To celebrate the book birthday of Alexandra Alessandri's Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, we're sharing this delightful interview between Musas Alexandra Alessandri and Terry Catasús Jennings. Scroll on to learn more about this adorable picture book!
Terry: Alexandra, I have to tell you, this brought back so many memories. I was twelve when I first came to the United States. But I was just like Isabel—drowning in the strange words that surrounded me. Can you tell us about your book?
Alexandra: Aw, I’m so glad it resonated with you, though I’m sorry you experienced this, too. Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is about a little girl who’s starting school, but while she’s excited about it, she’s also really nervous because she doesn’t speak English, which sounds strange to her. Isabel is also artistic and processes everything through color, and it’s this trait that ultimately allows her to bridge the language divide.
Terry: Your Colombian identity is very present in your writing, whether it’s your poems or your picture books. How has your Colombian identity shaped your writing?
Alexandra: My Colombian identity is definitely a huge part of my writing. I was born and raised in the U.S. in a Spanish-only household and with parents who made it very clear to me that I was 100% Colombian. But growing up straddling both cultures comes with a lot of figuring out how to be both and questioning whether you’re Colombian or American enough. When my dad passed away in 2008, I felt this sudden void. I mean, my mom is blessedly still alive and I still have this connection to Colombia through her and her side, but the loss of my dad sparked this intimate desire to really know Colombia and where/how I fit into the equation. I think this led naturally to writing as a way of reflecting and understanding what it mean to be Colombian and American, and how different this experience is between my mom, myself and my son. This spilled over into my poetry and my children’s books.
Terry: The idea of Isabel and Her Colores reminds me of Wassili Kandinski. He connected his art to sound. What was the inspiration for Isabel and Her Colores? When/how was the idea born?
Today, two Musas are sharing a book birthday for their spectacular books, BELLA'S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS and EL CUCUY IS SCARED, TOO! Scroll on to hear from these two talented authors — Ana Siqueira + Donna Barba Higuera — and learn more about their books!
Donna Barba Higuera: Thank you for talking with me today! And huge felicidades on your debut book! In your book Bella’s Recipe for Success, Bella compares herself to her older brother and sister and how they seem to master things she can’t. Are you speaking from experience? Did you experience this as a child?
Ana Siqueira: Hmm… Great question. Well, my older sister was the perfect one. She would never make a mistake. My older brother was a genius who wrote songs and was talented like my mother. My younger sister was super cute and funny and she was the spoiled one, right? So I was the middle one - rebellious and with disabilities (ADHD and dyslexia). I guess I never realized, but Bella, who was inspired by my daughter who always wanted to be the best and perfect, is also me. Hahaha. I never thought of it.
DBH: Your book is being released in a year and a time where so many kids feel like their lives are out of their own control. I know this wasn’t planned, but do you hope your book’s message of trying and trying again until you master something will resonate with kids?
This week we are so excited to sit down with debut Musa Monica Gomez-Hira and discuss her debut novel. Before we get started, a little bit about Monica’s debut Once Upon a Quinceañera:
Eighteen-year-old Carmen Aguilar missed graduating from her Miami high school by that much--one credit short after she overreacted to a teacher destroying her dream of becoming a video editor. She's relieved when a summer internship gives her another chance at her diploma. But instead of pushing papers, Carmen, the queen of screw-ups, finds herself dressing up as a Disney princess for children's parties.
When her company is hired to perform at her spoiled cousin's extravagant quinceañera, everyone fears Carmen will sabotage it. Her cousin Ariana was the reason Carmen's own coming-of-age celebration was canceled three years earlier, and the families haven't spoken since. This quince is an olive branch, an attempt to bring the families back together. Making matters worse is Carmen's new dance partner: Mauro Reyes, her most regrettable ex. Absence may have made him hotter, but it didn't make her fonder.
Still, Carmen is determined to leave the past in the past, even if late-night chats with Mauro stir up old feelings. She's even getting along with Ariana. As the quinceañera approaches, along with the end of the summer, Carmen must break the spell of past resentments if she wants her own happily ever after.
Okay, Monica let’s get to it!
We are excited to share the cover of author Laurenne Sala & illustrator Zara González Hoang’s new picture book, Mi Casa Is My Home, out from Candlewick on Sept 7th. The book stars Lucía who leads readers through her cozy house, introducing them to her favorite spots and her big, loud, beautiful familia. It is a charming Spanglish celebration of family life.
Laurenne’s sweet story, written in the perfect mix of Spanish and English is paired with Zara’s bright colors and warm details like lively plants and jars of habichuelas, which make the story and the characters feel relatable and fun.
The celebration of home in this bilingual picture book feels like an abrazo from your most favorite people, your familia. Mi Casa is My Home is available for preorder HERE!
All righty! Here it is. The beautiful cover of Mi Casa Is My Home, here for the first time ever out in the world and on the Las Musas blog. Illustrated by Zara González Hoang and designed by Hayley Parker.
To celebrate the reveal of the book’s adorable cover, Laurenne and Zara asked each other a few questions about their experiences working on the book and about the bits of themselves they brought to it.
ZARA: What inspired you to write Mi Casa?
LAURENNE: Growing up, I never really thought about my house so much, but a few years ago, my mom put my childhood home up for sale, and I became an emotional mess! I couldn’t imagine handing over a place full of so many memories! It was the first home I ever knew. Living there 18 years, it had become one of my best friends. We knew everything about each other. Thinking of all those wonderful memories inspired a poem. And when I rewrote it again in my preferred language, Spanglish, it worked even better.
What was it about Mi Casa that made you want to sign on to illustrate it?
ZARA: Oh everything! I remember when I got the manuscript I was actually working at my local library, and I was taking a break and happened to check my email on my phone and there was your manuscript in my inbox. I read it and it was like I was reading a story about my own family – which makes sense, now that I know you a bit better since we share so many similarities in our families and our backgrounds! I absolutely adored the story and felt so incredibly lucky to have been asked to illustrate it, I knew as soon as I read it the first time that this was a story I wanted to illustrate.
What is it like to write a story and send it off without having any clue how it will be illustrated? And what was it like to see the artwork for Mi Casa for the first time?
Las Musas wishes a happy book birthday to Hilda Eunice Burgos for the release of her picture book debut The Cot in the Living Room!
Sometimes, what we want most isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the process of that discovery leads us to something better. In many ways, this is one of the themes in Hilda’s beautiful debut, but it’s more than that—it’s a story of family and community that shows that “beautifully captures the gifts we receive when we open our hearts to others.” (BookPage, starred review).
Alexandra Alessandri interviews Hilda about her inspiration and process, but first, here’s a description of this sweet book:
A young Dominican American girl in New York City moves from jealousy to empathy as her parents babysit children whose families work overnight shifts in this honest and warm picture book debut.
Night after night, a young girl watches her mami set up a cot in the living room for guests in their Washington Heights apartment, like Raquel (who's boring) and Edgardo (who gets crumbs everywhere). She resents that they get the entire living room with a view of the George Washington Bridge, while all she gets is a tiny bedroom with a view of her sister (who snores). Until one night when no one comes, and it's finally her chance! But as it turns out, sleeping on the cot in the living room isn't all she thought it would be.
With charming text by Hilda Eunice Burgos and whimsical illustrations by Gaby D'Alessandro, The Cot in the Living Room is a celebration of the ways a Dominican American community takes care of one another while showing young readers that sometimes the best way to be a better neighbor is by imagining how it feels to spend a night sleeping on someone else's pillow.
Alexandra Alessandri: I adored The Cot in the Living Room so much! It reminded me a lot of my own childhood, only in my case, I was sent to sleep in the sofa and our guests would take my room. I wasn’t too keen on that. I love the sense of community and how the young protagonist’s emotional arc shifts as she goes from jealousy to finally getting what she wants, and how that becomes the catalyst for her having empathy toward her recurring guests. It’s what allows her to grow and show empathy.
I’m always curious about the book’s origin story. How did The Cot in the Living Room come to be? Who or what inspired it?
Hilda Eunice Burgos: When I was a child, I had a stay-at-home mom who babysat a lot of neighborhood kids. Mostly the children came during the day, but a few had to stay overnight because of their parents’ work schedules. When I was very young, I resented them encroaching on my family’s space and time together. As I got a little older, I realized how lucky I was and how difficult it must be for these children to spend the night alone in a stranger’s home.
AA: I love that, and the sentiment definitely comes across here. The Cot in the Living Room is written in 1st person, and we don’t actually get the main character’s name. Can you tell us a little about that choice? Was this always the case or did this come through in revision?
Today we will be talking to Jackie Azua Kramer and Magdalena Mora about their upcoming book — I Wish You Knew — out May 25th!
Here’s a quick synopsis for I Wish You Knew/Ojala Supieras:
In I Wish You Knew a little girl’s father is deported. She wishes people knew how much she misses him and how it affects her at home and school. But with the help of her teacher, they start a sharing circle where she and her classmates share their challenges and by listening with compassion and kindness, together they all help each other.
Jackie, I read your arc and I love the story. It gave me goosebumps. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this story?
Jackie Azua Kramer: Thank you! I’m a big fan of Ted Talks and an educator shared how after feeling she was making little progress with her students, she asked them to complete the statement on a piece of paper, I wish my teacher knew... And she realized she couldn’t teach kids who felt sad, hungry, scared and angry. It started a movement #IWishMyTeacherKnew.
But the heart of Estrella’s story in I Wish You Knew was inspired by my father’s immigrant journey. The emotional cost he paid, and the courage it took, to leave his family and country to come to a new world with the hope of making a better life for himself like the father in I Wish You Knew.
Magdalena, I love your illustrations, especially the one where she is sitting on her Papi’s lap in a flower. What did you feel when you read this manuscript? Did you know right away you wanted to illustrate it?
Las Musas Books would like to extend the happiest book birthday wishes to What Will You Be?, written by Las Musas Madrina, Yamile Saied Méndez, and illustrated by Kate Alizadeh.
The cover is as beautiful as the message and lyrical text inside.
What will you be when you grow up?
A young girl dreams about all the endless possibilities, sparking a sense of wonder, curiosity, and growth. With her abuela’s loving guidance, she learns her potential is limitless.
Yamile Saied Méndez’s powerful, lyrical text and Kate Alizadeh’s colorful, stunning art are a radiant celebration of family, love, and community.
A Spanish-language edition, ¿Qué Serás?, is also available.
“Méndez and Alizadeh create a balance between the abstract and concrete by letting the child imagine the future but with Abuela’s guidance and support. A sweet read to share with loved ones.” -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Buy What Will You Be? today!
As traditionally published writers and/or illustrators, Las Musas are often asked about what resources are available for aspiring kidlit creators. From how to find an agent, to what makes a picture book a picture book, and most often, where do you start your journey!?
Or perhaps you're an editor or agent looking for Latinx illustrators or authors for a future project.
Not surprisingly there is already a growing ecosystem of authors, illustrators, agents, editors, bookstores, book bloggers, organizations and more (either Latinx focused or not) out in the world.
But sometimes searching for these resources can feel a bit daunting and frustrating on top of an already complex publishing world. While not exhaustive, we hope these categories and resources will serve as a jumping off point in whatever journey you're taking in the kidlit world.
If you would like to add yourself or someone to the list, you can do so via the submission form at the bottom of the index page.
I am excited to share with you the cover and a sneak peek of my upcoming middle-grade novel, Miosotis Flores Never Forgets, which will be published on October 5, 2021 from the Tu Books imprint of Lee & Low Books.
First, here is a brief description of the book:
Miosotis Flores is excited about three things: fostering rescue dogs, goofy horror movies, and her sister Amarilis’s upcoming wedding. School? Not on that list. But her papi cares about school more than anything else, so they strike a deal: If Miosotis improves her grades in two classes, she can adopt a dog of her own in the summer.
Miosotis dives into her schoolwork, and into nurturing a fearful little pup called Freckles. Could he become her forever dog? At the same time, she notices Amarilis behaving strangely—wearing thick clothing in springtime, dropping her friends in favor of her fiancé, even avoiding Miosotis and the rest of their family. When she finally discovers her sister’s secret, Miosotis faces some difficult choices. What do you do if someone is in danger, but doesn’t want your help? When should you ask for support, and when should you try to handle things on your own? And what ultimately matters most—what Miosotis wants, or what’s right for the ones she loves?
Perfect for fans of Meg Medina and Barbara O’Connor, this heartfelt novel about family, dogs, and other things we hold close is one that you’ll never forget.
I grew up in an apartment building that didn’t allow pets, with parents who valued academic achievement above everything else. When I created Miosotis and her story, I used some elements of my own childhood experiences, like the longing for a dog and the overprotective Dominican family. Miosotis is the baby of her family. She’s used to her big sister looking out for her. When she learns that Amarilis needs looking after as well, she wonders if she can step up in the same way that she has stepped up to take care of the dogs that need her. Cover illustrator Lissy Marlin did a great job showing Miosotis as I imagined her: pensive and a bit tentative, but with an obvious inner strength and optimism. I’m so thrilled to share that cover with you now . . .
And here is an exclusive excerpt:
VANESSA L. TORRES: Hi Laekan! First let me say, Happy Book Birthday to you for SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BITTER AND SWEET. How exciting! And thank you for taking the time to talk with me about this wonderful young adult debut. Let’s jump right in!
Without giving away too much, I have to know what your experience is with food. Specifically, cooking and baking. This book was filled with so many colorful food scenes. I could actually taste and smell the ?????
Laekan Zea Kemp: Expert eater, always have been! It’s how I celebrate. It’s how I find comfort. Food is such a powerful vehicle for emotions and I love that what we put on our plates can tell such a powerful story about who we are and where we come from.
VLT: Having worked years in the food industry myself, I am aware the restaurant world is a culture in its own right. And you really captured what it’s like to be part of that. Are there any characters in the book who were inspired by the people in your real world?
LZK: The setting of the restaurant is the thing I conceptualized first and it was inspired by the hilarious stories my partner would tell me about his many years working in a restaurant. So not only are there some secondary characters in the book who are based on real people but some of the shenanigans the restaurant employees get up to are also based on true events.
VLT: Family is a big part of BITTER AND SWEET. I was so touched by Pen and Xander’s quest to find their footing as new adults and where they fit in. They both came from such different places, but really, were searching for the same sense of belonging. My question is, do you think family will always play a part in your books?
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