New Releases

Cinco de Mayo, Middle-Grade Style

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated by many in the United States, but does everyone who celebrates know what the holiday commemorates?  A popular myth is that Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, similar to America’s Fourth of July.

But, it isn’t. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th.

Here’s the real story:  On the 5th day of May in 1862, though out-numbered and poorly equipped, Mexican soldiers held off French soldiers in the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. This stopped the the French from progressing to Mexico City. It was a victory worth celebrating!

Also worth celebrating are some great middle-grade titles that feature Latina/Latino characters.  But first, two words of caution as we think about diversity in our reading selections:

Not just today. Cinco de Mayo (or any holiday of cultural significance) is a great time to move readers toward more diverse book selection. But, let’s not limit that practice to the “culture of the month.”  Each and every day, we should strive for diversity in our home, classroom, school, and public libraries.

Not just the classics. There will always be that treasured and timeless book we adore. We love it for its heart and for its story. And, because its characters helped us learn more about a given culture (in this case, think Esperanza Rising), we tend to gravitate toward it again and again.  I say, Great! But, don’t stop there. Look for and champion new middle grade titles, like the ones below.

Click the book to go to the publisher’s page to read more about it.




Comment below with a book featuring Latina/Latino main characters that you’d like to read on Cinco de Mayo (or ANY day!)

Happy Book Birthday to Patricia Bailey and The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donavan

There are a few great joys in the writing world and a book birthday is certainly one of them. But I have found more and more that one of the most enduring joys of working in children’s books is seeing someone who just a few years ago was tentatively emb
arking on the process of writing a whole novel. Someone who is coming to their very first writers retreat. Someone who has work that they are ready to share with a mentor or a critique group for the very first time. And then to see their work grow over time and their connections in the book world develop and then one day they have a newly published book. And so I couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce our newest Mixed Up File member Patricia Baily and her debut novel The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan. I met Trish in 2011 at the Summer Fishtrap, a writers workshop held in the Wallowa mountains on the home ground of Chief Joseph’s band of the Nez Perse (Nimiipuu). Trish took my workshop and had a great story that she had worked really hard on. We’ve met several times at writer’s conferences over the last several years and every time Trish had grown as a
writer and gained confidence from her network of fellow writers. I couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce her to our MUF readers.

First things first. I think I saw some scenes from Kit Donavan in 2012, but how long have you been working on it altogether?
It seems like forever – but so much of that time was learning about the town of Goldfield and what was happening there during its boom years. I really started working in earnest on the writing in 2011 – when I received a Fishtrap Fellowship. So, I guess I’d say it’s taken six years to go from words on paper to a novel on a bookstore shelf.

The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan is set in a real mining boomtown. Can you tell us why you picked that time period and a little bit about your research process?

I’ve always loved stories set in the Old West. And I’ve always been particularly interested in the Turn of the Century. There was such a clash of old and new – stage coaches and automobiles, outhouses and electricity. When I came across the story of Goldfield, Nevada – with all its drama and contrast – I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to grow up in that environment. Lucky for me, a fair number of famous people passed through there, so the town was mentioned in letters and biographies that were easy to access. There’s also a thriving historical society in Goldfield and museums just down the road in Tonopah. I was able to go through old newspapers at the Central Nevada Museum and tour an old mine at the Tonopah Mining Park. I even got a private tour of Goldfield with one of the members of their Historical Society.

Historical societies are such a great resource for writers. I’ve been grateful for them many times over the years. I always struggle with finding the right names for my characters, and Kit is perfect. Is there a story or special meaning behind the names?
For some reason character names come to me pretty easily – which is good because I don’t start writing until I have one. Once I get an idea for the name that seems right, I look it up on one of those online name meaning sites to see if it fits the notes I’ve made about the character’s personality. In Kit’s case, it all meshed right away. There just wasn’t anything else to call her. She was Kit from the beginning – and it still feels completely right.

Kit is a spunky character – and one who is a little more outspoken than most girls at that time, which I love. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to develop Kit?
Kit was an interesting mix of spunky and sorry right from the beginning. She spoke her mind quickly – and often regretted it when faced with the consequences of her quick-temper. The trick with Kit was to address both sides of her personality – the part of her who wanted to be good and fit in and make friends and the part that just couldn’t stay quiet when faced with injustice – big and small. One of the things she has to reckon with is deciding if speaking her mind is worth the cost. She also knows that there are expectations for how a lady is to behave. One thing that I wanted to do was have Kit notice all the different ways women could be in the world. That – at least here in the gold camp – all women weren’t necessarily defined by the traditional lady-like life she’d been dreading.

You live in a small town with fewer resources and a smaller local writing network. How have you managed to forge a writing community there?

I think most of my local writing community has been a direct result of our county library system. For years, I’ve taken every writing-related class they’ve offered – no matter the genre. That’s how I met other people who were serious about writing. It’s taken a long time, and lots of meet ups at the local coffee shop, but I’ve managed to find a few other writers to meet with regularly. Sometimes we just talk about what we’re working on. Sometimes we critique pages or share a resource. Sometimes we talk about what we’re struggling with. I love my online writing friends, but it’s a real treat to have people you can talk to face-to-face.

I’d never make it without my critque partners either and three cheers for the local library! Next time you’re at your local library ask them to get a copy of The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan, a wild west adventure story with plenty of heart.

 

Interview with Celeste Lim, author of The Crystal Ribbon

In a story set in medieval China, Celeste Lim brings a young girl of exceptional heart together with the animal spirits of ancient myth to overcome a dark fate. Wed at age eleven to a three-year-old,  Jing’s life seems like a dismal sentence, and yet it is full of surprise and adventure.  In the interest of full disclosure, Celeste began weaving her tale while in my class at Manhattanville College’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing. From the first evening she read aloud, her writing voice captivated  me and I felt certain that her tale was destined for publication. And now that it’s here, I get to interview her!

Would you tell us a little about your writing background and early writing experience?

Growing up in Malaysia exposed me to a myriad of languages at a young age. We learned Bahasa Malaysia, our national language, in class; English was a compulsory subject as well because we were colonized by the British; and I went to a Chinese school because of my heritage. Therefore, what I has been exposed to growing up taught me that English books were written for and about Western people; Chinese books were written for and about Chinese people; Malay books for and about Malay people, and so on. So naturally, when I attempted to write my first English novel at age seventeen, I wrote a story about three fair-skinned, red-haired sisters who live in New York City, a place I’d only ever read about in books and saw on TV. That manuscript has been sitting in a hidden folder on my computer ever since.

How did you come to write Jing’s story?

Your first class focused on writing from our unique reservoir of seminal experience. I remember how groundbreaking it felt to me to realize that I was actually allowed to write about what I knew in a language that was supposedly foreign to my culture. That was a huge turning point in my writing journey and was also how Jing’s story was conceived.

The Crystal Ribbon’s magical creatures or jing, are important elements in the story. Could you explain more about them here? Did the jing characters spark your imaginyation as a child? Do you have a favorite jing?

This is one of my favorite things to talk about! Just like beings such as fairies and mermaids, jing are mythical creatures that sprung from the lips of storytellers, and since then have consistently appeared in ancient and medieval Chinese literature. The existence of jing came from the Taoist idea that through enough spiritual training, anything is able to attain a higher level of existence. Jing are non-human creatures that, after a hundred years of spiritual training, have attained the ability to speak, and a human level of consciousness and intelligence.

Because these ideas are so much a part of our mainstream religion, as a child I took them for granted, being more intrigued by gnomes and fairies. But now I do actually have a favorite jing–the huli jing, or fox jing! Other than being a very handsome creature, it feels like a very complex character, having the potential to be equal parts good and evil, which is why I chose it to be my character Jing’s unlikely friend.

Although Jing’s world contains magical helpmates, she couldn’t escape being sold into marriage at age eleven. At the hands of her three-year-old husband’s family, she suffers many cruelties. Were these scenes difficult to write? Explain how you approached them.

The novel actually started out as a third-person narrative. As a person living almost a thousand years later, I found it difficult to write in a way that helped me connect intimately to those experiences. But when my editor suggested I switch to first person, the barrier seemed to disappear. First person is not my writing strength, but in this point of view, I was forced to experience everything as Jing.  I found that the words in these scenes came easier and sounded more authentic, raw, and immediate.

Although The Crystal Ribbon is set in medieval China, Jing could be a role model for girls today. What qualities do you think serve her best?

I’ll name two of the traits that I admire in Jing, resilience and introspection. I believe her resilience stems from hope, something that she carefully preserved and did not let her hardships extinguish. Initially, her hope might be that things will eventually change for the better on their own, but I think it is her introspection, her constant self-examination, that allowed Jing to discover the strength to change the course of her life.

Having a first book published can be both thrilling and daunting. Since this is your first experience with having a book published, what surprised you about the process?

It was surprisingly less stressful than I anticipated! I am admittedly a bit of a Hermione Granger when it comes to things I’m unfamiliar with. I remember researching and reading up tons about the publishing process and hearing many anecdotes of bad publishing experiences from fellow authors. But fortunately, I have a good working relationship with my editor. I believe that is a huge reason why I feel safe and reassured in her hands.