Latinas for Latino Lit; Q & A with Monica Brown
Last year, as part of the Latinas for Latino Lit blog hop, we posted an essay by Brian Amador who narrates and writes music for children’s audio books. For the second annual, LL4L, which is in honor of Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros that is celebrated every year on April 30, I did a Q & A with author Monica Brown. Brown is the author of many award winning books for children including Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt), winner of the Ame?ricas Award for Children’s Literature and an Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction and Tito Puente, Mambo King/Rey del Mambo (Rayo/HarperCollins), which was named a Pura Belpre? Honor Book for Illustration and an ALA Notable Children’s Book. For a list of the other authors and bloggers who are participating, visit Latinas for Latino Lit.
1) You were a featured author at the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Congratulations! Did you see a good representation of Latino Authors at the festival? Who is your favorite Latino Author?
In addition to being a Latina author, I’m a Professor of English who specializes in U.S. Latino/a literature in particular. So needless to say, there will NEVER be “enough” Latino author representation, not with the amount of talent we have out there, both children’s authors and adult authors. Some of my favorite adult authors are Luis Urrea, Sandra Cisneros, and Gloria Anzaldua, and from Latin American authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Manuel Puig, and Pablo Neruda! On the children’s and young adult side we are having a renaissance with talents like Yuyi Morales, René Colato Laínez, Malín Alegria, and Meg Medina, along with exciting new voices like Laura Lacamara. Pat Mora and Alma Flor Ada were early influences on me, and they continue to inspire.
2) The movie based on Cesar Chavez’s life came out recently and you also wrote a book about him. What do you think kids today can learn from his story and Dolores Huerta’s?
They can learn more than I can communicate in one short answer. One thing they both had in common was a commitment to the hopes, dreams, and lives of others. So many of us, and I am guilty of this, are preoccupied with our own lives and challenges, and not worried about those in our community who are truly struggling with basic needs—the right to food, shelter, safe working conditions, and access to medical care. Both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta embody what it means to serve others, and in their case, that means/meant empowering others—helping those find voice and strength in community.
3) How do you decide who or what you are going to write about? Were there any subjects that didn’t work?
That’s a tough question, actually, because each story has a different “conception,” if you will. With my biographies, I’ve chosen people who move and inspire me, often creative people—musicians and fellow writers like Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’m also inspired by activists like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta for the reasons I state above. In terms of my fiction, I often look within—for example, my Marisol McDonald books, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina and Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/y la fiesta sin equal were inspired by my own life and the lives of children like my own. Sources of inspiration are infinite, but as a mother of two teens with a “day” job of college professor, what is finite is my time to write!
I don’t like to think about my unpublished or unfinished manuscripts as “not working.” They exist in the world, even if it’s just my own mind (and my computer files!). I learn and grow with each of my writing projects and bring that to the next story.
4) Your books have such beautiful illustrations. How much do you work with the illustrator to make your vision come to life?
Editors like to keep authors and illustrators separated during the process of creating the book. I give very detailed feedback on the initial sketches (and sometimes on the choice of illustrator), and it’s up to the editor and art director to meld my vision with the vision of the artist. I work with brilliant artists, so I have a lot of trust in their interpretation of my words, or I wouldn’t work with them in the first place.
5) What story or historical figure will you be tackling next?
I have several books coming out this year and next. I’m excited about my forthcoming book, Maya’s Blanket/la manta de Maya (Lee and Low, 2115), which is about a creative little girl, her Abuelita, and a magical manta. This book will be illustrated by David Diaz. I also have a biography of Pablo Picasso coming out with Santillana in 2014, which I’m excited about. I also have other projects that I’m working on, but I never talk about them until they are finished!
6) Do you have any advice for authors trying to get their children’s book published?
Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Revise. Revise. Revise. There aren’t magic shortcuts no matter how new or how established you are. Don’t send out your work until it’s ready (see above), because you only have one chance to make a first impression—this is especially important for new writers. Join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators), and attend conferences. Take the advice you get from professionals you trust! I’ve given lots of advice to friends and acquaintances about the publishing world, but rarely do folks follow through. Writing is wonderful, but it’s also work. I have great moments of joy, but many of frustration as well. I just don’t give up. Which leads me to a final thought. Learn to make peace with rejections. I won’t deny that it really hurts, but personally, I try to keep a core of myself—that memory of mother telling me as a little girl that I could do and be anything I want to be—whole.
Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award- winning books for children, including Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt), winner of the Ame?ricas Award for Children’s Literature and an Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Nonfiction, and Waiting for the Biblioburro (Random House), a Christopher Award winner. Her picture book Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina (Lee & Low) is the winner of the Tejas Star Book Award, the International Latino Book Award, and a Pura Belpre? Honor for Illustration. Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual (Lee & Low), the second book in the Marisol series, was the subject of an NPR interview with Monica in December 2013. Monica’s additional 2013 book, Tito Puente, Mambo King/Rey del Mambo (Rayo/HarperCollins), was named a Pura Belpre? Honor Book for Illustration and an ALA Notable Children’s Book.
Monica’s books are inspired by her Peruvian- American heritage and desire to share Latino/a stories with children. “I write from a place of deep passion, joy, and commitment to producing the highest possible quality of literature for children. In my biographies, the lives of my subjects are so interesting and transformational that I am simply giving them voice for a young audience. I don’t think it is ever too early to introduce children to the concepts of magical realism, social justice, and dreaming big!” Monica is a popular conference speaker and has appeared at TLA, NCTE, Book Expo America, the National Book Festival, and the Texas Book Festival.
Monica’s other books include Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a lado: La historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez (Rayo/HarperCollins), an NAACP Image Award nominee; Pele?, King of Soccer/ Pele?, el rey del fu?tbol (Rayo/HarperCollins); and Chavela and the Magic Bubble (Clarion).
Monica Brown is a Professor of English at Northern Arizona University, specializing in U.S. Latino Literature and Multicultural Literature. She writes and publishes scholarly work with a Latino/a focus, including Gang Nation: Delinquent Citizenship in Puerto Rican and Chicano and Chicana Literature; and numerous articles and chapters on Latino/a literature and cultural studies. She was the recipient of the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship on Chicano Cultural Literacies from the Center for Chicano Studies at the University of California. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Flagstaff, Arizona.