Blog

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez: Author Interview with Adrianna Cuevas

I’m very excited to welcome Cuban-American author Adrianna Cuevas to the blog today to talk about her debut middle-grade novel The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez.

What her  book is about: Nestor Lopez is a Cuban American boy who has to use his secret ability to communicate with animals to save the inhabitants of his town when they are threatened by a tule vieja, a witch that transforms into animals.

Adrianna, thanks for joining us on the MUF blog! So, this is your first middle grade novel–have you always wanted to write an MG novel?

I was a Spanish and ESOL teacher for 16 years and I taught all grades K-12 at some point during my career. The hormonal tornado of silliness and maturity in intermediate and middle school made it my absolute favorite ages to teach. I knew when I started writing I wanted to gear my stories toward those amazing middle grade readers. As my own son approached that age and I wanted to write stories for him, it was a natural fit.

Which authors have inspired your writing style and why?

I don’t really think I have a writing style, unless praying and hoping for the best is considered a style. I enjoy reading fast-paced books filled with strong voices, humor, and heart. I aim to write stories that fit my reading preferences. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj, From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, and Just South of Home by Karen Strong.

What brought you to the story of Nestor Lopez? And when did the idea first spark?

There’s a slight chance I was sitting in a high school faculty meeting four years ago when I started scribbling story ideas to soothe my miniscule attention span. My son loves to ask hypothetical questions like “What if you could have any Pokémon as your pet?” or “What if you could have any superpower you wanted?” and he’s also completely obsessed with zoology. So I started with “What if you could talk to animals?” I’d love to say that Nestor’s ability to speak to animals has a deeper significance, like Gatsby’s green light shining across a bay, but it doesn’t. I just thought it would be fun. How else was I going to fit so many poop jokes in a story without creating a sarcastic, potty-obsessed raven?

Do you have experience as a military child, moving from school to school? Why was this a big part of Nestor’s life and how do you think it affects him?

Although I’m not a military kid, my husband had several deployments as an Army MP early in our marriage so many of the experiences in the book, such as Nestor’s aversion to military reunion videos and his mom mistaking ROTC students for a mortuary affairs detail, stem directly from that time.

In trying to make Nestor a fully realized character, I felt that adding this element provided depth and emotion to the story. And students from military families, particularly Latinx families, don’t get to see themselves in many stories. Twenty percent of the Armed Forces are Hispanic and it was important to me to represent this.

Can you tell me about the journey from first idea to finding a publisher?

I finished the first draft of Nestor in a few months and entered it into Pitch Wars in 2017. I was accepted and mentored by the incredible Jessica Bayliss who helped me fine-tune my world-building and character arcs. During that time, I also attended my local SCBWI conference in Austin and pitched the manuscript to Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary. I signed with Stefanie and completed further revisions. She helped me find the heart of the manuscript and was critical in making it the story it is today. We went on sub in October of 2018 and the manuscript sold to FSG/Macmillan two months later.

What has been your favorite part of the process?

My favorite part of the process has been meeting other authors who geek out about stories and writing as much as I do. Finding people who are passionate about the same things I am and enjoy building each other up has been a great gift.

Also, seeing young readers react with excitement and enthusiasm to something that just existed as a silly story for so long in my mind has been incredibly satisfying. A class of fifth graders in north Texas read an arc of Nestor and their teacher told me the whole class gasped at the climax of the story. Mission accomplished!

Was there a particularly difficult part of the novel to write? Why was it so difficult? How did you get through it?

My husband and I had been married 10 months when he was called up for his first deployment. I was living far away from family in a town where I didn’t feel like I belonged. Having to revisit those emotions in the process of writing Nestor was a challenge but it made for some great conversations between my husband and I. We were able to share our stories with our son as well who was born after my husband got out of the Army. Veterans are sometimes reluctant to share their experiences so I was grateful that writing this story allowed us both to open up to each other.

What do you hope readers will see in Nestor Lopez and find in this story?

I hope that readers will find escape in an exciting story, laughter in silly moments, and a reminder that your idea of home may not be what you expect. And if they crave Cuban food after they’re done reading, I accept full responsibility.

Was it important for you to represent your heritage in this novel, and why?

Most authors draw from personal experiences to inform their writing. My Cuban heritage is just one of the many elements of my life that shape my stories. I’m not running into kidlit waving a Cuban battle flag and screaming ‘Azúcar!’ Well, maybe I am a little. It’s only because I’m proud of who I am and of my family. I’m also the proud wife of a veteran and the proud mother of a kid who has unabashedly embraced his weirdness. I’m writing who I am.

And if a young Cuban-American kiddo reads my stories and chuckles, “Me, too,” then I’ve done my job as an author.

And did you find many characters you could relate to as a young reader? How has this shaped your writing?

Growing up in Miami, a city dominated by Cuban culture, as a bicultural, white-presenting latina, afforded me the privilege of not being overly affected by the lack of Cuban-American characters in stories. This is why I am now passionate about using my privilege to boost authors who are enhancing authentic representation in children’s literature. So, hey, now would be a great time to add How to Make Friends With the Sea by Tanya Guerrero, Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit, Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass, and Éfren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros to your reading list!

 

Thank you Adrianna! Look out for The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, which is set to release on May 12, 2020. To find out more about Adrianna and her debut MG novel, visit: https://adriannacuevas.com.

STEM Tuesday– The Human Body — Book List

STEM Tuesday CoSTEM Costume Contest

Heart and Soul 

As Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s explore what makes our hearts go pitter-patter with these books featuring various aspects of human anatomy. 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Superbugs Strike Back: When Antibiotics Fail by Connie Goldsmith 

For a long time we thought we had infectious diseases licked. But now we’re not so sure. What happens when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? Goldsmith explores the science of superbugs in a accessible style that will make readers take notice.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Will Puberty Last My Whole Life? REAL Answers to REAL Questions From Preteens About Body Changes, Sex, and Other Growing-Up Stuff by Julie Metzger, RN, Robert Lehman, and Lia Cerizo

Nurse Julie Metzger answers the questions many preteen boys and girls have about their bodies.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Guy Stuff The Body Book for Boys by Cara Natterson and Micah Player

Advice, tips, and facts from a pediatrician fill this book specifically for boys. 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Guts by Raina Telgemeier 

Here is another heartfelt graphic novel-memoir from Raina Telgemeier. Dealing with a sensitive stomach, anxiety, and panic attacks, the author shares many mental and physical health issues middle-grade students face. 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Human Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue  by Maris Wicks

This nonfiction, graphic novel presents a human anatomy lesson in a fun, humor-filled way. 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Science Comic: The Brain – The Ultimate Thinking Machine by Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins

Another in this popular graphic novel series that focuses on science topics. Readers will explore the ultimate thinking machine – our own brain! How our brains evolved, how our brain controls our senses, how we remember things, and more.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Human Cloning by Kristi Lew 

This title for older readers explores the use of cloning and the depiction of human cloning in science fiction. 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Future Humans: Hows-Whys-Tech-Medicine-Human Enhancement-Genetics-Wrongs-Rights-Playing God- Who Wants to Live Forever? – Science vs Morality by Tom Jackson 

What does it mean to be human? Perhaps the future will force us to rethink our answer. Readers will explore artificial intelligence and deep questions on immortality and human potential. 

 

Body 2.0 coverBody 2.0: The Engineering Revolution in Medicine by Sara Latta

Discover the science of biomedical engineering and cutting edge research. This book for teens will inspire future medical professionals. 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Illumanatomy by Carnovsy, written by Kate Davies

This book gives readers a chance to use three different lenses to view human anatomy. Readers can use the red lens to reveal the human skeleton, the green to look at muscles, and the blue to examine organs with x-rays. A unique way to understand what’s under our skin!

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef

It’s hard to discuss the human body without examining the life of the legendary nurse, Florence Nightingale. Reef’s biography will inspire future nurses and doctors. 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Human Movement: How the Body Walks, Runs, Jumps, and Kicks by Carla Mooney and Samuel Carbaugh

Mooney’s book delves into how our bodies work when we play sports, dance, and walk. This is a great addition to science and sports collections. 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse by Leslie Bulion and Mike Lowery

With puzzles and fun verse, Leslie Bulion introduces human anatomy to middle-grade readers. Try this one during poetry month!

 

 


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at www.nancycastaldo.com. 

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that empowers young readers to act on behalf of the environment and their communities. The Sibert Honor author of Sea Otter Heroes, Newman has also received an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Award for Eavesdropping on Elephants, and a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy! Her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how young readers can use writing to be the voice of change. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

 

February New Releases

February is looking promising you all! This month’s New Releases list is filled with everything your Middle Grade reader is looking for – from mysteries, friendship stories, sports, and, yes, dogs!! I think we’re all going to be glad that this year is a Leap Year. Now, we have an extra day to read these beauties.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAggie Morton, Mystery Queen:  The Body under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn, Isabelle Follath (Illustrator)

A smart and charming middle-grade mystery series starring young detective Aggie Morton and her friend Hector, inspired by the imagined life of Agatha Christie as a child and her most popular creation, Hercule Poirot. For fans of Lemony Snicket and The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.

Aggie Morton lives in a small town on the coast of England in 1902. Adventurous and imaginative but deeply shy, Aggie hasn’t got much to do since the death of her beloved father . . . until the fateful day when she crosses paths with twelve-year-old Belgian immigrant Hector Perot and discovers a dead body on the floor of the Mermaid Dance Room! As the number of suspects grows and the murder threatens to tear the town apart, Aggie and her new friend will need every tool at their disposal — including their insatiable curiosity, deductive skills and not a little help from their friends — to solve the case before Aggie’s beloved dance instructor is charged with a crime Aggie is sure she didn’t commit.

Filled with mystery, adventure, an unforgettable heroine and several helpings of tea and sweets, The Body Under the Piano is the clever debut of a new series for middle-grade readers and Christie and Poirot fans everywhere, from a Governor General’s Award–nominated author of historical fiction for children.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgChirp by Kate Messner

“[A] deftly layered mystery about family, friendship, and the struggle to speak up.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of Speak and Shout

From acclaimed author Kate Messner comes the powerful story of a young girl with the courage to make her voice heard, set against the backdrop of a summertime mystery.

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.

Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding–and find the courage she never knew she had?

In a compelling story rich with friendship, science, and summer fun, a girl finds her voice while navigating the joys and challenges of growing up.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgIt’s a Numbers Game! Basketball:  The math behind the perfect bounce pass, the buzzer-beating bank shot, and so much more! by James Buckley

Why do NBA players only have 24 seconds to score a basket? What’s the geometry behind making the perfect shot? Become a basketball pro and learn all about the numbers and math behind this popular sport.

Numbers are everywhere in basketball–from the dimensions of the court to the points you can score to the digits on each player’s jersey. In this awesome new book, you’ll learn how these numbers make basketball the game we know and love today, and also get a few tips along the way on how to improve your game. Read about amazing statistics and learn how to track the stats of your favorite basketball stars. Discover how to improve your bounce pass and chest pass with geometry and physics. Colorful graphics explain the math behind the sport, and cool photos make you feel like you’re right on the court. Filled with sports trivia and fun activities at the end of every chapter, this book is sure to be a slam dunk with kids who can’t get enough of the game and want to learn more.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBeginners Welcome by Cindy Baldwin

The acclaimed author of Where the Watermelons Grow is back with a story perfect for fans of Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Ali Benjamin, about finding friendship after a tragic loss.

It’s been eighty-three days since Annie Lee’s daddy died, but she still sees reminders of him everywhere. His record player mysteriously plays his favorite songs, there’s shaving cream in the sink every morning, and the TV keeps flipping to the Duke basketball games he loved.

She knows Mama notices it too, but Mama’s been working around the clock to make ends meet. To make matters worse, Annie Lee’s friends ditched her over the summer. She feels completely alone—until she meets Mitch.

Though Mitch is tough and confident on the outside, she may need a friend just as badly as Annie Lee. But after losing so much, Annie Lee is afraid to let anyone get too close.

And Mitch isn’t the only friend trying to break through Annie Lee’s defenses. Ray, an elderly pianist who plays at a local mall, has been giving her piano lessons. His music is pure magic, and Annie Lee hopes it might be the key to healing her broken heart. But when Ray goes missing, searching for him means breaking a promise to Mitch.

Faced with once again losing those who mean the most to her, Annie Lee must make a choice: retreat back into her shell, or risk admitting how much she needs Mitch and Ray—even if it means getting hurt all over again.

Just like in her debut, Where the Watermelons Grow, Cindy Baldwin brings her signature twist of magic to this authentically heartfelt story.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver, Ethan Aldridge (Illustrator)

From the bestselling author of E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book Liesl & Po comes a timely and relevant adventure story about monsters of all kinds—and a girl brave enough to save them.

Cordelia Clay loves the work she and her father do together: saving and healing the remarkable creatures around Boston at the end of the nineteenth century. Their home on Cedar Street is full to the brim with dragons, squelches, and diggles, and Cordelia loves every one of them.

But their work must be kept secret—others aren’t welcoming to outsiders and immigrants, so what would the people of Boston do to the creatures they call “monsters”?

One morning, Cordelia awakens to discover that her father has disappeared—along with nearly all the monsters.

With only a handful of clues and a cryptic note to guide her, Cordelia must set off to find out what happened to her father, with the help of her new friend Gregory, Iggy the farting filch, a baby dragon, and a small zuppy (zombie puppy, that is).

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

A unique masterpiece about loss, love, and the world’s best bad dog, from award winner Leslie Connor, author of the National Book Award finalist The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle.

This novel sings about loss and love and finding joy in new friendships and a loving family, along with the world’s best bad dog. An uplifting middle grade novel about recovery featuring strong female characters, an adorable dog, and the girl who comes to love him.

It’s a life-altering New Year for thirteen-year-old Lydia when she uproots to a Connecticut farm to live with her aunt following her mother’s death.

Aunt Brat and her jovial wife, Eileen, and their ancient live-in landlord, Elloroy, are welcoming—and a little quirky. Lydia’s struggle for a sense of belonging in her new family is highlighted when the women adopt a big yellow dog just days after the girl’s arrival.

Wasn’t one rescue enough?

Lydia is not a dog person—and this one is trouble! He is mistrustful and slinky. He pees in the house, escapes into the woods, and barks at things unseen. His new owners begin to guess about his unknown past.

Meanwhile, Lydia doesn’t want to be difficult—and she does not mean to keep secrets—but there are things she’s not telling…

Like why the box of “paper stuff” she keeps under her bed is so important…

And why that hole in the wall behind a poster in her room is getting bigger…

And why something she took from the big yellow dog just might be the key to unraveling his mysterious past—but at what cost?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHere in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

From the author of the highly acclaimed, New York Times bestselling novel Pax comes a gorgeous and moving middle grade novel that is an ode to introverts, dreamers, and misfits everywhere.

Ware can’t wait to spend summer “off in his own world”—dreaming of knights in the Middle Ages and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called “normal” kids do.

On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon he starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot.

Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer—he doesn’t live in the “real world” like she does. As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge.

But when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware looks to the knights’ Code of Chivalry: Thou shalt do battle against unfairness wherever faced with it. Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and Good—and vows to save the lot.

But what does a hero look like in real life? And what can two misfit kids do?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Wish and the Peacock by Wendy S. Swore

Living on a small Idaho vegetable farm, Paige’s family has faced tough times before, but a year after the loss of her father, her mom is overwhelmed by the financial challenges and reluctantly agrees to sell the farm. However, when a realtor pounds the “For Sale” sign into the family’s front yard, the reality (and finality) of it is almost too much to bear. Paige is determined to do whatever it takes to save her father’s farm, which has been in their family for generations.

With the help of her little brother, her best friends, Matteo and Kimana, and, of course, her trusty farm dog, T-Rex, Paige believes she can use her “farm smarts,” however sneaky, to try to stop the sale of the farm. She puts makeup on the cows so they look sickly to potential buyers, and she pranks the realtor by releasing a jar of grasshoppers in her car. Her efforts don’t stop reality from setting in; her mother and grandfather just don’t have enough money to keep the farm running and selling it is their only option. But who will be the new owners, and where will her family go?

Paige finds a new appreciation for the land, animals, and even the barn she once took for granted. One day while roaming in the hay barn, Paige finds a peacock. She’s fascinated by the beauty of the bird’s plumage but discovers an injured wing among its fancy feathers. Since the bird cannot fly and return home, Paige is eager to nurture it back to health. Her book-smart brother helps her care for the bird and tells Paige that peacocks are symbols of luck, protection, and integrity in folklore and legends.

Shortly after the exotic bird is discovered, a man dressed in a business suit shows up on the farm with his two children and claims ownership of the peacock. Paige is devastated by the prospect of yet another loss and, again, prepares to face an adversary.

Paige is suspicious of him, especially because he’s spending a lot time with her mom. But her first impressions are wrong and, like the peacock, his true colors show him in a positive light. He’s a journalist looking for a good, human-interest story about their farming community and Paige sees a way to make the farm a solution that will help everyone.

With all the changes and challenges she faces with her family, Paige learns that sometimes the idea of a home is less about place and more about the people you call a family and that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but an opportunity for working with others and building strength.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgInvestiGators by John Patrick Green

John Patrick Green’s goofy graphic novel series follows the super spy alligator duo the InvestiGators as they travel through the sewers and fight the forces of evil.

MANGO and BRASH are the INVESTIGATORS:
sewer-loving agents of S.U.I.T.* and scourge of supervillains everywhere!

With their Very Exciting Spy Technology and their tried-and-true, toilet-based travel techniques, the InvestiGators are undercover and on the case! And on their first mission together, they have not one but two mysteries to solve! Can Mango and Brash uncover the clues, crack their cases, and corral the crooks—or will the criminals wriggle out of their grasp?

*Special Undercover Investigation Teams

 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSnapdragon by Kat Leyh

Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon is a magical realist graphic novel about a young girl who befriends her town’s witch and discovers the strange magic within herself.

Snap’s town had a witch.

At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocks-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online—after doing a little ritual to put their spirits to rest. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.

They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic—and a connection with Snap’s family’s past.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe Boy Who Became a Dragon:  A Biography of Bruce Lee by Jim Di Bartolo

The astonishing story of martial arts legend Bruce Lee . . . told in spectacular graphic form.
Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 – in both the hour and the year of the dragon. Almost immediately, he was plunged into conflict: as a child in Hong Kong as it was invaded and occupied by the Japanese; as the object of discrimination and bullying; and as a teenager grappling against the influence of gangs.
As the world knows, Lee found his salvation and calling through kung fu – first as a student, then as a teacher, and finally as a global star. The Boy Who Became a Dragon tells his story in brilliant comic form.

 

 

 

That’s some of what’s coming in February. Let me know which February New Releases you’re most looking forward to reading in the comments below.