Summer’s coming to a close and what better way to keep it going than with a good book? Introducing our next Musa on the blog, Emma Otheguy, with her middle grade debut, SILVER MEADOWS SUMMER.
About the book:
When Papi loses his job, eleven-year-old Carolina's summer seems ruined. Now, she and her family have to move from Puerto Rico to her Tía Cuca and Uncle Porter's house in upstate New York. Carolina attends Silver Meadows camp, where her bossy cousin Gabriela is queen of the social scene.
But it isn’t all that bad—Carolina meets a friend, Jennifer, who loves art just as much as she does. Carolina gets a welcome surprise when she stumbles upon an abandoned cottage in the woods near camp. And for Carolina, it’s the perfect getaway to make art. With Jennifer by her side, Carolina begins to reclaim the parts of the life she loved in Puerto Rico, forgetting about how her relationship with Mami has changed and how distant Papi has grown.
But when the future of Silver Meadows and the cottage is thrown into jeopardy, Carolina and--to everyone's surprise--Gabriela come up with a plan to save them. Will it work?
Poetry plays a part in Silver Meadows Summer. Who are some poets you believe children should be acquainted with?
There are three poems at the heart of Silver Meadows Summer, each one exploring the theme of finding one’s path: “Que descansada vida” by Fray Luis de León, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, and “Caminante, no hay camino” by Antonio Machado. These poems offer diverging guidance about how to understand life’s journey, and each perspective is important to consider. My family, like many families of immigrants I think, leaned into the philosophy of Antonio Machado, which says “Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar”--Traveler there is no path, you make your path by walking.
How can educators help displaced students like Carolina feel welcome in school?
Serious challenges come with moving to a new place, particularly to a new cultural context. But I have been inspired during school visits to realize how many kids identify with the experience of being new and therefore empathize with Carolina. And once I tell talk about the Latino experience in the United States and some of the obstacles Carolina faces, that empathy and identification grows. Children tend toward sympathy and solidarity if we support that perspective.
How can art be healing for students like Carolina?
I don’t think of books, beautiful words, music, or visual and performing arts as optional. These are deeply held human needs. When Carolina finds a friend who understands her drive to create, Carolina is transformed. Making art with a friend helps her feel less alone and more confident. Art allows Carolina hold on to who she was before so that she can build up her new life without fear of forgetting where she came from. It allows Carolina to explore who she is on the inside.
What advice do you have for educators teaching poetry?
Teach poetry from different cultures and languages, and look for poetry all around you—in conversations overheard on the bus, in song lyrics, in bits of sportscasts. Poetry is everywhere if we pay attention. Different cultural traditions offer different perspectives on the pressing questions poets consider, like Frost and Machado—offer your students both.
What picture books could be paired with Silver Meadows Summer?
Either of the two picture books about Pura Belpré (The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucía González and Planting Stories by Anika Denise) would offer more context to the stories of the Cucaracha Martina that Carolina discusses in the book. Parrots over Puerto Rico by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumore explores the history and natural beauty of Puerto Rico that Carolina misses in the novel.
You've written award-winning picture books before and Silver Meadows Summer is your debut Middle Grade. How do you approach each project? Are there similarities regardless of age range? What are some of the differences?
I loved that writing a middle-grade novel gave me more opportunities to explore in-depth Carolina’s experiences and feelings. But many parts of writing remain constant across picture books and middle-grade: I still care about the rhythm of the language and its readability. I care about the emotions and the passions of the characters. I care about the beauty of the physical book.
What would you say is your writing quirk?
I tend to write short first drafts that are later expanded. I know many writers struggle with the opposite, but perhaps because I’m a picture book writer and I love synthesizing big ideas in accessible ways, my instinct is to write shorter.
Why do you write for kids?
Because I love children’s books and I believe that they are one of the highest expressions of artistry and craftsmanship in writing. Because children’s books have meant the world to me throughout my entire life. Because I like kids—they make me laugh, they are honest and empathetic and they have big feelings. They believe that what we do and say really matters. Talking to kids through books is the honor of a lifetime!
Silver Meadows is rich in lyrical prose: where does the poetry come from?
I became a reader and a storyteller in part because my parents were always repeating recollections of Cuba or quoting bits of poetry or biblical verses from memory. I think growing up in a bilingual household, especially, you learn to pay attention to the way the cadence of words plays with the meaning that is conveyed. Being the child of exiles, you learn to pay attention to the ways stories change or stay the same from telling to telling, how the repetition of a memory from Cuba could become its own little song. I don’t want to lose those memories, and so I try and bring that music to my writing whenever possible.
What are you working on next?
My first fiction picture book, A Sled for Gabo, will be published by Atheneum in 2020. It’s a Caribbean snow day story that I just can’t wait to read aloud to a classroom of children.
I also have another book about Cuba coming out, this one co-written with Adam Gidwitz for his Unicorn Rescue Society series. The Unicorn Rescue Society and the Madre de Aguas of Cuba will be published by Dutton in 2020.
Thanks so much, Emma!
You can pick up a copy of SILVER MEADOWS SUMMER from your local indie, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at your local library.
It's an honor to introduce to Las Musas blog readers the gifted Natasha Díaz, freelance writer, producer, and screenwriter. Natasha has been a quarterfinalist in the Austin Film Festival and a finalist for both the NALIP Diverse Women in Media Fellowship and the Sundance Episodic Story Lab. Her personal essays have been published in the Establishment and the Huffington Post. On August 22nd, Delacorte Press releases her debut young adult novel COLOR ME IN!
COLOR ME IN is a brave, poetic, engrossing coming-of-age and coming-to-wokeness story of 16-year-old Nevaeh Levitz who grew up in an affluent suburb in NYC disconnected to her biracial roots and unaware of her privilege. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom's family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time.
You Tweeted once that COLOR ME IN is your love letter to NYC. Can you discuss how your love of NY infuses the book?
Aside from being multiracial, Jewish, and a woman, being born and raised in New York City is the next most defining thing about me. I’m sure many people feel this way about the place(s) they grew up, but being a New Yorker is something I take serious pride in. Being raised here gave me a lot of independence at an early age, as well as a no-nonsense, tough exterior. I learned real quick how to watch out for myself and move through the world with confidence, or at least, enough feigned confidence that people believed me enough not to mess with me too much. A lot of the transitions Nevaeh goes through in the book are about coming into herself and finding her voice, so I tried to put her in the middle of very New York moments and experiences to help aid in that growth.
COLOR ME IN is not a memoir but the emotional depth of the novel feels very personal - how much did you draw from your own history and where did you draw the line?
The book is mostly fiction, but I did pull a handful of my own experiences that I included in Nevaeh’s story and I was also inspired by people in my own life as I crafted some of the characters. In the beginning, it was hard to allow myself to stray from what I had gone through because I was worried it would mean the book was not authentic, but in truth, I needed to separate what I had lived through and what makes a good and engaging story. I did my best to explain in my authors note what was real life and what was fiction to give a reader a sense of my own experience.
About The Other Half of Happy...
Twelve-year-old Quijana likes to say that she used to be Pangaea. Unsplit. Not half white or half Latina. But that was before her Guatemalan cousins moved to town. Before her dad seemed ashamed that she isn’t more in touch with her Latinx heritage. Before her parents planned a family trip to Guatemala where she’ll feel like a failure from first tortilla to last. Now her continents are splitting apart. With the help of two new friends and kid-powered ingenuity, Quijana makes a plan to ditch the trip. After all, she’s never been great at Spanish, and she never asked to be named after Don Quixote, Spain’s most famous loser. Will she find happiness by staying half?
In the beginning of Rebecca Balcárcel’s moving and heartfelt middle grade novel The Other Half of Happy, narrator Quijana Carrillo declares, “That’s what it’s like being twelve. Everything rolling toward you.”
And what’s rolling toward Quijana? A new school. A blossoming crush. A little brother whose behavior no one can explain. Expectations from her parents that Quijana feels she’ll never be able to meet.
Complicating these issues is Quijana’s bicultural identity. The daughter of an Anglo mother and Guatemalan father, she doesn’t speak Spanish and is embarrassed of her father’s accent. She doesn’t appreciate the intricately embroidered huipil her abuela sent her. She exists in the gray space deeply understood by children straddling two cultures. Children who want to fit in with their peers, want to please their parents, and want to understand themselves.
Children like me.
We are so happy to announce the selections for the 2019 Hermanas mentorship program. Las Hermanas is a selection-based mentorship program for traditionally unpublished Latinx kidlit writers. It connects unpublished writers with current Musas and Madrinas.
Mentees benefit from the craft and industry experience of their mentor and will have the opportunity to ask for publishing/marketing related advice and/or receive help with a specific manuscript.
We are so excited to work with these talented writers, get to know them via their social profiles below!
Melanie Marquez Adams - Twitter | Instagram
Carolina Flórez Cerchiaro - Twitter
M. M. Collins - Instagram | Twitter
Megan Karina Jensen - Twitter
Mariel Jungkunz - Twitter
Josie Melendez - Twitter | Instagram | Blog
Jessica Parra - Instagram
Sonora Reyes - Twitter
Shirley Espada Richey - Twitter | Facebook
Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez - Twitter
Angela M. Sanchez - Twitter
Stephanie Seales - Instagram
Christina Truillo - Twitter
Interested in becoming an Hermana?
Our first round of applications ran until July 15th, 2019. Upcoming rounds will be announced via our social channels. Stay tuned for more!
Mirrors, Windows and Walls: 8 Children’s Books for Seeing Ourselves, Others and Breaking Down the Walls that Separate Us
We have so much information. We have voices on the TV and hot takes on social media. We have photographs that pierce our hearts and haunt our dreams. We have oceans of ink spent on getting the details, the facts – and sometimes the lies – just right. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop said, we need mirrors and windows to understand people who are like us (or like our parents or grandparents) and people who are not like us. We need something greater than information. We need story.
In my debut YA novel, The Grief Keeper, Marisol Morales crosses borders, sacrifices her physical and mental well-being and endures racism, for the chance of safety for her sister, Gabi, and herself. I can easily understand why someone would risk so much, but I am a daughter of immigrants. The idea of having to flee your homeland, whether because of violence or because of a lack of opportunities does not seem farfetched to me at all. But I know that for some people, it can seem foolish, or downright selfish. My intention in writing The Grief Keeper was to engender understanding and deep empathy—of ourselves and of others who are not like us.
Here are 8 books for children that I think do the same.