Today, two Musas are sharing a book birthday for their spectacular books, BELLA'S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS and EL CUCUY IS SCARED, TOO! Scroll on to hear from these two talented authors — Ana Siqueira + Donna Barba Higuera — and learn more about their books!
Donna Barba Higuera: Thank you for talking with me today! And huge felicidades on your debut book! In your book Bella’s Recipe for Success, Bella compares herself to her older brother and sister and how they seem to master things she can’t. Are you speaking from experience? Did you experience this as a child?
Ana Siqueira: Hmm… Great question. Well, my older sister was the perfect one. She would never make a mistake. My older brother was a genius who wrote songs and was talented like my mother. My younger sister was super cute and funny and she was the spoiled one, right? So I was the middle one - rebellious and with disabilities (ADHD and dyslexia). I guess I never realized, but Bella, who was inspired by my daughter who always wanted to be the best and perfect, is also me. Hahaha. I never thought of it.
DBH: Your book is being released in a year and a time where so many kids feel like their lives are out of their own control. I know this wasn’t planned, but do you hope your book’s message of trying and trying again until you master something will resonate with kids?
AS: You can’t control some external things such as pandemia, but you can control how you react to things. Yes, it’s tough to not be with your familia and amigos, but you can always find ways to have fun and learn more. So think about your dreams, and fight for them, by not quitting. I hope this message will help kids know it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to feel sad when you fail, it’s okay to take breaks sometimes, it’s okay to ask for help, but… Don’t quit.
DBH: You have a very supportive abuela in your book! Oh, how we love our abuelas! Did you have an example of this growing up? And, I know you now are a grandmother. Do you think your writing imparts feelings you want your own grandchildren to take with them?
AS: I had the best Abuelas ever. They would spoil me a lot. They also supported me during tough times. I miss them so much. As an Abuela, I love spoiling my grandkids too. I love playing and having fun with them. Yes, I want them to be determined and learn to work hard. And I want them to know that I’m here for them anytime they need me.
DBH: Your book seamlessly embeds Spanish within the story. We understand the context and learn vocabulary through this. This is HARD! And you did it so well! Was this difficult for you?
AS: I teach Spanish through stories, so it’s not that hard for me. I try using mostly cognates and words that can be illustrated. Also, that is how I speak. In reality, I speak three languages at the same time - English, Spanish, Portuguese.
DBH: What do you find the most challenging about writing picture books?
AS: For me, it’s hard to tell a whole story with so few words. Normally my first drafts have a lot of words, actions, etc. It can be confusing. Then, revisions, revisions, revisions. I love revisions, but it’s hard to know when your story is ready.
DBH: What can you tell us that you wish you’d known or that surprised you about becoming a published author?
AS: I’m overwhelmed with the marketing aspect of it. It’s a lot to do and coordinate yourself. That is why I am so thankful to be in four supportive groups - 21fortheBooks, StoryJammers, DiverseDreams, and Las Musas. And I’m happily surprised to see how supportive the whole writing community is.
AS: Donna, I am so happy that we have twin book birthdays. I admire your stories and Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is one of my favorite books ever. I saw on your author’s note you had a Cucuy in your room. Were you scared of El Cucuy or did you befriend him too?
DBH: Thank you so much! El Cucuy, who lived in the room I slept in at my grandmother’s house, was always terrifying to me. I think my grandmother’s whole idea of using the threat of El Cucuy to make me go to sleep backfired. Instead, I would lay awake scared to death. I had ZERO intention of befriending him. I wrote this book using the writing prompt, “Make the thing you found most frightening as a child less scary.” After writing this book, I think that El Cucuy and I are now friends.
AS: A Cuca in Brazil is an alligator with a blond wig. Would you prefer having a Cucuy or an alligator in your closet?
DBH: As a child…I would have preferred the alligator for sure! Now…I would take El Cucuy. Aquatic animals with sharp teeth like sharks and alligators are what scare me most now! That’s a story for another day.
AS: I love how Ramón calms himself down by explaining things to el Cucuy. What do you do when you need to calm yourself down? What can a kid with no Cucuy do?
DBH: When I was young, I had a very difficult time calming myself down. Instead of dealing with the things that scared me, I was more likely to avoid it or run. Most of my anxiety now comes from speaking in front of others. I can’t just run away. To calm myself, I take a few moments closing my eyes and taking deep breaths. I remind myself that everyone I am speaking to is similar to me and that we all get a case of nerves at times and have anxieties.
I would tell a child to try and do the same. Take a few deep breaths if they are scared of something. Remind themselves that often our fears are caused by ourselves. Talk to themselves about what it is that is scaring them. If that doesn’t work to calm down, find a friend or trusted adult to speak to. Don’t hold it inside.
AS: Ramón y el Cucuy had to face the unknown and they were scared. What tips can you give to beginning writers who face the unknown world of querying?
DBH: Ahhh, the joy of querying! I think what scared me the most during querying comes down to one word. Rejection. We work so hard on our projects, and they become precious to us. So, to be told that someone doesn’t love or like our work stings. The tip I would give anyone querying is that same reminder, that we (all writers) go through the same thing. Rejection in querying is universal. There is some comfort in knowing everyone who queries goes through the same feelings of hurt we can’t help feeling. With that said, my tip would be to just keep swimming! Keep querying. Get another rejection? It’s just one more checkmark on your tally that you were brave. Send out another query, maybe two or three. Your perseverance will eventually pay off.
AS: What are your plans for the future? I know you have one more Middle-Grade novel coming, right? Any more picture books too?
DBH: Lots happening! El Cucuy is Scared, Too! releases in July with Abrams Kids. My next Middle-Grade book, The Last Cuentista is about Petra Peña who is relocating to a new planet after Earth is destroyed. Her suspended animation fails during the 370-year journey, all the other children are mysteriously reprogrammed and the adults purged. Petra becomes the lone bringer of Earth's now forbidden stories and her grandmother's Mexican folklore to change humanity. It releases in August with Levine Querido. I will have more news that I can speak on soon. But I can say I will definitely be busy writing for the next few years.
AS: I know you’re a doctor, how do you manage your time to be able to do it all: work, family, writing, reading, etc?
DBH: Time management is my biggest challenge. I have to make actual lists or I lose track of all I need to finish. On top of that, I have to write first thing in the morning. My day job can be mentally taxing, and I’m wiped out at the end of the day. So even though it’s early, if I want to get any creative work done, it has to be with a fresh mind early in the morning. My family time is important. So when everyone is home from jobs, school, etc., we all sit and have dinner together, every single evening. We are a close family who laughs a lot together, and I know it’s because we work hard to spend time together. I typically read books or critique before bed.
It’s difficult to fit everything in, but I’m getting into a rhythm.
Buy EL CUCUY IS SCARED, TOO!
Buy BELLA'S RECIPE FOR SUCCES!
Donna grew up in central California surrounded by agricultural and oil fields. As a child, rather than dealing with the regular dust devils, she preferred spending recess squirreled away in the janitor’s closet with a good book. Her favorite hobbies were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration.
Donna's Middle Grade and Picture Books are about kids who find themselves in odd or scary situations. From language to cultural differences in being biracial life can become…complicated. So like Donna, characters tackle more than just the bizarre things that happen to them in their lives.
Donna likes to write about all things funny, but also sad, and creepy, and magical. If you like those things, she hopes you will read her books! Donna lives in Washington State with her family, three dogs and two frogs.
Ana Siqueira is a Spanish-language elementary teacher, an award-winning Brazilian children’s author, and is published in the Foreign Language educational market – EL PATO QUIERE UVAS. Her forthcoming picture books include BELLA’S RECIPE FOR DISASTER/SUCCESS (Beaming Books, 2021) and IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA/CUANDO TU NIÑERA ES UNA BRUJA (SimonKids,2022), ABUELA’S SUPER CAPA/ LA SUPER CAPA DE ABUELA (HarperCollins, 2023) and one more book to be announced.
Besides writing, Ana loves to read, teach, and play with her Cuban-Brazilian-American grandchildren. Represented by Andrea Walker – Azantian Lit Agency Twitter: @SraSiqueira1307
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