Category: We Need Diverse Books

A Dream Come True

On Wednesday, my super agent Linda sent me a quick text:

Your book will be announced sometime Thursday.

Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep all night. Every time I thought about the announcement going live, I got butterflies in my stomach. And then Thursday arrived, and my book wasn’t in the morning Publisher Marketplace new deals email. Soon, I got distracted with two sick children. One who’s been struggling with strep throat for three weeks, and another one whose tummy hurt. Before I knew it, the other kids were home from school, and we had tickets for A Christmas Carol, which we couldn’t miss. I loaded the car with the kids and two friends, and we headed to the theater just when the sun was setting and traffic was thickening into the rage inducing slime of rush hour at The Point of the Mountain. Just as I was merging into the freeway, I got an email notification from my editor, Clarissa Wong. She said the announcement was live. Soon after, Linda emailed me, and then texted me. I exclaimed, “”My book is announced!” and the whole car cheered, and Julian said, “Focus on driving, Mama.” Which of course I didn’t need to be reminded of. Still, I felt like the sun was bursting out of my heart and spilling out of my eyes and every pore in my body.

So far, the best part of a book deal has been sharing the news with my beloved family and friends. The flood of love and excitement has kept me on a high all these days later. During the play’s intermission, I checked on my notifications that were climbing by the second, and a voicemail from my dear agent. Linda had more amazing news that hopefully I’ll get to share six months from now :P. I’m overcome by emotion at all my blessings. In this industry, good news arrive in an avalanche, and then there is silence or rejection for weeks and months at a time. I’m relishing in the good news avalanche right now. I’m holding on to all the light to last me through the dark winter months ahead.

I’m thrilled that I’m working with Clarissa Wong from HarperCollins, and that Jaime Kim is illustrating my book. A few days before the announcement, Clarissa sent me two preliminary sketches of a spread, and when I saw the beauty of Jaime Kim’s interpretation of my story, I broke into tears of gratitude.

This book is the most unexpected surprise. As I said in my graduate reading at VCFA, I wrote it in between packets, and no advisor ever saw it, but I wanted to share it on my last day at beloved school because this poem wouldn’t ever have happened if not for the advise and guidance I found there. I’d written an earlier version of this poem a couple of years ago, but during the political struggle of 2015-2016, I re-wrote it as a love letter to my children. I hope that when they read the final product they’re proud of it.

This deal wouldn’t have happened if Martine Leavitt, Uma Krishnaswami, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith hadn’t urged me after my reading to send it to Linda. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t actually send it to my dear agent, although I didn’t have any hopes that it would sell. It’s not quirky or commercial enough, I told myself. By then, I’d been out on submission with two other manuscripts that didn’t sell, and in the dead of winter post-graduation, I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about my writing career. I’m grateful I took the plunge because this book resonated with a lot of people. A couple of weeks later we had multiple offers for this manuscript, shattering all my expectations.

Although summer 2019 seems like a long time away, in publishing, two years is an amazingly short time for a picture book to be released. I can’t wait to share this story with my readers and friends and family who’ve been so supportive and have believed in me even when I didn’t believe anymore.

I’ve been holding on to these pictures from when I signed all the way back in August. Note my diamond pen (that Areli gave me after I helped her with Alpine Days), and my bracelet, She Believed She Could So She Did.

After so many years, my dream is coming true.

 

 

Another diversity post. Why do we need diversity in books?

Back in 2009 I wrote this blog post about a school visit I did during hispanic Heritage Month. This was seven years ago. SEVEN!!! I was a beginner writer and my kids were super young. I wrote during nap times and at night. I didn’t really know what I wanted to write. My stories were all retellings of my favorite Celtic legends, mashing together Marion Simmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon with my favorite fairy tales. When I went to that dual immersion school and saw so many happy faces ready to see a Hispanic author, I realized I didn’t know of any books that portrayed children who looked and sounded and lived like those little ones–like my own children. I have an agent now (hi, Linda!!!) and I’m doing my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, always with the intent of becoming a better writer. Hopefully I won’t have to way seven more years to see a book of mine on a shelf.

But that school visit was a turning point in my life. Now, in the midst of the whole diversity revolution, everyone talks about the problem of the lack of representation in media, especially children’s books. I’m a huge supporter of the We Need Diverse Books organization. They’ve been a great support to me too. Remember this?  
In an effort to do my part in this revolution for more diversity, I wrote a short essay giving my opinion of why we need diverse books. Why do YOU think we need diversity in books?

Why do we need diverse books?
By Yamile Saied Méndez
            “Literature is the expression of society”, said Charles Nodier, a French author and librarian who, according to Wikipedia, introduced young Romanticists to gothic literature and vampire tales. If books were photos in our social-medialized society, would they really show the nature of our world and society? Would everyone be able to see themselves on the pages of a book?
            One of the first things people do when they see a photo is look for themselves or people they might know. The same is true about books. When children read a book, they look for aspects of their lives and their situations. They read books with curiosity to learn about other people too.  
            The first book that I read by myself was Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. I lost my favorite grandfather at the age of five, and I saw my relationship with my Abuelo in that book. As a child, I didn’t have a pet goat, lived in the mountains, or ever slept in a bed of hay. Heck! I’d never seen snow in my life! I didn’t have anything else in common with the “girl from the Alps” but for the sorrow of missing a beloved grandfather. Reading about Heidi’s pain when she was separated from her grandfather helped me deal with my own grieving at having lost mine to death.
            The next books that marked me as a person were the works of Brazilian luminaire Monteiro Lobato. Through his stories about cousins Little Nose and Pedrinho, I learned to love the Brazilian people, their traditions, their history. In spite of the Argentine-Brazilian eternal rivalry in the soccer field, I saw my Brazilian neighbors through the window of books and learned to love them. Eventually, I earned a degree in Latin American studies, with an emphasis in Portuguese language and literature. All because of a series of stories about a grandmother and her grandchildren in a small Brazilian farm.
            In books, my greatest friends and companions throughout my life and especially my childhood were mirrors to myself and windows to the world.
            Books empower.
            They empowered me to pursue my dreams and fight for them. A child who doesn’t see herself in books is lacking the tools to face life, to make sense of the world around her, to know what she could be capable of. A child who doesn’t see a different reality from his lacks the tools to learn how to empathize with those living under different circumstances. He lacks the tools to make sense of aspects of the world he isn’t a part of.
            As a child, seeing aspect of myself in a book I was empowered. When I read about a character of my ethnic or cultural background, I got the message that my story mattered enough for someone to write about it. I learned I wasn’t alone in my sorrow. I learned that I mattered.

            My children are growing up between cultures. Like I did as a child, they yearn to be heard, seen, recognized, empowered by a book. Words give life and voice. And I want my children—and all children–to have a voice, to make sense of life, and to feel empowered. That’s why we need diverse books.