Today we celebrate the book birthday of Dreams Of Green: A Three Kings' Day Story. We sat down with Musa Mariel Jungkunz to learn all about the inspiration behind this book.
But first, a little bit about the book:
It’s eleven days after Christmas and Lucia yearns to be in lush Puerto Rico celebrating Día de los Reyes with family and friends. But this year, instead of dancing and singing in the parrandas of her Puerto Rican neighborhood, she is surrounded by cold and silence in snow-blanketed Ohio. How will she ever be able to guide the Three Kings to her new home in the frosty Midwest? This picture book is a celebration of Puerto Rican culture, heartwarming family tradition, and a reminder that we all carry a piece of home with us wherever life may take us.
What three words would you use to describe your book?
Comforting, hopeful, and warm. This is a book about reflecting where we come from and finding new ways to honor holiday traditions wherever we are. In my case, it’s about creating new traditions that honor my Puerto Rican family and roots.
Where did you get the idea to write this particular story?
I’m Puerto Rican and lived in Puerto Rico as a child. But we moved to the Midwest when I was 9. Celebrating Three Kings’ Day was an important part of how I maintained a connection with my extended family, my roots, and our traditions. Fast forward to 2012, when my daughter was born, and I wanted to collect all the picture books, about all the holidays, for her library! I was disappointed to see a general lack of Latinx holiday picture books, and I couldn’t find a single one about Three Kings’ Day. So I wrote my very first picture book manuscript about this holiday, and it was the one that sold!
Are you agented? If so, can you share how you got one?
Yes, I am agented with the amazing Caryn Wiseman at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I love their approach to working with writers and am thrilled to be with them. I actually connected with Caryn when I queried a different agent at ABLA, and because they share information as a team, she passed on my query to Caryn. I love that!
What is the most important lesson you've learned as a writer?
My writing journey actually started with the Musas Hermanas! I’d completed Nanowrimo on a whim and had written a YA novel and had no idea how to edit a first draft (despite being an editor–but editing journalism is much different) or how to jump into publishing. So I applied to a Musas mentorship and was matched with (my birthday twin!) Carmen Rodrigues (The Universal Laws of Marco). Yes, I’d been preparing for this moment my whole life–I have a creative writing degree and tucked away all my stories for years while I worked full-time—but finally, I needed to take a very big risk, to ask “What if?” about a creative writing career. Of course, it wasn’t going to happen unless I put myself out there. When I applied to the Hermanas mentorship and also wrote my first picture book draft, it would have been so easy to talk myself out of it, as I had for years, but instead I jumped in, silenced that impostor syndrome, and tried it. And the whole journey here has been one “What if?” after the other and then meeting the right people that could keep me moving forward. I could have never traveled this journey without Caryn, my editor Susan, Carmen, my critique partners, my Macondo hermanas—everyone I love so much. Yes, writing is hard work, and I’d spent decades writing daily—going through the joys and pains of learning to research, write, and revise, and I needed all these skills—but I had to pause, say “enough,” and dive into publishing to make this part of the journey happen. Writing is work and risk. And mentorship.
Can you share if you used any mentor text for your story? If so, how did you use them?
The texts that inspire me most are Meg Medina’s picture books, Tía Isa Wants a Car and Mango, Abuela, and me. I love them for their lyrical quality and their stories; they feel deeply personal but resonate on a universal level. My book lacked many specific details at first and felt a little instructive (“this is what Three Kings’ Day is”), but my editor and agent helped me add a personal level of connection via revisions. I knew what the end result might look like because I had mentor texts like Medina’s to inspire me to keep trying. Those will always be my guiding star. And the fact she also has written stories set in Florida (like the “Merci Suarez” series) has impacted me profoundly. I felt seen when I discovered her books. My daughter has a whole new world of literature available to her because of all the Musas and writers like Meg.
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