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.