Q&A with Juana Martinez-Neal, author-illustrator of Alma and How She Got Her Name/ Alma y como obtuvo su nombre

 

By Dora M. Guzmán

Q: First, congratulations on  The Princess and the Pea and receiving the Pura Belpré award. What went through your mind when you first heard the news?

A: Thank you, Dora! And thank you for the opportunity to visit Latinxs in Kidlit once again! I like it here!

The Pura Belpré call… the first thing I thought was this can’t be true, but I had heard “Pura Belpré Committee” so it was true! I couldn’t stop crying, but as the call ended, I started wondering what exactly I had won. It was all a blur. I didn’t want to call back the Committee, so the next morning I watched the livecast to find out.

Q: You’ve illustrated numerous books. What inspired you to write a children’s picture book?

A: While I started illustrating books, it felt like a natural progression to next move to a children’s book as an author-illustrator. Alma was the perfect story to take that step since I knew the story well since it has auto-biographical elements and is based on members of my extended family. Initially, Alma was the story of how I got my name and then the story grew from there.

Making Alma felt bumpy quite a few times, and Stefanie, my agent at Full Circle Literary, always knew how to help me get the story to the next level little by little. It was an exciting time when she was ready to go on submission with both the text and sample artwork. Once the book sold, Mary Lee, my editor at Candlewick, was exactly who I needed to finish making this book. Stefanie continued helping during this stage. She helps me all the time! She is my right arm, leg, and eye.

AlmaEnglish   AlmaSpanish

Q: What are the top three tips you’d give future writers looking to write their first picture book?

A: I’m still so new to children’s books that I’m still figuring things out myself! I’ll give myself three tips, and hopefully someone will find them useful.

  1. Write what you know. Alma is exactly that.
  2. It’s never too late to start something new.
  3. Breathe and keep going.

Q: In your author’s message and blog, you describe Alma and How She Got Her Name as an autobiographical story.  Who has left the biggest imprint in your life? How so?

A: This is a hard question to answer. So many people have shaped who I am today, but I will say my parents.

My dad taught me to love Peru and our rich culture, to appreciate art and books, and to enjoy discovering new places. My mom showed me that with determination and drive you can accomplish anything. She believes that no task is too simple or too small. They are all worth doing. She also made me fall in love with words. In the summer, when I was young, if I came to her with the typical “Mooooom, I’m booooreeed!”, she would send me to learn five words from the dictionary. I don’t think I ever passed the letter A, but I learned to appreciate words.

Q: As a child, what book resonated with you the most?

A: Easy answer: El Principito (The Little Prince). I received a copy for my 10th birthday from a friend who lived two houses down. The book changed the way I looked at books. This book spoke directly to me, and made me look at the world in a way I didn’t think was possible.

Q: What is one message you’d give to all the readers of Alma?

A: Learn your story; be proud of where you come from. Celebrate who you are!

I am very proud Alma will release in simultaneous English and Spanish editions, and that I was able to write and now share the book in my two languages. Spanish is my native language since I was born in Peru and moved to the U.S. when I was 24 years old. Like many bilingual children in the U.S., today I use both English and Spanish daily.

Stefanie was sharing with me that one in four children in the U.S. have at least one parent who was born in another country. That’s an enormous part of the population! Those children should be proud of where their families come from and of speaking many languages. It will be a joy to be able to share Alma with children in both of my languages, Alma and How She Got Her Name and Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre.

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Q: Do you plan to write more children’s books? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?

A: I’m happy to say yes! I have another author-illustrator book coming from Candlewick.  I am also illustrating more picture books including Babymoon written by Hayley Barrett (Candlewick 2019) and Swashby and the Sea written by Beth Ferry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2020).

Final words:

¿Cuál es la historia de tu nombre?

¿Qué historia quisieras contar?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR-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. For updates on her art, follow her on Instagram @juanamartinezn. You can also find her on Twitter: @juanamartinez, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juanamartinezneal.illustrator/ and at her official website at http://juanamartinezneal.com/

EDUCATOR RESOURCES:

BOOK REVIEWS:

 

 

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!

Q&A with Debut Author Marieke Nijkamp about This Is Where It Ends

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This Is Where It Ends, Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel, captures 54 harrowing minutes of a high school shooting through the perspectives of four students who have personal connections to the shooter. They are alternately hurt, betrayed, confused, and guilt-ridden about their possible roles in the tragedy and what they could have done to stop it. Two of the main characters are Tomás and Sylvia, unspecified Latin@ twins. Sylvia is trapped in the auditorium with the shooter, while Tomás is among those outside and trying to help. Author Marieke Nijkamp joins us today to answer a few questions about her intense debut.

CINDY: What inspired you to write about a U.S.-based school shooting? What kind of research did you do to capture the intensity of this kind of tragedy?

MARIEKE: A lot of it—from before I started drafting through final edits. I read firsthand accounts of shootings, I listened to 911 calls, I plowed through hundreds of pages of investigative reports, I talked to people, I kept up with news and social media feeds as active shooter situations emerged, I familiarized myself with the psychology of being held at gunpoint. As much as possible, I immersed myself in what we know about school shootings (which is both a lot and not a lot at all). And I tried to translate that to the book.

Even now, when shootings happen, my first instinct is to drop whatever I’m doing and absorb what is happening, listen to people as they share their experiences.

CINDY: Using present tense and limiting the time frame to 54 minutes puts the reader in the moment. As a writer, what made you decide to tell this story as it unfolds?

MARIEKE: When I set out to tell this story, I wanted to tell the story of a school shooting. Not the lead up, not the aftershocks, but the shooting itself. So I knew early on I wanted that limited timeframe, because I wanted, as much as possible, to recreate the experience and the feeling that, from one moment to the next, your entire life can be upended.

It presented some challenges while writing – not just because of the timeframe, but also because most of the action takes place in the same building and even the same room. But I’m a plotter at heart. And I spreadsheeted to my heart’s content.

CINDY: The novel alternates first-person perspectives, but the one person we don’t hear from directly is Tyler. He causes the tragedy, and we find out about him through the other characters, but we never get inside his head. As a reader, I found this powerful because whenever something like this happens, we want the shooter to explain why, but no answer to that question is ever enough. For me, seeing the story through everyone else reinforced this idea, but I’m curious about why you chose not to give Tyler one of the first-person POVs?

MARIEKE: For me, that was actually one of the main reasons to not include Tyler’s point of view. Because, like you say, we are all looking for answers, and they’re never enough. Besides which, we don’t have a singular profile of a shooter, beyond some general elements (most shooters are white, male, and often though not always dealing with loss, grief, resentment). I didn’t want to recreate a profile based on one interpretation, because it’s always going to be exactly that: one interpretation.

Beyond that though, for all that Tyler is a central character in this story, it’s not his. It’s Tomás and Fareed’s story. It’s Sylvia and Autumn’s story. It’s Claire story. To me, the story always belong to them, to the victims and the survivors.

CINDY: Because of your work with DiversifYA and We Need Diverse Books, I wasn’t surprised by your novel’s diverse cast of characters, including an interracial/ethnic lesbian couple (sooooo few depictions of such couples, so *applause*). Although, since it’s set in a small, fictional Alabama town, you could have resorted to creating a less diverse cast of characters. Why was it important to include so much diversity? 

MARIEKE: You know, I never get asked why Claire is straight, white, non-disabled. And that is as much a choice as all the others are.

The thing is, when I set out to write THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS, I wanted to be as respectful and as true to life as possible. When I did take poetic license, I did so by keeping in mind the adage I talked about with many other WNDB team members: first, do no harm.

To me, that didn’t just mean doing the academic research; it meant reflecting life as I know it and as so many friends and so many of my teen readers do. School shootings do not just affect non-marginalized, affluent teens. And even if Opportunity were 95% white and straight, that doesn’t erase the other 5%. Why should they not be the heart of the story?

CINDY: As you begin your debut year, do you have any advice for pre-published writers?

MARIEKE: I’ve come to learn that no advice fits all, but to aspiring authors, I’d say: tell your stories, the stories your most passionate about, in your own way. To pre-published writers anticipating their debut: be  grateful to be on this journey, and be mindful to enjoy it. It’s a wild ride and it’s a wonderful one, too. And it’s so, so worth it.

 

Marieke landscapeABOUT THE AUTHORMarieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages and holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends, a contemporary story that follows four teens over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in January 2016. She is the founder of DiversifYA and a senior VP of We Need Diverse Books. Find her on Twitter.