Author Angela Cervantes On Publishing & Her Animal-Loving Latina Protagonist

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Today, we are thrilled to have a Q&A with author Angela Cervantes, who talks about her debut novel, Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic), her advice for pre-published writers, and a little about how she crafted a wonderful middle grade novel that’s both funny and heartbreaking. Angela is also super generous and is offering a signed book, a poster, and a T-shirt to one lucky winner. Click on the Rafflecopter link here or at the end of the post to enter!

Gaby Lost and FoundCR: Since this is your debut novel, can you tell us about your publishing journey. Were there any things you did in particular that, in hindsight, you think were particularly helpful as you pursued an agent and book deal? What advice would you give to pre-published writers?

AC: My middle grade novel, Gaby, Lost and Found has been out almost 10 months now, and I’m still learning things about myself and the publishing journey. In the beginning, when I was a simple wanna-be-Kid Lit author with a manuscript, the idea of facing the publishing industry was scary.If you had met me then, I would have told you that I’d rather pick up a hitchhiker with face tattoos than have to face the world of slush piles and soul-less rejection letters.

Eventually, I realized that if I loved my book enough, I had to be willing to take on rejection. After all, the worst things they can do to you is ignore you completely or reject your work. Tough, but big deal. Every writer in the history of the written world has received a rejection or been passed up at some point, right? If they rejected my work, I was in good company.

I could go on and on with advice for pre-published writers. Never pick up hitchhikers with face tattoos! Really, I’ve learned so much. First, I would start with the very basic: If you’re going to go the traditional publishing route, like I did, then you must finish that manuscript. You have to show the agent something fast when they ask for a partial or full manuscript. My second advice is to take that completed manuscript to a writing critique group. Feedback is crucial. I belong to a critique group called the Firehouse Five (although we are six now) and we meet monthly to provide critique to each other’s work. It’s priceless. My final advice, take your writing-group-critiqued and completed manuscript to a local writers’ conference and sign up for a pitch or first pages sessions with an agent. I met my agent through a writer’s conference. She liked my pitch, but made it very clear there was plenty of work to be done on my manuscript before she’d offer representation. I did the work and I was signed. With her guidance, I made more revisions and it was sent off for submission. Soon, the first rejection arrived. It didn’t kill me. A week or so later, I received an offer for my first novel. Yay!

Angela C and brother

From her website: Angela, age 10, with her brother Enrique and their dogs, which were the inspiration for Spike in the novel.

CR: I love how you mixed Gaby’s story with the animals’ stories, how they were both in new situations and looking for new homes. How did you get the idea to address the subject of immigration for a MG audience, using homeless animals as a link to Gaby’s situation?

Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really didn’t start with the idea to address the subject of immigration. I’m character-driven in my writing so I started with just Gaby, a funny, smart, and brave girl who is also a serious animal lover like her mom. I think if I had started out subject-driven with the intention to write a book on the issue of immigration, it would have been a much different novel. It would have come across as more lecturing and I don’t like to lecture or be on the receiving end of a lecture. No thank you. And kids don’t want to be lectured to either. At school visits, kids always ask me about deportation, but more in the context of why or how this happened to Gaby. They always tell me that they want Gaby and her mom to be together. They’re invested in Gaby’s happiness. It’s precious.

CR: Even though Gaby is dealing with the serious issue of her mother being away, she is also a “typical” MG girl, laughing and doing silly things with her male and female friends. Was this a conscious decision on your part, to show a range of emotions and not have it be an “issue” book or overly depressing?

AC: It’s funny that you ask that because my original drafts were even more depressing! I pulled a lot out during the revision process because the story was going in all sorts of directions. What got me back on track was again focusing on Gaby and who she was and not what she was going through. Gaby is an eleven year old girl. She loves animals. She loves glitter. She can climb trees and beat the boys at a water balloon fight. Would Gaby be defeated by bullying at school, the loss of her mom, the neglect of her father, and poverty? Or would this young girl rise up, even if she responds with some missteps, and show us what she’s made of? For me that was the only conscious decision on my part in writing this novel. I had to be true to Gaby and not define her by what she was going through, but show where she was going.

CR: Are you an animal lover? Did you have to do any particular research about animal shelters or spend time at one to capture what happens there?

AC: Besides my many years of experience as an animal lover and pet owner, I did visit several local animal shelters for information and inspiration. At the animal shelters, I asked tons of questions, held a lot of cats, wrote a lot of notes and pet a lot of dogs for this book. Why can’t all research be that much fun?

CR: What are you working on now? Can you share what’s next for you?

AC: Sure! I’ve completed my second middle-grade novel and I am now in the throes of revision. Fun stuff! Wish me luck.

Angela Cervantes

Angela Cervantes was born and raised in Kansas, with most of her childhood spent in Topeka in the Mexican-American community of Oakland. Angela has a degree in English and an MBA, and she is the co-founder of Las Poetas, a Chicana poetry group that has developed into the Latino Writers Collective. In 2005, her short story, “Pork Chop Sandwiches,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. In  2007, she won third place for Creative Nonfiction in the Missouri Review’s audio competition for her story “House of Women” and Kansas City Voices’ Best of Prose Award for her short story, “Ten Hail Marys.” In 2008, she was recognized as one of Kansas City’s Emerging Writers by the Kansas City Star Magazine.

Gaby, Lost and Found is her first novel.

Click HERE to enter the giveaway. One winner will receive a signed copy of Gaby, Lost and Found, a poster, and a T-shirt. You can enter for free once each day. A winner will be chosen on Saturday, 5/24/14. Good luck!!

For Children’s Day/Book Day, Let’s Meet Angela Dominguez, Illustrator of Maria Had a Little Llama

By Concetta Gleason
editorial assistant/admin coordinator for Scholastic’s Club Leo en Español

The original post can be found here on Scholastic’s site.

Today is Children’s Day/Book Day/El día de los niños/El día de los libros, which is a mouthful, so let’s call it by its common name: Día¡Gracias!

Founded in 1996 by Pat Mora, author of Book Fiesta!Día is a celebration of children reading in their home language and exploring new languages. One of the most amazing things Día strives to do is provide grants for communities and libraries to support literacy for children of all languages and cultural backgrounds. We love this holiday. Bilingualism + books + kids = Club Leo.

To celebrate, we wanted to do something special: interview Angela Dominguez, author and illustrator of the beloved Maria Had a Little Llama/María Tenía una Llamita, which won the 2014 Pura Belpré Illustration Honor.

Angela was born in Mexico City, raised in Texas, and now lives in San Francisco. She is totally awesome. Let’s chat!

Club Leo: Why do you like llamas? 

Angela Dominguez: Llamas have so much personality! They have such expressive faces and such interesting bodies. I love their long necks, short legs, and their luscious fur.

CL: Where did you grow up? What do you like about that place? 

AD: I was born in Mexico City, but I grew up in Texas. My brother and his family still live there, and I visit often. Texas is very welcoming with friendly people. The summers are wonderful, and I miss the food—especially the corn bread.

CL: Why did you become an illustrator and author of children’s books?

AD: I’m having so much fun writing stories now and feel very privileged to be doing what I do. Children’s books have such an impact on children growing up, and great picture books resonate with people of all ages. I also adore the simplicity. It’s about editing it down to what’s absolutely necessary to tell a good story with pictures and words.

CL: Do you remember Scholastic Book Clubs from when you went to school?

AD: I remember Scholastic Book Clubs fondly. I would take home the catalog and would always want so many books. My mother, who supported me and my brother by herself, never would deny me any books and supported my reading habit. For that and many reasons, I’m very grateful.

CL: What do you like to do when you have free time?

AD: I love walking, swimming, and being outdoors. I also enjoy traveling and hope to do more in the future. In addition, spending time with my family and friends.

Angela has one of the best jobs in the world—she is an author and illustrator! What that means is she writes stories and draws pictures all day long.

Angela does all her cool artwork in a studio—in fact, the studio in the pictures shown above! A studio is a room full of paper, paint, and creative ideas. (When you think about it, a studio is a lot like a personal classroom for one person!) Angela uses digital brushes and a computer screen to add colors to book pages. We love the beautiful illustrations and bright colors in Maria Had a Little Llama/Maria Tenía una Llamita! Especially the little llama!

Author’s Note: Club Leo en Español supports your classroom with fun and affordable books that connect children’s home language and learning. Our books include amazing series, original titles, and winners of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the remarkable contributions of artists who give voice to the Latino community through children’s literature.

Club Leo en Español apoya tu salón de clases con libros divertidos y asequibles que conectan la lengua materna y el aprendizaje de los niños. Nuestra colección incluye increíbles series, títulos originales y ganadores del Premio Pura Belpré, que celebra los extraordinarios aportes de artistas que dan voz a la comunidad latina a través de la literatura infantil.

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Animals and Latin American Art

By Concetta Gleason
editorial assistant/admin coordinator for Scholastic’s Club Leo en Español

Animaletras by Chilean author Francisca Palacios is the ideal book to read during National Poetry Month. Animaletras is an alphabet book that teaches young learners about the animal kingdom, describing each animal in beautiful verse that includes useful facts about habits and habitats. The vibrant illustrations beautifully encapsulate the playfulness and vitality so common in Latin American art. One of our favorite letter-and-animal pairs is A for Águila (Eagle):

 A a 

Con el águila en el cielo
bien montada en cada ala
la a vuela, aventurera,
por los vientos inflamada.

With the eagle in the sky
saddled closely to each wing
the a takes flight, adventurous,
enflamed by the winds.

For bilingual classrooms, Animaletras opens up a world of fun creative writing exercises in Spanish and English. One great writing exercise is the acrostic, where you spell out a word vertically and use each letter as the first letter of a new word that relates to the original word. Below are acrostic poems in Spanish and English foráguila and eagle.

Águila

Ágil

Glorioso

Único

Increíble

Líder

Aplomo

Eagle

Enormous

Agile

Grand

Lovely

Elegant

What words and rhymes can you create in English and Spanish for National Poetry Month?

Author’s Note: Club Leo en Español supports your classroom with fun and affordable books that connect children’s home language and learning. Our books include amazing series, original titles, and winners of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the remarkable contributions of artists who give voice to the Latino community through children’s literature.

Club Leo en Español apoya tu salón de clases con libros divertidos y asequibles que conectan la lengua materna y el aprendizaje de los niños. Nuestra colección incluye increíbles series, títulos originales y ganadores del Premio Pura Belpré, que celebra los extraordinarios aportes de artistas que dan voz a la comunidad latina a través de la literatura infantil.

Book Review: Confetti Girl by Diana López

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Confetti GirlDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Apolonia “Lina” Flores is a sock enthusiast, a volleyball player, a science lover, and a girl who is looking for answers. Even though her house is crammed full of her dad’s books, she’s having trouble figuring out some big questions, like why her father keeps retreating into his reading, why her best friend is changing their old rules, and, most of all, why her mother had to die last year. Like colors in cascarones, Lina’s life is a rainbow of people, interests, and unexpected changes.

MY TWO CENTS: In Confetti Girl, López masterfully blends serious middle school issues, like friendships and first kisses, with the even more serious issues middle schoolers face, such as the death of one parent and the paralyzing grief of the other. Apolonia “Lina” Flores is an easily lovable character with her crazy socks and desire to do well on the volleyball court and in the classroom. But everything starts to unravel as Lina’s dad gets lost in books and her best friend, Vanessa, gets lost in Carlos’s dreamy eyes. With her relationships already strained, Lina’s situation gets worse when she’s benched for failing grades.

What makes Confetti Girl not only an awesome middle grade read but also a great novel about Latin@s is how López seamlessly weaves in cultural details. She talks about how she decided to include certain details here. By using such things as cascarones and dichos throughout the novel, López introduces cultural specifics to readers without being preachy or teacher-like. In other words, I could see young readers responding with, “Cool, let’s make those,” or “Yup, my mom says things like that all the time,” instead of “Oh, that’s a Latin thing” (closes book). The Kirkus review of this novel put it this way: “An appealing coming-of-age novel set in a traditional Mexican-American town, in which Hispanic teachers, students and parents celebrate traditional American holidays such as Thanksgiving alongside such traditional Mexican observances as el Día de los Muertos and a Quinceañera.” Click here for the full review.

Confetti Girl, López’s first middle grade novel, was a winner of the William Allen White Award and named to New York Library’s “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.” It was a commended title for the 2010 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, and Latinidad’s “Top Latino Book of the Year” for Middle Grade Category. It was also a Scholastic Book Club and Book Fair Selection.

TEACHING TIPS: Lots of great teaching tips, including discussion questions and activities, can be found on the author’s website. Click here for her “Teacher Resource” page and here for a PDF of a Teacher’s Guide for Confetti Girl.

Also, to align with the Common Core State Standards, teachers could easily mix this fictional novel with nonfiction articles that range from cascarones to the grieving process. Teachers could also bring in Watership Down by Richard Adams since it plays a significant role in Confetti Girl. Students could read Watership Down first and then read Confetti Girl to truly understand how the classic novel helps Lina to make sense of her own life.

LEXILE: 660

AUTHORDiana López is the author of the adult novella, Sofia’s Saints and the middle grade novels, Confetti Girl, Choke, and the recently released Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel. She is also featured in the anthologies Hecho en Tejas and You Don’t Have a Clue. She has been a guest on NPR’s Latino USA and is the winner of the 2004 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award. Diana teaches English and works with the organization, CentroVictoria, at the University of Houston Victoria.

For more information about Confetti Girl visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out GoodreadsIndieBound.orgWorldCat.orgLittle Brown Books for Young ReadersScholasticAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

You can also click here for a book trailer of Confetti Girl featuring the author!

Diana can also be found on the site Read to Write Stories, where she blogs about how to create conflict with subtext.