, mimicking the high energy of any good lucha match. The cars speed by leaving zig-zag “vroom” behind. The floor retumba like waves at the rumble of the luchadors’ hungry tummies. Puffs of smoke or exhaust rise as Little Lobo dashes from one place to the next. Elaine’s color choices bring the book to life–resembling Little Lobo’s lively neighborhood. Additionally, readers will find many words for different types of foods, animals, and actions as part of the illustrations. On one spread, when Little Lobo first meets all the luchadores, their names are drawn to match their styles, like the “L” in “Lizarda” is as long as their tongue. On another page, when Little Lobo goes to pick up dessert, there are so many options that the words fill up half the page: “Flan,” “arroz con leche,” “churros,” and more. Raúl and Elaine give every inch of the pages something new for readers to find with every read.

¡Vamos! is also an extraordinary book for showcasing bilingualism in Spanish and English. Some of the speech bubbles offer immediate translation of the Spanish words and phrases: “Un poquito de esto. Un poquito de lo otro. A little of this. A little of that.” Other speech bubbles or words in the illustrations don’t offer direct translations; instead, the illustrations serve as context for translation. An example of this is when Little Lobo sits to watch the lucha, and the vendor shouts, “¡Cacahuates! ¡Palomitas! ¡Soda!” There’s no direct translation on the page but instead the reader can see the vendor toss a bag of peanuts at Little Lobo. On other pages, the English and Spanish serve as a call and response. When Little Lobo and Bernabé make it to El Coliseo for the first time, Little Lobo asks, “¡¿Qué es eso?!” and one of the luchadores responds with, “That’s our bellies. We are very hungry.” Additionally, there’s a food glossary at the end of the book, which readers can refer to if they are unfamiliar with the words. The author also encourages readers to use a Spanish-English dictionary to look up words not found in the glossary, which is a significant way to encourage proactiveness and agency in young readers. 

The heart of this story is not only Mexican food but also love and respect for street food vendors. Raúl does an excellent job at representing the diversity of street food, the types of kitchens where the food is made, and kinds of characters who make the food. After getting the long list of food orders from the luchadores, Little Lobo, Bernabé, and Kooky Dooky head outside to shop from the different food vendors. The narration reads, “A food truck is a kitchen on wheels. Food of all kinds can be prepared there. Some food sellers used modified bikes or wagons.” There are also food sellers selling out of a cooler and from a box around their neck. Additionally, in ¡Vamos!, Raúl shows that street food vendors are an important staple of any community and demonstrates how street food vendors support one another. For example, at one point in the story, Little Lobo notices: “At the elotero, the corn boils in the giant tub right on the cart. Macho gives all his husks to Tammy. She uses them to wrap her tamales.” Here, the vendors support one another by sharing supplies to create food that’ll feed a community, but the example also demonstrates how conservation is an innate part of many Latinx cultures; nothing goes to waste. 

By capturing the diversity and beauty of Mexican food and street food vendors, Raúl challenges negative stereotypes that currently may exist around both of these cultures. At a time when street vendors are under constant policing and harassment, a book like ¡Vamos! is essential reading to expand young peoples’ understanding of culinary practices and respect for those who make the food and for those who deliver it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: (From his website) Raúl The Third is an award-winning illustrator, author, and artist living in Boston. His work centers around the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Lowriders in Space was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016-2017 and Raúl was awarded the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration by the American Library Association for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market! is Raúl’s first authorial project, which he wrote and illustrated, and is colored by Elaine Bay.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia 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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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Celebrating the Release of the Final Book in the Love, Sugar, Magic Series by Anna Meriano + A GIVEAWAY!

 

Today is the book birthday for the final installment of the Love, Sugar, Magic series by Anna Meriano.

To celebrate, our own Cecilia Cackley has created two pieces of artwork to go along with two of the recipes from the series.

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First, here’s information about the newest book in the series: LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC: A Mixture of Mischief

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It’s spring break in Rose Hill, Texas, but Leo Logroño has a lot of work to do if she’s going to become a full-fledged bruja like the rest of her family.

She still hasn’t discovered the true nature of her magical abilities, and that isn’t the only bit of trouble in her life: Her family’s baking heirlooms have begun to go missing, and a new bakery called Honeybees has opened across town, threatening to run Amor y Azúcar right out of business.

What’s more, everyone around her seems to have secrets, and none of them want to tell Leo what’s going on.

But the biggest secret of all comes when Leo is paid a very surprising visit—by her long-lost Abuelo Logroño. Abuelo promises answers to her most pressing questions and tells Leo he can teach her about her power, about what it takes to survive in a world where threats lurk in the shadows. But can she trust him?

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Next, we have links to cool stuff:

If you CLICK HERE, you will see our post celebrating the release of Book #2, complete with a Q&A with the author and original character collages.

If you CLICK HERE, you will see our review of the first book.

And if you click on the blue link, you will access the educators’ guide for all three books, thanks to the publisher. LOVE SUGAR MAGIC TEACHERS GUIDE

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Now, we have information on the author, Anna Meriano 

MerianoAnna ap1 cAnna Meriano is the author of the books in the Love Sugar Magic series, A Dash of TroubleA Sprinkle of Spirits and A Mixture of Mischief. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in writing for children from the New School in New York. She has taught creative writing and high school English, and she works as a writing tutor. Anna likes reading, knitting, playing full-contact quidditch, and singing along to songs in English, Spanish, and ASL. Her favorite baked goods are the kind that open hearts. You can visit her online at www.annameriano.com.

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Now, get ready to be amazed by the talents of Cecilia Cackley, and get ready to bake because these are real recipes!

 

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AND THANKS TO WALDEN POND PRESS, WE HAVE ONE COPY OF BOOK 3 TO GIVE AWAY. ENTER TO WIN HERE:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e39d5a2720/?

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia 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

 

Book Review: The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

 

Review by Cris Rhodes & Mimi Rankin

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid. But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

The Moon Within releases tomorrow, February 26, 2019.

CRIS RHODES’S REVIEW: Aida Salazar’s debut verse novel unfolds through metaphor, captivating poetry, and unabashed discussions of menstruation and maturation. I have never read a book where menstruation has been explored with such openness—and that’s even as Celi does everything in her power to dodge and delay the moon ceremony her Mima wants to throw upon Celi’s first period! Celi’s unease with her body’s changes resonated with me. At the risk of oversharing—I remember that anxiety and the strange sense of loss when starting one’s period well. Salazar adds complexity to this already confusing time by layering Celi’s menstrual journey with her first real crush and the dawning realization that her best friend, Marco, is genderfluid.

Salazar’s choice to utilize Indigenous Mesoamerican terms to explain Marco’s (I’m using this name as Salazar switches to using it nearly exclusively in the latter half of the text, though Marco’s feminine name is still occasionally used) gender identity is intriguing. Salazar writes, “Marco has Ometeotl energy / a person who inhabits two beings / the female and the male at once.” I don’t think I can adequately explain the beauty of this explanation. On the other hand, I want to be clear that, at the same time as it’s a big step to have a genderfluid Latinx character in children’s fiction, this construct could’ve been pushed further. We experience Marco through the filter of Celi. When reading, I found myself having to temper my disappointment that the queered character was not the main character with my admiration for the open and honest way with which Celi’s maturation (both physical and mental) is handled. I cannot be too disappointed though, because, ultimately, The Moon Within does so much to further representation in Latinx children’s literature. Its unapologetic depictions of Afro-Latinx identity, menstruation, gender, sexuality, bullying, colonialism, just to name a few, are invaluable.

One of the most intriguing parts of The Moon Within, for me, was Celi’s mother and Moon Ceremony. When I was reading, I was reminded of one of my favorite slam poems: “The Period Poem” by Dominique Christina. Celi’s mother wants her to be empowered by her period. And there is power in the period. But when you’re a kid, the only power it wields is embarrassment—a power Celi perfectly embodies. I found myself chuckling at Celi’s embarrassment in one line, and in the next, Salazar would sweep me off my feet, and I’d be cringing and hiding alongside Celi. I’d wager many a person who’s had a period can relate to Celi’s impulse to hide from her family and to downplay her maturing body. Nevertheless, Mima’s insistence that Celi have a Moon Ceremony is rooted in not just a desire to ensure her daughter not feel shame at the natural functions of her body, but also in a personal conviction to reclaim her Indigenous Mexican heritage. Celi feels an intimate pull toward the Moon, la Luna, and in her later discussions of the moon as Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec goddess, we see her start to embrace her mother’s mission.

For readers who are torn by their culture, by their bodies, by their friendships, The Moon Within is a must-read. And, honestly, I think it’s a must-read for anyone, anywhere. This verse novel’s melodious language, unapologetic tone, and loving care for its characters and readers is evident and shouldn’t be missed.

MIMI RANKIN’S REVIEW: I discovered this book from the author herself during the USBBY’s Outstanding International Books presentation. Following the committee members’ comments on the themes of the list, Salazar was presented as the keynote speaker. She spoke about the importance of language for Latinx people, particularly children. Latinx children in the United States grow up in between worlds; they are often the very definition of “third culture kids.” Salazar opens up an interesting set of questions regarding this language use for Latinx kids with her novel, The Moon Within, written in verse.

Celi Rivera is a biracial, multicultural preteen girl in Northern California who loves to dance the Puerto Rican Bomba. Celi is on the brink of womanhood, and she certainly does not want to discuss it with her Mima, Papi, or little brother Juju. Mima prepares her Moon Ceremony, an ancient indigenous Mesoamerican celebration of a girl’s first menstruation, while Celi begins developing her first crush on the skateboarding Ivan. After one of Celi’s Bomba performances with her best friend, drummer Magda, Ivan insults Magda’s gender-bending style and appearance.

This coming-of-age story about first heartbreak, identity of both gender and culture, and how to decipher, for the first time, your own beliefs is even more powerful through the use of verse. The style allowed me to more fully connect to Celi’s perspective emotionally and emphasized the universality of what it means to be a young woman regardless of culture. Still, the beauty of this title is not just that Salazar fearlessly and effortlessly discusses the female body and menstruation in a way that has not been done since Judy Blume’s classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but that she enlightens the world to the Mexica reverence to the woman.

What I love about this book is that it is not only a point of mirroring and relation for Latinx children, but it is a point of education for non-Latinx children. Only occasionally interspersed with Spanish, the story feels both personal and universal; duality is a later theme in the text, so this may have been intentional on the part of Salazar.

Another exciting aspect of Salazar’s book is the perspective on sacred Mesoamerican spiritual beings, particularly the xochihuah. This gender-expansive being was “more often seen through a sacred lens, with respect” as “some evidence shows”. In this claim and the one that follows in the author’s note, this being that was neither exclusively female nor male may very well not have been revered. Still, in this not knowing, Salazar makes a conscious choice to utilize the ancient being from her ancestors and speak to a modern audience on allowing children to wholly be themselves. Continuing with the integration of Mesoamerican cultural practices into this text, Salazar includes an English translation from scholar David Bowles of The Flower Song. According to Salazar, this is the only known piece of literature documenting the Moon Ceremony and it just so happens to be written in verse.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this heartfelt and quick read and expect to see it making a lot of buzz for awards next year.

TEACHING TIPS FROM CRIS RHODESThe Moon Within would prove a lovely addition to any middle school classroom library (or high school, or elementary school—I maintain that anyone could and should read this book, though it does speak more clearly to readers of a similar age to its protagonist). It would be particularly useful in an ELA unit on poetry, but it would also be a great addition to a health class or sex education. It would also be a great way for students to experience traditional cultural practices—like the bomba dancing and drumming Celi and Marco practice.

 

PictureABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aida Salazar​ is a writer, arts advocate and home-schooling mother whose writings for adults and children explore issues of identity and social justice. She is the author of the forthcoming middle grade verse novels, THE MOON WITHIN (Feb. 26, 2019), THE LAND OF THE CRANES (Spring, 2020), the forthcoming bio picture book JOVITA WORE PANTS: THE STORY OF A REVOLUTIONARY FIGHTER (Fall, 2020). All books published by Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic. Her story, BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON, was adapted into a ballet production by the Sonoma Conservatory of Dance and is the first Xicana-themed ballet in history. She lives with her family of artists in a teal house in Oakland, CA.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is a lecturer in the English department at Sam Houston State University. She recently completed a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis on Latinx children’s literature. Her research explores the intersections between childhood activism and Latinx identities.

 

 

 

MimiRankinABOUT THE REVIEWERMimi Rankin has a Master’s Degree with Distinction in Children’s Literature from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. She is currently a Marketing Manager for a company working with over 25 publishers worldwide. Her graduate research focused on claims of cultural authenticity in Hispanic Children’s Literature and her dissertation received highest marks.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors Part 9: Aida Salazar

 

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This is the ninth 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 Aida Salazar.

Aida Salazar​ is a writer, arts advocate and home-schooling mother whose writings for adults and children explore issues of identity and social justice. She is the author of the forthcoming middle grade verse novels, THE MOON WITHIN (Feb. 26, 2019), THE LAND OF THE CRANES (Spring, 2020), the forthcoming bio picture book JOVITA WORE PANTS: THE STORY OF A REVOLUTIONARY FIGHTER (Fall, 2020). All books published by Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic. Her story, BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON, was adapted into a ballet production by the Sonoma Conservatory of Dance and is the first Xicana-themed ballet in history. She lives with her family of artists in a teal house in Oakland, CA.

The Moon Within is her debut novel, which releases on Tuesday!! Here is the publisher’s description:

Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.

But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

 

 

 

 

Aida Salazar

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

A. I began to write when I was thirteen years old after the suicide of my seventeen-year-old sister. Poetry was my first refuge. It was the place where I began to express and unravel the pain I felt in my grief over losing my beautiful sister in such an incomprehensible way. Poetry, too, was how I made sense of the simultaneous changes happening to my body, to my mind, inside my community and life. That creative connection was special and it quietly flowed through me and accompanied me while I navigated high school and began college and tried to discover what I wanted to be and do with my life. It remained tucked away in my journals until I was 18 when, for the first time, I read the work of other Latinx writers while in a Latinx literature course. That class not only saved me from academic probation (because I got an A to balance out my terrible grades) but it revolutionized my existence as a Xicana and my own writing that had been hidden in those journals. It was as if the work of Sandra Cisneros, Helena Maria Viramontes, Rudolfo Anaya, Lorna Dee Cervantes, among others, gave me permission to share my own writing with a very Xicana perspective with the world. I could dare call myself a writer because I had their great example.

 

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

A. Middle grade is a tremendously fertile space from which to write because there is a unique tension between two worlds. Middle grade readers, I think, possess the innocence, rich sense of wonder and play inherent in childhood, while at the same time, they are discovering deeper feelings and learning about things beyond their immediate lives that push against childhood. There are so many questions that beg to be answered, so many stories that beg to explore those questions and a new, almost magical, awareness that enfolds as they bloom into wiser beings.

 

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

A. There are so many! I am especially drawn to stories from people of diverse backgrounds, those that break from the white, heteronormative literary cannon. I loved Bird in a Box and The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney – it was actually after reading the latter that I was inspired to write The Moon Within in verse; Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan is a masterpiece (as is just about anything she writes); As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds; Margarita Engle’s Hurricane Dancers; See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng; One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson, Front Desk by Kelly Yang; A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park; and Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai; George by Alex Gino; some older titles that are evergreen for me – Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Locomotion by Jaqueline Woodson, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. However, the middle grade novels emerging from Las Musas (the first kidlit debut group of Latinx writers) have me most excited because they are opening the cannon wider than we have ever seen. Look for great middle grade stories by Anna Meriano, Emma Otheguy, Jennifer Cervantes, Yamile Saied Mendez, Hilda Solis, Mary Louise Sanchez and Claribel Ortega!

 

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

A. Don’t be afraid to believe in your poems though they may seem awful and as if they could help no one. Believe in their pain and in their heart because one day that very vulnerability will touch someone else’s life in ways you least expect. And when that magical moment comes, you will realize the meaning in the risk you took in believing.

 

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

A. Middle grade novels are important because they can be the source of inquiry, of discovery, of refuge, of delight, and inspiration while on the tight rope between childhood and adolescence.

 

 

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 (Bloomsbury 2015). She also has an essay in Life Inside My Mind (Simon Pulse 2018). She can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.