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

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.

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Back matter for Run, Little Chaski!

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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.

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Image from inside Run, Little Chaski!

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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. 

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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.

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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

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.

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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

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

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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.

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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 Dreamers by Yuyi Morales. The book won the Pura Belpré Award for illustration in 2019. 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 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!

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafael López

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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.

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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 Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López. The book won the Pura Belpré Award for illustration in 2016. You can find our book talks on our new YouTube channel!

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For more, read this spotlight on the illustrator: CLICK HERE.

Also, check out our review of Drum Dream Girl: CLICK HERE.

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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 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!

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: Book Talk About Chato’s Kitchen and Chato and the Party Animals by Gary Soto, illus. by Susan Guevara

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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.

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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 Chato’s Kitchen and Chato and the Party Animals, both written by Gary Soto and illustrated by Susan Guevara. Chato’s Kitchen won the Pura Belpré Award for illustration in 1996, and Chato and the Party Animals won the illustration award in 2002. You can find our book talks on our new YouTube channel!

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For more, read this spotlight on the illustrator: CLICK HERE.

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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 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!