All of us at Las Musas want to wish a musical Happy Book Birthday to Cynthia Harmony on the release of her debut picture books Mi Ciudad Sings and Mi ciudad canta, which is a JLG gold standard selection!
Available as a hardcover, eBook, and audiobook, in both English and Spanish, Mi Ciudad Sings is a beautiful, lyrical story with gorgeous illustrations that is so lovely and vivid, it sings! Booklist writes: “Harmony’s sweet story line about human resilience is brought to vivid life by Martínez’s illustrations, which clearly mirror the movement of a tumultuous natural disaster, as well as the joy in recuperating after such an event.” And we agree!
Alexandra Alessandri interviews Cynthia Harmony on the release of her debut, but first, here’s a snapshot of the book:
After experiencing a devastating earthquake, the spirit of a charming and vibrant Mexican neighborhood might be shaken, but it cannot be broken.
Alexandra Alessandri: I love learning about story inspirations and how books got their origins. What was your inspiration for Mi Ciudad Sings and how did it blossom from that initial idea to the final version?
Cynthia Harmony: Thanks Alexandra, I’m so happy to have this opportunity to talk to you about Mi Ciudad Sings. This book is based on the real events of the aftermath of the earthquake that took place in 2017 in Mexico City. It was an inspirational moment of resilience and community coming together that I wanted to honor and celebrate. And it was also a chance to portray a minority group in a positive light, as an example of bravery, empathy, and kindness.
I’m so grateful for this book’s journey to all the people that contributed their talents. My critique partners, my first agent Natascha Morris that sold this book, my editor and her team, Teresa Martinez for her beautiful art, and my wonderful agent James McGowan who sold the Spanish version of this book.
AA: I love that; it truly takes a village to create a book! I also vividly remember both the 2017 and 1985 earthquakes, and I love how you took something tragic and wove in hope.
Can you take us a little bit into your process for writing this story? Do you have any fun or meaningful rituals? Where do you write?
CH: Four years ago around the time I wrote the first draft of this story, my kids were 6 and almost 4 years old. I just jumped on my computer when I made time, with no special writing rituals. We do have a daily reading routine though, which is a perfect opportunity to select mentor texts. The fun part about writing with small kids is that I get to read them my work. It’s especially helpful to see their reactions when something is not clear or confusing, which happens a lot in my early drafts! They also have great ideas for naming characters and being connected to their world is always helpful and fun.
AA: I felt the same way when my son was younger! In addition to writing picture books, you also write for the educational market. How does your process differ between the two? How are they similar? Do you plan or let the idea lead you by the seat of your pants?
CH: I’m a total panster, the only moments I outline are the work-for-hire educational early readers and chapter books which you need to turn in beforehand. It is helpful to have a guide for chapter beats when the format is longer. But for picture books, I approach the first draft like writing poetry. I let the idea sit for a while until I find the right tone and structure. Then I write freely and even if the middle is incomplete, I like figuring out the ending. That way I feel like the story has feet and I can plan, find the right mentor texts, and revise.
AA: It’s funny you mention poetry—there are so many similarities between writing poetry and picture books. In your text, there’s so much beautiful lyricism— from the musical onomatopoeia and alliteration—that the story truly sings! It will make a wonderful read aloud in homes, classrooms, and libraries. And the scenes from around the city are just so charming! How did you decide which places and sounds to include?
CH: Ah thank you, this was completely my goal since the title is Mi Ciudad Sings, I wanted readers to have that feeling and experience. All the unique sounds and places are still fresh in my mind from my memories living in the city and living through a big earthquake as a kid. After moving away, I used to go back to visit about once a year before the pandemic began. So this story comes directly from my personal experience, what I know and what I love. It’s really a love letter to my city and my community that I continue to cherish.
AA: I absolutely felt the love in Mi Ciudad Sings. Here’s a fun question: If you could be in Mexico City right now, where would you go? What would you eat? Who would you see?
CH: First stop is always my mom’s house, then drive a few blocks to eat tacos at La Condesa neighborhood. Food is OUTSTANDING, it’s my favorite in the entire world! Then catch up with friends and probably check out the new foodie places at La Roma neighborhood. Even my kids have their favorite restaurants and dishes that they’ve been missing this past couple of years. Then I would visit a few of the 150 museums, another of my favorite parts about the city since I worked in museums for many years. It’s been two and half years since I last visited, so I can think of so many things I want to do. Thinking about this made me so happy, thanks for asking!
AA: Oh, I love this! I’m ready to pack my bags and visit.! love that Mi Ciudad Sings will be published in both English and Spanish (as Mi ciudad canta)! As someone who’s bilingual but who hadn’t practiced writing in Spanish for a while, I know I struggled a bit with translating my own picture book (though I loved the challenge and experience, and I’m proud of how it came out!) What was the process of the translation like for you and how did it compare with writing the text in English? Did you originally write both texts and sell it that way?
CH: For picture books that go out on submission, I normally write the Spanish version simultaneously. And many times I go back to the English version to adjust a few things and make it tighter. I think this is the advantage in translating your own work. Since my writing is lyrical, it’s important to find the right words and sounds in each language. It’s not a separate process, but it complements each other.
This story however was originally bought in English only. Then James became my agent and I shared how important Spanish editions are for me. So he inquired (he’s pretty awesome) and eventually my editor shared the fantastic news of Mi Ciudad Canta also coming into the world, on the same date.
AA: I’m so happy it worked out! I’ve been noticing a hunger for bilingual stories like this, so I’m thrilled readers will get both editions. What are you most looking forward to with both books out in the world on June 14? And, what do you hope readers will take with them after reading Mi Ciudad Sings?
CH: I’ve worked for and with kids the majority of my career, so I’m excited to read these books with them and listen to their insights, questions, and comments in storytimes and school visits. Maybe because I’m a psychologist I’ve always felt like I’m the one learning when I’m around with kids, not the other way around. I can talk to them for hours and be marveled by their authenticity and wisdom in the way they experience the world. I can’t wait to hear their take and I hope this story brings them light and hope. An empowerment and certainty that we can move past challenges together by taking action.
AA: That is absolutely beautiful. I know kids are going to love Mi Ciudad Sings! Finally, can you tell us what we can expect from you next?
CH: My next picture book A FLICKER OF HOPE, published by Viking, comes out in 2023 in English and Spanish. It’s the parallel story of a girl waiting for her papá to come back home and the migration of monarch butterflies in the Mexican Reserve. I’m so proud of this story that sums up my view on our relationships with each other, as families, as countries, and with nature. It’s illustrated by the talented Devon Holzwarth, so I can already picture the beauty she’s creating as we speak!
AA: Congratulations—that sounds so beautiful! Thank you, Cynthia, for chatting with me about Mi Ciudad Sings. I’m looking forward to seeing it out in the world!
Preorder Mi Ciudad Sings and Mi ciudad canta!
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