Category Archives: Children’s Books

Meet novelist Meg Medina, author of “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind”

Meg Medina began telling stories at a young age. Now she’s won awards and devoted audiences for those stories.

The Cuban-American writer released her new young adult novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, (Candlewick Press) earlier this week.

This follows 2008’s Milagros: Girl from Away and 2011’s Aunt Isa Wants a New Car. Aunt Isa, which is also available in Spanish, earned Medina the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award, given to a new author and new artist of picture books for children nine and younger, as well as a spot on the 2012 Amelia Bloomer List for feminist literature for readers from birth to age 18.

Medina, who grew up in Queens, New York, and lives in Richmond, Virginia, talked to The Hispanic Reader as part of her blog tour for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Click to watch the trailer and learn more about the book.

Q: Tell me about your book The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. What inspired the story?

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is my first young adult novel. It is the story of 17-year-old Sonia Ocampo who, due to the strange circumstances of her birth, is mistakenly believed to be an angel sent to her mining village. With each passing year, her neighbors have pinned all their hopes and dreams on her shoulders (literally), a burden she can no longer bear. With the help of her clever aunt, Tia Neli, Sonia secures a job as a domestic in the capital, and for a while she believes she has escaped her burdens. Unfortunately, trouble isn’t far. Her brother has left for the north, too, and has not been heard from in weeks. Naturally, everyone turns to Sonia to secure his safety. With only her wits – and the help of a lovesick taxiboy – Sonia has to untangle lies and secrets that have plagued her since her birth.

The novel is written in magical realism, but it touches on contemporary issues: migration and legality; true love vs. predatory relationships; defining yourself despite how others define you; young people’s dreams and having the right to follow them.

Q: What influenced you to become a writer?

I have to believe that it was inevitable. I come from a large Cuban family that loves to tell stories. The act of retelling events was part of my life from a very young age – and I’m thankful to my aunts, my mother, and my grandmother for that gift. Even today, when my elders are in their eighties, I enjoy hearing their stories of Cuba. The stories connected me to my imagination and to my culture. I use my writing in much the same way.

Q: You write mostly for children and young adults about overcoming tough circumstances. What appealed to you about this audience?

I think that writing for children is an honor. I don’t think you can find an adult who truly loves to read, who can’t name his favorite book as a child. There’s something magical about that time in our lives, and I love that my work lives there, where real life and stories hold hands. It’s such a treat to write for an audience that operates that way. As for writing about tough circumstances, I say that it’s important to give children – especially bicultural children – a way to see themselves, their struggles, and their families in books and stories.

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Filed under 2012 Books, Author Q&A, Children's Books, Fiction, Young Adult Books

In the news: New books by Sáenz and Aira, plus Cisneros, García Márquez

New releases:

• Coming out this week: the young adult novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, about the friendship between two teenage boys, and Varamo by César Aira, about the making of an epic poem by a Panamanian bureaucrat.

Latino scholars honored:

Latino scholars Teófilo Ruiz and Ramón Saldívar were awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.

Children’s books:

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson and Esperanza Rising and Antonio Skarmeta’s The Composition made USA Today’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids.

Reading is Fundamental’s 2011-12 Multicultural Booklist includes books by Loretta Lopez, Alma Flor Ada, George Ancona and Gary Soto.

Other stories:

• The San Antonio Current ran an article about author Sandra Cisneros’ impact on the city, which she plans to leave.

Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera inspired Carlos Campos’ latest fashion collection, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• A Toronto librarian found a letter that appeared to have been written by Jorge Luis Borges, reports the Canadian magazine Quill & Quire.

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In the news: Arizona, awards, Mexico, Marquez, Saenz

Arizona:

• Wednesday will mark a National Day of Solidarity in which educators across the country are encouraged to teach the controversial Tucson, Ariz., school district curriculum – including Latino-themed books such as Occupied America. The district put away the books so it could still receive funding from the state, which has banned ethnic studies. Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta discussed the situation here.

• The Huffington Post wrote about Aztec Muse magazine’s Librotraficante caravan, which will distribute the banned books in Tucson in March.

The Progressive magazine features several articles about the situation, with reactions from banned authors Ana Castillo, Junot Diaz and Dagoberto Gilb.

Awards:

• Books by Meg Medina and Bettina Restrepo were named to the 2011 Amelia Bloomer list for their feminist themes. Medina was honored for Tia Isa Wants a Car and Restrepo was awarded for Illegal.

• Congratulations to California-based writer Jennifer Torres, who won the Lee and Low New Voices Award for her book, Live at the Cielito Lindo. She received a publishing contract from the publisher.

• The 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults list, chosen by the Young Adult Library Services Association, includes I Will Save You by Matt de la Peña, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and What Can(t) Wait by Ashley Hope Pérez.

Mexico:

• Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa and 170 other writers signed a letter published in the Mexican newspaper El Universal calling for the end of violence to journalists in that country, according to the BBC.

Author profiles:

• Nobel winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, left, talked to the Daily Sun about his return to journalism.

Benjamin Alire Sáenz discussed his writing and painting to the El Paso Times. The article noted that Sáenz, as well as Marquez and Pat Mora, made the list of the top 50 most inspiring writers in the world by Poets & Writers magazine in 2010. Salvador Plascencia was also included.

• Slam poet Jessica Helen Lopez received a nice profile from the San Antonio Express-News before a recent performance there.

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In the news: Awards, Arizona, Mexico and Mario Vargas Llosa

Awards:

It’s book award season! Several organizations have announced winners and nominations for the best of 2011:

• The American Library Association announced today the winners of the Pura Belpé Awards, given to children’s and young adult books that honor Latino culture. The Author Award winner was Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. The Honor Books were Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle and Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller by Xavier Garza.

The Illustrator Award Winner went to Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh. The Honor Books were The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, written by Samantha R. Vamos and illustrated by Rafael López, and Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Sara Palacios.

Luis J. Rodriguez was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in the autobiography category for his memoir, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing. Aracelis Girmay, who is part Puerto Rican, received a nod in the poetry category for her book, Kingdom Animalia, which has already won the 2011 Isabella Gardner Poetry Award.

Justin Torres‘s We the Animals will be one of five books vying for the NAACP Image Award’s Outstanding Literature Work – Debut Author.

Diana Gabaldon’s short story “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies,” from the anthology Down These Strange Streets, earned her a Best Short Story nomination from the Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America.

• Busboys and Poets bookstore, the progressive Washington D.C.-based bookstore, included several Latino-themed books in its Best of 2011 list: Pam Muñoz Ryan’s The Dreamer; Let’s Go See Papa!, by Lawrence Schimel, Alba Marina Rivera and Elisa Amado; the Spanish-language version of Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States, La Otra Historia de los Estados Unidos; The Guatemala Reader by Greg Grandin, Deborah T. Levenson, Elizabeth Oglesby and News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres.

Arizona:

Aztec Muse magazine is starting a Libro Traficante Caravan to distribute books in Tucson, Arizona, after the school district put away many Latino books from classrooms to retain funding from the state, which has banned ethnic studies. For a great take on the topic, here’s Texas-based writer Beatriz Terrazasessay on the Mamiverse website.

Mexico:

Here’s an excellent NPR story about how Mexican artists, including poet Javier Sicilia, are using words and music to react to their country’s drug war.

Mario Vargas Llosa:

Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, right, declined an offer to head the Cervantes Institute in Spain, which promotes Latin American culture, according to the Latin American Herald-Tribune.

 

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‘Tis the season: Christmas books for children

Children are a big reason for celebrating Christmas. If you want to add some books to their stockings, here’s a good list (definitely not definitive) of Latino-themed reads about the holidays:

• The Night of Las Posadas, a 1999 book by Tomie dePaola, tells the story about a local community trying to present the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey through Bethlehem. Pam Munoz Ryan’s 2005 book There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve is another story about the nativity.

• The Gift of the Poinsettia, a 1995 book by Pat Mora and Chris Ramírez Berg, depicts a young boy’s quest to get the perfect gift for the baby Jesus. Mora also wrote A Piñata in a Pine Tree: A Latino Twelve Days of Christmas.

• Puerto Rican author Eric Velasquez won a Pura Belape award for his 2011 book, Grandma’s Gift, about a young boy creating the perfect Christmas present for his grandmother.

• Alma Flor Ada, who is of Cuban descent, has written several Christmas books, including The Christmas Tree/El Arbol de Navidad and Celebrate Christmas and Three Kings Days with Pablo and Carlitos (with F. Isabel Campoy).

Growing Up with Tamales/ Los tamales de Ana by Gwendolyn Zepeda in 2009 depicts a great Hispanic Christmas tradition.

• And, finally, the 2008 Charo Claus and the Tejas Kid by Xavier Garza, gives a South Texas twist to the Christmas tale.

Got another great Christmas book to recommend? Make suggestions in the comments.

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In the news

Awards: Pam Muñoz Ryan picked up the PEN Center USA award in Children/YA Literature earlier this month for her children’s book about poet Pablo Neruda, The Dreamer. Francisco Goldman took the Prix Femina Étranger, a French literary award, for his novel, Say Her Name, the first American to win since 2005.

• This is cool: The prestigious University of Iowa creative writing program is adding a master’s degree in Spanish Creative Writing, officials announced last week.

• Here’s some interesting articles about young adult authors: The Dallas Morning News profiled Ray Villareal (pictured at right), whose Don’t Call Me a Hero is published by Arte Publico Press, and NPR did a story about the popularity of Malín Alegría’s 2006 book Estrella’s Quinceanera.

• Spanish poet Tomas Segovia died last week. Segovia, who later lived in Mexico, won numerous awards for his work.

New releases: Luis Alberto Urrea’s Queen of America, the sequel to the awesome The Hummingbird’s Daughter comes out Nov. 29. Arte Público is releasing two books from Rolando Hinojosa Nov. 30: Partners In Crime: A Rae Buenrostro Mystery and A Voice of My Own: Essays and Stories. The Third Reich, written by the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, will come out Dec. 1 by Farrar Straus Giroux.

• The Hispanic Reader will return with reviews of those books after a weeklong holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Celebrating Dias de los Muertos in words

Oct. 31 marks the beginning of the three-day Dias de los Muertos, one of the Latino community’s most important holidays. Celebrants remember their loved ones who have passed away by creating altars and writing calaveras, or poems. The day has roots in the Aztec culture and now coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. As this Associated Press article notes, the celebrations are gaining popularity across the country. Here’s some reading about the day:

• Azcentral.com has a great website about the holiday, including a history about the holiday and a list of books.

La Casa Azul Bookstore lists its favorite Dia de los Muertos books for children, including The Day of the Dead/El Dia de las Muertos by Bob Barner.

• Novelist Sandra Cisneros has created an altar for her mother that will be displayed at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque until March 2012, according to this article by the New Mexico Daily Lobo.

• The novel, Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, takes place on Dias de los Muertos. In the book, a British man self-destructs while in the Mexican city of Quauhnahuac. Time named it one of the 100 all-time greatest novels.

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Meet storyteller Joe Hayes, the man behind “La Llorona”

Halloween is approaching, and that means many storytellers will be weaving the famous Hispanic scary story of La Llorona, the weeping woman who drowned her children and looks for them along rivers and canals. The folktale, especially popular in Texas, has many versions. Storyteller Joe Hayes turned that story into a book, La Llorona/The Weeping Woman, in 1987, and it has gone on to sell more than 300,000 books for Cinco Puntos Press. Hayes grew up in Arizona, where he learned Spanish from his Mexican-American friends. Hayes has written more than three dozen children’s books that are written in English and Spanish.

Q: Why are people so intrigued by the tale of La Llorona?

There are really three aspects to the character of La Llorona. First, she’s a threatening character you have to look out for, especially if you’re a kid. This by far the best-known aspect. Many people know of her in this role, without knowing the tale behind it, or knowing only the detail that she drowned her children. And then there’s the legendary tale of her. It’s a legend because it’s widely accepted as factual. Finally, there are the many stories of personal experiences involving La Llorona. In my version in The Day It Snowed Tortillas (a collection of his short stories), I include all three aspects of her. And I think these three facets of La Llorona combine to make her so intriguing. Children are fascinated by a vague threat, and even more so if there’s a safety valve, a way to avoid the threat: Stay inside at night. The theme of a mother who kills her own children is widespread in folklore. It’s such a violation of the natural order, that people can’t quite get it out of their minds. And a character who is perpetually mourning and seeking forgiveness also has a strong hold on the imagination. Finally, so many people swear they’ve seen or heard La Llorona, that children can never quite declare that they don’t believe the story. There’s always that sense of “I don’t really think it’s true, but…but…”

Q: The story has many different versions. How did you adjust it to your book version?

I just started telling the story several decades ago, combining things I had heard as a kid with my own imagination. Over the years, the listeners helped me refine the story by the way they reacted to it. The printed version is somewhere between the way I started out telling and how I now tell it. I always tried not to glorify the violence that’s inherent in the tale, but refused to abandoned the essential fact that she drowned her children. I can’t stand some of the contemporary versions that turn La Llorona into a helpful character, or say that she didn’t actually drown the children. They rob the story of it’s mythic quality. The story, at least my story, of La Llorona is highly moralistic. It’s a teaching story.

Q: As an Anglo man, what has appealed to you about communicating through different cultures?

I have always believed that stories belong to those who honor and care for them. Years ago when I first started tellling stories, I knew that the story of La Llorona needed to be perpetuated. No other storytellers were telling it. So, without reasoning why, I just started telling the story. That’s changed now, of course. Many people tell it. I now realize that I’ve been able to make a greater contribution, both to Hispanic and non-Hispanic children, by not being Hispanic than I could ever have made were I Hispanic. It’s opened minds to the fact that words are for everyone, ideas are for everyone. The human family is one big round circle, not a lot of separate straight lines.

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In the news

Puerto Rican/Cuban-American poet Piri Thomas (pictured at left) passed away last week. His book, Down These Mean Streets, described his life growing up in Spanish Harlem and became a staple in classrooms, according to this New York Times obituary.

• Here’s the round-up in book festivals this coming weekend:

Luis Alberto Urrea will speak at the Louisiana Book Festival Saturday in Baton Rouge.

The Dallas International Book Festival, on Saturday, will feature novelist Esmeralda Santiago (pictured at right), children’s author Lucia Gonzalez, young adult author Ray Villareal and poet Joaquin Zihuatanejo.

The 31st Annual Book Fair of Santiago will run from Friday-Nov. 13 if you just so happen to be in Chile.

• Monday will be a big day for Arte Publico Press – it’s releasing several children’s and young adult books that day. The titles are: Don’t Call Me a Hero by Ray Villareal; The Lemon Tree Caper: A Mickey Rangel Mystery by René Saldana Jr.; ¡A Bailar! Let’s Dance! by Judith Ortiz Cofer and illustrated by Christina Ann Rodriguez; Clara and the Curandera by Monica Brown and illustrated by Thelma Muraida; and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and illustrated by Christina Rodriguez.

Dagoberto Gilb, whose short story collection Before the End, After the Beginning comes out Tuesday, will tour several Texas cities with Aztec Muse magazine editor Tony Diaz. They’ll be in San Antonio Nov. 2; Dallas, Nov. 3-4; and Houston, Nov. 16-17. The Texas Observer covered his speech at last week’s Texas Book Festival, as well as Sergio Troncoso’s and Richard Yanez’s discussion about El Paso literature. (Scroll down the page for the articles.) Texas Monthly also excerpted a story in its latest issue. The Hispanic Reader will post a review of his book next week.

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In the news

Rigoberto González (pictured at left), who was born in California and raised in Mexico, releases his latest collection of poetry, Black Blossoms, today. The book centers on the struggles of women of color.

• The Brattleboro Literary Festival, which runs Oct. 14-15 in Vermont, will feature Julia Alvarez (pictured at right), Martín Espada and Luis Alberto Urrea. Alvarez’s latest children’s book, How Tía Lola Ended Up Starting Over (Knopf Books for Young Readers) was released last month. Alvarez is touring this month in support of the book. For more of her schedule, click here.

• Alvarez and Carlos Eire are scheduled to speak at the Boston Book Festival Oct. 15.

• The Southern Festival of the Books will take place in Nashville Oct. 14-16. Lisa D. Chavez, Lorraine López, Helena Mesa, Justin Torres and Marisel Vera are on the schedule.

• Brazilian Paulo Coelho’s latest book, Aleph, reached number six on The New York Times bestsellers list for hardcover fiction. The Hispanic Reader will publish a review later this week.

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