Eric Velasquez: The story behind "Grandma's Records"

Award-winning author and illustrator Eric Velasquez tells the story behind Grandma's Records, his beloved and acclaimed book about his grandmother, her favorite music, and the musicians who brought that music to life.


Grandma's Records begins with my friend Keith Henry Brown sends me a copy of Buena Vista Social Club. It was a CD. And he says, “You need to hear this. This is brand new music from Cuba.” So I listen to it and I call him back and I say, “There's nothing new about this music. I know all these songs. I've been listening to this all my life. These are all of my grandmother's records.” And he is like, “Really? I didn't know you spent time with your grandmother.” And I said, “Yeah, I would spend all the summers with her.” And basically, I told him the story of Grandma's Records and meeting Rafael Cortijo. And when he came over to the house and the fact that all these musicians would've been, would come by and stop in and say hello. So every now and then, I would get a phone call around two o'clock in the morning.

It was like, “You know, working?” It was like, “Yep.” And he would say, “Hey, can you tell me that story about those summers you used to spend with your grandma?” And I would start always at the beginning, “Every day, every year after the last day of school,” the whole thing. And one day he says to me, he says, “You know, should really write that down. You really got a good story there.” And then of course, each time I told a story, it would get longer and more elaborate, where I started describing the theater that it was in the Bronx.

And so he really encouraged me to write it down. And I really didn't see myself as an author at that point, but his encouragement…And I said, “Okay.” And I started jotting it down and suddenly I had a story. I'm not going to say that it was overnight. I had part one, and then it took me a little while longer because I was working on other projects. And then I eventually had it, and I pitched it to my editor at Walker Bloomsbury, Emily Easton, and she said she'd be interested in taking a look at it. And as they say, the rest is history. The importance of having good people in your life and friends, family, loved ones, they all make that difference. I always say that all you really have to do is just listen.