Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. Her books include Tía Isa Wants a Car, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, and the recent Mango, Abuela, and Me, winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Honor Award.
In this in-depth interview with Colorín Colorado, Meg talks about growing up in Queens and the Cuban relatives that loomed large in her childhood, why she likes writing about strong girls, being dis-invited to a school visit just before Banned Books Week, and the experiences that inspired some her best-loved work.
Part I: Childhood memories
Growing up in Queens
I grew up in Queens, New York, in Flushing, Queens. I was actually born in Alexandria, Virginia, but my mother, my sister, and I moved to Queens when I was a baby. So, that’s really where I was raised. I lived in a four-story brick building, a walk-up, no elevator in Flushing. And it was a place with a lot of working-class families. Everybody rode the bus here and there.
I went to PS 22. And it was a really wonderful way to grow up, but I was really growing up biculturally. My mother was from Cuba, and she spoke Spanish. And eventually as I grew up, more and more relatives from Cuba joined us. My tías, my tíos, my grandparents. For a while we all lived in this one little apartment until people got their own place.
And the beautiful part of that was it was a little strange because when my family first came, they came through the airport, right. They didn’t come through Ellis Island the way we think, you know, the romantic way of the way we think of immigration. But they came, and I remember when they arrived because they were standing at the bottom of the stairs, and they were all wearing coats I think that they had gotten from the refugee center.
But waiting in our apartment my mother had two pim, pum, pam we called them in Spanish, the rollaway beds, for my aunt and the sofa bed for my grandparents. And it was so exciting because, you know, most kids are born into a family, right, but I was meeting my family because they came out of Cuba a little bit at a time. And then that just changed my world completely. Abuela Bena, my mother’s mother, became my babysitter.
And my aunts and my mother worked together in a factory in Queens, in the Electronic Transistor Corporation. And so I was an American child during the day at school with my friends eating peanut butter and jelly and Twinkies and playing all kinds of games. And then at 3:00 when I came home, I entered my other world, which was Cuba, except in Queens, New York.
A family of storytellers
My whole family was a family of storytellers. They would never say that to you. If you asked them, “Are you a cuentero, are you a storyteller?”, they would just shrug because I think that’s just how they moved through the world. I think when you lose your country the way that they did, they used story I think to feel better, to remind themselves of who they had been in Cuba, to remind themselves of family and good times.
But the most important thing I think they did for me is that they used story to connect me to who I was, to who my family was before we were here. So, Abuela Bena was the best one of all. Now, she only went to school until the eighth grade or so. In Cuba she rolled cigars for a living. She was a very humble person. Her children, my mother, my aunts, they were the first generation that went to university.
But Abuela Bena had not. So, when I met her in Queens, she was my babysitter after school, and I would come home and I’d find her watching lucha libre on TV. And, you know, she was not a person that had good filters about what should kids watch, what stories should we share with children. So, we’d watch lucha libre, and I’d say, “Abuela, is this really happening?” as people were banging chairs over each other. And she’d go, “What a crazy question. Of course it’s happening. It’s real.”
And she was just delightful that way. And then she’d sit down and she’d tell me stories, and they weren’t the stories I’m pretty sure that my American friends were getting from their grandparents. So, Abuela Bena would say, “I’ll tell you the story.” And one time she told me the story of the hurricane of 1933. My tía Isa had been born that year. She was an infant. And this terrible storm came through Cuba and basically wiped out their whole village.
And the memory I have is Abuela Bena under this cloud of smoke saying to me, “I could still smell the dead on my street,” and things that would really scare somebody who was seven, but it just transported me. And then there were just all kinds of stories, little stories about the parks in San Bella Grande and the beautiful Spanish architecture and how you’d sit on the porch waiting for the ice cream man to come through and the mangos and the chickens. And it was all so far away from my life in Queens.
I had brick, I had cement, I had the city, which had its own beauty, but it wasn’t a tropical island. It wasn’t sugary sand under my toes. It wasn’t the river rushing behind your house. Nothing like that. But I loved those stories because they were so sensory but also because they were like a ribbon connecting me to who I was.
And I think kids need to know who they were, who their parents were, especially if they’re growing up here and their parents were from elsewhere because sometimes we get the idea here that this is all there is, that this is the right way to live, that this is the only way to live, and that’s not true. There are beautiful things from the places that we come from and the things we left behind.
Even if we left behind in difficult circumstances, there were things to love about there. There were things that made an imprint on our parents and that in some way can make imprint on us. So, when I think of my grandmother as the cuentista and the stories that they told me, I’m just so grateful that she gave me that time.
Reading Charlotte’s Web
I was a really good reader interestingly because I was also a child who had trouble sitting still. I was always racing and running somewhere, but I really liked story. I liked writing stories, I liked reading stories, and I read everything that kids read, American kids read, the canon. You know, Charlotte’s Web and Nancy Drew and all of those things I read. But for me I think it was a nice escape. It was words.
But I’ll tell you the one day that I most remember about reading – well, there were two. One was the day that I read Charlotte’s Web and I began to cry. And I think that has always remained my favorite book because it was the first time that a book connected me to an emotion in my own life. You know, when you’re little, sometimes the first way that you’re reading is just you get in the story just to unlock the words.
But then there’s this magical thing that happens, and for me it happened somewhere in the third grade with that book that it connects you emotionally. And that scene where Charlotte leaves her little eggs to everybody, to Wilbur, for me that was just so sad and so beautiful.
Learning to read in Spanish
The other event I remember was my uncle, Tío Ermin, writing – sitting down and teaching me to read in Spanish.
They had ordered from someplace in New Jersey or Miami back then an early reader. It was simple. So, I spoke Spanish, but I had no idea how to read it. And so my uncle, my mother’s only brother, he sat down next to me and he said...
“Oye, a, e, i, o, u, el burro sabe más que tú.”
And I laughed and he said “Repeat it,” and I did. I repeated that rhyme. And he said, “Listen, in Spanish it’s not all this fancy stuff in English. The letters always say the same thing. They always sound like that. So, you just have to sound them out always the same way: a-e-i-o-u.” And we sat down and I started to unlock the words.
And I remember everything about that day. I remember the smell of my uncle. I remember the thrill of being with him but also just the thrill of unlocking the language in writing and in reading that I could already speak. It was beautiful. I wish every child has that experience. It’s one thing to speak Spanish and English, but it’s also another thing to be really literate in it.
And, you know, after that my aunts, as I said, were teachers and so on. So, they taught me the L-L, the little funny tilde over the N, the accents. I’m not very good at accents still, but they taught me the basics of how to write and encouraged me to write letters to my cousins who were still in Cuba. And that’s how I did that. I learned to read and write in Spanish with my uncles and my aunts.
And I can’t say that I write and read Spanish today as well as I do English, but that’s my job now. I’m really deciding that although I can read and write in Spanish, I’d like to do it as well as I do in English. So, these days I’m trying to buy a lot of adult literature in Español and read and just listen to the news in Spanish and really just get my vocabulary more developed and just be able to read and write faster and deeper.
The local public library
I do have memories, of course, of the smell of library books for some reason and the particular feel of the cover of library books and also that shiny glossy paper they put on the novels.
I just remember it through the senses. But of course I lived in New York, and I also remember taking a trip, class trip to the New York Public Library with those gigantic lions and all the marble in the entrance and walking through like this, [puts finger to lips] the whole class so that we wouldn’t disturb the people doing important thinking and reading in that library.
Ordering from Troll Books
My mother loved books. We couldn’t necessarily afford them ourselves, although we did order every month from the Troll Book form. She’d let me pick. She didn’t ever say I could or couldn’t have a book. And you know, my sister remembered something. We were talking about this Lilia María that my Abuelo Leto, Leto Antonino, he asked her once for this nonfiction book that she had about Christopher Columbus, and I remember that book, the picture on the cover and everything. It was a cheap paperback from the Troll order form.
And what he wanted was to teach himself English. He was in his eighties. He wanted to teach himself English with this book about Christopher Columbus. So, in one way or another, my family, we didn’t have a lot of money for books, but we valued knowing how to read. We valued being literate. We valued story about heroes. And I couldn’t say then that I understood the gift that I was receiving, but today I really do.
Part II: Writing for and about girls
Becoming a strong girl in the 1970s
I had the most fabulous art teacher when I was in elementary school. She was young. And one year she came in and she announced that we should call her Ms., and we were all shocked. We’d never heard the expression Ms. There was Mrs. There was Miss. But what was this new thing, this Ms.? And of course this was the seventies and Helen Reddy was singing “I am Woman” on TV.
And so she helped with our assembly that year. And she had us all create this dance. All of us came in. We were wearing black unitards, right, and this shimmery stuff. I wish I could remember if it was paper, crepe paper or if it was shiny bangles. I don’t exactly remember, but we all came in shaking our shoulders and singing “I am Woman” to Helen Reddy. And, you know, what I remember about my elementary school is that we certainly had certain older teachers who probably went [makes face] and not like this very much.
But for me it was so different, this new idea. And it wasn’t necessarily an idea that was embraced in my own family, right, despite the fact that my mother was a single woman. She was divorced. She was raising daughters. If anybody should have been a feminist, it would have been – it should have been my mother. But she was strong without necessarily putting herself in that label.
But for my sister and for me and I think for that generation of girl, we had Marlo Thomas on TV. We had That Girl. We had a lot of messages about waking up to being a strong girl, and that’s another thing I’m so grateful for because it’s endured. The notion of celebrating being a girl, celebrating what it takes to grow up to be a strong girl, to look at yourself with clear eyes and to look at yourself more deeply than what you look like.
Those were the lessons of that time, and they really endured. They endured as I grew up, and it was hard because there were a lot of pressures to the contrary. But they endured certainly as I became a mother later in life. And now as an author, I really try to write books that celebrate girls as they are and that really talk about the resiliency of girls.
The life of girls
When I talk about the life of girls, I really like to write books that speak to the experience of girls as it is, smart girls, resilient girls, girls who are great at sports, at math, at science, girls who are in conflict with their moms, are in conflict with their friends, girls who fall in love with a boy in their class. You know, I really – just the whole rich experience of that.
I also like to talk about girls at all ages, including grown-up girls. So, sometimes in children’s books because we like to have the child solve the problem, we kill off the parents or we make them really dumb or absent. They’re working. They’re on vacation or something like that. I never like to do that because I think that sure, there will be women, there will be people in girls’ lives, adults, that aren’t very helpful, but there are also women out there who can help you: your grandmother, your mother, your aunt, your cousin, the neighbor across the street.
And I think we all learn so much as we grow up from girlhood to womanhood, and that’s what I really like to celebrate in my books, girls of all ages sort of slugging it out there, embracing their imperfections, and growing up and just finding their voice.
All the ages you’ve ever been
I love Sandra Cisneros’ idea that she expressed in an essay called Eleven or I should say a short piece called “Eleven.” It’s inside her collection called Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. And she says inside you’re – you’re 11, but inside you’re 10 and 9 and 8 and all the ages you’ve ever been. And it turns out, in my opinion, that’s exactly how children’s book authors create work because we tap into who we were when we were 16 or 14 or 12 or 5 or whatever age group we’re writing for.
I think that’s really the secret, how purely we can get back to that age, and once we mine what’s there, how honestly we want to talk about what we find. That’s always the hang-up, right. When I talk to writers about how they develop deep characters or how they find their voice, I say really, the first voice you have to find is your own at that age.
You have to go back there and re-feel things and put yourself squarely behind those eyes and then really tell the truth. Tell a new story but really based on those truths that are inside of you.
Girls of Summer
Girls of Summer is one of my favorite projects of all. It started as just a very personal project that my friend, Gigi Amateau, and I did together. Our daughters were getting ready to go to college. They were 18 years old, and we were really sad. It was like, “Oh no, we’re not going to have them anymore.” And we felt like we had run out of time to be their friend and their mother. And so we started thinking like about how we used books in our lives to be better mothers and what were the books that we used like when our daughters hit hard parts of life?
Like what were the books that helped them? And Gigi, of course, is an author. She writes strong girl characters in her books as well, although her voice is the Southern American voice. So, that year we said, “I bet we could pick 18 books, one for each year of their life that represents strong girls, from picture book all the way to young adult.” And we did. And then we put it on a blog. And then very nervously we invited some authors to talk with us.
Well, fast-forward now, we’re in our fifth year. This year it will be our fifth anniversary. And what happens now is that we have the blog. We continue to pick 18 books every year. And the publishers now send us copies that we can give away, and the authors come on our blog. Every Friday we have a different author and she’ll sit down and talk with us about her book, about why her character’s a strong girl, about who she was growing up herself, all kinds of questions.
And we have a gigantic launch party where we live. We live in Richmond, Virginia. So, we do this party at the Richmond Public Library. And it’s between two and three hundred young girls, mothers, and librarians show up and sometimes brothers and dads and cousins come too. And it’s a gigantic party. We give away free ice cream. We give away the entire list of the younger books and then the middle grade and YA books.
And we interview in live time one of the authors on our list. So, basically it becomes a rock concert for book geeks and girls. And we love it. It’s so exciting and so fun. And what’s happened is it’s become this way to use books to improve the lives of girls in our city, to improve people’s visitation to the public library in Richmond, Virginia. The books circulate a lot.
There’s always a lot of interest. Like the library does a fantastic job. They’ll create treasure hunts for the titles before we’ve actually revealed what they are. And then the night they transform the whole library. Like this year our featured author was Hannah Barnaby, who had a wonderful book called The Wonder Show, set in a circus in 1933. And so they turned the entire library into a circus scene, including cutouts like strongman cutouts except it was strong girl cutouts, and you could put your face in there and be photographed.
And there were popcorn machines and cotton candy. It was just lovely. So, of all the things that I do, that’s one of the things I’m proudest of because it’s endured and because there’s always a lot of interest. And at this point we have people from all other places asking us how could we do a Girls of Summer list in our library or can you come and bring some of the authors to our city, and that’s really fun. Our heart remains with Richmond Public Library. I want to say that. That event will always be there, but we are figuring out ways to connect it out to other cities in Richmond – in Virginia. So, we’re excited about that.
Writing about strong Latinas
I always write about strong Latinas. First of all, they’re the only kind of Latinas I actually knew in my life even though my aunts I’m sure and my mother would say strong, I don’t know, maybe I’m strong. But you can’t not be strong if you had to leave your country and raise children in a new place with no money and figure out the way forward. And that’s what my family did.
Working with young Latinas
Oh, my message to young Latinas today is be proud.
The message I have for parents and teachers who work with young Latinas is to really remember to celebrate the culture, to look for books that speak their experience. There are so many conflicting messages out there. It’s important for us to work, all of us together to find the stories that speak and celebrate who we are, the resilience, the beauty of our families, the strength and the diverse people that we are.
We need to give them the books that show them that it’s true that we’re not alone and that it’s a rich culture and one that we can be proud of.
Part III: We Need Diverse Books
Diversity in books
We have about 5,000 books published every year, children’s books. And according to the University of Wisconsin, last year in 2013 only about less than 3 percent were by or about a Latino. And really no minority group does much better.
The same sad statistics hold for African American characters, for native people, for Asian American characters and so on. The problem is that that doesn’t reflect who’s in the seats in our public schools, especially now when our public schools are majority minority. And so it’s not that I want to take away wonderful books like Charlotte’s Web and other books that feature white characters. Why not? I love them.
But what’s important is that we have books that celebrate everybody’s story. And what I think is that it’s our best chance if we could really get those numbers up and get lots of books that feature diverse characters. It’s our best chance to teach kids empathy in a real and true way. They’re going to develop empathy in a classroom where they have to make friendships really with people from other cultures.
But books help that along because it’s a private experience. It’s a public experience when we’re reading the book in the classroom, but it’s also this beautiful private experience where the child truly steps inside the shoes of someone else and starts to ask himself or herself, “Who am I in this story? What would I do? How is this like my experience, and how is it different?” And why is empathy important? It turns out it’s very important. It’s the number one skill for the 21st century skillset.
It’s what companies say makes the mark of a truly great leader, the ability to really understand how workers from all backgrounds think and make decisions. So, if you want to think about reading in its last, you know, incarnation in terms of how it prepares people for the world, it does. It provides them with this opportunity to be empathetic and deep leaders. But I think it also just is fair to come to school every day and to be able to see yourself and your friends in the books that you’re reading.
We Need Diverse Books campaign
So, We Need Diverse Books started in response to Book Expo America. They had advertised a panel of children’s book luminaries. And it included six white men. Nothing against those authors. They’re wonderful authors, but in 2014 you cannot name a panel and not include women and not include authors of color. It’s impossible. It’s not representative.
And I would say that Book Riot did a great job of sounding the bell and calling them out. And Ellen Oh, who is a Korean American author, children’s book author in conversation said to me one day and to others, she said, “This is ridiculous. We have to do something big.” And I said, “Sure, I’m in,” never imagining that Ellen Oh is the force of nature that she is.
So, she organized with the help of many talented new multicultural authors with the help of really some established people like Jacqueline Woodson and Grace Lin and others a Twitter campaign. We Need Diverse Books because and people held up signs and they answered the question, and it quickly went viral. Internationally it became the number one trending hashtag.
And since that time it’s become an organization that is raising money to promote scholarships for authors who are multicultural, for helping libraries get books, just for continually pushing to have authors of color at the various conferences that happened nationally to promote truly diverse children’s books.
The goal I think is that someday we don’t want to have a diversity panel. We want to have panels that are diverse. We want authors of color represented everywhere, but for now we’re happy to introduce authors, new and established, to librarians, to teachers, to parents, to children who want to know them.
And so I really encourage people to follow up with We Need Diverse Books, to follow their fundraising campaign, to follow all of the programs that they’re doing because I think that what they have injected is energy and people’s voices, families who bother to take pictures of what they look like. And it was just such a beautiful expression of who’s here now, of what the American story is now and how books can help tell that story.
Stereotypes are a problem
Stereotypes are really a problem, especially when we’re talking about stereotypes of Latinos, right. So, I grew up where with Charro, she was a Spanish woman with blonde hair. She was very voluptuous and she’d come on TV, especially to the Merv Griffin show. I don’t know why I was so entranced by Merv Griffin show, but she’d come on going [makes noises]. And the stereotype was, of course, that she wasn’t very bright, and she had this vivacious body and she had just – she was very, very sexy.
And maybe it’s funny on TV, but girls sort of internalize that, right. What does it mean to be Latina? And for boys it’s not much easier, right. And you turn on the TV and who is the thug? Who is being arrested for the crime? It’s Jose, right, the Latino as perhaps impoverished, violent, in some way dangerous, in some way probably undocumented, a “drain” on society, all of these really negative stereotypes.
We have to take control of the story of Latinos because the fact is we’re also Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. We’re also neurosurgeons and engineers. Sure, we are lawn care workers and maybe hotel workers. We are also teachers and bus drivers. We’re everything. We come in all shades. Some of us speak Spanish, some of us don’t. We come in every religious group.
We come from many countries. We’re not just one thing. And each one of those countries has its own holidays and tradition and vocabulary. That’s what makes it exciting and wonderful. But that’s not the story that’s being told. And so we have to take control of that. Even in books we have to make sure that the pictures and illustrations really portray how we all look, the sound of all of us, that we’re getting stories from all the many countries that make up what we think of in the United States as Latinos.
So, when I write, I like to write the families as we are, with jobs, with, you know, with professions, some in college, some not, the business owners. I like to put everybody in there, especially women in all of the various roles that we occupy now. I think it’s important because if we don’t, what we get is a really flat stereotype of Latinos.
The Pura Belpré Award
When I go to school sometimes, the first question I ask the audience is raise your hand if you know what the Pura Belpré Award is. I might get one hand. And then I say do you know who Pura Belpré was? Nothing. And I have used this year as the recipient of the Pura Belpré Award to help change that. Pura Belpré was a librarian.
And she worked in el barrio in Manhattan, and she worked with bilingual children. And she was one of the pioneers, the people who said, “We have children here whose families speak another language. We need literature for these families. We need literature that speaks the stories of these children and helps them and helps their parents stay connected.” And so the medal is in her honor.
So, when I go to schools now, I ask the librarian, “Can you please order the Pura Belpre poster that lists all 20 years’ worth of winners? Can you please encourage people not only Pura Belpré but the Las Americas Award, the Tomás Rivera award?” We want kids to be able to find on their own the stories that really have represented us the best.
And we want them to be really familiar with the people and the organizations who are advocating for them. That is a powerful thing. And it’s so easy to do to walk up to the library desk and say can you please print out for me or give me the link to the Pura Belpré winners or the Las Americas winners? And right there a family, a child, they have dozens of books to choose from.
Part IV: Milagros, Girl from Away
Milagros was my first book. It came out of Henry Holt Books. And I would say that book is written in magical realism. I love to write magical realism, especially for the English dominant Latino child because magical realism is this beautiful gift that Latino culture gave the literary world. And it’s important for young Latinos even if they speak mostly English to understand that this had its roots in our culture and also to just express it in the language that they’re most comfortable in.
So, Milagros is written in magical realism. It’s also where I see the footprints of Abuela Bena the most because those stories of Cuba are there. And what I had to do so that I could write the book, you know, sometimes when you miss a place, you make it even better than it really was. And I suspect that some of the memories that my family had were probably a little embellished, but that’s okay.
What I did is I embellished them even more. I made the setting so rich and magical but all based on the Cuba that Abuela told me about; the men who played dominos outside, the park, the chickens in the yard, all of that. And I just made it immensely magical so that I could write this tale of a little girl whose mother is a healer. And her island is attacked, and she loses – they lose their island. She loses her home.
To keep her safe her mother sends her out to sea in the care of stingrays who bring her north. So, really, what the book is about, it has all kinds of excitement, pirates and crazy things like that, but it also is a story about losing home and having to find identity in a new place without your culture, without your language, which is essentially the immigrant story no matter where you come from. So, that’s Milagros.
Book cover for Milagros
You can get it as an e-book and it has a new cover. The first cover was done by my childhood friend. You will never believe who it is. Her name is Raquel, but she goes these days by R.J. Palacio who wrote Wonder. And Raquel and I grew up a block away from each other and we were best friends in elementary school. And I didn’t know that she was the art director at Henry Holt.
And so when my book came to Henry Holt, she said, “Oh no, I’m going to be the one who designs this.” So, I have an enormous sweet spot for that because Raquel’s family was so good to me as I grew up, and she’s a lovely, lovely woman. And it was really fun to reconnect with a childhood friend around this book, especially since we both ended up being writers.
But now I have another special friend who did the e‑cover, and that’s my friend, Joe Cepeda. And you know his work. He is the illustrator who illustrated Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. And it’s a beautiful cover. So, both of my books, both versions are beautiful to me because it has to do with friendships that I have and that I really value.
Excerpt: Milagros, Girl From Away
Hi. I’m Meg Medina and I’m going to read to you from my first novel, Milagros, Girl From Away.
At the center of Las Brisas, was a charming town that bustled with families and workers. The town gleamed with its wide white streets and pastel buildings. It was squinty bright and hot at midday, but by 4:00 each afternoon the air was cooled faithfully by a steady ocean breeze that flooded lady skirts and filled the sleeves of men’s shirts like balloons.
Mothers scolded their children over picket fences. In the park young ladies and heart-struck young men strolled along the green lawn. Their hands only grazed as they walked by their shiny-haired fathers who told loud jokes over dominos and watched their children grow up out of the corner of their eyes.
At night children slept peacefully under mosquito netting. Each morning still sitting in their beds, they drank sweet coffee milk from chipped porcelain cups. This was the paradise where Milagros lived in a small house with her mother not far from Avenida Central, a wide paved street that ran through the town’s belly and ended at the glistening shore.
Part V: Tia Isa Wants a Car
The real Tía Isa
Oh, Tia Isa Wants a Car. So, I had a real Tia Isa, and she did buy the first family car. Tia Isa Wants a Car, the story, is about a little girl and her aunt conspiring to buy the first family car, but they have no money. So, they have to save and save and save. But it’s also a story about missing your family. It’s a story about sending money home to help your family.
But it’s mostly a story about an aunt who won’t take no for an answer. And that was certainly true about the real Tia Isa. So, one day she came home and she was such a nervous person. Anything could make her jump. She was just the – her nerves were always on point. She came home one day from work, and she said “Oye, voy a comprar un carro. I’m going to buy a car.”
And my grandmother said, “Are you crazy? Nobody’s going to get in a car with you. You’d be a terrible driver. You’re too nervous. Absolutamente no.” Right. And Isa said, “Take it easy.” That’s what she knew how to say in English. And in secret she went to a bilingual driving school, and she got driving lessons. And she came home with a Buick Wildcat not long after. I was shocked. But the first place she took us was to the beach. She wanted us I think just to know the beach.
Maybe it reminded her of Cuba. But the thing about that car that I remember, other than that it stalled at very inconvenient places, is that it took us to where the bus couldn’t take us. So, if we wanted to visit a friend, if we wanted to go to a park that wasn’t near a bus route, if we need to do our groceries, Tia Isa got in that car that had that big gigantic trunk, and she’d take us.
And I had forgotten all about that. But then when I was writing one day, my first picture book ever, here was this line and it came out, ”Tía Isa wants a car.” And I just started to think about it. And I started to think about how glorious it is that my aunt, who nobody thought could do it, did it anyway and that my nervous aunt was the one who sort of opened the doors for this first thing, this first way that we were setting roots in the United States.
And I so appreciate that. She still lives with my, by the way. She came to live with me a couple of years ago. And the first thing she did because she had had a stroke, she gave her car to my son, Alex, to take to college. But, you know, it’s fun to have her, and it’s fun to know that what this book taught me also was that everybody’s stories matters, right. Everybody’s story is important.
My aunt is no one spectacular. She was an ordinary tía who just decided that day that she was going to do something a little special. And I love that as a writer I could catch that and put it in a book so that maybe the kids sitting in the classrooms who are reading it look around their own family for their own tías and tíos and abuelas doing remarkable things right under their nose.
The story of Tía Isa's life
My aunt is such a surprising person. You know, the last couple of years have been hard. My mom passed away and Isa – and my mother was Isa’s caretaker. And Tia Isa never got married, and she doesn’t have any children. And she’s in her eighties. She’s getting old and she’s had a stroke. So, one day she says to me recently, “Ven, I have something for you, and she hands me these loose-leaf papers.”
And I said, “What’s this?” And she said, “The story of my life.” I said, “What?” She said, “It’s not much.” It was like five pages handwritten, which is a lot of writing for somebody who has had a stroke. But she said to me, “I’m getting old and, you know, I want you to have it so you can keep telling stories.” That was beautiful.
Ezra Jack Keats Award
I won the Ezra Jack Keats award for Tia Isa Wants a Car in 2012. And wow, what an experience. That is an award that’s given to a picture book author, a new author, who uses a person of color as the main character. And it’s based on the work of Ezra Jack Keats who wrote, of course, the wonderful book A Snowy Day. It seems ridiculous to think about this, but at that time it was one of the first books that featured a boy of color in a snowsuit as the main character and also as a child who lived in the city.
Prior to that kids were remarkably blonde and suburban. And so when Ezra Jack Keats passed away, my understanding is that he’s told his friends, “Listen, here’s some money. Do something good with it.” And one of the things that they’ve done with it is that they’ve established this award for an illustrator and for a writer who create a new work that celebrates people of color as the main character.
And Tia Isa Wants a Car got that award. It was wonderful. It was wonderful to me because it celebrated Tía Isa because it celebrated a strong Latina in the lead. It was meaningful to me because, again, for me, it felt like affirmation that you don’t have to be someone incredible. You don’t have to have gone to some fancy-schmancy college and traveled the world and, you know, write with a golden pen or something crazy. You can be a kid who grew up in Queens, New York and went to city university and be like simple things. All you need is eyes and the heart for it to capture the story.
Excerpt: Tía Isa Wants a Car
Hi. I’m Meg Medina, and I’m going to read from my picture book Tia Isa Wants a Car illustrated by Claudio Muñoz.
Tia Isa wants a car. She tells me after work when she still smells of lemon pies from the bakery. She’s turning the jump rope that’s tied to the fence, and I’m already up to 20. Pisicorre, she says, to take us to the beach. Really? The beach? I can’t catch my breath.
No one goes far from my block in the summer. But a beach has foamy water that reaches all the places I cannot go. Sí, really? Let’s save.
Part VI: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind
Writing The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind
The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind was a trial to write. It was really challenging. Originally I was writing the novel because I had been reading newspaper articles about young women who came from a certain region in Mexico to work as crab pickers on the Eastern Shore. It’s hard work. It’s many hours standing on your feet in a refrigerated room picking crab out of the shell.
And the young women are far from home. They’re lonely. They don’t speak English. And they’re young. And I said to myself what would it be like to be one of these women? It would be really difficult. So, I set out to write that story, and it wasn’t going well. So, it was again magical realism. It began with Sonia Ocampo, who’s born – she’s in a miners’ town. And on the night of her birth there’s a terrible storm, but it stops immediately at the moment she’s born.
And naturally all of the miners, who aren’t necessarily educated people, believed that she is a holy child that was sent to them to help them. And so they start to use her as a living altar. They keep hanging little milagros on her every time they have a desire for rain or for better crops or for a better husband or for more obedient children, whatever it is. So, when the novel opens, she’s covered in milagros. She looks like an armadillo.
Milagros are used in Latin America when we have a wish or a hope that we have. We’ll fashion a symbol for it. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be made out of anything, but we take that and we lay it at an altar as an offering. Or sometimes when we’re thankful for something, we’ll do the same thing for journey, for sickness, things like that. And it’s been honored in other traditions, ancient Greece and Rome, they did ex votives. So, it’s just another expression of the spiritual.
So, I was writing this book, and the first half went well, but I sent it to Kate who is my editor at Candlewick, and she said, you know, “It’s so magical in the beginning. I just – but something happens in the second half when we come north. It just goes kerplunk. It’s not really working. Excuse me. It goes kerplunk. It’s not really working.”
So, how would you feel about rewriting and rewriting? And, you know, the truth is that most writing is rewriting. That’s the agony. And so I sat down, and I kept the work all in Tres Montes and in la capital, the capital because what happens in this novel early on is that they ask Sonia to take care of a boy who’s left to go north to find work.
And he’s found murdered in the valley anyway. And she realizes that she does not have magical powers and that she can’t really escape this identity that’s been pinned on her. So, she disguises herself basically and she decides to go work as a domestic in the capital in a very – the home of a very rich woman. And in that time what happens is that her brother discloses that he is also going to attempt the journey north, and that’s the novel.
So, as I was writing this novel, I was reading the way everyone is reading, stories of what immigration really looks like in this country now and the very dangerous journey that’s involved mostly as we cross the desert and rivers and meeting terrible people and dangerous people as we try to come north.
Cuba as well. We have people currently who make rafts and launch themselves out to sea to come. So, I was thinking about why my family left, why everybody’s family leaves one place to move to another. And I was thinking about the young people because it’s mostly young people who make this decision to put themselves in such danger.
So, I realized that writing a story that is based on immigration is a really hot topic. There is no topic in American politics that you could throw out there that creates a more heated debate and sometimes really ugly debate. But that wasn’t interesting to me. What was interesting to me is the people because this is a human story, the human story of human migration.
And so I told the story of the girl and her brother and why people have the urgency to move, but I told it through magical realism, and I told it in an adventure story in the hope that this book when it came out, would be a vehicle for people to talk about that human story. Regardless of what your political beliefs are, it’s a human tragedy.
And all I have to do now is just point to what’s happening on our border right now with our unaccompanied youth that have arrived and how frightened they must be. So, I hope that this story gives people a chance to reflect on that, gives families a chance to talk about it. And, you know, Latino families, it doesn’t matter if you’re here legally or if you’re undocumented, if you’ve been here 50 years, if you’ve been here two, this topic is coming up.
It’s coming up in a lot of families. And I think this book is a way to talk about it, but mostly it’s a book about hope and young people.
Hope Tree Project
So, one of the projects that I did when the book was coming out was the Hope Tree Project. I send my books out into the world pretty much the way I send my children out. You know, my children are now in their twenties, early twenties.
And so when I sent them away, I said, “I hope that they do good things. I put my best self into raising them.” So, when I send my books out, I do the same. So, I said, “What good do I want this book to do?” So, the Hope Tree Project I went to 10 high schools in my city in Richmond with this question for young people. I said what is a hope or a dream that you have for yourself or for your community?
And I left behind the materials to make a milagro. It was like a sort of heavy sheet metal that was inexpensive, and I instructed the students to make a milagro that would be that simple. They didn’t have to tell me what the hope was. It could be a private hope. But the work was to really think about what they wanted for themselves beyond today.
How did they see themselves in the future? And I said, you know, the easy part is going to be actually making it, right, because I don’t care if it’s beautiful or ugly. The hard part is getting quiet with yourself and asking yourself that hard question. And then I went away. I told them about the book. They could read it or not, but the project was about the milagro.
And I got 600 milagros back, and they were beautiful. They were things like, “I want to see my family in El Salvador. I want to be happy. I want to be a good father. I want to be in the NFL. I want to make the world more peaceful.” It was all kinds of things from the small to the large.
And so I went to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in my city and I said, “I have 600 milagros and you have a lot of trees. Do you mind?” And they were so generous. They lent me crape myrtle trees in the children’s garden. And I hung them, with volunteers, in the children’s garden. And 600 little metal pieces in trees makes a beautiful tinkling sound.
And then the Latin Ballet of Virginia came and they danced in honor of the artists and in honor of all these beautiful pieces. It was so fun. And so what’s happened – I’m so sorry to get emotional, but what’s happened is it was there and then everybody that visited the garden got to see it. And it went to the Richmond City Hall that year. And other schools have asked to do them. So, it was great.
So, the last thing I want to say about the Hope Tree Project is this that I ask all children to think about a hope or dream they have for themselves, and I ask people right now who are considering these children who are on the border and unaccompanied to remember that young people need hope and to honor that and to be good to children.
Excerpt: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind
Hi. I’m Meg Medina, and I’m going to read to you a little piece from my novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. And in this scene Sonia and her friend have taken a trip to the center of town and they’ve decided to stop for an ice cream, and a friend of theirs from the house where they are working as servants stops by to see them.
“It was a group of school girls that caught Sonia’s attention in particular. Here in the capital even people her own age looked special in a way that she’d ever seen at home. No one wore dusty sandals or walked on bare feet. Their hair was combed and pinned, their skin fresh. They looked regal, Sonia thought admiringly, in their pleated skirts and crisp white shirts, a red kerchief tied at their neck.
They held books to their chest, shiny ones filled with new and exciting information she imagined.
How nice to be a girl on the way home for lunch that was prepared by someone else. How lovely not to be the one toiling over steaks and fried potatoes in a grand kitchen that wasn’t her own. Oscar savored his ice loudly as Sonia watched the group of girls round the corner. ‘You know, you remind me of my own granddaughter,’ he told her finally.
‘I thought I reminded you of your granddaughter,’ Eva protested. ‘You’re shameless.’ Oscar smiled guiltily and pulled a picture from his wallet. This is Lara. He pointed to a girl who looked nothing at all like either one of them. ‘She dreams of becoming a doctor,’ he said proudly. Sonia studied the photograph. Lara looked to be about 15, and she had the bright eyes of hope. A doctor?
‘That’s good, Señor Oscar,’ Sonia said politely. She did not mention that intelligence meant nothing in Tres Montes where almost no one finished school regardless of their talents. Oscar nodded. ‘A born intellect just like her mother.’ He looked at Sonia and dabbed the cold syrup from his lips. ‘But you have the high forehead of a bright child too. I see something special behind your eyes.’
‘Not at all, Señor Oscar,’ she replied quickly. ‘I’m quite ordinary. I’m happy with dusting and fetching.’ ‘Are you sure,’ he asked, ‘there’s not something else you might want to be?’ Sonia fell into a thoughtful silence. She only knew what she did not want to be, not magic, not lonely, not trapped, but never once had she thought of what she did want. Never imagined the future the way Lara did.
‘Don’t strain yourself with thinking about that, amorcito,’ Eva told her. ‘How many choices do you think there are for girls like us?’ Sonia just smiled as Oscar who was still waiting patiently for her reply. ‘I’m not sure what I’ll be, Señor. Maybe a teacher.’ The words sprang to her lips from the blue. She shrugged at Eva, who looked positively shocked. ‘Well, you have to admit – ours at home is a disaster.’
Part VII: The story behind Yaqui Delgado
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, the infamously named book. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass came about in two ways, of course.
I had been invited to submit to an anthology of Latina fiction. The person who invited me was the late Marisa Montes, who won the Pura Belpre with Yuyi Morales for Los Gatos Black on Halloween. So, what an honor, right, to be invited to write a story. And it was supposed to be a story about a Latina, a young Latina at a turning point. So, I said what I always say, “Oh, of course, I’d love to be involved. What an honor.”
And I hung up the phone and I said, “Now what? I don’t know what to write.” So, I started to ask myself, as I usually do and mine, in my personal life, what were the turning points for me as a young person? And then I remembered a really terrible turning point. When I went to junior high school, I was in the schoolyard one day and someone came up to me and said, “Jackie Delgado’s gonna kick your ass.” And I said, “Who’s Jackie Delgado?” I had no idea.
So, what ended up happening is I found out who Jackie was. She was a really fierce bully, and she frightened me. She threatened me all the time. Not just me, but I was certainly one of them. And it changed everything. I often wonder if she really knew the impact that she would have with those words, but that experience got me hating school.
I stopped going. I started cutting. I didn’t give any importance to grades anymore, and I really just changed dramatically for the worse. And it took years to feel better, to be honest with you. So, I sat down and I just started to write that story, changing it, of course, the way I always do.
I give all kinds of people in my real life all kinds of changes. I change their age, their sex, their, you know, what their jobs were. But I was pulling the people from my childhood that I remember. And then I invented the ones I wish had been there. And I cooked up a cast, Lila, the best friend neighbor upstairs and Ma who’s grumpy doing, you know, delivering flat screen TVs where she works, you know, the dean, the clueless teachers, the bully, the boyfriend.
I just cooked them all up into a tale that really is about what it feels like to be in the crosshairs of a bully. And it’s horrible. It robs you of your sense of self. And I was raising teenagers at the time and so I got to see what it looks like now with cell phones and YouTube and Facebook accounts and all of that. It just makes it 24 hours a day inescapable.
So, I added that in, and I wrote. And I wrote every day, and I wrote with a horrible pain in my stomach and just terrible memories because I didn’t want to think about myself back then. It was a really sad time.
But I wrote it, and what I found is this, that when you write something really honestly, it connects because the human experience is the human experience.
What happened is that Yaqui Delgado the story got orphaned, the whole anthology got orphaned because the editor who had acquired it moved on to another house, and when that happens, we call it orphan because what happens is that the person who loved the project is no longer there, and nobody loves your project anymore.
And so it was in limbo. And Kate, my editor, came to my rescue. She said, “Send it to me. I want to hear what you sound like in a contemporary voice.” And that was wonderful because I was really sad about not being in this anthology. But as it turns out, you know, sad - things you never know what’s coming around the corner. She acquired it as a novel.
The infamous title of Yaqui Delgado
And so the book came out, and at first, you know, titled what it was, there were lots of raised eyebrows and a lot of librarians going “Hmm, that’s going to be a coarse book. We can’t include that book.” Or people hiding that book or deciding their principal would never let them have that book, et cetera. And then it goes and wins the Pura Belpré Award. And then it starts getting circulated, and it stays checked out all the time.
And then it starts getting kids talking about really what it’s like to be bullied and how some of the programs that we use like “Bully-Free Zone” and all those posters aren’t getting at the problem. And the book’s been really successful I think not only for the recognition that it’s received, which is always very nice, but I think for the fact that young people are willing to step in and read a book about really an ugly part of their lives right now and have an opinion about it.
So, I’m really grateful to the librarians who did stick by this book and who came to its defense. I understand the schools that feel like well and feel nervous, but I am so encouraged by the many schools that have invited me and said, “Yes, we need to talk about this,” and book clubs and all kinds of people who have invited me to talk with them around this book.
I don’t offer any easy answers. That’s the irony of it all because I’m an author. I’m not a bullying expert. But it’s surprising what conversation can do. It’s surprising what happens when we really allow kids to read about the experience as it is and to talk about it openly. I think it gives space. It can’t solve every problem, but it names the experience, and that I think is a first step in helping to solve it.
I was disinvited to a school in Virginia. They had invited me to be a part of an anti-bullying program, and it was at a middle school and high school. And they contracted with me in the spring, but somehow like a week or two before I was supposed to come to their school they said, “Well, you can come, but really we don’t want you to show the slide of the cover. We do not want you to say the word ‘ass’ and, in fact, maybe not mention that book if you could mention your other works.”
And I had to think long and hard about that. I was really taken aback for a second. And I wrote back and I said, “I’m sorry I can’t do that for you. I’m not ashamed of what I wrote, and if I distance myself, it suggests that I am. And it also puts the kids at your school who are being bullied into a more shameful position because it implies that even naming it is shameful, and it’s not.”
So, what I countered with was the offer to send a note home to parents who maybe didn’t feel that their kids needed to hear the word “ass” even though I am quite sure that middle school and high schoolers have heard this word, but I said we could do that. But then they went out onto the internet and saw the trailer that I had made for the book, self-made on my Mac.
And one of the slides features the words that are used, four words that are typically used to bully girls, and they’re words that, you know, insinuate ugly things about their sexual morality basically. And I don’t think that there’s a girl alive who hasn’t been called one of these things at one time or another, sadly.
And they saw that and they said, “Absolutely not. You absolutely can’t come. It just doesn’t reflect the values of this community,” which I think is a catchphrase for soft censorship, “thank you very much, but no thank you.” And, you know, that’s sad because that is how we bully girls, and if we want to talk about bullying girls, then we ought to have the courage to name it and to really talk about what it really looks like.
Also, it was interesting because – and sad for them because they disinvited me right just prior to Banned Books Week. Never good. Librarians really don’t like it when you censor books, especially not near Banned Books Week. So, it became – I had to do nothing. I wrote a blogpost basically on my own blog. “This is what happened. I’m sad.” And then it exploded with librarians coming to the defense of the book and also big names like Judy Blume and Ellen Hopkins and other well-known authors saying kids have a right to read, and this is soft censorship.
So, I never did go to that school, but I did get several letters from students at that school apologizing for the adults in their lives. And I’m sure those students have read the book anyway. But it just happened recently too in North Carolina. I was invited to speak, and students, you know, one of the schools until five minutes before I was scheduled to be there was still on the fence as to whether I could talk about a book that had the word “ass” in the title, which was really troubling.
And also troubling in a way because they had asked me to come and speak only to the students in the Hispanic leadership program. You know, I am a Latina author, but I write about the universal problems of growing up, whether you’re Latina or not. And the message really was applicable to everybody at that high school. There was no need to silo me in that way.
So, the battle’s not over, and we certainly have librarians who engage in soft censorship because they’re tired and they don’t want to be in an argument with angry parents and principals and all of that. But to them what I say is trust the students to read. Trust their thinking. Trust them to make decisions about the information that’s coming across.
And also get informed. Read what has been said about this novel. And there’s so much more to this novel than these three letters and this word: “ass.”
How girls’ bodies change
Piddy is a really interesting character to me, especially in terms of her relationship to her physical self. She sees herself as very plain, very ordinary, maybe a little bug-eyed, but suddenly somebody makes a comment that she shakes her bottom too much when she walks. And people are starting to notice her body in a different way.
And, you know, I try to capture how confusing a time that is when your body changes because you’re not really even sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing because if it’s such a good thing, then why do people call you out for it and why does it make you feel embarrassed when people are whistling and making rude gestures at you?
And why does it change the relationship that you have with that cousin, with that person across the street? Like it’s such a confusing thing. And for Piedad, for Piddy in this novel, for a while it’s like a plague upon her, this body. But the fact is the female body is a beautiful thing, and we grow and change and we embrace it. And we get to put our boundaries around it that we choose to put around it, how people talk about it or talk about us with regard to our body, who we decide to share it with or not share it with, how we feel about it ourselves.
It’s not only when we’re talking about resilient girls, it’s helping them be proud of who they are intellectually and emotionally and also getting them comfortable and proud of who they are physically in whatever shape that looks. So, I’m glad that I got a chance to put that into the novel as well.
Also, with all the conflicting messages we get about being female and being sexual. On the one hand, you can’t open a magazine that doesn’t celebrate the female form in its most highly sexualized way. And yet we’ll throw all kinds of things at girls suggesting that they’re sexually immoral or whatever. It’s such a confusing time.
And now it gets further complicated with people who will say, “I’m a feminist” and yet in the images that they portray again it’s a very sometimes demeaning thing in, you know, thigh‑high boots and, you know, like bustiers and other things like that. And it’s not about being ashamed of your sexual self. It’s about not being used for only that.
Excerpt: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Hi. I’m Meg Medina and I am here to read to you from my young adult novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. So, in this scene Piddy, our 16-year-old heroine is at school, and she is wearing her favorite necklace, which is a necklace with a jade elephant. And that elephant stands for strength. She’s been hearing rumors that Yaqui Delgado is after her, and she’s worried but hasn’t had actually any bigtime contact just yet. So, here’s a little scene from school that day.
“When I step through the chain-linked fence each morning, my shoulders hunch up, my mouth dries, and my head goes blank. A big cloud just swallows up everything about me. It’s like the schoolyard is just a big miasma, one of those make-believe poison clouds that scientists once thought killed you until they figured out it was actually microbes in the water and microwaves and other stuff that really gets you.
Yeah. DJ’s a mind-erasing miasma, and it’s eating my brain. I forget everything in science about velocity. I can’t remember the reasons we were in World War I. Each period I just stare straight at the clock, thinking about getting from one class to the next without meeting Yaqui, like that’s the real test.
Sitting in class is just what I do in between. Darlene and I are on the way to math, and she’s complaining about Mr. Nocera’s rumored pop quiz when someone smacks the back of my head. It happens so fast that at first I think it’s an accident. That’s how stupid I am. I don’t even know I’m in big trouble until it swallowed me whole.
Darlene stares straight ahead and starts walking fast. Another whack, this time harder. I whip around to find two girls I don’t know. They’re pretending they didn’t touch me, but they’re also cracking up, and it’s obvious that I’m the punchline. “Quit it,” I say. “Quit what?” one of them says. Suddenly there’s a tug on my neck from behind, and with a tiny pop, I feel the spidery links of my chain break apart.
I grab for my neck, but it’s too late. When I look, I see Yaqui walking away into the crowd. “Hey,” I shout as I try to follow, but the girls block my way, and soon the wall of bodies in the halls is thick. I try to push through but people push back, annoyed. Through the spaces between the shoulders and backpacks I think I can still see Yaqui, the small bun at the back of her head.
‘Give it back.’ A few kids turn to look, but by the time I squeeze through them, Yaqui and her friends are gone again. All I see are colors, shirts, ugly faces. The bell rings and the hall empties. I still can’t move. I stand there trying to decide what to do. I’ve been mugged at school, but even Darlene has vanished and left me alone.”
Part VIII: Reading and writing with kids
Advice for young writers
The advice I’d give to young writers is to persevere because you’re going to be told no a lot more than you’re going to be told yes. So, when I say persevere, I mean spend a lot of time on craft, on becoming the very best writer that you can. So, sign up for your school newspaper, your school magazine. Take creative writing classes. Take classes at college when you move in that direction to really learn the craft.
You can even just jump in with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and spend a month crazy writing as many words as you can. But the idea is to write and write and write, and you only become a strong writer by writing and studying the craft. So, that’s the biggest piece of advice I can give, especially early on. Later the business comes into play, finding an agent, finding an editor. But in the beginning it’s about getting the craft down and persevering once you start to sell the work, not being discouraged by no.
And especially for Latino kids who are writing, there’s such a need for your stories. There’s such a need for more Latino writers that I would say, “Capture your family. Look around. Look around your neighborhood. Ask yourself hard questions. Write about that. And write about it really well because editors are looking for you.”
One thing I’ve learned in my writing life is that the most ordinary moment can become magical. You have to just trust as the characters appear that they have a story they want to tell you. You have to listen and let them grow.
Joy of reading
I really feel strongly that we have to protect the joy of reading. Sometimes for very honorable reasons we bring a book into a classroom and we are going to do a very deep novel study. And what that’s going to include is that we will have the students highlight all the unfamiliar vocabulary. And we will ask them to write a journal entry after every single chapter. And then we will ask them to pretend that they’re having dinner with the character.
And then we will ask them on and on and on and on. So many assignments that we lose the joy of reading the book. So, what I say is that all of those things that are learned through a novel study are important, but they don’t have to all be done with every single book. We can take a deep breath and let children enjoy reading. Let children have space for recreational reading.
Don’t fill up every single second of their lives, especially I would say in high school, with required reading of the classics. Give them time to find the books that are naming the experience that they’re living now, the books that are being written by authors now. Give them a chance to develop a really varied palette for what they read.
What I’m working on next, two things. The first book comes out in November 2015. It’s my second picture book. It’s called Mango, Abuela, and Me. And it’s illustrated by Angela Dominguez, who was a Pura Belpré honor winner this year. So, that’s especially nice. It’s about a little girl who does not speak Spanish and a grandmother who doesn’t speak English and a parrot that they buy to help them communicate.
That’s the story that the child will read. But the story that I’ve layered in for the adults is this. The grandmother’s come to live with the family because there’s been a loss. The grandfather is no longer living. And so it’s a story about an extended family, how we make room for that, and it’s also a story about how it is that the challenge is of connecting when our languages start to diversify when the children don’t speak Spanish, when the parents don’t speak English, and how difficult that is and how important it is to bridge that.
The other project I’m working on is a novel, and that will come out in spring 2016. It’s called Burn, Baby, Burn. Right now it’s called that. That can change, but for now that’s the title. And it’s also set in Queens, New York, but it’s a historical fiction. So, it’s set in 1977. And that was a very difficult year in New York City. There was a mass murderer. He was named Son of Sam, and he was murdering young girls at the time.
But also what was going on is that the city was nearly bankrupt, and there was a lot of crime. And then that summer in the middle of the worst heat wave ever there was a blackout and the entire city was black. A thousand fires were set in that time. And so what I’m writing about in that novel is mental illness in a family, secrets in a family, and I set it against the backdrop of mental illness terrorizing a city and just the heat of the time and the scariness of the time.
But again it’s about how a young woman confronts secrets in her family and what she decides to do about them.
Colorín Colorado Anniversary
Congratulations Colorín Colorado for 10 years. I’ve always loved 10-year-olds. So, congratulations. Y colorín Colorado, este cuento se ha acabado.
Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction.
She is the 2016 recipient of the Pura Belpré honor medal for her picture book, Mango, Abuela and Me, and the 2014 Pura Belpré Award winner for her young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass , which was also the winner of the 2013 CYBILS Fiction award and the International Latino Book Award. She is also the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers medal winner for her picture book Tía Isa Wants a Car.
Meg’s other books are The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind , a 2012 Bank Street Best Book and CBI Recommended Read in the UK; and Milagros: Girl from Away.
Meg’s work examines how cultures intersect, as seen through the eyes of young people. She brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls.
In March 2014, she was recognized as one of the CNN 10 Visionary Women in America. In November 2014, she was named one of Latino Stories Top Ten Latino Authors to Watch.
When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.