Q&A with author Mariana Llanos About Run Little Chaski! / ¡Corre, Pequeño Chaski!


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By Romy Natalia Goldberg

Set in ancient Peru, Run, Little Chaski!: An Inka Trail Adventure follows the ups and downs of Little Chaski’s first day as a royal messenger for the king of the Inkan empire. Authored by Mariana Llanos and illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson, Run Little Chaski! will release with Barefoot Books on June 1, 2021. English and Spanish versions are available. We hope you enjoy this interview with the author on the process of creating this unique picture book.

Mariana, congratulations on your picture book Run Little Chaski!: An Inka Trail Adventure / ¡Corre, Pequeño Chaski!: Una aventura en el comino Inka. What was the inspiration for this book?

I was inspired by my peruanidad and my desire to represent the amazing pre-columbian culture of my country, Peru. I think this book is the result of many years admiring our legacy and wishing more people knew about it.

There is so much going on in this book, from the role chaskis (royal messengers) played in the Incan empire, to the artifacts used in both daily life, to the flora and fauna of the Andes. Although, as a Peruvian, you probably grew up with knowledge of these things, I’m sure this book took a lot of research. Can you tell us how you prepared to write this manuscript?

I wrote the first drafts using what I already knew about chaskis and the Inka empire. Research came later, once I had the story I wanted to tell. Actually, because I am Peruvian, the pressure to “get it right” felt very strong. I thought I knew a lot, but I doubted myself many times. I read books about the Tawantinsuyu, like History of the Tawantinsuyu by Maria Rotowroski, a renowned Peruvian author, and History of the Conquest of Peru by William Prescott, among others. I also visited many websites like the American Indian Museum- Smithsonian. I read many articles in Spanish and English with specifics about the Inka Trail and the role of chaskis. I watched documentaries on YouTube as well. I grew up knowing about this, but I needed to have a better historic understanding especially for writing the back matter.

Did you ever consider writing this as a non-fiction book, or was it always a fictional picture book?

No. It was always a universal theme. It was always about kindness with the rich backdrop of the Inka culture.


Back matter for Run, Little Chaski!


Are there details you would have liked to include but had to edit or remove to better suit the picture book format? How did you decide what belonged in the back matter (which is extensive and very informative) vs, in the story itself? 

The story is a universal story, only that it is set in a historic time period. So I always knew what belonged there, but I did want to offer additional information about the Inka empire. Originally, this info was contained in an Author’s Note, but my editor, Kate Depalma, wanted to break it into different topics. This writing process for the new back matter came after working on the story itself.

From the original story, we removed a part where I mentioned coca leaves as the content of his ch’uspa (bag). As you may know, coca leaves are sacred in the Andes and are used to give people energy, but it was decided that it might be a distracting issue for parents. But we did add this detail in the informational part of the book.

This is one of the first picture books published in the United States featuring a significant amount of Quechua. Do you speak Quechua? Can you talk about what went into ensuring the Quechua was accurate? 

I do not speak Quechua, although I’ve attempted to take classes. I know a few words and terms. Many Quechua words are integrated in Peruvian Spanish. But since I needed this to be very accurate, I enlisted the help of a person who is an expert in the Quechua language and Andean culture. He revised my manuscript and came back with some valuable suggestions. Our main concern was about the spelling of Quechua words (like Inca or Inka). For this book we went with the standardized spelling of the language to be respectful to Quechua speaking people.


Image from inside Run, Little Chaski!


Did you find it hard to sell this manuscript because of the setting or the language? 

You would’ve thought that a novel book like this would sell in a minute, but in fact, it was very hard to sell! Most editors didn’t have a vision for it. We were so lucky to find Barefoot Books who are willing to take on challenges and do their best to produce truly diverse books. Their commitment to diversity is admirable. At every level, I felt like they respected my work and the culture I represented, so I’m glad with the way things turned out. Still, I wonder what is it going to take for this industry to finally look at the rest of the world as part of this world? 

Can you talk a little about being considered an “own voices” author for this particular book? I imagine it is complex, given that being Peruvian is not the same as being Incan and even the Inca themselves were a civilization made up of several indigenous peoples.  

I’ve been asked several times if this is an “own voices” book. I have an issue with the label because, even though I am Peruvian, I did not live in the times of the Inka, so how could this be an own voices story? The Inka empire fell 500 years ago. It’s very hard for people from Latin America to fit the concept of this label. We’re made of so many cultures and races. And in this book specifically, you’re correct. The Inka weren’t one group of people; they were many pueblos, many cultures. And I believe this is where we can feel the lack of authentic and diverse Latinx representation at the publishing level. The only way I’d ever use an own voices label is if I write a book about my life. 


Image of Mariana Llanos

About the author: Mariana Llanos is a Peruvian-born poet and author of children’s books. Her book Luca’s Bridge/El puente de Luca was a 2020 ALSC Notable Book and Campoy-Ada Award Honoree. Eunice and Kate (2020, Penny Candy Books) is a winner of the Paterson Prize Books for Young Readers. Run Little Chaski/Corre Pequeño Chaski is a JLG Gold Standard Selection. Mariana visits schools to encourage the love for writing and reading. She’s represented by Clelia Gore of Martin Literary.




Image of Romy Natalia Goldberg

Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators

Book Review: La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, illus. by Juana Martinez-Neal


Review by Dora M. Guzmán

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The Princess and the Pea gets a fresh twist in this charming bilingual retelling. El principe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn’t agree. The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa. But the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too. Readers will be enchanted by this Latino twist on the classic story, and captivated by the vibrant art inspired by the culture of Peru.

MY TWO CENTS: In this beautifully illustrated book filled with rustic textures and warm colors comes a popular tale filled with humor and reminiscing of Latinx mother-son relationships. Readers are invited to join the quest as the queen and the prince (but mostly the queen) try to find his future wife. The queen’s love for the prince is obvious, as she expects nothing but perfection for her son. The distinct comparison between the queen and her cat’s facial expressions are priceless and bring to the reader’s attention what else they have in common–cattiness and dominance. And rightly so; that’s her hijito lindo. Then comes a fair maiden, ready to prove her love for the prince, as he also awaits her success in the queen’s test. However, nobody is aware of this test besides the queen. The true test is if she feels the pea under twenty mattresses, then she’s the one. Yes, TWENTY. VEINTE.

Will the maiden pass this impossible challenge? Will the prince be able to be with his one true love? Will the queen finally give her blessings to her son and his future wife?

If you grew up with a brother, you can totally relate to this mother-son relationship. The bond between mother and son is like no other, however this story will force you to reminisce about the times that your mom said, “Ay, mijito, let me warm your dinner” to your brother but then expected you to warm up your own dinner. Jealous? Maybe. As an adult reader, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the realistic dialogue between the Queen and her Prince, as well as the perfectly paired facial expressions between the queen and her cat, which added to the character’s moods. You can feel the prince’s desire for love, but, at the same time, he wants to respect his mother’s opinion.

This picture book’s story line will keep you laughing, as it creatively tells the story of an unbreakable mother and son bond. I absolutely appreciate a picture book that can naturally weave in the Spanish language in dialogue and its narrative text without making it awkward for the reader. The Spanish vocabulary was also highlighted in a different text, to accent its beauty throughout the story. The words fit in a natural way of storytelling.

The illustrations were stunning. Upon reading the illustrator’s note by Juana Martinez-Neal, readers discover that the illustrations are inspired by an indigenous group in Peru. The textiles and the culture’s tradition of weaving and embroidery were inspirations for the illustrations and use of color. Martinez-Neal’s attention to detail and inspiration for her illustrations are remarkable and admirable.

TEACHING TIPS: Teachers of all grade levels can use this picture book as a reading mentor text to highlight various character traits and motives, with a focus on the queen. Also, for our younger readers, this text can be used during a phonemic awareness lesson on rhyming words in English.

The inspiration behind the illustrator’s choice of texture and color can also be used in an art lesson about artists and how cultures and traditions inspire their work.

WHERE TO GET IT: To find La Princesa and the Pea, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Middleton Elya is a popular children’s author with over 22 picture books. Her series Say Hola to Spanish and Eight Animals are distinct in how they introduce the Spanish language to all age groups. Susan’s journey as an author started at a young age with a passion for writing. Her love of language led her to study Spanish and incorporate the Spanish language and her teacher experiences within her children’s books.



JuanaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Juana Martinez Neal is an award winning illustrator and artist. Her passion for art started as a child and led her to study at one of the best schools in fine arts in Peru. Her journey as an illustrator led her to the United States, where she continues to illustrate a variety of children’s books. Alma and How She Got Her Name, her debut picture book as an author illustrator, will be published in both English and Spanish by Candlewick Press on April 10, 2018.




img_0160ABOUT THE REVIEWER: 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 and Language. 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!

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 2: Juana Martinez-Neal, Maya Christina González & Laura Lacámara


By Cecilia Cackley

This is the second in a series of posts spotlighting Latina 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 this year. Some of them live in the US, while others live overseas. 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!


Juana Martinez-Neal

Children's Illustrator Juana Martinez-NealJuana was born in Lima, the capital of Peru. She has been illustrating for children since she was 16. Juana attended the best art school ever, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru – School of Fine Arts. After 3 years of a crazy 8-to-8 schedule and way too many all-nighters, she was in desperate need of a semester-break and decided to give L.A. a “test drive.” She has lived in the US ever since.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: My father and grandfather were artists. The walls of our house were full of their paintings, and we had art supplies all around the house. Drawing and painting were natural ways to use our time. Every Summer, my mom enrolled us in a different art classes. She always took us to visit Museums, and her special treat was taking us to see puppet shows. Art was part of our life. There is nothing else I could be but an artist.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I love the process more than a specific media. I think that’s the reason why I’m a mixed media illustrator. When I add materials and change my the process, the work becomes even more interesting. The idea of solving the problem makes the process so very exciting.

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

A: They expand a child’s mind, fulfill their soul, and show new points of views.



Maya Christina González

Maya Gonzalez is an artist, author, educator, activist, peacemaker, publisher, equality lover, obsessive recycler, traveler, river lover, tree talker, sky kisser……

Her fine art graces the cover of Contemporary Chicano/a Art and is well documented as part of the Chicano Art Movement. She has illustrated over 20 award-winning children’s books, several of which she also wrote, Her book My Colors, My World won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award Honor from the American Library Association and her most recent picture book, Call Me Tree was listed in Kirkus’ Best Picture Books of 2014 that Celebrate Diversity. Since 1996, Maya has been providing presentations to children and educators about the importance of creativity as a tool for personal empowerment. Her work with children in public schools helped her develop several lines of curriculum that offer a holistic approach to learning and open doors to new ways of thinking and relating in the world. In 2009 she co-founded Reflection Press, an independent press that publishes radical and revolutionary children’s books, and works that expand spiritual and cultural awareness. And in 2013, Maya co-created an online learning environment called School of the Free Mind about expanding the mind and reclaiming the creative. The School offers e-courses for those who are ready to uncover and connect with their unique and most powerful way of living and creating.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I remember as a child drawing my round Chicana face into the backs of books. I think on some level I knew I needed to see myself in my books. I didn’t. I know in many ways those early ‘self-portraits’ were my way of affirming my existence in a world that did not include me. We are born artists. Creativity is our greatest tool to express and transform our world. I think it was a natural act to be an artist. I think I’ve remained visually expressive because it is the most powerful and immediate way to communicate and create change.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I am notorious for trying different mediums in my children’s books. Acrylics, watercolors, oil pastels, ink, charcoal, painted collage, photo collage, color pencils and combinations of all of those. What I love is the feeling of exploration and not completely knowing what I’m doing. I know that’s how kids feel all the time. Everything is new and curiosity rocks. So I follow that feeling. I’ve made so much art that I’m familiar with all the materials so now I’m exploring how to use them differently. More expression. More immediate and raw. This is how kids create because this is how kids feel. I’m always exploring the edges of my expression.

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

A: Picture books are important because they are powerful tools of expression, support and potential healing. I believe children’s books are one of the most radical things we can do for ourselves and our communities.


Laura Lacámara

Laura_photo_2015-300 dpiCuban-born Laura Lacámara is the award-winning author and illustrator of Dalias Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia (Piñata Books), a bilingual picture book about a clever girl who transforms her unruly hair into a vibrant garden. Laura also wrote Floating on Mamas Song / Flotando en la canción de mamá, a bilingual picture book inspired by her mother, who was an opera singer in Havana. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales and published by HarperCollins, Floating on Mamas Song was a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2010 and was a Tejas Star Book Award Finalist for 2011-2012.

Laura earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach. She studied printmaking at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles and began exhibiting and selling her work.

When a fellow artist suggested Laura’s images would be ideal for picture books, Laura signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Otis College of Art and Design. She instantly fell in love with both writing and illustrating for children. It was in that class that she wrote the first draft of Floating on Mamas Song.

Laura illustrated the 2012 Tejas Star Book Award winner, The Runaway Piggy / El cochinito fugitivo (Piñata Books), as well as Alicias Fruity Drinks / Las aguas frescas de Alicia (Piñata Books). Laura is a popular presenter at schools, book festivals, and conferences, and she is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  Laura lives in Southern California with her husband, their daughter, and a lovable mutt.

Q:  What inspired you to become an artist?

A: Having an artist father, who made a living as a graphic designer and illustrator, inspired me and showed me that it was possible to be a working artist.  In high school and beyond, I had many artist friends – we found inspiration together in art classes and museum visits.  And, to be honest, as a young adult, doing art was the only job I didn’t get fired from!

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I like painting with acrylics on a variety of surfaces – my current favorite being wood. (I love the texture.)  I also enjoy adding collage elements to my paintings.  I’ve always loved bright patterned fabrics and papers – the more the colors and patterns clash, the better!

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

A: Picture books are important because they teach us about ourselves, our world, our feelings, our realities.  Stories with pictures can give young kids a great deal of validation and comfort.  A picture book may be the first time a child realizes, “I’m not the only one who feels that way!”



Books to Check Out:

Lacámara Laura. Dalias Wondrous Hair

Luna, James. The Runaway Piggy

Ruiz-Flores, Lupa. Alicias Fruity Drinks

Elya, Susan Middleton. La Madre Goose (coming in July)

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. Call me Tree/Llamame Arbol

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. I Know the River Loves Me/Yo se que el rio me ama

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo

Alarcon, Francisco X. Animal Poems of the Iguazu

Perez, Amada Irma. Nanas Big Surprise

Perez, Amada Irma. My Diary from Here to There

Alarcon, Francisco X. Iguanas in the Snow