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I ended my book tour in Houston, where I visited an array of places – from libraries to schools to bookstores to speaking at my alma mater, Rice University.
Rice was my first stop in town. I gave a talk on the craft of writing for children and why grown-ups should read picture books. Rice has a lovely campus, which has only gotten nicer over time with the mix of classic and modern architecture. The talk was hosted by Rice University Public Affairs’ Multicultural Community Relations and SOLAR, the Society of Latino Alumni of Rice. Mil gracias!
I visited one school in Houston, or technically, in Bellaire – Horn Elementary. But I also got to read to preschoolers from Ninfa Laurenzo Early Childhood Education Center at Houston Public Library’s Stanaker Neighborhood Library. The kids also worked on coloring their own masks, you know, to go with the capes all of them were wearing already. They got this superhero thing down!
On my final day of book touring, I visited Brazos Bookstore for a story time and signing and also did another story time and craft activity at Houston Public Library’s Jungman Neighborhood Library. Visiting the libraries made me miss the neighborhood libraries in my former home of Washington, D.C. I’m glad I got to spend time in a few good ones while here in the States.
And that’s it. Fifteen days of a packed book tour in the books! And I enjoyed every minute of it.
I hope to do some more book signings and story times next time I return to the U.S., later this year.
Thanks to the Hebbronville Museum Foundation and the Jim Hogg County Public Library in my hometown in South Texas for inviting me to speak to the community. It was a packed house in the meeting room of the First National Bank, and so wonderful getting to see the faces of so many folks who have known me since I was a kid. I got to meet a lot of kids I’d never met before, and I got to see many of my former teachers, whom I owe a lot of gratitude for their enduring support, even at my grown age. My junior high librarian, Mrs. Irma Salinas, even brought me a little gift – a t-shirt covered in POW’s and BAM’s, just like the ones in Lucía the Luchadora. Best. Shirt. Ever. I’ll have to snap a pic of myself in it soon. Thanks, Mrs. Salinas!
That’s the great thing about growing up in a small town. You never really outgrow it.
I got to do two Skype visits recently, one while I was in Houston and the other from here in Nairobi. Same school, different days and for different groups of kids. Both great!
Austin is always amazing, but in the spring, it’s especially nice. I had a terrific few days in the city while on my book tour. First stop was a Saturday morning story time and book signing at BookPeople.
A few months earlier, I asked my FB friends who lived in Austin what their favorite bookstore in the city was, and hands down, most said BookPeople. So, I was super happy to visit. The bonus: arriving and seeing my name on a marquee!
Okay, that was cool. But actually, the real bonus was seeing friends I hadn’t seen in forever here – friends from growing up, from college, folks I’ve worked with, friends who are like cousins, my BFF since elementary. Plus, their kids. And of course, I loved meeting new folks and little lucha fans.
In the afternoon of that same day, I visited another great bookstore, BookWoman, and did another story time and a coloring activity with the kids. It was also a great visit and I snagged some terrific books for myself to take back to Nairobi with me. Because Girl Power is a way of life no matter where you’re living in the world.
Uphaus ECC was an especially fun visit. Check out the photos of Uphaus ECC librarian Denise Graham, who dressed up just like Lucía the luchadora! And she dressed up the school mascot, an oversized stuffed panda, as Pandita la luchadora, too. As I was signing in at the front office upon arrival, a young woman next to me gasped when she saw me and said, “OMG, you’re the author!” I was surprised, and was like, yeah, how do you know? And she said, “There’s pictures of you all over the school!”
There sure were. I was totally wowed by the preparation Ms. Graham put into the visit. The kids had even made their own lucha libre masks. Uphaus is so lucky to have such an enthusiastic and caring librarian.
I also received a wonderfully warm reception at Graham Elementary. I got to speak to second graders there, which was totally different than speaking to pre-schoolers who are more into sharing thoughts than asking questions. I fielded some excellent questions about writing from the Graham students.
I also loved that they wore capes that day. A towel. A blanket. Doesn’t take much to be a superhero!
After NYC, I flew into Texas where I spent most of the time on my book tour. First stop was San Antonio.
San Antonio has always been a place where I feel super comfortable. People are genuinely nice (and lots of them look like me), the freeways don’t move as fast or as crazy as Houston and there are H-E-B’s everywhere. There’s also an unshakeable atmosphere of fiesta all year round, even when it’s not officially Fiesta, so you can’t help but be happy.
San Antonio is steeped in history, but every time I visit the city I discover something or some place new. Last summer was the first time I visited the Pearl Brewery district. I ate, visited the shops, walked down the new Riverwalk area and got some books at The Twig bookstore. I had a nice visit, so I was super happy to return to The Twig for a story time and book signing during this book tour. It was on a Sunday, and the farmer’s market in the Pearl district was in full swing, with live music and families sprawled out on the grassy areas. Despite the storm that passed in the morning, it turned out to be a lovely afternoon.
I also got to do a story time and book signing at the Barnes & Noble at The Shops at La Cantera. It’s a huge store with a large children’s book section and an adorable story time stage. I like small bookstores, but I also love getting lost in a big one, especially one that smells of coffee.
I also visited The Little School at Keystone and Burleson Early Childhood Center during the week and read to the students and talked to them about the inspiration for Lucía the Luchadora, a bit about lucha libre and a bit about me.
My mother lives in San Antonio, so she accompanied me for my book signings in San Antonio and Austin. She was pretty excited and exceedingly proud of me, which even at my late-thirties age kind of embarrasses me. It was sweet, and now I can see where I get that intense mother’s love I have for my own daughters from.
I was in NYC from March 25-28 to kick off my two-week book tour for Lucía the Luchadora. It was my first trip back to the States since moving to Nairobi in late December, so it was SUPER exciting to be home. I’ve been hanging out in sandals and sunscreen all ‘winter’ long. My mind hasn’t made the below-the-equator switch yet and it’s actually ‘summer’ here. So, instead of being sick of the cold by this point in early ‘spring’ as I would have been if I was still living in D.C., I was actually happy to put on a pair of thick, warm socks and a comfy coat and see the gritty mounds of weeks-old snow taking up parking spaces on the crammed city streets. Also, while Kenya has some of the best coffee in the world, it’s not that easy to find a cup of delicious drip brewed coffee in Nairobi (my go-to place is Java House), but in New York, you’re guaranteed fresh coffee on every corner. Every. Single. Street Corner. Praise for convenience. 🙌🏽☕️
The flight from Nairobi to NYC took about 21 hours. A bit exhausting, yup, but I was ready to see a show on my first night in town, so my good writer friend Miguel Angeles got us tix to go see John Leguizamo: Latin History for Dummies. Jumping into Latinidad was the BEST way to jump back into America, especially because my Latina identity is strangely invisible and not obvious living in Kenya. I’ve been mistaken for a dozen other ethnicities, but never Latina. And c’mon, I’m textbook Latina. My mind is still processing this new life of living as a Latina in Africa. It’s kind of a mind boggle.
On to the book tour …
My first book tour stop was on Saturday at McNally Jackson bookstore. I did a story time, signed books and helped kids craft their very own lucha libre masks. My sixth grade math teacher from my small town in South Texas and a former colleague that I hadn’t seen in ages showed up unannounced, which was just made my heart so happy. It was like that for the whole book tour. I got to see so many faces I hadn’t seen in real life in forever. I’m thankful for all the love and support of friends and family.
That Sunday, I visited powerHouse on 8th bookstore in Brooklyn. It’s one of the two Brooklyn bookstores owned by my publisher POW! kids books. I got to meet my wonderful editor Jordan Nielsen for the first time, too. Jordan did an amazing job in shepherding the book through as the words and illustrations and layout were all combined so beautifully.
On Monday, I visited two Brooklyn schools – P.S. 1 The Bergen School and P.S. 310 The School for Future Leaders – thanks to the great folks at the Brooklyn Public Library, who set up the visits. On Tuesday, I visited P.S. 3 The Charrette School in Manhattan.
I also visited the studios of Latino U.S.A., the radio show that airs on NPR. I sat down with host Maria Hinojosa to talk about Lucía.
And then I was off to Texas on Wednesday … more on next post.
I’ll admit I’m still pretty new to writing for children, but when I first stepped into it a few years ago, one of the first names I heard over and over again was Betsy Bird. She’s a children’s librarian and she reviews kid lit. Then, I heard her speak at a writing conference I attended in Virginia last year, and I knew why she was such a big deal. She’s a woman with a genuine and contagious passion for children’s literature who knows her stuff inside out and outside down and up. Last month, she wrote a review of Lucía the Luchadora on her blog hosted on the School Library Journal’s website. If I told you I got a little emotional when reading the review I’d be lying.
I had a torrent of feels.
Because reading reviews is a new thing for me, and it’s not quite like sitting at a parent-teacher conference and listening to the teacher give you feedback on your child. And Lucía is kinda like my child. Or like the feedback your writing critique partners give you. It’s more like Ultimate Feedback, because your book has been written and is out there, and can’t be changed. It’s done.
And those feels I had, well, they went beyond the book because when Betsy Bird reviews a book she’s putting it in a wider context. She starts this review by talking about an experience she had as a librarian where kids were looking for books on lucha libre, and she didn’t have anything to offer them because those books are few and far between. I have a deep respect for young readers and the sorts of stories they crave and deserve, and I’m thankful to Ms. Bird for making her review of this book about them, too.
It’s a long and thorough-as-can-be review, which also blew me away. Here are some of the highlights:
And then, this year, I saw Lucia the Luchadora and something in me broke wide open. Cleverly equating luchadoras with superheroes while tackling issues of sexism and cultural assumptions head on, this is the book that gave my 5-year-old daughter the idea to create her own luchadora outfits in fine and fancy style. Literally inspirational.
Of course, it’s not as if the North American market is positively overflowing with Latino-American picture books. In spite of the existence of the Pura Belpre Awards for Latino/Latina writers and illustrators, a study conducted by the CCBC in 2015 found that only 2.5% of picture books published contained characters with Latinx backgrounds. Garza’s choice to make the book culturally appropriate AND massively appealing in its subject matter is remarkable. We hear a lot about kids needing more diverse books and this is very true. But we additionally need more fun diverse books, and “Lucia” fits that need perfectly.
This is a book that positively sizzles on the page. Much of the credit of this sizzling action goes to Ms. Garza, author extraordinaire. Right from the start she’s acting on some pretty classic comic book tropes. Onomatopoetic words appear beside Lucia as she goes “POW” and “BAM” like a classy episode of the classic Batman and Robin television show from the 60s.
And did I mention the endpapers? Boy, you know I like a book when I start waxing eloquent on endpapers. The first ones you see display testimonial images to both Lucia’s abuela’s life (wedding photos, pictures of her cat, icons of Mary, lighted candles) and her loves (El Santo, her luchadora mask, etc.).
Children’s librarians are hemmed in by the constraints of the publishing industry. If they don’t make ’em, we can’t buy ’em. That’s why a book like Lucia the Luchadora is so important. Funny, exciting, and truly beautiful, this book is good for what ails you. Kids will eat it up with a spoon but beware. After reading this book they may want to know even MORE about luchadores and luchadoras. You better get ready to answer their questions. I suggest you bone up on your reading now. Start with this book. You hardly find one better.
While I was in Texas a few weeks ago on book tour, I talked with the Houston Chronicle about Lucía, writing and why I made the leap from journalism to writing for children. You can read the story here. Here’s some of what we talked about:
Garza, who has a background in journalism and writing, said she wanted to write her first picture book for kids like her — and for kids like her daughters. “I was looking for something I wasn’t finding,” she said: picture books that featured kids who looked like her kids.
Just a few years ago, a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center study revealed that only about 3 percent of kids’ books are by or about Latinos. “Animals and trucks are more widely represented in children’s books than Latinos,” Garza said. So she wrote “Lucía the Luchadora,” hoping to make a small dent in that statistic.
Of course, that’s not the only reason I decided to write for children, but it’s the one that gives me the greatest feeling of urgency in doing so. Below is a graphic of that study referenced in the article. Looking at those figures should give everyone – parents, educators, writers, librarians, bookstore owners, book buyers, the publishing industry – a sense of urgency.
The School Library Journal, the premiere publication for librarians and information specialists who work with children and teens, has given Lucía the Luchadora a Starred Review. And their verdict:
A shining debut outing for author and illustrator, this endearing and humorous title is sure to put a bit of KA-POW into storytimes! A must-have.
Wowzies. Danke. Actually, when I read the story aloud at a story time, I have the kids yell out back to me the KA-POWs and BAMs after I say them, and sometimes I have them give me a superhero pose while they say it. I call it a lucha libre warm up. It seems to make the kids hold their head up a little more, puff their chest out a bit more. Seeing this has made me think of Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on how body language shapes who you are:
Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.
For girls and boys, striking superhero poses while yelling out KA-POW and BAM isn’t just fun. I think it can actually go a long way in helping them find the hero and the courage and confidence they all have within.