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The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival

We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perz-Prado

Here at WE NEED DIVERSE MG, we are super excited about the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival coming up in less than two weeks. The virtual festival runs from December 4 to 5, 2020, and was created by a collective of women and non-binary Latinx kdilit writers called Las Musas.  Many of us know Las Musas for their support of aspiring Latinx creators and for their beautiful books.

Who Will Be There?

I was lucky to be able to talk to Mayra Cuevas, Ismee Williams and Alex Villasante who headed up the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival steering committee.

latinx organizers

APP: Congratulations on the exciting Latinx Kidlit Book Festival! Can you tell me about some of what we can expect at the online event?

MAYRA: We have an incredible lineup! Over 150 authors and illustrators representing a wide and diverse range of experiences and ties to Latin America. Their work includes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, graphic novels, comic books and poetry. We wanted the panel topics to cover themes that are important to the Latinx community in a way that is accessible to everyone.

ALEX: We have amazing, award-winning Middle Grade authors in our lineup, like National Book Award-finalist Ibi Zoboi, author of MY LIFE AS AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH. We also have Meg Medina, author of Newbery Award winner, MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS. And Rebecca Barcárcel, author of the Pura Belpré Honor Book, THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY. Other notable MG authors include Margarita Engle, Monica Brown, Lilliam Rivera, Daniel José Older and Yamile Saied Méndez—just to name a few!

ISMEE: We also will have interactive events, including a poetry slam, illustrator draw off’s, a graphic novel/cartooning panel including Raúl the Third and Axur Eneas. And even a few music and dance interludes.

Coming Together to Celebrate Latinx Creators

APP: That sounds like so much fun! I am a huge fan of many of those authors and look forward to getting to know more of them through the festival. I know that so many Latinx creators are eagerly anticipating this event. Can you tell me what sparked the idea for the festival?

MAYRA: Both Ismee and I have books that came out early in the pandemic. We quickly had to pivot to all virtual events. In May we were invited to participate at the Everywhere Book Festival, led by three amazing authors, Christina Soontornvat, Ellen Oh and Melanie Conklin. We wondered what it would be like to have a similar event for the Latinx community. We wanted to create a space where book lovers everywhere could come together to celebrate Latinx authors, illustrators and their books. Thanks to the help of Las Musas Books members, dozens of volunteers, sponsors and community partners the dream quickly became a reality.

latinx festival coming soon

APP: It is truly incredible how quickly you were able to put this festival together, and in the midst of a pandemic! What was your vision for the project, and what challenges did you face?

ISMEE: We created the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival because we want to give back to those who have been hard hit by the pandemic: students, educators and parents. We want to give the gift of story and art to any child and family who is able to tune in–and not just Latinx families but all families. We hope to provide a virtual field trip experience for classrooms, with programming that spans from pre-K through 12th grade, including picture books, middle grade, graphic novels, poetry and young adult.

Resources for Teachers and Students

latinx student teacher graphic

APP: That sounds great! I hope many teachers are able to take advantage of everything the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival has to offer. Tell me about your resources for educators.

ISMEE: Educator guides for specific festival books are located on our website for easy access and download under the Educator Tab. We also created, with the help of wonderful volunteers, two festival educator guides, one for elementary and one for secondary school students. These Latinx Kidlit Book Festival Educator Guides will allow teachers to bring the festival into the classroom so students may learn about festival authors, illustrators and their works.

We also have a number of author and illustrator Flipgrid introduction videos available to assist students. Answer questions are found in the educator guides. Finally, we are encouraging all students to submit their own questions for our festival participants ahead of time. We want kids and teens to feel engaged and to know that we value them and their own creativity and curiosity! To make it even more exciting, we are offering book giveaways (a huge thank you goes out to all the publishers who generously have donated cartons of books)! If a student’s question is selected for use in the festival, that student will be entered into a drawing to win a set of books for their entire classroom. Winners will be announced during the festival, so be sure to tune in!

Latinx Kidlit Festival Partners and Sponsors

call for kids questions

APP: That really sounds like a lot of fun for the kids! What about your partners and sponsors? How have they contributed to this project?

ALEX: With the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival we wanted to create a network of support in the community. We knew that some would be able to support us financially and some would not.

A Community Partner, like Miami Book Fair, The Highlights Foundation or Latinx In Kidlit, can use their social media reach to get our message to as many readers, educators and kids as possible. They also help by giving us a team of amazing volunteers who work so hard to help us get everything in place.

We’re 100% volunteer run, so that’s a huge benefit! Sponsors, like Penguin, Harper Collins, and Macmillan play a very special role. Their financial support helps fund tools for the festival, like professional producers and real-time transcription and captioning. We’re also so fortunate to have sponsors like SCBWI and NCTE – organizations that support writers and educators and see the value of putting capital behind Latinx creators. Because, at the end of the day, supporting this festival sends a message of solidarity with the Latinx community and marginalized voices. It says—loud and muy claro—Latinx creators, books and art are worthy of investment.

Success and Suerte

APP: Clarisimo! Beyond the obvious,  what are your hopes for the festival? What does success look like?

MAYRA: We want kids, educators and book lovers everywhere to come together to celebrate the voice and talent of Latinx authors and illustrators. Ultimately, we want to create an infinite bookshelf for our community, in which there is room for countless stories. We want stories that portray the complexities of our world, and illuminate profound moments of loss and grief. We also want stories that celebrate the love and joy in all the things we hold dear.

ISMEE: We want to showcase the beauty in the wide diversity of Latinx identities that encompasses multiple races, traditions, and countries of origin. We also want to emphasize that Latinx stories are not just for the Latinx community. A good story speaks to the larger human experience and will resonate with readers no matter their backgrounds. I see this festival as an opportunity not only for the Latinx kidlit book community to come together but for all lovers of kidlit to join in the celebration of story and diversity and life.

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival

APP: I couldn’t agree with your more. Representation matters and the wide diversity of what it means to be Latinx is keenly felt by so many of us. I know that as a young Latinx immigrant from Argentina, I certainly searched for someone like me in my books. Unfortunately, I was never able to find characters that represented my experience. I am so happy that little Latinxers today are able to see more of themselves and their families in children’s literature! Thank you so much for sharing this event with us and we hope that many of our readers will be in attendance.

And now, how about a giveaway? The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival organizers have kindly donated some awesome giveaways! Like, retweet and follow @LatinxKidLitBF and @MIxedUpFiles on twitter for a chance to win! Two winners will be chosen, US only, please.

Prizes: A copy of The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel & Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon!

Suerte!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mini-Museums for Middle Grade Favorites

Hello, fans of Middle Grade! I hope the school year is running smoothly for your students, your readers, or your own kids, whether they are learning in-person, remotely, independently, or in a hybrid or homeschool environment. While online learning and the use of technology are certainly helpful in this time of Covid, I know my own kids sometimes grow weary of screens and keyboards in their current environments. So I wanted to share a fun and engaging reading activity that can work equally well in both the home and classroom: A Mini-Museum display based on a great Middle Grade read.

As a teacher, librarian, or homeschooling parent, you can pose this idea before readers start or finish a book, or encourage readers to choose a favorite story with which they are already familiar. The Mini-Museum employs reading, writing, and creative/critical thinking skills, and culminates in a hands-on and 3-D product. You can include teamwork and presentation/delivery skills if you choose. The steps are simple and the supplies minimal—and the search for objects gets a reader out of his or her chair and away from the screen.

Step One – After (or while) reading a novel, the reader lists notable and important physical objects mentioned in the book that have some significant relevance and/or symbolic value to the plot, characters, theme, point-of-view, or setting. Eight to ten objects make a nice-sized museum collection, but the suggested or required number would be determined by your readers’ abilities, your environment, your time, and the book choice.

Step Two – Readers gather household, three-dimensional objects that are the real thing, a replica, or a constructed facsimile of each object on his or her list.

Step Three – Readers choose and prepare a display space. This can be a shelf, tabletop, or windowsill in the classroom, or a table or empty corner at home. Use cardboard boxes, recyclables, or piles of books to create museum stands and exhibit spaces. A variety of sizes and levels makes the overall look of the display more interesting and easier to see. Readers can cover these items with plain fabric or paper for a clean “museum look.”

Step Four – Readers fill the museum with their objects. Objects of greatest significance get the choicest spots in the display.

Step Five – Readers write brief descriptive captions to display near each object, like you’d see in a real museum. These can include the object name, the date of use (setting of book), the materials that form the object, and a few sentences on the object’s significance to one or more story elements in the book. Mount the typed and printed (or handwritten) captions on folded index cards and place each free-standing description near its object.

Step Six –Optional share and tell with the class! Thanks to smart phones and cameras, most readers can find a way to show their display distantly to their teacher and classmates.

If you’ve read or taught the excellent Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper, you’ll recognize how these real objects make great representations of the novel’s important character and plot points:

  • Notebook (Stella uses one to practice writing late at night.)
  • Cigar box (Stella keeps her collection of inspirational newspaper articles in one.)
  • An edition of the Star Sentinel (This is the newspaper Stella creates.)
  • Small, unmarked bottle (Stella buys medicine for her sick brother Jojo.)
  • Clean rags torn into strips (Stella tends to her mother’s snakebite.)

Students can manufacture some objects when necessary, like Stella’s original newspaper the Star Sentinel, which she types on a donated typewriter. A description for the torn rags might be something like: “Extra wound dressings, circa early 1930s; wool and cotton. Stella uses dressings like these to help treat her mother’s snakebite. When she finds Mama unconscious in the woods, Stella brings water, whiskey, and dressings to clean and wrap the wound. Mama survives in part due to Stella’s quick actions.”

Benefits of a Mini-Museum Display:

  • It’s highly flexible with strong potential for individualization.
  • Visual-spatial learners will enjoy creating the display space.
  • Readers can work in groups or independently, depending on their situation and capabilities.

Thanks for reading and sharing this idea! Enjoy the holidays, keep safe, and stay well.

Stella: Interview with McCall Hoyle

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, and one of the Epilepsy Foundation’s goals for this month is to get more people talking about epilepsy. So, with that goal in mind, I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to talk with award-winning author McCall Hoyle about her upcoming book STELLA and her writing process.


Please tell us a little bit about STELLA.

STELLA is a hopeful story about a retired working beagle who must find the courage to overcome her fears and use her special nose to save a girl’s life.

The story is told from the beagle, Stella’s, point of view. I love stories like A DOG’S PURPOSE and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN that are told from an animal’s point of view.

I can’t wait for readers to experience life through a Stella’s eyes, ears, and, especially, her nose.

 

 

 

You started your career as an author writing Young Adult (THE THING WITH FEATHERS and MEET THE SKY). What got you interested in writing Middle Grade? How does writing it differ from writing YA?

Mostly, I just want to write the story that is calling to me at the moment. Someday, I might write an adult novel. Thankfully, I have an agent who nurtures my creativity and encourages me to write whatever is calling to me at the moment.

Plus, I really wanted to write something that my son and sixth-grade students could enjoy. And of course, I just love middle grade fiction.

I feel like writing for middle grade is a lot about discovering where you belong in your family and in a smaller “world”. To me YA feels more like an exploration of where you belong in the world at large.

Many of the themes I come back to in everything I write involve family and those relationships, so middle grade feels like a good fit.

 

What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?

I was suffering a serious case of writer’s block after the release of my second YA novel and couldn’t motivate myself to write anything. My YA novels weren’t appealing to my fifth-grade son, so I decided to write something specifically for him with zero intention of pursuing publication.

We both love dogs, and I’m an amateur dog trainer. Plus, our little beagle Sophie was getting on up in years. She was mostly deaf and blind, but she made up for these weaknesses with her super sniffer. Up until her final days, she was playing scent games and loving them.

So I wrote Stella one chapter at a time for my son and as a tribute to Sophie. I read the story aloud to my son and husband one chapter at a time. Anyone who’s taught elementary or middle school knows that kids are super honest. They don’t pretend that they like something just because you’re their mom or their teacher. My son loved Stella!

So I got my nerve up to tell my agent that I had this middle grade manuscript narrated from a dog’s point of view that I wanted her to read. I expected some pushback, but she never missed a bit and read it quickly. She told me she cried, which coming from her is a huge compliment.

Then one thing lead to another, and Stella is going to be a real book. And I couldn’t be more excited to share the book of my heart with the world.


November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. Both THE THING WITH FEATHERS and STELLA deal directly with epilepsy. What would you like our readers to know about epilepsy?

It’s not so much about what I want readers to know about epilepsy as it is that I want to remind readers that we cannot tell what is going on inside of a person just by the way they look on the outside. Epilepsy is a frequently invisible and misunderstood neurological disorder.

Both the THE THING WITH FEATHERS and STELLA include girls that deal with epilepsy in their own ways. Emilie in THE THING WITH FEATHERS has a golden retriever who is her best friend and a trained seizure response dog. Stella is not a trained seizure response dog, but because of her close connection to her girl, Cloe, she learns to pick up on the chemical changes taking place in Cloe’s body.

As a dog lover, I am fascinated by this special connection between humans and dogs and will never tire of writing about it.

You refer to one of my all time favorite quotes in STELLA:  Eleanor Roosevelt’s  “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Can you tell us why you included this particular quote in STELLA and what it means to you?

I wrote a biographical report about Eleanor Roosevelt when I was in middle school, which was several  decades ago. I’ve always been attracted to real life stories of intelligent female leaders. The First Lady’s words have sort of been a mantra for me most of my life.

You don’t think you can finish a marathon. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. You can’t quit your job in finance, go back to school and become a teacher. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. You don’t think you can write and publish a book. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

I taught high school for several years and was frequently surprised by what teenagers thought they could not do. Often, a well-meaning adult had unintentionally spoken words that lead to these doubts. If just one young person reads STELLA and internalizes Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, all the hard work that went into writing the book will be worth it.

 

We at Mixed Up Files love teachers and librarians, and I know you do too. Could you tell our readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your reading or writing life?

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Turner, sat on the floor and read aloud to us even though we were perfectly capable of reading to ourselves, and she was probably too old to sit comfortably on the floor. She made reading seem fun and made us feel like a community of readers.

Stories brought us all together–no matter how different our home lives were. It was a good feeling that stuck with me.

 

I know you are a dog lover (like me). Would you tell our readers about your favorite dog(s).

Oh my goodness! That might truly be the toughest author interview question ever and the first question I’m not sure I can answer. I really like smart, eager-to-please dogs, whether they’re purebred golden retrievers or the rescued mixed-breed that adopted my family when I was eight. These are the dogs that make you feel like a good dog trainer and good about yourself.

But then sometimes, I’m drawn to the challenge of a dog that seems too fearful or too aggressive to learn. The same philosophy that applies to my classroom teaching applies to my dog training. All kids can learn. All dogs can learn. And it’s our job as teachers and dog trainers to facilitate the learning.

Can I say, “I like all dogs?”

 

McCall Hoyle lives in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains with her husband, children, and an odd assortment of pets. She is a middle school teacher and librarian. When she’s not reading, writing, or teaching, she’s probably playing with or training one of her many dogs. You can learn more about her at mccallhoyle.com

 

 

 

STELLA will be available in bookstores everywhere on March 2, 2021. In the meantime,

Head over to Goodreads for a chance to win a copy of STELLA.

And, be sure to pre-order a copy of STELLA from your favorite independent bookstore.