August 28, 2013

CBC Diversity: Guest Post By Angela Cervantes

Here's a thought-provoking post on becoming a Latina author by one of my clients, written for the Children Book Council's "Diversity Blog" (which, if you are a writer of color writing for children, you should really check out). Enjoy, and share your thoughts with us, here, or there! We really do want to keep the conversation going!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Finding Diversity and My Voice with a Flashlight and a Pen

Guest post by author Angela Cervantes

I am an original flashlight girl. You know the type. Hours after parents called for bedtime; I was still up under my bedcovers with a flashlight reading a favorite book. Many times, those books under the covers with me were the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books. The fact that the heroines of these books were white and I was Mexican American didn't stop me from enjoying these books and rereading them several times. However, the more I fell in love with reading the more I questioned why there weren’t books like these with Latino characters. At the time, I remember thinking of all the girls in my neighborhood who were just as funny, spunky and adventurous as Ramona, Lucy and Laura. Surely there were books about them out there, right?

Not so much.

As a child, I often sat in front of a bookshelf in the children’s section of the public library and searched for books with characters and authors that had last names like mine. Latino last names like Gomez, Ortiz, Zuniga... but I didn’t find those books. At school, I asked my fifth grade teacher, Sister Judy, to help me find books “about girls like me,” but she couldn’t find any either. She must have apologized to me a hundred times for that.

Twenty some years later, a lot has been said about the disparity of Latino characters or diversity in children literature. There’s been a well-known New York Times article, “For Young Latino Readers, an Image Is Missing” by Motoko Rich and a probing blog by Jason Low: “Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?”. With all this insight as a call to arms for diversity, I’m not sure that I have much to add to the discussion. All I can offer is my own humble experience as a Latina child with a flashlight who grew up to be a children’s author.

I decided a long time ago, when I used to stare at bookshelves in the public library, that I was going to be a writer. It was as if those bookshelves were my Mount Sinai. I had received a spiritual calling to go to my comunidad with pen, notebook and an honest heart and bring back stories.

As I set forth to write my first middle grade novel four years ago, I knew I would write about my neighborhood, mi familia, and my world. Even though I had heard a rumor from other writers that publishers didn’t publish Latino authors, it never dawned on me to write about anything else. I had a flashlight and lots of passion. I refused to be discouraged.

Today, I’m a debut author whose first book, Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic, 2013) is about a modern, bilingual Latina heroine who won’t stop in her quest to find shelter animals a forever home even as her own family life unravels. It turns out that the lack of diversity in children’s books, although disheartening to me as a child, had motivated me as an adult to create change. And I’m not alone. I’ve read interviews of authors like Malín Alegria (Border Town teen series) and Diana Lopez (Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel) who have expressed the same experience and responded with great books.

The way I see it, children’s stories featuring Latino main characters are worth telling and NOT just because census data tells us that the Latino population is the second largest ethnic group in the United States and the fastest-growing segment of the school population. Even if the Latino population wasn’t growing rapidly, these stories would still be important. They have a place on the bookshelf because these books are not written just for a Latino audience; they are written for all children.

In my book, Gaby, Lost and Found, the main protagonist transforms from a victim of a bad immigration system that splits up her family to a protector and advocate for shelter animals. Gaby is an empowered character that any reader can cheer on. It doesn't matter that she also happens to be Latina. Nor does it matter that she comes from a mixed-status, mixed-culture family. She’s a risk-taker, funny and kind. These are characteristics that any child could relate to, regardless of ethnicity. 
I’m grateful to be a newly published children’s author. I do not take this responsibility lightly. Today, children are growing up in a much more multiethnic America than I experienced as a child. This is a beautiful thing. And the role children’s books play is crucial. Children’s literature remains one of the first encounters a child will have with the world. I’m honored to be a part of that. I believe Sister Judy would be proud.

August 21, 2013’s Summer Reading List

I put this list together for earlier this summer and decided to share here as it contains some of my favorite Latino-interest children's books published recently. You can't go wrong if you buy any one of these books for the children in your life. And if you are an aspiring children's author, here are some of the books you want to pick up for your research into what is being published successfully these days. Remember that you have to read before you can write! Enjoy!—Adriana


Mamiverse’s Summer Reading List-MainPhoto 

Creating “reading lists” is a time-honored tradition in the world of book reviewing—there are “back-to-school” lists, lists that celebrate particular holidays, and of course, the ubiquitous “summer reading list.” After more than 15 years in the children’s book industry and many years as a professional book reviewer, I’ve put together a list or two. So I thought I’d share some of my recent favorites with Mamiverse readers, sure to make for great summer reads for your kids of all ages.

Whether you are looking for baby shower gifts this summer, welcoming your own little one with the help of his or her budding library, or looking for ways to keep your school-aged kids occupied and interested in reading during these months when they are out of school, here are some wonderful books that include the added benefit of celebrating our culture and language. For this list, I decided to include as many of the newer Latino-interest titles as possible to give those books another opportunity to catch the eyes of readers, and to help our mamis and their children keep up with what is currently being published. So you will find no classics here—though I’d be willing to bet that this list includes some future classics! And of course, some of the books, with their mentions of “paletas” or “public pools,” just scream “summer” to me! All of the titles on this list are excellent and certainly worth your kids’ time—and yours, because many of them are being enjoyed by adults as well as kids!

Mamiverse’s Summer Reading List-Photo2


BOARD BOOKS (Ages 0-3)

La casa adormecida/The Napping House by Audrey Wood, Illustrated by Don Wood and Es hora de dormir/Time for Bed by Mem Fox, Illustrated by Jane Dyer
While the original English editions of these two books are considered modern classics, their bilingual formats, brilliantly translated by award-winning authors Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, are brand-spanking new! The rhyming Spanish is just as appealing and engaging as the original English—a rare feat—making these two perfect choices for bilingual bedtime reading.

You Are My Baby Series Written and Illustrated by Lorena Siminovich
An innovative format that enables toddlers to “read” the smaller version of the books along with their caregivers and charming artwork makes this series a winner and these little darlings the perfect baby shower gift!

August 15, 2013

I'm Back! (and) Our 2nd Annual Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference!

Dear VOCES Readers:

I  know that I've been on a bit of a hiatus from this blog for a while, okay a long while! During that time, I have been mostly working for my clients (many of whom are fabulous Latino authors), and writing for various other folks. I have been working on a Book Reviews section I launched last summer for, where I post regularly on all things related to Latino children's books. I also blog for the agency where I work, mostly about happenings related to my clients. I've contributed posts to many other sites as well, such as the CBC Diversity Blog, where I shared my story of how I got into publishing, and others. So, although it may seem as though I don't blog very much anymore, the opposite is in fact true! I blog all the time, just not here! 

Because I do so many different things, I do think that it is high time that I return to this, my original blog—the only one that actually belongs to me—and share some of what I do with the readers who so often reach out to me from here. 

Over the coming weeks and months, I will make an attempt to double post everything I post elsewhere, making this the main contact and source of news from me, as it was meant to be from the beginning. On occasion, I may also write blogs that are exclusive to this site and offer my unfiltered personal perspective. 

On this last point, I want to express exactly how proud I am to announce our second Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference in New York City, coming up this October 5th. If you are Latino and serious about writing, please join us, registration is still open. I can truly say that everyone who participates—not just the organizers, but also all of the agents, editors and authors joining us—truly care about helping Latinos writers navigate the complex and sometimes baffling world of publishing, and to give them the tools necessary to become successfully published authors. Our biggest endorsements this year are coming from last year's attendees! What more can I say? 

Here is more detailed information about this not-to-be-missed event:

Las Comadres to Host 2nd Annual Latino Writers Conference
Day-Long Event to Offer Access and Guidance from Publishing Insiders

Las Comadres Para Las Americas, the national Latina organization, will present a day-long conference on October 5 for Latino writers seeking book publication.

The Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference will be held at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, Brooklyn. Joining La Comadres as collaborators are AT&T, Scholastic, the National Black Writers Conference, the Center for Black Literature, the Foreign Language Department and the Latino American Association, Adriana Dominguez, and Marcela Landres, with support from the Association of American Publishers.

The conference will help attendees navigate the challenges and opportunities specific to Latino writers. Scheduled panels will focus on poetry, marketing/publicity, children’s/young adult writing, self-publishing, fiction, and non-fiction as well as craft workshops for adult and children’s books. Two of the more popular sessions are a pitch slam and an agents/editors panel. In addition, writers will have the option to meet one-on-one with agents and editors.

Participants currently include: Erin Clarke, Executive Editor, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers; Adriana Dominguez, Agent, Full Circle Literary; Sulay Hernandez, Senior Editor, Other Press; Toni Kirkpatrick, Editor, Thomas Dunne Books; Nancy Mercado, Executive Editor, Roaring Brook Press; Andrea Montejo, Agent, Indent Literary Agency; Lukas Ortiz, Managing Agent, Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency, Inc.; Jeff Ourvan, Agent, Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency; Diane Stockwell, Agent, Globo Libros Literary Management; Johnny Temple, Publisher, Akashic; and Stacy Whitman, Publisher, Tu Books.

This year’s keynote speaker is Reyna Grande, a National Book Circle Critics Award finalist and winner of the American Book Award and International Latino Book Award.

Registration is now open for the conference at The conference twitter hash tag is #LCWC
I hope to see you in NYC!—Adriana