Month: October 2016
Alive by Chandler Baker (Disney/Hyperion) All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf) The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books) Six …
As the new school year gets into full swing, the Library of Congress will bring teachers and education experts from across the nation together in its second annual online conference …
Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery is about two best friends, Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl. Lou Lou loves horticulture and Pea loves art. Every Friday afternoon, they get together in Lou Lou’s backyard garden for their PSPP (Post-School-Pre-Parents) tea party. They chat about school, discuss Pea’s latest fashions, and plot the weekend’s activities.
But all plans go out the window when a series of small crimes crop up around El Corazón, their quirky neighborhood, right before the Día de los Muertos procession. First, Pea’s cousin’s quinceañera dress is tragically ruined. Then Lou Lou’s beloved camellia bush, Pinky, suffers a serious blow. And that’s just the beginning! When clues start to appear in El Corazón’s outdoor murals, the best friends join forces, using Lou Lou’s floral expertise and Pea’s artistic genius to solve the mysteries.
This is my first middle grade novel, and I began working on it when I was caring for my mom during an illness. My mom was a school librarian who cultivated my love of reading, so I felt that writing a children’s book was a fitting way to spend my time. I wanted to tell a story inspired by my neighborhood, San Francisco’s Mission District, and its amazing community art, food, traditions, and local culture.
Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?
I think of myself as an author from a diverse community. I am fortunate to live in a place where I am surrounded by a rainbow of different people who are my friends and neighbors. Being a part of this diverse community enriches my life immeasurably.
Part of that enrichment has been the improvement of my Spanish. But I’m not fluent, so I felt it was important to ask for help when I included Spanish dialogue or words in the book. My editor commissioned a native Spanish speaker to read the manuscript and provide us with feedback. So you could say I combined lived experience with research!
Who is your favorite character of all time in children’s or young adult literature?
It’s a toss-up! Alanna of Trebond from The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce is definitely a favorite. I love that she is a fierce and fearless girl who refuses to let naysayers and social norms stand in the way of her dreams.
Naima from Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins is another favorite. Like Alanna, Naima is brave and strong, and even dresses like a boy to pursue goals that are not usually achievable by women in her village. Naima’s commitment to her family and her determination to make things right also really speaks to me.
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you are forced to sell all of the books you own except for one. Which do you keep?
Sell all of my books? I can’t imagine! But if I had to, I’d keep The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s the perfect combination of smart, entertaining, and charming. And it’s truly a book that can be read over and over again.
What does diversity mean to you as you think about your own books?
Diversity, at least for Lou Lou And Pea, means a representation of the culture of my neighborhood as I experience it. My book incorporates Spanish language and Latinx characters, as well as related traditions inspired by ones that exist in the Mission. I think it’s important to note that my book is only based on a part of my city’s overall diverse community.
I also felt strongly about writing a story that was fun and celebratory with regard to its diversity. The Mission is very proud of its heritage, and I hoped to infuse this series with that joy. While there is a need for stories that explore prejudice and systemic injustices, I didn’t feel I could write that kind of book. To me, Pea and Lou Lou’s differing backgrounds should not be a surprise, but a matter of course. There are a growing number of communities in this country that are overwhelmingly diverse. And that’s very exciting.
What is your thought process in including or excluding characters of diverse backgrounds?
I never considered not including diverse characters in my book. A story inspired by the Mission that failed to reflect its diversity would not capture its vibrant reality. Many of the things I love about the neighborhood stem from its diversity.
I also wanted both girls to receive equal stage-time in the series. Too often, characters of color get sidelined in a story. I believe Lou Lou and Pea’s friendship is fun, supportive, and equitable. And while each book in the series alternates in featuring one of the two girls more prominently, they always work together to solve the mystery or problem at hand.
If you are an author, write an example of a paragraph that is tone deaf when it comes to cultural diversity, then write the correct version. Explain the differences in the third paragraph.
The crowning event of the holiday was a fun parade. At twilight, the streets around Lucky Alley would be packed with people holding boxes filled with trinkets and photos. Some people brought pretty flowers and others wore Halloween face paint and costumes.
The crowning event of Día de los Muertos was the procession. At twilight, the streets around Lucky Alley would be packed with people and their elaborate altars displaying candles, mementos, favorite foods, and photos of departed loved ones. Flowers were abundant, particularly marigolds, which were used to guide spirits to their altars. Many people even painted their faces to look like skeletons for the procession.
Both of these paragraphs are descriptions of the Día de los Muertos procession in my neighborhood. The first describes how the procession might look to an outside observer, but it is tone deaf because it fails to include any cultural signifiers as they relate to the holiday. The second – the actual description from Lou Lou and Pea - explains more about the traditions, as I understand them as a part of my community. To a certain extent it is relative: A Día de los Muertos procession in Mexico would surely be described differently and, not having experienced this event, I couldn’t pretend that my paragraph paints an accurate picture of another city’s traditions, or even another person’s experience of the procession in the Mission. That’s why attention to specifics and context is crucial in writing, but especially when writing beyond your own background.
Jill Diamond has loved children’s literature for as long as she can remember, thanks to her school librarian mother and the long, cold winters in Maine. She now lives in San Francisco with her husband and her son. Visit her at www.jilldiamondbooks.com
Little, Brown Books For Young Readers to Publish Debut Picture Book by Nobel Peace Prize-Winner Malala Yousafzai
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