Author Interview with Juana Martinez-Neal

Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut! Can you tell us about your inspiration for Alma and How She Got Her Name?

ALMA is a picture book about a little girl with a long name and a big story behind her name.  The story has autobiographical elements and is inspired by my own strong connection to my extended family. I believe we are all a little bit of those that came before us, and we carry a little of each of our ancestors with us. At the same time, we are uniquely ourselves.

How does being a diverse author and artist contribute to and inspire your work?

I was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and moved to the United States in my mid twenties. In my first years as an immigrant, I was trying to find my place in the US. I wanted to feel less foreign and assimilate fast. I disliked standing out. But welcoming my new culture and traditions came at the cost of giving up those aspects that made me who I was. After I got married and had our first child, I came to the realization that I needed to reclaim the unique aspects of my Peruvian culture. I realized my culture was part of my whole personal identity, and I wanted to pass my culture onto my children. It is at that moment that I started illustrating and attempting to write for children. My work carries my Peruvian and Latino culture deeply. In ALMA, I am writing and illustrating a book about a little girl who is discovering who she is in this world just as I discovered my place in my world.

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Author Interview with Gayle Pitman

Why do you write books for children?

I have a friend who is a children’s book author and illustrator, and several years ago she decided to quit her job as a tenured professor in order to pursue a more creative life. She started teaching classes about writing and illustrating children’s books, and she encouraged (well, pressured, really) me to sign up. I said I would – I have a hard time saying “no” – and then thought “oh wow, what did I just get myself into?” But it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. I also had no idea how hard it is to write a high-quality story for children! It’s much harder than it looks. Taking that class showed me how to be creative in an entirely new way, and writing for children fuels me in ways that I can’t really put into words.  

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There’s another reason why I do this, though. Not long after I took that class, I started playing with the idea of writing a story about an LGBTQ+ Pride celebration. When I was researching comps, I was stunned to find that not only were there very few picture books featuring LGBTQ+ themes, but only one had ever been written about a Pride parade (and it was published almost thirty years ago). That was so disturbing to me – that LGBTQ+ people were virtually invisible in children’s books. And I see on a daily basis what that invisibility does to a community. Most of my college students (including those who are LGBTQ+ identified) have never heard of the Pink Scare, or the Stonewall Riots, or the AIDS crisis, for that matter. They know about HIV, but they don’t know how the gay community was decimated by it. That lack of knowledge is terrifying to me, and I want children AND adults to know about our history, our culture, and how we got here. That’s why I wrote books like This Day in June, When You Look Out the Window (a book about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin), and Sewing the Rainbow (my latest book about Gilbert Baker and the creation of the rainbow flag).

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Author Q&A with Jen Wilde

Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it. 

THE BRIGHTSIDERS follows a teen drummer in a famous rock band as she deals with being labelled a tabloid train wreck, coming out as bisexual, family struggles and new feelings for her best friend and lead singer, Alfie. All my books are about fame and fandom in some way, and while my last book (QUEENS OF GEEK) focused more on the fan’s point of view, THE BRIGHTSIDERS is from the perspective of a girl being thrust into the spotlight and dealing with the fallout of that.

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Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?

Yes, as I’m queer, nonbinary, and autistic. Those parts of my identity definitely influence the stories I write and the way I see the world in my daily life.

Who is your favorite character of all time in children’s or young adult literature?

Oh, wow. This is a tough question! I have a few, but the one that I really connected with as a teen was Adrian Mole of the Adrian Mole series, so he’ll always have a special place in my heart.

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