Author Interview with T.R. Simon

Candlewick Press sat down with T.R. Simon to discuss her new book ‘Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground’

CP:  How do the maturing Carrie and Zora see the world differently as they approach their teens?

T.R.S:  In book two of the Zora and Me trilogy, Zora and Carrie are now twelve going on thirteen. Although they are still children, they have encountered the sorrow of death along with the pride and joy that life in Eatonville affords them. What begins to alter them now is a slowly growing awareness of the past. While Eatonville could seem idyllic, tucked away from the daily brutality of the Jim Crow South, it is not free from the shadow of American history, particularly from the history of slavery. The history of slavery is a hard thing for young people because it requires them to confront the brutality of hate and the despair of powerlessness. Zora and Carrie grapple with the conflicted feelings that learning about Eatonville’s history brings up while simultaneously realizing that life is necessarily, for good and for bad, informed by the past.

CP:  Why did you choose to tell this book with dual narratives?

T.R.S:  I struggled with how to powerfully connect the fact of Jim Crow to the institution of slavery. Ultimately, I decided that the most effective way to do that was to show them side by side. Reconstruction was the attempt of newly freed slaves to enact self-determination, and Jim Crow was a formalization of the backlash to Reconstruction. If you don’t understand how slavery operated and the ideas of race that made slavery go, you can’t understand Jim Crow as the logical social extension of that violently inhumane practice.

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Author Interview with Yuyi Morales

Dreamers is your own story of immigrating to the United States from Mexico in 1994 with your newborn son. What inspired you write Dreamers almost 24 years later?

I was working on a graphic novel when Donald Trump was elected president. My heart sunk. I could not believe that the man who had accused Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists had been elected to lead the United States. I felt unable to work, and that my stories made no sense anymore. I also felt afraid of what would come next for immigrant families like mine, like those of my friends and like those that my books had been written for and about. 

My editor, Neal Porter, saw that I was stuck and offered his support and patience. He reassured me that he was there for me until I was ready to produce a new book, he also told me that he thought the book I should be working on was my own immigrant story.

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Author Q&A with Elizabeth Acevedo

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

My debut novel, The Poet X, came out a month ago! I began writing the book when I was an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The novel was a direct response to working in a school that was 77% Latinx and 20 % Black, but it seemed for that age range there were not enough texts that culturally represented my young people. I was inspired to write a coming-of-age story from a very specific lens: an Afro-Latina growing up in New York City discovering her voice through poetry.  I wanted a book about a girl learning to take up space.

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

Both my parents are from the Dominican Republic and I was raised to be very proud of my cultural heritage. I cannot extricate my identity as a woman of Afro-Dominican descent from any of the work I create.

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Author Q&A with Sayantani DasGupta

Why is diversity in science fiction and fantasy so critical?

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time to The Hobbit to Star Wars, Star Trek, and Carl Sagan’s amazing show, Cosmos. Science fiction taught me to imagine big, to envision things beyond my reckoning. It taught me to dream. But of course, science fiction and fantasy back then didn’t let me see anyone who looked like me in a central role. As a brown skinned, immigrant daughter, I loved science fiction and fantasy. But science fiction and fantasy didn’t really love me back.

I think over the years, we’ve seen a vast improvement in terms of representation in many genres of children’s fiction. My own kids got to read a much more diverse array of books than I ever did. But not across all genres, unfortunately. My son, in particular, was a huge fantasy reader – if there wasn’t a talking bird, or flying horse, or a wizard in the tale, he wasn’t having it! Yet, the same gaps in representation I found as a young lover of science fiction and fantasy are still around 30+ years later. That’s a problem, because if all books are in the business of building our imaginations, then sci-fi and fantasy are in the business of building radical imagination. And if there’s ever been a time during which we need a collective radical imagination, it’s now. That’s part of the reason I wrote The Serpent’s Secret.

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Q&A with Author Chitra Soundar

Do you only write stories from your own cultural background?

For a long time before I was published, I wrote only western stories – stories set in western families about children with western names and their rituals of growing up. This is because subconsciously I was writing what I was reading. As a child and as an adult, I read mostly western narratives and that seeped into my writing. But my heart wasn’t in those stories. It wasn’t my truth. And when I did write stories from India, either set there or about India and Indian characters, I started getting lesser rejections (or at least more personalised ones) because my stories now had the secret ingredient that makes magic – authenticity. For me more than setting the stories in India or in its culture, it is about personal connection. Why do I want to tell this story? Why me? Am I the right person to tell this story? If so, then I would attempt to bring it to life.

Conversely, do you feel restricted in the subjects and settings you can choose?

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I’m a nomad. Although I was brought up in India, I have lived in Singapore and now in the UK. I travel a lot and I gather stories where I go. But I always remember that all the stories filter through my own experiences – of what I know and what I don’t. I have fallen in love with folktales from Antwerp and Prague but I worry about retelling them because I’m not sure I would have the depth of the cultural context. Even to retell a small story, I would need tremendous amount of research and understanding. So I pick and choose projects I can actually invest time and energy into. On a side note, India is a big country with language, ethnic and other diversities and I research a lot even to tell Indian stories.

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Q&A with Author Anna-Marie McLemore

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

WILD BEAUTY is about queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. The Nomeolvides women, including the youngest generation of five cousins, tend the grounds of La Pradera, a famously beautiful garden known both for enthralling visitors and killing those who break its rules. This story grew from my love of flowers and from wanting to write girls like me and my cousins into the world of fairy tales.

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

I’m queer, Latina, and I’m married to a trans guy, so in a way I didn’t set out to write diverse fiction any more than I set out to live a diverse life. Writing inclusive stories was a matter of letting the truth I already know have a place in my work. 

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Author Q&A with Nikki Grimes

Check out our Q&A with Nikki Grimes, author of THE WATCHER ( Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, October 2017)!

1. What inspired you to write The Watcher?

A few years ago, I was invited to write a Golden Shovel poem for The Golden Shovel Anthology, a collection honoring the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet, Gwendolyn Brooks.  This new poetry form, created by Terence Hayes specifically for this anthology, was brand new, and so this was my first introduction to it.  I fell immediately in love with the form and could not wait to use it again, for a project of my own.  One of the first two ideas that came to me was to apply the form to the exploration of a Psalm.  It seemed perfect.  The Psalms are poetry, after all, and the Golden Shovel is all about borrowing lines from existing poems to create new ones.  The question, of course, was which Psalm.  I had a picture book in mind, and in order for this treatment to work for a picture book, the Psalm had to be relatively short, and so I searched for just the right one.  Psalm 121 is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and the length seemed exactly right.

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