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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!