Book Lists

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.

CUB ~ Cynthia L. Copeland Shares Her New Graphic Memoir & Enter A Giveaway!

Hi Everyone! I’m thrilled to have New York Times bestselling author Cynthia L. Copeland with us. It’s also pretty cool that we have a copy to give away, so make sure to scroll to the bottom for information on how to enter.

Okay, I can’t wait another minute to show you her latest release!

*lowers voice* It has pictures…😍

CUB by Cynthia L. Copeland


Released: January 7, 2020
Age Range: 8 – 12

A laugh-out-loud funny and empowering graphic memoir about growing up and finding your voice.

Twelve-year-old Cindy has just dipped a toe into seventh-grade drama—with its complicated friendships, bullies, and cute boys—when she earns an internship as a cub reporter at a local newspaper in the early 1970s. A (rare) young female reporter takes Cindy under her wing, and Cindy soon learns not only how to write a lede, but also how to respectfully question authority, how to assert herself in a world run by men, and—as the Watergate scandal unfolds—how brave reporting and writing can topple a corrupt world leader. Searching for her own scoops, Cindy doesn’t always get it right, on paper or in real life. But whether she’s writing features about ghost hunters, falling off her bicycle and into her first crush, or navigating shifting friendships, Cindy grows wiser and more confident through every awkward and hilarious.

“Copeland’s first graphic novel for kids successfully integrates the right balance of coming-of-age issues into those arising from her early-’70s setting; many of the latter are eerily similar to those that the country is still experiencing . . . This tale of middle-grade angst and self-consciousness is laced with humor and nostalgia.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

***

Doesn’t this sound like a well-rounded middle grade book? And to top it off . . . *lowers voice* It has illustrations . . . They are soooooo awesome, too.

Let’s give a huge Mixed-Up family hello to Cynthia!

Hi, Cynthia. I’m so glad you were able to stop by for a visit. I am beyond fascinated with graphic novels, and the fact that CUB is a memoir as well is made of awesomeness. Let’s begin with what inspired you to create your main character Cindy?
Cub was inspired by my experiences as a cub reporter in Connecticut in the early 1970s, and I tried to keep my character very close to the person I was in seventh grade. As the story begins, twelve-year old Cindy is very attached to her childhood best friend, Katie, even as Katie is gravitating toward the “cool and cruel” crowd. When Cindy’s favorite teacher connects her with a young, hip female journalist, Cindy begins her evolution from a quiet, somewhat insecure wallflower to a confident pre-teen who finds her voice, and is able to assert herself in both professional and social situations.

I’m sure a lot of middle schoolers will be inspired by Cindy’s fortitude.

How else do you think middle grade readers will relate to her?
Even though the story takes place nearly half a century ago, the pre-teen social issues Cindy faces are timeless. She initially tries to “play dead” to avoid the mean girls (“the predators”), but this plan falls apart when “the predators” discover she has her first boyfriend, and they try to do everything they can to break up the relationship.

Uh-oh. . .

Readers will cheer Cindy on as she finds a loyal group of friends who stand up for one another, at the same time that she becomes more proficient in and excited about newspaper reporting and looks forward to seeing her very first stories and photographs in the newspaper.

This is really inspiring.

Any suggestions on how young writers like Cindy can get involved in writing for their local communities?
Aspiring young writers should offer to cover events taking place at their schools for their local newspapers! Local news coverage is in crisis today, as advertisers spend their money elsewhere, and readers look to other (oftentimes unreliable) sources for information. Young journalists who write about school sports, club activities, or other events in a thorough and accurate way are providing a real service to the community – as they improve their own writing skills.

What do you hope young readers take with them from reading CUB?
I hope readers grasp the importance of journalists and journalism in our democracy. The truth matters, and our society can’t function without independent sources of accurate information. It’s not easy to be a journalist today – and that’s exactly why we need persistent and thoughtful journalists now more than ever.
I also hope that kids realize how important it is to pursue something they feel passionately about outside of school. Outside interests offer balance as well as perspective, and help kids see that even though daily social interactions can feel very high-stakes, there is a big world beyond the middle school hallways.

Without sharing spoilers, can you share something unique about Cindy’s story journey?
The self-confidence that Cindy gets from her experiences as a cub reporter not only help her as she covers stories and takes photos for the paper, but her newfound courage leads her to pursue a very interesting and creative summer job!

I really enjoyed this book. *lowers voice* And . . . it has graphics! 

What do you feel (or from your experience) is the importance of graphic novels in middle grade literature?
Graphic novels serve such an important role in middle grade literature, and I’m delighted that they are finally getting the attention and respect they deserve! This format helps kids read “up” because the images provide context for new vocabulary words. Visual storytelling also helps readers empathize with characters, as they look into the faces of those in the story. Young readers use critical thinking skills to understand how words and art combine to tell a complete story. And perhaps most importantly, kids naturally gravitate to graphic novels and are excited to read them!

Yes, it does help them read “up”. Love this!

What can authors do to help promote graphic novels in the classroom?
Authors can visit or Skype into classrooms and discuss the process of visual storytelling, and can help teachers find ways to incorporate their work into the curriculum. In Cub, for instance, I not only show journalists at work, but I highlight social issues that are relevant today: Earth Day, which celebrates its fifty-year anniversary this April, was intended to bring attention to environmental protection; the Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923, is still not a part of our Constitution; political turmoil at the top levels of our government persists; and unpopular wars rage on across the world.

*Readers – please read Cynthia’s answer again. It contains so much wisdom about inspire young readers and getting them to read.*

Lastly, would you share one piece of writing advice for our reading writers out there?
Read the kinds of books you think you’d like to write. And read critically: If you didn’t like a book, ask yourself why. Is it the pace you don’t like, or the character development, or the ending… ? What would you have done differently if you had been the author?

Definitely thought-provoking advice! Thank you so much for sharing Cindy and her journey through CUB. It’s been a pleasure. All the best to you always, from your Mixed-Up family…

About the Author

Cynthia L. Copeland has written over 25 books. CUB is her first graphic memoir for young readers. “I’ve always wanted to write about this period in my life,” she said. “The social pressures of middle school today (then junior high) are remarkably similar, and some of the political events feel eerily similar.” In CUB, young Cindy has a front row seat to many of the hot-button issues of the day including a shocking, protracted White House scandal, the fierce fight for gender equality, and the burgeoning environmental movement.     Website | Publisher

                                ***

Want to WIN your own paperback copy of CUB? Hop over to Twitter to retweet/follow/like THIS Tweet; giveaway US only. Winner announced on Twitter, February 7, 2020.

Thank you for reading! Now, go out and purchase CUB, and give it to a middle grade reader that needs to be inspired. You won’t be disappointed.

Say Hello to STEAMTeam2020!

The Mixed Up Files blog is excited to help the get word out about this New Release group, STEAMTeam2020

 

Looking for some great new STEM/STEAM (Science, Technoloy, Engineering, Art and Math) and titles to add to your classroom or library this year? Look no further than STEAMTeam2020.

What is STEAMTeam2020? A group of 40+ children’s authors who are passionate about all things science and technology and have new books releasing in 2020– both nonfiction and fiction!

Why create STEAMTeam2020?  It’s sometimes tough to get the word out about new books and even more difficult for teachers and librarians to discover them. That is why a lot of authors are teaming up to create debut groups, like this one. There are groups that highlight picture books and middle grade, but until now there hasn’t been a new release group dedicated solely to STEM and STEAM books.

Why are STEAM books so important?  STEAM-related books bring the spirit of inquiry, discovery, and creative problem-solving to your learners while engaging them in rich literacy experiences. ​

Who is part of STEAMTeam2020?

 

Jennifer Swanson                            Carrie Pearson                  Nancy Castaldo

Kelly Starling Lyons                         Lisa Amstutz                       Sarah Albee

Marie-Therese Miller                     Buffy Silverman                 Michelle Lord

Laurie Wallmark                              Tonya Bolden                    Kate Messner

Steve Swinburne                              Randi Sonenshine             Kirsten W. Larson

Jen Malia                                           Loree Griffin Burns          Marta Magellan

Pat Zietlow Miller                            Stacy McAnulty                 Alexis O’Neill

Vicky Fang                                         Darcy Pattison                  Julie K. Rubini

Melissa Stewart                               Rajani LaRocca                 Ruth Spiro

Jenna Grodzicki                              Lindsay H. Metcalf           Heather L. Montgomery

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan                   Aneta Cruz                         Patricia Newman

Linda Zajac                                       Sue Heavenrich                 Janet Slingerland

Lynn Huggins-Cooper                    Danielle Dufayat               Ella Schwartz

Laurel Neme                                     Gillian McDunn                Kourtney LaFavre

Maria C. Marshall                            Maria Gianferrari             Angie Smibert

 

 

What are some of the books you can look forward to seeing? 

Here is a preview. These are the books from STEAMTeam2020 authors that are releasing in January 2020.

 

 To see more, visit the website www.STEAMTeamBooks.com 

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at #STEAMTeam2020

  Join us on #MGBookChat on January 27th on Twitter. Look for us at many upcoming conferences (NSTA, ALA, ILA, NCTE, etc.)

Help us get the word out about STEAM/STEM books!

(And don’t forget to check out the Mixed Up Files very own STEMTuesday blog which will give you tips on how to use STEM/STEAM books in your classroom!)