An Américas Award Interview: Monica Brown

Buenas! As the school year winds down we are delighted to share another Américas Award interview, this time speaking with Monica Brown. Recently, her book, Lola Levine, Drama Queen, was selected as a Bluebonnet Award Finalist – and she just published the fourth book in her chapter book series, Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Be sure to keep an eye out this September for her new book, Frida and her Animalitos, illustrated by John Parra!

~Hania

Vamos-a-Leer-Interview-Monica-Brown.pngMonica Brown is an accomplished children’s book author whose works inspire children and young readers to think deeply, beautifully, and critically about the world around them.

Among the many praises bestowed upon her works, the Américas Award has been twice awarded to her, including for Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People in 2012 and My Name is Celia / Me llamo Celia in 2004.  The repeated accolades and starred reviews she has received all attest to her ability to create beautiful, moving books that encourage empathy and understanding among young readers. Inspired by her Peruvian-American heritage and a desire to share Latino/a stories with children, she writes, as she explains, “from a place of deep passion, job, and commitment to producing the highest possible quality of literature for students.”

Here, the author converses with Hania Mariën of the Vamos a Leer blog as she poses questions about Brown’s work, her inspirations, and the importance of bringing Latinx literature into the classroom. For more information, including publications and supporting educational resources, visit http://www.monicabrown.net.

May, 2017

HANIA MARIËN: You mention that Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match was rejected many times. Since its publication you have published several other books featuring Marisol. What do you think allowed for this eventual publishing success? Can we attribute it in part to a growing awareness of the need for more diverse characters or is there more to it?

MarisolMONICA BROWN: With Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina it took a small, multicultural children’s press based in San Francisco to take that “risk” of publishing a children’s book that talked honestly about the multiracial experience.  That press was Children’s Book Press, now an imprint of the equally visionary publishers Lee and Low.  I’ve been privileged to work with principled editors with courage and vision—trailblazers like Adriana Dominguez, Gabby Baez Ventura, and Nikki Garcia, among other amazing women.

HANIA MARIËN: You say that bilingual books offer “moments of multiple literacy.” Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by that?

MONICA BROWN: Bilingual books offer the chance for readers to see two beautiful languages side by side on the page.  In Latinx families, there are often generational differences in terms of language. In my family for example, my mother’s first language is Spanish and second language is English. For me it’s the reverse. My Peruvian grandmother spoke only Spanish. A bilingual book allows children to enjoy reading times in two languages, in one, or the other, and also to acquire more language skills as children learn from contextualization and observing the art.

HANIA MARIËN: In an interview with La Bloga you mention that you put a great deal of time and effort into library research for your biographies as part of an effort to honor the histories of people whom the official record has often overlooked.  Do you ever have to look beyond the library for information about their lives? How do you translate your findings into “living” characters?

 MONICA BROWN: In my other life, I’m a literature professor, so I welcome the researchneruda aspects of my children’s biographies.  Some of it involves traditional research and in other cases I rely on interviews, film, creative works and even music.  For my biography Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People, for example, I read his collected words—his gift for language and lyricism inspired, and I hope, infused my writing. Listening to Tito Puente and Celia Cruz’s music was a central part of my creative process in trying to capture their spirit between the pages of a book!

HANIA MARIËN: You say you want all children to feel that their only limitation is their own imagination, and that it is our jobs as teachers, writers, artists and activists to make sure that this is true. What factors (beyond students’ imagination) do you believe currently present the most pressing limitations for children’s future?

MONICA BROWN: I think we have many challenges in terms of public education. We need more funding to provide smaller class sizes, a livable wage for teachers (a huge problem in my state of Arizona), resources for English language learners, as well as culturally representative curriculum that reflects the incredibly diverse history (and population) of children living in the United States. We’ve all heard of information poverty, but I worry equally about imagination poverty. Our children need access to literature, music, and the arts. They need books to model, inspire, instill pride, and affirm.  Books to inspire dreams and aspiration. When I tell the story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez (Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a Lado: la historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez) or introduce, bold, creative characters like Marisol McDonald (Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina, Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/ y la fiesta sin equal, and Marisol McDonald and the Monster/y el monstruo) and Lola Levine (The Lola Levine Chapter book Series), I hope children feel more free in their identity, less limited by the stereotypical gendered and racial images they encounter in their everyday life.

HANIA MARIËN: Lastly, drawing upon your dedication to preserving and promoting cultures of the Américas, is there any advice or inspiration you can offer to the teachers reading this interview who may have young Latino/a students in their classrooms?

MONICA BROWN: Teachers can save lives, and they certainly shape young lives.  I was very lucky to have a tía who was a kindergarten teacher who gave me wonderful books at young age and led me on this path—a life built around words, stories, narrative, cultural celebration and creative expression. Books matter. Creativity matters. The opportunity to inspire young minds is a gift.  My advice is to offer books that reflect our Latinx student’s culture and proud heritage, and books that affirm bilingualism. This will counter messages of hate, anti-immigrant and “English only” rhetoric that have been even more blatant under our current administration. I am the proud child of an immigrant. We are here and we are staying. We all have different stories, but can be proud of a collective of care, nurturing, and pride in and for our children.

 


Book images and author photograph reprinted courtesy of the author directly from Monica Brown’s website. 

April 7th | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! This week I found interesting resources, I hope you enjoy!

– You might appreciate Mexican author Valeria Luiselli’s book-length essay, Tell Me How It Ends, if you are teaching about Central American migration, and especially about child migrants. “Until it is safer for undocumented folks to share their own stories, to argue on their own behalf, Luiselli makes for a trusted guide.”

— Check out these three authors shortlisted for the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. “The finalists were selected by a jury administered by the Bocas Lit Fest and made up of writing, publishing and educational professionals with expertise in young adult literature.”

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¡Mira, Look!: Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes

Image result for with the sun in my eyes jorge lujanSaludos todos! This week we are kicking off April with a wonderful, spring-timey book. Our themes for April are the Earth and nature in celebration of Earth Day and also poetry in celebration of National Poetry Month. Although not all of my books for this month will be able to combine both of these themes so nicely, this week’s book indeed does. Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes, written by an Argentinian poet, Jorge Lujan, and illustrated by an Iranian artist, Morteza Zahedi, is a lovely story (written as a collection of poems) about a young boy and girl who discover the world and all of its natural beauty: “In this book of short poems, a young boy and girl find wonder, magic, beauty and humor in everything around them.” Although this book at first glance may seem sweet and simplistic, the poetry can be difficult to understand for younger children and the degree of artistic license and creativity used in this book might make it more interesting and enriching for older children (years 9-12).

The book opens with a quote by Walt Whitman that can guide readers in their subsequent readings of the poems: “There was a child went forth every day,/ And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.” This quote expresses the beautiful way in which children can become absorbed by their surroundings, and how the details of our environment, which sometimes allude us busy adults, are not lost on children and their wonderful creativity and imagination.

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¡Mira, Look!: Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre

Saludos todos! This week we are concluding our March theme of women and Women’s History Month with another great read. Last week I featured the Coleccion Antiprincesas, which provides readers with biographies of underrepresented and under-studied historical Latina heroines. This week, however, we are switching gears a bit, focusing more on the courage and determination of young girls in our everyday lives. The book for this week is Letters Forever/ Cartas para siempre, written by Tom Luna and illustrated by Laura Alvarez. This wonderful story focuses on a young, female protagonist who has to learn how to navigate her complicated emotions in a difficult situation. Not only does this book show young readers how to cope with separation and heartache, it also counters stereotypes and challenges negative representations of women and girls by portraying a young girl whose empathy and emotional sensibility is not a flaw or a nuisance, but, ultimately, one of her greatest virtues.

This book tells the story of young Camila and her beloved abuelo, Felix, who lives far away in Veracruz, Mexico: “It had been two years since he left San Antonio to return home to Veracruz.” Camila reflects on the bittersweet memories of her grandfather playing his favorite guitar, the requinto, and how he would sing her lullabies when she was a little baby: “He had a deep beautiful voice and played the requinto with an almost angelic touch.” Although the plot following the female protagonist challenges typical, negative representations of women and girls, the character description of the grandfather also challenges expectations of men and boys. The grandfather is sensitive, artistic, loving and participates actively in caring for his grandchild, taking her on outings to the zoo and the park, to name a few, all the while singing or whistling tunes from Veracruz.

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¡Mira, Look!: Colección Antiprincesas

Image result for coleccion antiprincesasSaludos todos! I’m back with my weekly Mira, Look posts after a short time off for Spring Break. This month we have been celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring books about the wonderful women found throughout history and within our personal lives as well. This week I’ll be reviewing three books from the Colección Antiprincesas. This collection is meant to feature “grandes mujeres,” or prominent women in history, in order to show that women don’t have to be your typical “princess”; in fact, many of these women were so formidable precisely because they went against gender norms and fought for what they believed in.

The Colección Antiprincesas has received a lot of media attention, specifically through channels (blogs, magazines, etc.) that focus on Latinx literature for children, such as Remezcla’s post, These Anti-Princess Books Give Young Girls Badass Latina Heroines to Look up to. Since these new releases have been talked about so much within the children’s literature community, I thought it was a good idea to contribute my views and join in the discussion. Needless to say, we also greatly welcome the input of our readers in fostering a larger, dynamic discussion about this collection and Latinx children’s books in general!

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¡Mira Look!: Conoce a Gabriela Mistral/ Get to Know Gabriela Mistral

Image result for conoce a gabriela mistralSaludos todos! This week we are starting our March theme of women in children’s literature, in celebration of Women’s History Month. Our book for this week is Get to Know Gabriela Mistral, written by Georgina Lazaro Leon and illustrated by Sara Helena Palacios. This bilingual book is part of a series of “Conoce a…/ Get to Know….” books that provide children with biographies of well-known, and sometimes lesser-known, Hispanic heroes.

Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean author and poet and she was the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945. Although Mistral is indeed very well-known within the literary community, outside of the literary community she is often eclipsed by some of her twentieth century male contemporaries, such as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. This informative story traces Mistral’s life, both her childhood and her work as a writer, and even introduces readers to some of her lovely poetry, ultimately putting the spotlight on a timeless woman, a Latin American hero and literary icon.

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March 3rd | Week in Review

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¡Hola a todos! Happy beginning of March! Here are various resources that I am glad to share.

– Just for kicks, I thought you might enjoy Remezcla’s compilation of recipes for perros calientes: Journey Through Latin America’s Weird and Wonderful Hot Dog Creations. My mouth was watering!

– Also by Remezcla, here is an Intimate Look at Las Patronas, the Mexican Women Who Feed Migrants Traveling on La Bestia.

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