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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9780763693589.int.2

 

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!

Margarita Engle: Books in Spanish Enhance Latino Family Literacy

Margarita

By Margarita Engle

A few months ago, I received a set of wonderful letters from a grandmother and her 10-year-old granddaughter. They were reading Enchanted Air together, discussing it, and using it as a way for the grandma to share her own childhood experiences during the Cold War.

It occurred to me that many Latino families can’t do this, simply because most books by U.S. Latino authors are not available in Spanish. With a few wonderful exceptions such as the works of Pam Muñoz Ryan and Alma Flor Ada, in general only bestsellers by non-Latinos, and a few specialized small press books by Latinos, ever get translated.

Soon after those heartwarming grandma-granddaughter letters arrived, I visited a Washington, D.C. eighth-grade class where Latino students asked me for books in Spanish. All I had to offer was one of my oldest books, The Surrender Tree/El Arbol de la Rendición, a dual language paperback that resulted from this title’s status as a Newbery Honor winner.

Surrende Tree NotableMy next school visit was to a rural sixth-grade class in California’s agricultural Central Valley. The students were all Latino, and most spoke English, but teachers informed me that many of the parents and grandparents were not bilingual. The only way those families could participate in their children’s education was in Spanish. Fortunately, the school had a grant to provide a signed copy of The Surrender Tree/El Arbol de la Rendición to each student. Those books will go home and be available to the whole family. That’s no guarantee that parents will read and discuss them, but at least it is a possibility.

The need for bilingual books for older children has been on my mind so much that when I served on a diversity panel at a national teachers’ conference, I answered the question, “What are your wishes for the publishing industry?” with the statement, “I wish for translations.”

I pointed out that fifty million people in the U.S. speak Spanish, and that just because the publishing industry has never figured out how to reach this vast “market,” that doesn’t mean it will never be reached. We can’t give up. Until there are more translations, family literacy in this country will never be complete.

Fortunately, I will soon have another bilingual book. A new and innovative small press called HBE Publishing has set a fall 2016 release date for a middle grade historical verse novel that I wrote in the style of magic realism. There will be both English-only and bilingual options, so that schools or individuals can order their preferred format. I won’t receive any advance, but the royalty will be much higher than the usual 10%, a trade-off I’m happy to make, in exchange for a beautiful bilingual edition that children can share with their abuelitos. Perhaps innovation is what it will take to resolve the problem of too few translations.

 

Margarita Engle is a prolific author of books for young readers, most recently of Enchanted Air and Drum Dream Girl. She has won countless awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and the Newbery Honor. Her guest posts on this blog are favorites with readers. Check out her essay on researching and writing the stories of historical heroes. For more information on Margarita’s writing, please visit her official author website.

The same day that this guest post published, Margarita received the 2016 Pura Belpré Author Award for Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings. Congratulations, Margarita! 

 

Margarita’s experiences point to the shortage of Latin@-authored Spanish editions for middle-grade readers. When we researched available titles, we came up with the following modest sampler. Help us expand it! In the comments, please tell us about good bilingual MGs or fully Spanish editions that you’ve run across. Remember, we’re not looking for translations of mega bestsellers like the Harry Potter or Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We’d like to identify books that center on Latin@ characters and themes. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

Note: Some of the bilingual book covers shown below don’t include their Spanish title. 

Si, Somos LatinosEsperanza Renace  Antes de ser libres  Beisbol en abril  Yo Naomi Leon  La travesia de Enrique La Casa en Mango Street  El Color de mis palabras   Cajas de carton  Cool Salsa    Alla Donde Florecen  Upside-Down-and-Backwards-350x550  Una momia en su mochila  Tomando partido  Tia Lola Terminó  Nacer bailando  Lemon-Tree-Caper-The-350x550  Gabi Esta Aqui  El Monstruo  El Caso de la Pluma Perdida  Cuentos Sazon  con-carino-amalia-love-amalia  Cartas del cielo  Cuentos para chicos y grandes  Cuentos de Apolo