Posts Tagged MG

Somos Americanos También – We Are Also American

 

 

We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

Finding Our Places in the World

Do you have any troubling childhood experiences that have stuck with you? Ones that have taken up permanent residence in your adult psyche? Maybe things someone said or did that you have not been able to forget —no matter how hard you try. I’d like to tell you about some of my memories as a child immigrant, because they underscore the need for diverse middle grade books. When misrepresentation, or lack of representation, of an entire continent, it’s people and languages are part of a childhood story – how does that affect how children find their place in the world?

The In-Between Years

Fourth to seventh grade seem to be pivotal childhood years. Maybe it’s because kids are at that magical age of in-between. An age of transition that can be powerful and perilous, hilarious and horrible. A lot of the troubling expereinces I remember happened during my middle school years. And they all start with words.

“Go back to Mexico!”

This is something a friend said to me once. She was ‘joking’. So many of the words that stick were meant to be jokes, but felt more like little punches. I told her I’d never been to Mexico. “Then go back to Spain!” she countered.

I explained that I’d never been there either. Puerto Rico? I had also never been. Laughter ensued. Nobody could understand what I was. After all, I spoke Spanish so I must be from Mexico, Spain or Puerto Rico. But I’m from Argentina. That was a strange place to be from in Buffalo, N.Y. all those years ago. I suppose it’s different now, but back then that was weird. I was weird, and always struggling to fit in. Struggling to find myself in books, TV shows, movies — in the world I lived in. But no matter how hard I looked, I wasn’t there.

argentina

Soy Argentina @aixasdoodlesandbooks

“Why are you white?”

My classmate was looking in our social studies textbook. There was a picture of an indigenous South American child dressed in traditional gaucho costume in a rural setting. My experience of South America was nothing like this child’s experience, but he was the only representation of a person from my entire continent in our textbook.  I explained that I was from the big city, Buenos Aires. I told my classmate that I had never even seen a gaucho, and that not everybody from South America looked like this child, dressed like this child, or had that kind of lifestyle. But my classmate persisted in wanting to know why I was white. I explained that my grandparents and great grandparents were mostly European.“Then you’re not really one of them,” my classmate declared, “or one of us.”

Words can be daggers sometimes. Because what does an in-between child want more than anything in the world? It is often to fit in somewhere, anywhere, to be like everyone else. Most children want to find connections with the protagonists of books, the characters in cartoons, the heroes of history. Some children never do.

“You’re not American.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this, both inside and outside of school settings. In fact, I am American by birth, as is every South and Central American. We are from the Americas. It is true that those born in the US are most often referred to as ‘American,’ but that does not negate the fact that the rest of us also have claim to that label and all that it implies. We also come from a continent that was populated and thriving when colonization occurred. In many countries we also had slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. We also are culturally diverse mosaics made up of Native Americans, the descendants of enslaved peoples, descendants of immigrants from all over the world, and a mixture of all of those groups. We also hold the brutal, glorious and complicated history of what it means to be American. But the books I found as a child, and even as an adult, often didn’t reflect that.

america latina“Why does your mom talk like that?”

My mother had a heavy accent. She talked ‘like that’ because she learned English in her thirties. My mother was a physician who spoke fluent English but would never pass for a native speaker, and why should she? She had a full life before immigration. She had an established identity as an Argentinian professional woman. I am ashamed to say that I was ashamed of her accent when I was a kid. Every time I saw a character with an accent in a book, cartoon or movie, the accent was a source of ridicule or shame. Unfortunately, I internalised that message.

How can books help?

As a child immigrant, kidlit author/illustrator, professor of diversity studies and teacher education, I am convinced that the more books we have that represent linguistic and cultural minority communities in all of their varieties, the better. In Latin America and the Caribbean there are over thirty countries and dozens of languages spoken aside from Spanish and Portuguese. Latin Americans come in all skin tones, eye and hair colors, shapes, and sizes. Native/ Indigenous Latin Americans or Pueblos Originarios (Original Peoples as they are called in some countries) have rich histories, cultures, belief systems and a wealth of knowledge to explore. Luckily, more kidlit books are coming out from Latin American and Caribbean authors that challenge the stereotypes of what it means to be an American from south of the US border. Still, even more are needed. Below are a few books that I recommend (or that have been recommended to me) by Latinx and Caribbean authors that provide captivating, thoughtful, and fresh perspectives on all kinds of American stories.

Libros Recomendados – Recommended books

The following books contain a rich variety of experiences and adventures for kids in those in-between years who are also often in-between cultures. Most of these books feature immigrant children or children of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean and are written by authors who have the authenticity and background to represent those cultures in the diverse and complex way they deserve to be represented. Happy Reading!

Argentina

lobizona Lobizona (YA) by Romina Garber – This book has so much to offer, experiences of the undocumented, conflicting feelings about identity and belonging, Argentine culture and werewolves!

“This layered novel blends languages and cultures to create a narrative that celebrates perseverance.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

(**new book by this author – Cazadora)

Chile

nines

Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile by Maria Jose Ferrada, translated by Lawrence Schimel, illustrated by Maria Elena Valdez. A book to be read and remembered, a tribute to children whose lives were lost by forces not of their own creation. Kirkus

Click on the image for more information from the publisher

Colombia

fish bookWhat if a Fish (MG) by Anika Fajardo  – This book takes place between the US and Colombia and centres around one child’s search for his own story of belonging with some magical realism thrown in.

Click on the link to read my interview with the author and on the book itself to to to the publisher’s page.

Multilayered and convincing, the book will have readers rooting for its sweet and smart protagonist. Kirkus

Cuba

total eclipseThe Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez (MG) by Adriana CuevasA charming and vibrant debut fantasy”. Kirkus.

Click on the title link to see the MUF interview of the author and learn more about this book, and click on the image for info from the publisher.

(**new book by this author– Cuba in my Pocket – interview coming up in 2022)

Guatemala

The Other Half of Happy (MG) by Rebecca Balcarcel “At its core, Balcárcel’s novel is a story of identity within one’s self and within a broader community.” School Library Journal

This is a Pura Belpre Honor book. Click on the image for information from the publisher.

 

Haiti

flew awayHaiti: The Year I Flew Away (MG) by Marie Arnold. “Pratchett like world building centres immigrant kids in a story filled with culture, humor and heart.” Kirkus. 

Click on the image for more information on this magical book from the publisher.

 

Mexico

Aida SalazarThe Moon Within (MG) by Aida Salazar “A dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar.” This is a novel in verse that explores multiple layers of identity as well as gender and heritage.

Click on the image for more information from the publisher.

 

 

garzaThe Garza Twins series (MG) by David Bowles Bowles creates an action-packed story based on Aztec and Mayan mythology while capturing the realities of life in contemporary South Texas and Mexico.” –Pura Belpré Award Committee

Click on the image for more information from the publisher.

Peru

lolaThe Lola Levine series by Monica Brown  “Celebrate a truly accepting multicultural character.” Kirkus

Click on the image for more information on this entire, fun, young MG series.

 

 

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival This Week!

And don’t forget to participate in the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival this week streaming on YouTube with interesting panels for teachers, and authors, and interactive activities for readers of all ages. See my blogpost with festival organisers for more information or click on the heading to go directly to the festival YouTube area.

 

LKBF invite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Supriya Kelkar, author of THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a treat today!  Today we have Supriya Kelkar, author of That Thing About Bollywood which is out now from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

JR: Hi Supriya, and welcome to Mixed-Up Files!

SK: Thank you! It is so great to be back!

 

JR: First off, for those who don’t know, what can you tell us about the book and where the idea for the story came from?

SK: Yes! Bollywood is the nickname for the Hindi film industry. It is one of the largest film industries in the world. I grew up never getting to see myself in an American book, TV show, or movie so Bollywood gave me a little of the representation I was looking for. It was a space where my food and cultures and clothing, all of which were mocked daily in my small town that didn’t appreciate diversity, were celebrated. And it was a place where people who looked like me were heroes. I learned Hindi by watching 3 Hindi movies a week and even went on to become a Bollywood screenwriter as an adult, working on the writing teams for several big Bollywood films, including India’s entry into the Oscars, and another film which was the top grossing Bollywood movie of all time at that moment in time.

So as an adult, I tried for a very long time to put my love for Bollywood into a book. One day I realized most Bollywood films from the 80s and 90s were very obvious about what the characters were going through. Feelings were loud, things were exaggerated and colorful. So I thought what if there is a classic-Bollywood loving kid who is the opposite of that, not very good at showing her feelings?

And that’s how the idea for That Thing about Bollywood came to be. It is the story of Sonali, a Bollywood-loving kid who isn’t very good at expressing herself and showing her true feelings. One day a life-changing event causes her to get a magical condition called Bollywooditis, which makes her express herself in the most obvious way possible, through Bollywood song-and-dance numbers. As the magic spreads, Sonali must find out what is causing it and how to stop it before all her true memories and the feelings associated with them are gone forever.

 

JR: That really does sound amazing! Last time you were here, I told you that absolutely love Bollywood movies! What is it about the genre that makes for good storytelling?

SK: Bollywood, like many kinds of world cinema, is escapism at its finest. It’s full of joy and drama, striking colors and incredible dances. I think it can be a powerful way to tell really serious stories too, and sometimes the musical format can help deliver messages from your theme really easily.

I used some of that theory when it came to writing That Thing about Bollywood too. The fun of seeing your main character bursting out in big song-and-dance numbers let me go into really serious issues too like changing families and health issues.

JR: Last time you gave us some of your favorites, have there been any newer Bollywood films that you’d like to add to the list?

SK: I did not do a very good job at keeping up with the newer Bollywood movies over the past year and the ones I did see were not my favorites. But I did spend that time introducing my kids to older Hindi movies. The one movie we watched over and over again was Lagaan, streaming on Netflix. It was my favorite movie back in 2001, and was nominated for an Oscar. It is a historical epic with songs and dances and colonization and decolonization and my kids love to see it.

JR: I’m going to have to check that out! In your book, you deal with some heavy topics, like divorce. Was that tough to tackle and find the right balance for a Middle Grade audience?

SK: It was initially when I was outlining the book and thinking about its structure and the scenes. But when I started writing, the magic of Bollywooditis let me give readers a break when things were really tough in Sonali’s parents’ marriage, and those magical elements really helped me explore Sonali’s feelings in a way that felt right for a middle grade audience.

JR: I usually break out into song as well when dealing with tough topics. How much of you is in Sonali?

S: I am very much the opposite of Sonali, in that my emotions are very obvious to anyone who sees me. I will say at times I felt embarrassed of how easily I would cry when I felt for something I was going through, or even when I would cry because I’d really deeply feel what someone else is going through. I can still remember being a kid and having to sing prayers at a family friend’s grandparent’s memorial service. I don’t think I’d ever even met the grandparent because they lived in India. But something about seeing our family friends upset led me to sob throughout the singing. I remember some adults laughed in surprise, wondering why I was so upset, before trying to comfort me. I could still get a little embarrassed thinking about that moment as an adult, but thanks to writing this book and going on Sonali’s journey with her, I know that you are entitled to your feelings and it’s actually a great thing to care so deeply for others and have empathy.

JR: I agree. If you could escape into one film, which would it be?

SK: Could Jurassic Park be a Bollywood musical? I’d like to think it could be. I’d love to sing and dance about my feelings while dealing with those dinosaurs.

JR: I’ll count it as a musical for this. Many authors use local flavor to influence some of their books. Does where you live now lend anything to your books?

SK: It does! I grew up in Michigan and still live there so I loved setting American as Paneer Pie there and making the fictional town there as close to my hometown as possible. Similarly, because I lived in L.A. for a while and traveled there a lot for work and vacations, I felt like it was the perfect setting for That Thing about Bollywood because there are already magical elements about L.A. thanks to Hollywood, and it seemed like the best place for Sonali’s Bollywooditis to manifest.

JR: Read on your site that you have a purple belt in karate. How up to date is that?

SK: This question made me laugh for a really long time! It is sadly not very up-to-date. But it was clearly a bragging point in my childhood bio from 1989.

JR: I still would fear you! In that same vein, would you describe yourself as the toughest MG author out there?

SK: Well I didn’t see any other MG authors saying they could sing-and-dance their way out of dino trouble, so maybe?

JR: TRUE! What are you working on next?

SK: I’m working on my next middle grade novel, several picture books including my 2023 release, My Name, and I’m working on my illustrator debut for American Desi, a book by Jyoti Rajan Gopal that comes out in June 2022 from Little, Brown.

 

JR: I can’t wait to see all of them! Any upcoming appearances?

SK: I was at Books of Wonder in May and there is a replay of the panel in case you miss it, Cafe Con Libros on June 1st, and at Nerd Camp KS, Nerd Camp PA, and Nerd Camp CT this summer!

JR: You Aare definitely busy! How can people follow you on social media?

SK: Instagram: @supriya.kelkar
TikTok: @supriya.kelkar Twitter: @supriyakelkar_ 

 

JR: I’d like to once again thank Supriya for joining us here at Mixed-Up Files, and everyone else, make sure you go out and get a copy of THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD!

 

Until next time, Mixed-Up Filers, have a great start to summer!

 

Jonathan

WNDMG Wednesday–Guest Post–Chad Lucas on Letting Boys be Boys

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

This month on WNDMG, we’re excited to feature a guest post from author Chad Lucas. Chad’s debut middle grade, THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE (Abrams Books), releases next week–May 11.

Thanks A Lot, Universe Book Cover

In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “tenderhearted and bold,” and furthermore:

“Featuring snappy dialogue from earnest tween voices, skillful prose guides this engrossing story from start to finish. The themes and social commentary found here are gentle and organic—never heavy-handed—and the plot’s antagonists are far from two-dimensional, expertly reflecting real-life human complexity for a middle-grade audience.”

— Kirkus Reviews

Letting Boys Be Boys

By Chad Lucas

Here’s one not-so-secret reason why I love writing for middle-grade readers: there is no one—I mean no one—more hilarious than a group of middle schoolers in their natural habitat.

Outside of writing, I get to interact a lot with boys between 10-13 as a basketball coach. When I’m in the gym with my team, two things usually happen at least once during every practice or game:

  1. Some kid will try something that makes me think, “Why on earth did you do that?”
  2. Someone—often the same kid—will make me laugh with my whole chest.

Middle school boys are a riot. They’re full of opinions and bursting with questions, like “Can you dunk, Coach?” (With these 41-year-old knees? Child, please.) In that dynamic phase between childhood and full-blown teendom, they’re a whirlwind of contradictions and energy—busting out rap lyrics, piling on each other like puppies, inventing elaborate five-step celebrations for when one of them blows past a defender or swishes from deep like Damian Lillard.

They can be so sophisticated and funny, yet sometimes they’re not sure if they want to grow up.

“Puberty is gross and weird,” one particularly exuberant sixth-grader said at practice one night.

“It’s a natural stage of life. Everyone goes through it,” I offered.

“Not me, Coach,” he declared. That was my big laugh for the night.

I’ve tried to harness some of that whirlwind in my debut middle grade novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe—both the angst of dealing with changes big and small and the sheer joy of boys being boys.

Now, I know that’s a loaded phrase. “Boys will be boys” has been used to downplay or dismiss some inexcusable things. But I’m also aware of all the mixed messages that boys—especially Black boys—receive on what it means to be a boy, and how the world will see and treat them.

Toxic masculinity is a powerful thing. So is the insidious racism that can turn a sweet, playful Black or brown kid into a “threat” in mere seconds. Our boys aren’t always allowed to be boys.

I know a book can’t single-handedly solve those problems. But I hope that readers who pick up Thanks a Lot, Universe will see some healthy representation of how complex and fully human boys can be.

My main characters, Brian and Ezra, are both ballers. Brian also struggles with social anxiety that grows into full-blown panic attacks after a family crisis upends his life. Meanwhile, Ezra wants to help but he’s still coming to terms with his crush on Brian, and he’s not sure he’s ready to let his friends know how he really feels.

One of my older supporting characters, Gabe, is a high-school athlete who ends up befriending Brian and Ezra for reasons I won’t give away here. I’ve had multiple readers tell me how much they love Gabe, and I think it’s because he’s equal parts swagger and vulnerability. That’s what I love about him, anyway.

Without being heavy-handed about it, I think it’s important to give boys permission to contain multitudes. They can be loud, sporty, sweaty, goofy… and they can be artsy, anxious, sensitive, soft. They can question their sexuality, or what it means to identify as a boy. It helps when they see that full range of representation in books.

And boys, especially Black and brown boys, deserve to see those many facets of their identities explored with joy. Of course, that doesn’t mean we writers should never address difficult topics; there’s certainly some angst and heartache in Thanks a Lot, Universe. But some of my favourite scenes involve Ezra—a queer, biracial Black boy—just riffing with his friends, piling on jokes that grow increasingly ridiculous until they collapse into absurdity.

In a world where kids like Ezra are often reduced to issues, threats or problems to be solved, writing stories where they just get to be boys still feels like a small act of revolution.

###

 

Thanks A Lot, Universe

Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family in Nova Scotia. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching basketball, and he’s rarely far from a cup of tea. His debut middle-grade novel THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE (Amulet Books/Abrams Kids) releases in May 2021.

 

Thanks A Lot, Universe Book Cover

Thanks A Lot, Universe

Brian has always been anxious, whether at home or in class or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself, and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again…

Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize he has a crush on him…

But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and in each other.

We Need Diverse Middle-Grade posts once a month, drawing on work from our own team of MUF contributors as well as from guest authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers. You can count on our presence here on Mixed-Up Files to shine a light on the stories, work, and truth of all those who are still underrepresented in this field. You’ll be able to recognize our monthly posts by seeing our WNDMG  logo: the diverse world we envision. Our artwork is by contributor Aixa Perez-Prado.

Guest Posts for We Need Diverse Middle Grade

If you’re interested in being considered for a guest post slot on WNDMG, please feel free to email: mufcommunications@gmail.com.  Please Note: We do not pay for guest blog posts.