Las Musas Books is thrilled to announce the first ever all-virtual Latinx KidLit Book Festival to be held on Friday, December 4th and Saturday, December 5th, 2020.
“It will be a celebration of Latinx books, authors and illustrators and the stories we hold dear,” said festival co-chair, author Mayra Cuevas. “We hope this event will bring joy to readers and educators everywhere.”
The festival’s program will include keynote events, live panels and Q&A sessions with Latinx authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, graphic novels and poetry.
“We want this festival to celebrate the vast spectrum of diverse experiences within the Latinx community,” said festival co-chair, author Alexandra Villsante. “Not only the stories of grief and loss, but also stories of love and joy, and everything in between.”
The festival is free and will be streamed live via Facebook and YouTube. Events will be available even after the festival has ended. Teaching guides and classroom resources will be available for educators on the festival’s website.
“Students, teachers and parents across the country have suffered great academic, economic and socio-emotional stress as a result of the pandemic,” said festival co-chair, author and pediatric doctor Ismee Williams. “Black and Hispanic communities have been the hardest hit. We want this festival to bring a little happiness to readers and ease the burden of educators and caregivers.”
“As authors and illustrators this is a way we can give back to our community,” said Cuevas. “Our talent as storytellers is our gift to share.”
A preliminary festival author lineup can be found on our website: LatinxKidLitBookFestival.com. The festival programming committee is now looking for panel submissions.
Details can also be found on the festival website.
The festival logo was designed by Latinx artist and illustrator Zara Gonzalez Hoang.
We are so excited to bring you an interview with Reina Luz Alegre, author of THE DREAM WEAVER!
First, here is a little bit about the book:
Twelve-year-old Zoey navigates the tricky waters of friendship while looking for a way to save her grandfather’s struggling business in this heartwarming, coming-of-age debut novel perfect for fans of Kristi Wientge, Donna Gephart, and Meg Medina.
Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From start-up companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.
So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother, José, will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!
After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together...until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it.
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: How did the concept of The Dream Weaver come to you?
Reina Luz Alegre: My focus while drafting The Dream Weaver (and almost everything I write!) was on the relationships. Main character Zoey's relationships with her relatives and her friends, and ultimately with herself. I love writing about relationships--the highs, the lows, the nuances, the evolutions.
How does the title tie into the story?
At twelve years old, with her brother going off to college soon, Zoey is starting to think seriously for the first time about how she may want her own life to unfold. She looks to her loved ones for examples, and finds her brother single-mindedly following his dream of becoming an engineer, while her irresponsible dad changes dreams almost as often as he changes socks, and her grandfather is on the verge of losing his life's work, his bowling alley business. But Zoey remembers her late mom and late abuela's determination, how hard they worked to weave their dreams into reality, and tries to channel their resourcefulness.
As a multiracial person, I really related to Zoey's feelings of being stuck between cultural identities, and not quite belonging to one or the other completely. I believe so many young adults and children will relate to this as well. How did you construct this part of Zoey's character and arc?
My mom and grandparents were born in Cuba, and I drew a lot on my own Cuban heritage in writing Zoey's. All the Spanish sayings in the book are drawn from my childhood, as well as little details peppered throughout--from the manzanilla tea Poppy drinks before bed to how hard he has always worked.
In The Dream Weaver, Zoey is second-generation Cuban and hasn't seen her grandpa very often since her mom passed away years before the book starts. She has felt disconnected for a long time from her Cuban heritage, which she associates with her mom's memory. She wants to connect more with her Cuban side through her maternal grandfather when she goes to live with him for the summer.
The awkwardness and wonderful-ness of making new friends as an adolescent were so on point! Did anyone in particular inspire Zoey's relationship with her new friend group-- Isa, Lacey, Patrick, and Tyler?
No one person specifically inspired any of the friends' characters, but I drew from various sources of inspiration to draft each one. For example, Patrick takes bowling so seriously, and I was inspired by the focused intensity of the kids in the youth bowling championships I watched for research when I was writing Patrick's character. With Lacey, I've personally had the experience so many times over where my first impression of a person's character is wrong or incomplete for some reason, and I wanted Zoey's first impression of Lacey to prove wrong too. I love it when clashing personalities form an unlikely friendship.
Zoey spends a large part of the book trying to save her abuelo's bowling alley. The alley setting was so vivid, I swear I could hear the squeaks of bowling shoes and the pins falling! What inspired this setting? Were you ever in a bowling league?
Thank you! I enjoyed bowling for fun with friends as a student, and was inspired by those bowling alleys and arcades and their retro charm. I was never in a bowling league, but I did watch a ton of professional and youth bowling tournaments for research and tried hard to incorporate as many multi-sensory details as possible so the reader would feel they were right there at Gonzo's bowling with Zoey and her pals!
I think it's so important to show menstruation on-page in Middle Grade novels. What inspired you to include this part of Zoey's journey to adulthood?
Menstruation is such a big part of many middle schoolers' experience. My favorite part of writing about Zoey's first period was when she asked Isa if she looked like she was wearing a diaper, because I'd definitely feared that when I put on my first pad for my first period! I was convinced everyone could see and would know and it would be awful (though like Zoey, thankfully they couldn't and didn't and it wasn't.) I think it's important for kids to find those kinds of insecurities and concerns reflected in books and know it's okay, you're not the only one worrying about that particular thing, whatever it is.
How did you choose the names of the characters? Do you look up meanings and histories of names, or do names just come to you?
I worked with my editor on most of the characters' names in The Dream Weaver. In general, my approach to naming characters varies. Sometimes I simply love a particular name. Sometimes the character just pops into my head already named, like "Hi, I'm Kevin!" Sometimes I use baby naming websites to look up name meanings, and often I'll look through what names were popular in the year I imagine a character would have been born.
Zoey moves around a lot, and so has never really felt at home anywhere in particular. Where do you feel most at home?
With my family in Florida and a gigantic cup of coffee.
How was the drafting and editing process of The Dream Weaver?
It was fun--I really enjoyed getting to know these characters and developing them further with each draft.
What is next for Reina Luz Alegre?
I have a few middle grade ideas, but right now I'm working on a YA romcom and trying not to let myself get distracted by other ideas until I'm done!
THE DREAM WEAVER is available from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. THE DREAM WEAVER can also be added to Goodreads here!
Today, Las Musas celebrates the book birthday of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon! This YA contemporary has received some amazing reviews and blurbs. Here are just a few:
“A thought-provoking tale about navigating race and immigration issues.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A funny, perceptive, and much-needed book telling a much-needed story.” —Celeste Ng, author of the New York Times bestseller Little Fires Everywhere
“Written with humor and grace, with intimacy and empathy, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is the perfect coming of age novel for our time.” —Matt Mendez, author of Barely Missing Everything and Twitching Heart
First generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets come out and racism at school hits a fever pitch, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.
Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.
Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-El Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up--whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.
But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s being deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.
And now, the Las Musas interview with author Jennifer De Leon, arranged by Nikki Barthelmess:
Raquel: How did you choose the characters' names?
What a unique question! Sometimes the names just come to me—like, she’s definitely Jade. Yup. She’s Jade. But other times I Google Latinx baby names from different years. And other times I go through a list of family members and that may spark some ideas.
Mia: There are so many walls that Liliana goes up against. As a writer how did you decide on which struggles would shape your character and their ecosystem? How do you build up the stress in order to move through it?
I knew that the main character, Liliana, would face many challenges as she tries to fit in at her new predominantly white high school in Westburg. There are the physical and practical challenges of getting to the school (an hour outside the city) and then the invisible or unspoken challenges. So there was a lot there in terms of potential conflict, but at the same time, I didn’t want to have every scene become one about “the struggle.” I also wanted to show her making friends and finding parts about Westburg and METCO that she actually likes, too. I guess I was aiming to show the complexity of this experience, the ecosystem as you say. And having micro-aggressions and “smaller” incidents eventually built up to the climax of the story in a way that (I hope!) was organic to the overall narrative.
Romina: Did you incorporate Spanish &/or Spanglish into Liliana’s story? What was your approach like & how did you strike a balance between staying true to how your characters would organically speak & also remaining accessible to non-Spanish speakers?
I did! It was important to me to show Liliana’s true world, and that definitely included speaking Spanish and Spanglish at different times, especially with her mother. A question I kept asking myself was—how would she really say this in real life? And that often helped me make choices on the page. That said, as you point out, I also wanted to remain accessible to non-Spanish speakers, so sometimes I would use an appositive or I would find a way to incorporate the meaning (not always a direct translation, but the meaning, the attitude, the energy, of a word or phrase) via an action or something similar in the next sentence or two.
Mia: What role does code-switching play in your novel?
Code-switching is a huge part of Liliana’s overall experience in the novel. She’s never really had to do that before the ‘now’ of the book, when she begins attending a new school in Westburg as part of the METCO program—a desegregation program that buses students from Boston to wealthier suburban schools on a daily basis. At first, she is overwhelmed by the mere notion of it. But as she grows and her character develops, she begins to understand the power in being able to speak more than one language, and the ways she can use language and her voice and yes, even code-switching, to her advantage. It’s a tricky balance because ultimately we must ask why there is a need to code-switch at all, but it is a reality and I wanted to depict that on the page.
Raquel: Does Liliana face internalized racism in her story arc? And if so, how did you approach this?
She does. Other characters in the book constantly make assumptions about her, her family, etc. Teachers, even well meaning ones, ask her if she needs a laptop. Her new friend’s mother asks her about her mother and mentions that her mother must be an excellent cook. Kids at school ask questions about gangs in Boston and things like that, so, yes, lots of micro-aggressions that result from internalized racism.
Mia: What was the hardest to write, but made you most proud in the end?
Great question. It was hard to write a scene where Liliana shares some backstory about her best friend in Boston named Jade. Jade’s father was physically and verbally abusive and in this particular scene he hits Jade and she accidentally falls onto a glass coffee table and it shatters. The girls are little at this point, and they were playing with Barbies, and the clothes and little plastic shoes fly everywhere. It was hard to write in the sense that it was emotionally draining. But I guess I am proud of having written it as a creative essay/prompt that Liliana writes in her English class at school. In this way, Liliana was clearly processing part of the past, in the present.
Raquel: How was the editing process of DON'T ASK ME WHERE I'M FROM?
Like running a marathon, then another, and another! No, really, it was a blessing to work with my editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy. She is a genius. A GENIUS. I learned so much about the craft of writing and the writing process throughout the many months we worked on revisions. It felt never-ending at times, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much time when you think about it. The book will live on the shelf for a long time (I hope, forever!) and so it’s something you want to work hard on, to get it to be the best it can be.
Nikki: You have a background in publishing, as the editor of Wise Latinas (University of Nebraska Press), as well as contributing to literary journals. What has surprised you most about the publication process of DON’T ASK ME WHERE I’M FROM?
Because this is my YA debut, I really haven’t had any experience in the world of YA prior to the publication of this novel. I was a public school teacher for ten years and taught English Language Arts to teens, so I had experience in that way, and I taught Creative Writing to teens in various programs at the GrubStreet Creative Writing center in Boston over the years, but as far as the marketing and publicity and the specific conferences and social media channels for YA—wow. It was a crash course in learning about all things YA. But I began attending conferences and following authors and of course, reading a ton-ton-ton, and so in general I would say that what has surprised me is that YA can really cover anything and everything and it is really a space where conversations can continue to push topics and questions that are sometimes silenced in other arenas. In terms of my own specific publication process? I’ve been surprised—and so grateful—at the enthusiasm and support in the YA world, but of course specifically with my publisher.
Nikki: What question did we not ask that you wish we had? Do you have anything else you’d like readers to know?
This is the book I wish I could hand to my younger self.
And thank you for these amazing questions and the opportunity to be a part of Las Musas community!
You can order Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Please add the book to Goodreads here!
We are SO THRILLED to celebrate the much-anticipated release of: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland. It has received so many wonderful reviews and praise:
“Luminous, genre-bending, and out of this world.”-starred review, Kirkus
“…a genre-defying read that is certain to keep readers engaged.” -starred review, Publishers Weekly
“Her language exhibits a stunning fluidity, depicting time and space and even mortality as a sort of continuum.” -New York Times
“… a story that blends science fiction with Mexican folklore, all within a contemporary young adult novel that explores grief, friendship, immigration, consent, and the powerful bond between mother and daughter.” -School Library Journal
Here’s a little bit about the book:
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell by way of Laurie Halse Anderson in this astonishing, genre-bending novel about a Mexican American teen who discovers profound connections between immigration, folklore, and alien life.
It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”
Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.
Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.
As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.
Las Musas is excited to celebrate the book birthday of Anika Fajardo’s What if a Fish!
About What if a Fish
A whimsical and unflinchingly honest generational story of family and identity where hats turn into leeches, ghosts blow kisses from lemon trees, and the things you find at the end of your fishing line might not be a fish at all.
"Poetic and believable. Multilayered and convincing, the book will have readers rooting for its sweet and smart protagonist." -- Kirkus
"Fajardo’s honest, heartfelt text evokes sorrow and grief but also understanding, navigating the many complexities of identity, friendship, family, loss, and death." -- Booklist
Half-Colombian Eddie Aguado has never really felt Colombian. Especially after Papa died. And since Mama keeps her memories of Papa locked up where Eddie can’t get to them, he only has Papa’s third-place fishing tournament medal to remember him by. He’ll have to figure out how to be more Colombian on his own.
As if by magic, the perfect opportunity arises. Eddie—who’s never left Minnesota—is invited to spend the summer in Colombia with his older half-brother. But as his adventure unfolds, he feels more and more like a fish out of water.
Figuring out how to be a true colombiano might be more difficult than he thought.
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