Today, we're celebrating Monica Mancilla's debut picture book, Mariana and Her Familia! Scroll on to read her interview with Musa Karina Nicole González!
Karina Nicole González: Felicidades, Mónica, on the release of your gorgeous debut picture book, MARIANA AND HER FAMILIA! I’d love to learn about your journey as a children’s book writer. Have you always wanted to write literature for children? What inspired you to write?
Mónica Mancillas: Thank you, Karina! I have always loved words and dreamed of being a writer. I wrote my first novella at ten years old and was published for the first time in the Los Angeles Times at age 15. But my interest in writing took a backseat to my musical aspirations for many years as I pursued a career as a singer-songwriter while only occasionally dabbling with short-story and novel writing. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that my interest in children’s literature was ignited. The hours spent reading to her every day and checking books out from our local library sparked new inspiration and I found myself bubbling over with ideas for my own books. I quickly became driven by a desire to write stories in which children from previously underrepresented backgrounds could see themselves accurately reflected.
KNG: MARIANA AND HER FAMILIA is about a young girl who travels to México with her mother to visit extended family. Tell us about what compelled you to write this story? Was it inspired at all by your own personal experiences?
MM: This book was very much inspired by my own experiences. I was born in Ensenada but moved to the States with my parents when I was two years old. While we lived close enough that I was able to travel back to see my extended family with some frequency, the more time I spent living in the US, the more estranged I felt from my cultural heritage. I felt embarrassed by my inability to speak Spanish with the fluency I now had in English and struggled with a feeling of not quite belonging, which I desperately wanted to do. It wasn’t until adulthood that I came to realize that my family – my abuelita in particular – didn’t see me the same way I saw myself. I was the same little girl who was born in their home, and who said her first words to them in Spanish. And even if I made mistakes from time to time, they loved and embraced me without condition.
KNG: Between Erika Meza’s joyful watercolor illustrations and your lyrical bilingual text, the love for familia and cultura is communicated so clearly. As a bilingual speech-language pathologist, I’m always searching for contemporary bilingual or Spanish picture books for my students. Can you elaborate on the importance of bilingual narratives, and why you chose to weave Spanish into your story?
MM: Language carries a strong connection to culture and a sense of heritage. For me, it has always felt like a defining part of my identity. As a child, every time I struggled to remember a word in Spanish, it felt like I was taking one more step away from that identity. So, it felt particularly important in this story to incorporate words in Spanish. Words – like the smells, sights, and sounds Mariana encounters on her journey – hold significance in defining her experience, particularly words like “frontera”, “familia” and, of course, “abuelita”. Additionally, I think it’s important for bilingual children to see themselves represented not just through pictures and storytelling, but through language, which is such a big part of their experience.
KNG: Picture books are excellent tools for targeting visual and emotional literacy. Perhaps the aspect I loved the most about the story, was the depiction of Mariana’s emotional journey. It speaks to the experiences of many children throughout the world. What do you hope that readers will learn from the story? How do you envision this story being used in the classroom setting?
MM: My biggest hope is that this story will help to normalize the experience of so many children who are being raised somewhere in between one or more cultures and who, like Mariana, may sometimes struggle to find a sense of place in either. Seeing our own experiences in a story helps us to not only feel understood but can be very empowering. I would love to see educators use this book to connect with bicultural students, inspire a sense of empathy in the classroom, and perhaps start a dialogue about cultural heritage and identity.
KNG: Not only do you write picture books, but you also have a nonfiction, middle grade book out in 2024 that chronicles visionary figures with ties to Latinoamérica. Have you discovered any techniques or strategies that you’ve found beneficial during your brainstorming and writing process? What has been your experience of writing across children’s literature genres?
MM: The process of preparing to write fiction and non-fiction is very different for me, and also varies across categories. I don’t typically do any kind of outlining for a picture book. Most of the brainstorming that goes on with picture books is internal (going for a walk and thinking about the book, for example). When I’m writing a novel, I like to write a mildly detailed outline, leaving plenty of room for the story to develop organically as I’m writing. And when I was working on VIVA (the non-fiction title), I spent several months researching each person before crafting their story in order to make sure I did justice to who they are/were at their core. But ultimately, the process of writing is the same. I am always looking for the heart of story – the message I want to bring forth to readers, the way in which I hope the story will inspire change in some way, and the way in which I can most beautifully shape the story so that readers will feel touched somehow by reading it.
KNG: Well, it was a pleasure chatting with you, Mónica, and learning more about your debut picture book, MARIANA AND HER FAMILIA. Where can readers find you?
MM: Readers can find me online at www.monicamancillas.com, where they can learn about upcoming releases, events, and subscribe to my newsletter. They can also connect with me on Twitter (@MonicaMancillas) and Instagram (@monicamancillas77).
Buy MARIANA AND HER FAMILIA today!
Mónica Mancillas's upcoming works include MARIANA AND HER FAMILIA (Balzer + Bray, October 4, 2022), THE WORRY BALLOON (Roaring Brook Press, 2023), HOW TO SPEAK IN SPANGLISH (Penguin Workshop, 2023), and VIVA! (Chronicle, 2024). Her books center on themes of identity, culture, and mental health, while challenging those outdated tropes that have historically left Latine voices in the margins.
Born in the small coastal town of Ensenada in Baja California, México, Mónica moved with her parents to the United States when she was two years old. As a child, she loved nothing more than to study and explore self-expression through writing and music. After graduating Valedictorian from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, she earned a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, after which she moved to Los Angeles where she worked for ten years in the recording industry. Today, Mónica runs her own business teaching children how to play the piano. She spends her days writing, reading, and tending to her much-adored daughter, husband, and dog, Annie.
Karina Nicole González is a bilingual speech-language pathologist (MS, CCC-SLP, BE) and children’s book author. Currently, she works with school-age children at a school in Brooklyn, NY. While targeting students’ storytelling skills through therapy, their boundless imaginations inspired a dream to write picture books of her own. She is the author of the newly released, THE COQUÍES STILL SING / LOS COQUÍES AÚN CANTAN (Roaring Brook Press), and the forthcoming picture book, THE CHURRO STAND / EL CARRITO DE CHURROS (Cameron Kids, 2024).
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