Join us in celebrating MANOLO & the UNICORN book birthday! We sat down with Jackie Azúa to learn all about the inspiration behind this book co-authored with Jonah Kramer.
But first, a little bit about this picture book:
To Manolo the world is a magical place—a place where he searches for the most magical creature of all: a unicorn. Manolo loves unicorns. When the Wild Animal Parade is announced at school, and Manolo declares that he will come as his favorite animal, his classmates say there is no such thing as unicorns, making the world feel ordinary. That is, until Manolo meets a real unicorn—wild and graceful—and discovers that the world is truly extraordinary.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Honestly, I was a bit lost after I completed my Masters in Counseling in Education, Queens College, NY. Few jobs at schools so I left to volunteer in the cloud forest of Ecuador. Such joy and love from people who had much less than me. A voice from somewhere inside me said,” I have something to say, and I hope others agree.”
What 3 words would you use to describe your book?
Magical, identity and love.
Where did you get the idea to write this particular story?
I believe I was reading mentor texts about odd friendship stories and bouncing around ideas like what if a koala and a kangaroo met. When my son, Jonah, shared that as a young boy he was teased for coloring with a purple crayon. I never knew this. It upset me to think that at such a young age, he navigated questions of his identity. I remembered that Jonah, as a child loved mythology, especially unicorns. Keeping in mind the idea of the odd friendship, we started talking about a boy who loved unicorns but was teased about it. And what if, the boy actually encountered a unicorn. In that moment, we envisioned the whole story.
What was your favorite part of the publication process with this story?
Everything! Covid had just hit and Jonah, an actor, was now home from touring. So, our collaboration was a nice distraction from reality. It was an interesting time for imagination and allowing seeds of ideas to grow and bloom. I thought the mother-son relationship might affect our work together. But writing can be a lonely business, so it was fun having someone to help develop and discuss the story. I would write a section and email it to Jonah. Then Jonah would revise and send his revision back to me. And vice versa, he’d write a section, and I’d revise. Under one roof it was easy to work together. For example, I remember us working late into the night, and it felt perfectly normal sitting around in our pajamas.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as a writer until now?
Do not follow trends; write what’s in your heart. That story that you can’t shake—leaves you sleepless, makes you laugh, cry, wonder. That story where you dig deep into your memory’s roots. That said, never stop reading old and new books to see how stories are created.
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