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 Q&A with Aisha Saeed

What inspired you to write AMAL UNBOUND?

The idea for AMAL UNBOUND came to me several years ago. At the time I’d known I wanted to write about a girl like Amal who was brave and full of hope and who lived in Pakistan—an often misunderstood country— but I wasn’t sure what her specific story would be. While reading the day’s headlines one day in 2012 I came across the inspiring story of Malala. Her story stopped me in my tracks because it reminded me of the strength and resilience many young people I worked with as a teacher showed every day—their situations were of course starkly different than Malala’s but many of my students were also resilient and brave in the face of unspeakable difficulties. With this in mind, thinking about all the brave children around the world who never get a headline but who work in the way of justice nonetheless, I began writing AMAL UNBOUND. Lately, many people have told me that AMAL UNBOUND feels like a timely story. I can understand that. A story about resistance and justice against all odds and the power of each of us to affect change does seems like an incredibly timely story. Of course in 2012 when I began writing this story I could have had no idea how deeply relevant the story would have been today but it is and I’m grateful if it is giving people hope. The name Amal means hope in Arabic and it is my hope AMAL UNBOUND that not only does this book show us a glimpse into a country that is often misunderstood but that it also reminds readers of their own inner strength and the importance of working in the way of justice whether a spotlight shines on us or not.

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Finding Your Way Out of the Margins

By Caleb Roehrig

From the outside, it probably seems a self-evident choice when an author from a marginalized group chooses to write a protagonist that shares their lived experience. If “write what you know” is sound advice, then choosing to speak from a personal and underrepresented point of view would seem obvious. But for me and many other “own voices” writers, the decision was not obvious at all.

When I was a teenager, just discovering my love of writing, there was no such thing as It Gets Better, and no gay characters in fiction for young adults; if a gay person appeared on a television show, it was advertised as a stunt, aired at a special time, and came with a content warning; and if gay characters appeared in the movies, they were cruelly drawn caricatures, tragic victims or offensive comic relief. Back then, it never even occurred to me that a gay person could anchor a piece of mainstream art or entertainment.

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My very first attempt at a full-length manuscript was a YA horror novel about a teenage girl and her smart-mouthed pals. One of her friends was implicitly gay (not out, not on the page, but the subtext was there,) which was about as close as I dared come to representing myself in my own work. My second manuscript featured a straight male protagonist who, in a running gag, was frequently assumed to be gay by others—resulting in funny protests of the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” variety. My third attempt: straight girl MC with a gay friend. My fourth: straight girl MC with a gay friend.

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Traditions

By Susan Tan

As a child, I was enthralled by traditions.  

           I loved them, from going to Hebrew school, to my parent’s tradition of letting us eat ice cream for dinner on April Fool’s day, to the way we lined our shoes up in straight, neat rows before going inside my Nai Nai and Ye Ye’s[1] apartment.  

           This love of traditions has lasted into my adult life, and I often wonder if my family and our traditions are the reason that I write.  My mother’s family is Jewish, and came over from Russia several generations ago.  My father’s family is Chinese and Christian, and my Ye Ye was an evangelical Christian minister.  I’ve inherited a rich family history that teems with stories, from my grandparents’ accounts of their close escape from Communist China with my father as an infant, to the stories my mother’s mother tells of Passover Seders all in Hebrew and Yiddish, with linen napkins so big they spilled from your lap to the floor. We’re also a family that continually generates new narratives, because when you ask your evangelical minister grandfather to please come up to say an Aaliyah at your Bat Mitzvah, that simple act is, in itself, a pretty excellent story.

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Author Q&A with Tomi Adeyemi

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

My debut novel is Children of Blood and Bone and it comes out on March 6th, 2018. From a creative standpoint, I came to write it by discovering the orisha—West African deities—through a stroke of luck while on a fellowship in Brazil. This gave me the idea for CBB after I discovered a digital painting two years later that gave me the inspiration for the characters and events in the story. From a professional standpoint, I came to write CBB after the first book I tried to get published went nowhere, but solidified for me that I would be most happy writing full-time. Additionally, I was heavily influenced by the tragedy of police brutality and felt compelled to say something about it through my work.

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

Yes because I’m black and Nigerian-American, and my diverse background has a big impact on what I write, why I write, and the way I write.

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In Conversation with Author JaNay Brown-Wood

By Julie Bliven

The first diversity question today is how do you self identify?

I am a black American woman.

How did your background influence your early reading and writing habits, if at all?

I grew up in a family where education was of utmost importance. Reading, writing, and all things academic were as normal and mandatory as breathing. I am thankful for how much my parents valued education. They read to us each night and exposed us to different texts ranging from poetry and children’s literature to newspapers and encyclopedias. I still remember when my dad ordered a collection of Encyclopedia Britannica that filled an entire bookshelf in our living room. I do admit that I initially didn’t like reading for fun, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing my own stories, poetry, and songs. Reading grew on me, and, to this day, both reading and writing are integral parts of my life.

Growing up, did you see and/or envision yourself in the stories you read?

I didn’t see myself in many stories that I read, but two do come to mind: Vera B. Williams’s Cherries and Cherry Pits and John Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. I don’t remember loving those books, but they do stick out in my mind—possibly because they had black girls in them. As a teenager I remember reading Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and while the protagonist was black, I didn’t feel like I connected to her that much. I think I insulated myself from not being represented in books because I wrote my own stories where I was the main character. I wrote a bunch of stories starring Detective JaNay Brown where I’d go on adventures and solve mysteries. I also remember writing stories with black girls that were similar to me, even if they didn’t have my name. So although I didn’t really feel myself connecting to published books, I definitely connected to my own work since I was the one solving all the problems!

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MCCBD Feature: 10 Native Books to Inspire the Young Ones and Young at Heart!

Sandy Tharp-Thee, author of The Apple Tree, shares her book list “​10 Native Books to Inspire the Young Ones and Young at Heart!” Check out the preview below and the full list & 25 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.

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1. Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth

The story of how the buffalo nearly became extinct, but because people cared enough and worked together we can still enjoy the American buffalo today. It offers insight to the meaning and importance of the buffalo to Native people from yesteryear to today. Based on true events, it reveals the consequences of one small buffalo being rescued by a boy and his father.

I believe the author said he spent sixteen years researching this true story.  When I read it, I like to have the children sing with me.  As a tribal librarian, this story allowed me to share the past, present, and future of buffalo.  Today, the buffalo are no longer in danger, and we can enjoy them in the wild but also purchase the healthier bison meat.  It is because of people coming together that this is possible.

Before reading this story with the children, I would share:  Imagine if I could give you a gift and that gift gave you the shoes that you are wearing.  Now imagine if that same gift provided your clothes, food, and even your shelter or home.  What might you say to the creator that gave you such a gift?  How would you care for such a gift? [picture book, ages 7 and up]


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2. The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe

One of the smallest creatures—the mouse—is drawn to the sound of the river and the idea of reaching the top of a mountain.  His journey gives him a new name, “Jumping Mouse.” Along the way he discovers that he can help those in great need.  The sacrifice is huge, but he freely gives, and his award in the end is life changing.

This story is precious to me because the mouse while being so small is nonetheless unafraid.  Even when a buffalo and a wolf cross his path, the mouse doesn’t let his feelings of awe overcome him; instead, he humbly revels in the realization that a little mouse like he might be able to help them.  Indeed, he helps the two strangers freely without question.  If only we could be like the tiny mouse.  One of my favorite sayings is to remember whatever we do is not wasted, and, of, course everything we do does come back. [picture book, ages 7 and up]


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3. Welcome Song for Baby by Richard Van Camp

This board book is true to its title—a song to welcome a baby.  Every child deserves to hear how dear, loved, cherished, and beautiful they are and how they are making the world a better place.   A promise and thank you sung to the gift: the baby.

This book is a song, and I have found that babies will stop crying to listen to it sung softly.  But more than that, babies need to hear the sweet words of welcome that are in this book.  Siblings could easily learn the words to sing to a new brother or sister. The photographs are excellent, and I found even the youngest of children enjoy looking at real photographs.  (One of my younger patrons with autism especially enjoyed books that included photographs with faces.) [picture book, ages infant and up]


Read the full list & enter the giveaway here.

MCCBD Feature: Diverse Books about Inclusion that Make the World a Better Place

Jo Meserve Mach, Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier, and Mary Birdsell, authors of Claire Wants a Boxing Name, share their book list “​Books Making the World Better Through Inclusion.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.

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1. Emanuel’s Dream by Lauri Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

I love true stories and this true story of Emmanual Ofos Yeboah is so inspiring! Because his mother believes he can teach himself how to gain the skills he does just that. The fact he is missing part of one leg doesn’t limit him.  Emmanuels quote at the end of the book says it all: “In this world, we are not perfect. We can only do our best.” [picture book, ages 4 and up]

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2. My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

This is a fun story that takes place at school. It portrays inclusion in a wonderful way.  Zulay becomes just another child participating in Field Day. At first she seems different because she is blind but then she is like every other child competing at school. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

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3. Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick, illustrated by Ros Asquith

I like this story because it’s about following your passion. Max loves sports and he and other children with all types of abilities enjoy playing together. The fact that Max has a hearing aid doesn’t interfere with his inclusion in the sports he loves. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Read the full list here.

MCCBD Feature: Books for Teens Featuring African-American Protagonists

Mike Mullin, author of Surface Tension, shares his book list “​Books for Teens Featuring African-American Protagonists.” Check out the preview below and the full list & 5 book giveaway on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.

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1. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

I first read this novel the same year I first saw Star Wars, when I was ten or eleven. Both experiences linger in my memory nearly 40 years later. It wasn’t the first time I’d read books with Black protagonists (that would be Ezra Jack Keats’ brilliant picture books), but it was the first time I’d read about the brutality of racism. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry is set in 1930’s Mississippi—Taylor sets the scene so well that by the time you’re done reading you’ll be able to taste the rust-colored dust of the dirt roads.

Cassie is an indomitable heroine. Every time I read her story, I alternate between feeling terror and elation as she confronts everything from racist insults to horrific threats against her person. But the true brilliance of the novel is the theme of fire running throughout it, beginning with the horribly burnt body of Mr. Berry and ending with a forest fire—it serves as a stark metaphor for the all-consuming nature of racism. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]


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2. M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton

I think I loved this book because I identified so strongly with the protagonist: Mayo Cornelius Higgins, a brainy, disaffected young man who watches the world from atop a 40’ steel pole. Like M.C., I climbed everything in sight. (Trees, buildings… I never had a 40’ pole, but I have no doubt I would have tried to climb it. My favorite place was a tree covered in vines—I could climb up, stick my head out the top, and gaze over what looked like a leafy meadow suspended 60’ above the ground.) I also identified with the alliance M.C. builds with his neighbors, the light-skinned, red-headed Killburns. I never tried to build a wall with the Black kids who lived next door to me—Mark, Todd, and Glen—but we did build some wicked BMX ramps together! Years after I first read M.C. Higgins the Great, I met Virginia Hamilton and she signed a copy for me. I wish I’d bought a hardcover, but at that point I was in college and nearly broke. I also wish my handwriting were half as lovely as hers:

If you enjoy M.C. Higgins the Great, don’t miss The Planet of Junior Brown and The House of Dies Drear, my other favorite Hamilton novels. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]


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3. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

I could have put lots of Myers books on this list, but this is the one that haunted my dreams for months after I read it. The protagonist, Steve, is facing 25-years to life for a crime he didn’t commit. Myers tells the story entirely through diary entries and a screenplay Steve is writing. But the real story here is Steve’s inner battle, as he struggles to reject the label society has already branded him with: Monster. [young adult, ages 13 and up]


Read the full list and enter the giveaway here.

MCCBD Feature: Middle Grade Spanish/English Bilingual Books

Eric and Natalie Yoder, authors of Short Mysteries You Solve With Math, share their book list “ Middle Grade Spanish/English Bilingual Books.” Check out the preview below and the full list on the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website.

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1. One Minute Mysteries: Short Mysteries You Solve With Math/Misterios de un Minuto: Misterios Cortos Que Resuelves con Matematicas by Eric Yoder & Natalie Yoder

Now you can solve mysteries in English, Spanish or both! This award-winning title is now available as a bilingual book. Use it to expand your language and math skills at the same time. Each math mystery takes just one minute to read, and challenges a child’s knowledge in essential, age-appropriate math topics. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]


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2. Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States edited by Lori Marie Carlson

Growing up Latino in America means speaking two languages, living two lives, learning the rules of two cultures. This book of poetry celebrates the tones, rhythms, sounds, and experiences of that double life. Here are poems about families and parties, insults and sad memories, hot dogs and mangos. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]


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3. In My Family/En mi familia by Carmen Lomas Garza

This book is a tribute to the family and community that shaped the author’s childhood and life. Lomas Garza’s vibrant paintings and warm personal stories depict memories of growing up in the traditional Mexican-American community of her hometown of Kingsville, Texas. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]

Read the full list here.