Wednesday, June 29, 2022

THE MUSIC I SEE: Covid-Related Poetic Perceptions Carol Coven Grannick

I've always loved the natural world, and this intensified during the last two years of Covid. A much greater percentage of my poetry was created in response to visual stimulation—anything that caught my eye and my emotions with surprise, delight, or awe.

And most of the visuals that I responded to were saturated with what felt like music and its BFF, dance. It seemed as if my brain locked on particular sights that felt lyrical, rhythmic, powerful in a way that begged for poetry. Some of that poetry is written, and some waits to be written from the photographs I captured. But all of it was music to me.

As I tried to find a way to describe my experience for this post, I received a guest column from Alex Wharton, "About Poetry" via Liz Brownlee's Poetry Summit blog. Alex put into words what I was having trouble describing...that being a poet, writing poetry is about "how we observe the living, the everyday—how much of it we absorb, let in. And tell again, again and again—until it's something that satisfies our soul."

And we each observe and absorb differently, with overlap of course, as our magnificent brains process information growing from our passions, our past, our emotions, and so, so much more. 

My intensified vision of so many things in the world feeling like music and dance continues to provide immense pleasure. I'll share some samples, below (all photographs are mine):

A twirling dancer on the pond...


A dancer en pointe...


 

A chorus of prairie grass singing in the wind...


A trio of dancers, arms curved to the music...



The corps de ballet...


A conductor and chamber group...


A dancer performing Alvin Ailey's Cry...


 

I never puzzled about this intensified experience of how I see, absorb, give meaning to, and try to capture in poetry. I love it. It's familiar and yet full of surprises and delight. Personification increasingly found its way into my poetry, giving me an even more intimate relationship with those objects that touched me deeply and through poetry, could speak to me of imagined experience. Some sights I've seen were so impactful emotionally that I have not yet found the words.

I did briefly puzzle about why this particular tendency to see objects in this way had intensified, and an answer came quickly that makes all the sense in the world to me. We 'default' to the things that comfort us in hard times. These experiences bring surprise, delight, even awe in otherwise difficult times. They have brought these things, as well as fun and laughter, into my poetry, balancing to some extent the emotional impact of other realities in our world that matter deeply.

I've had more time during the pandemic to enjoy other poets' work, too, especially on Poetry Friday, where I find a community of poets who have overlapping and different ways they process and experience what they see, live, and feel.

Alex Wharton writes, "Poetry is such a dynamic thing, imaginative, living. I want children to know of its looseness, playfulness and freedom. But also of its power to change lives, save lives.

And the thing about saving lives? A good thing to remember...not only for the children, but for the poets as well.



Petrified Dune, Snow Canyon State Park, Utah
 
Once I was music
sand sifting settling
into curving lines
notes of earth 
rising falling
as music does
Listen:
I am not rock alone 
 
©Carol Coven Grannick 2022, Draft




 

 

 

                                                                      


 

 



Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Happy Book Birthday, FUNKY FUNGI! An Interview with Grogger Sue Heavenrich by Tina Cho

We have a special treat today. I interviewed one of our own Groggers, author Sue Heavenrich! Congratulations to her and co-author Alisha Gabriel on their new book FUNKY FUNGI: 30 ACTIVITIES FOR EXPLORING MOLDS, MUSHROOMS, LICHENS, AND MORE, published by Chicago Review Press. Read our interview about co-writing a nonfiction book for kids!


Tina: How did you come up with the idea for a book about fungus?

Sue: About ten years ago I drove off to a Highlights Foundation workshop with a composition book and a handful of pencils. The workshop focused on writing nonfiction for kids, and I’m sure I’ve got all the notes somewhere. One thing I remember, though, was heading down a trail with Alisha (my co-author) and stopping to take photos of some mushrooms. As we walked and talked, we realized we both had ideas for books about fungi. I invited Alisha to join my critique group and then, during the pandemic lockdown of 2020, she emailed me. Remember that cool mushroom from Highlights? she asked. Let's work on a fungus book together.

Tina: How long did it take to research and write?

Sue: At the beginning of June we pitched our book idea to the editor at Chicago Review Press, and asked if he’d like to see a proposal for the book. He replied ‘yes’ very quickly, so we set to work writing a proposal. A month later (July 2020) we submitted a proposal containing a query, a synopsis, a detailed outline of the chapters, a list of hands-on activities, as well as a completed introduction and first chapter. He took a few weeks to read it, but we dove into doing preliminary research. Our book, Funky Fungi comes out on June 21, about two years after we reached out to the editor.

Tina: You co-wrote this. How did that work? Did you assign chapters or sections?

Sue: We each took primary responsibility for specific chapters, or sections within a chapter – topics we were particularly interested in. For example, I love the idea of fungi turning insects into zombies, so I dove into bug-related things. Agriculture, too. Alisha was intrigued by forensic mycology and how mycelium is used to make textiles and building materials.

We shared sources, sent periodic updates, and shared drafts of each chapter as we went. When she sent me a chapter, I’d read through it, add comments or questions, make revision suggestions, and send it back. Revisions were a back-and-forth thing – and I feel like things went a bit easier with two sets of eyes (and two writer-brains) focused on the manuscript.

After a few back-and-forths, we’d connect by phone to read through the whole chapter. One person would type out the line edits as we talked, and then read them back. Our goal was to keep the author voice consistent throughout the manuscript.

Alisha Gabriel finding fungi

Tina: How did you come up with your activities?

Sue: Most of the activities grew out of our experiences at summer camps, teaching science (me), exploring mushrooms in our backyards, or questions we had. Like: is it possible to make compost in an old soda bottle? Turns out it is. Alisha wanted to make a microscope; I wanted to dye a T-shirt with mushrooms. As we brainstormed a list of potential activities, we also knew that we wanted to include art and writing along with science. And we wanted the activities to be affordable and something anyone could do.

Tina: How did you find a mycologist to interview?

Sue: As a freelance journalist, I wrote for a county paper. I was always on the lookout for local science news, and met Dr. Kathie Hodge while working on an article about insect-invading fungi. So when we started thinking about the book, I reached out to Kathie for an interview. She is so fun to talk with, and I have gained a better appreciation for fungi from that connection.

Tina: What is your favorite fungus & why?

Sue: Oh, man! That’s like asking what’s my favorite kind of chocolate! I have a lot of favorites: bristly lichens that grow on tree branches; tiny mushrooms with thread-like stalks that grow in my lawn; the squid-like staghorn fungus that grew beneath a tomato plant in my garden; coral fungi – oh, and the mushrooms in my yard last summer that folded up like tacos.

Tina: What is your favorite mushroom dish?

Sue: Prior to working on this book I would not eat mushrooms. It was a texture thing. I’d pick them off my pizza and out of my stir-fry and give them to my husband. But as Alisha and I worked on our book, my hubby said, “how can you write a book about fungi and refuse to eat them?” So he fried up some baby bellas in olive oil and I tossed them with some stir-fried veggies and …. M-m-m! Changed my mind.

Tina: Did you have to obtain the photos for this book?

Sue: Yes, we were responsible for finding photos. In addition to the usual places to find photos, I reached out to naturalist friends whose fungus photos I’d seen on Facebook. I am so grateful for their generosity in sharing the cool mushrooms they found on their walks. Alisha and I scoured our photo collections, too.


Tina: I like the term “citizen scientist.” Did you coin that term? Or Where did you find it? Can you tell our readers what a citizen scientist is?

Sue: “Citizen science,” now called “community science” is used to describe projects that involve the public in collecting data for research projects. The idea is that a scientist working alone can only collect a certain amount of data, but if families and classrooms got involved then more information could be collected. Noticing which birds come to your feeder in the winter is one thing, but if hundreds of people keep track of birds that visit their feeder you have a bigger data set. I’ve collected data for Project Feeder Watch, and Monarch watch, where we tagged monarch butterflies and reported where we found them. For the past decade I’ve been collecting data for the Great Sunflower Project (pollinators), and last summer I participated in a BioBlitz, posting photos to iNaturalist. Data collected for Project Bud Burst has contributed to scientists’ understanding of the impacts of climate change. There are lots of projects waiting for people to get involved. Here are two places to find projects:

https://www.citizenscience.gov/catalog/#

https://scistarter.org/finder

Tina: What’s next for you?

Sue: I’m excited to have another picture book coming out in the fall of 2023 with Sleeping Bear Press,  The Pie that Molly Grew, illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg. I have some ideas for new book projects, so I’ll be doing some research and taking photos. Of course, I’ll be in the garden. I’ve never planted kohlrabi before, and I’m interested in seeing how it grows here in upstate NY. It looks like something one might find in the Herbology class at Hogwarts!


Sue Heavenrich a biologist and former high school science teacher. She shares hands-on science activities and reviews STEM books on her blog, Archimedes Notebook, and for more than 20 years wrote the science column for Ithaca Child. Her books include 13 Ways to Eat a Fly, illustrated by David Clark, and Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, with co-author Christy Mihaly.

Sue Heavenrich is represented by Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency

website: www.sueheavenrich.com

blog: Archimedes Notebook (archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SueHeavenrichWriter 


Sue’s co-author, Alisha Gabriel is an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor at Southwestern University. Not only has she used her writing skills to win four grants to benefit her students, but she’s played flute and piccolo for  video games – and even a TV commercial! Her books include Good Sports: Elliot Mack, Quarterback, and Silento: Breakout Rapper

Alisha Gabriel is represented by Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency

Website: https://alishagabriel.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alishagabriel.flute

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alishagabriel

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alisha_c_gabriel/


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Word Choice—Multitasking at Its Best! Guest Post by Beth Anderson

I love welcoming author Beth Anderson back to the GROG Blog because she offers a wealth of information, now welcoming her 6th picture book biography into the world, FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, illustrated by Caroline Hamel, published by Kids Can Press. Congratulations, Beth!


When I chanced upon the word PHANTASMAGORICAL, I knew I’d struck gold! And it fit the story of Franz Gsellmann’s World Machine perfectly with its meaning, composite nature, and whimsical feel!

Word choice is always an essential piece of writing, but with picture books it can make or break a manuscript. English is said to have the largest lexicon of any language in the world. Where other languages might combine words to express specific ideas, English tends toward individual words with nuanced meanings—connotations. 

connotation [from dictionary.com]

1.     a. the associated or secondary meaning of a word or expression in addition to its explicit or primary meaning…

2.     something suggested or implied by a word or thing, rather than being explicitly named or described

With FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE, I struggled to find a way to showcase the nebulous concept of an inner drive or urge. How could I express that for kids? “Voice” with the idea of hearing voices wasn’t right. “Urge” wasn’t either. When I tried “itch,” it worked as “a secondary meaning”…but a boy with a relentless itch had an “implied” meaning that made it a no-go! I eventually settled on “whisper” for its quiet summoning, using the word in a special way. 

Word choice can be tricky! But paying attention to connotations allows words to multitask, adds rich vocabulary, and cuts word count. Basically, think about ideas incorporated in words. For example, a word can be cut in both “crowded together” and “the crowd gathered” since crowd contains the concepts of together and gathering.

First and foremost, word choice is key to Show Don’t Tell.  An online thesaurus sits at the ready on my favorites bar, offering options to get my vision on the page. Still, I can spend hours finding the right words as I revise a paragraph. A great word choice can often eliminate an illustration note. Consider the implied differences: rode vs. pedaled, talk vs. gossip, laughed vs. snickered vs. giggled. Alternatives to the usual add richness and meaning. What follows are some of the ways word choices impacted FRANZ’S PHANTASMAGORICAL MACHINE.  

Attitude, mood, and tone. Referring to the machine from the public’s point of view as a contraption conveys attitude, and when it has grown—behemoth. Lollygagging and dillydallying, instead of wasting time, serve the whimsical tone of the story. 

Sensory and Imagery Words. Word choices that enhance visuals and share sounds and smells bring the story world to life, helping kids immerse themselves in the experience of the characters. Flutter, click, scratch, jiggled, rumble, roar, whir, vibrated….  

Action. Vivid verbs keep the reader’s mind actively moving along with the characters. He zoomed up its elevator, glided down the escalator and marveled at the colorful lights. 

Pairs or Repetition. An interesting pair of words can offer contrast or connections. In FRANZ’s story, I used the idea of making the ordinary extraordinary in several spots to establish another layer to the story. A distinctive word can help the reader notice a repeated phrase at beginning and end to tighten an idea that loops back.  …eyes twinkled with wonder…

Made up words.  Sometimes, there just isn’t the right word to express an idea strongly and succinctly. In LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT, I created what I needed with the pair “late-for-church” and “late-for-equality.” In FRANZ, I didn’t realize I’d pushed the limits until the copy editor came back with a few words that weren’t in the official dictionary of the publishing house. I think zinged was accepted without a problem, but not scrumpled, as in …Franz pondered and paced, sketched and scrumpled, fussed and fretted” required a conversation. To me, it was the perfect word for sound and meaning, a combo of scrunched and crumpled, yet different than either. I found it in another dictionary and declared my love for scrumpled. Sometimes a word choice is worth defending. An unusual word can be fun, interesting, or bring special attention to a spot that deserves pondering.

Specifics are golden. Choosing very specific words helps characterization, setting, and makes the story pop. In Franz’s story, it’s impossible for text and art to share the nearly 2000 parts he used to create the machine, so I included specific pieces of the machine throughout to give the reader a sense of the range, immensity, and uniqueness of his endeavor. Hula-Hoops! Horseshoes! A hair dryer!  In a repeated line, I popped different specifics into the series of three, changing “pulleys, wheels, and lights” to “motors, wires, and gears.” When I wrote, I used word slips with names of parts so I could rearrange them to play with shapes, functions, sounds, and more. Though the specific words of the phrase changed in that repeated line, the rhythm of the sentence stayed the same. Which brings us to sound….because a word brings more than meaning to the page. 

Sounds of Words. There’s so much to play with regarding the sounds of words. I love figurative language like alliteration, consonance, assonance, and onomatopoeia. The rise, fall, and flow of sounds and syllables are vital to a read-aloud. “trinkets and treasures” has alliteration, but also two 2-syllable words. I admit to getting carried away with the sound effects and lost some beauties in cuts for pacing. (Apparently there’s a fine line between enough and excessive, so be careful of overdoing.) Attention to sounds also helps eliminate potential tongue-twisters that arise when reading aloud. 

Choosing the perfect word can cut word count, create mood, show contrast and connections, affect pacing and flow, transform a scene, and make a title sing. It can take many revisions, but when I finally chance upon that perfect word and it settles onto the page, I can feel it—down deep inside. Sigh.

Thank you so much, Beth, for this excellent post about word choice! Now I need to go see to my manuscripts...

Beth Anderson, a former basement tinkerer and educator, has always marveled at the power of books. With curiosity and a love for words, she writes untold tales, hoping to inspire kids to laugh, ponder, and question. She’s the award-winning author of REVOLUTIONARY PRUDENCE WRIGHTTAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE, “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT!, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical picture books on the way, including CLOAKED IN COURAGE: UNCOVERING DEBORAH SAMPSON, PATRIOT SOLDIER, now available for pre-order; and THOMAS JEFFERSON’S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE: BIAS, TRUTH, AND A MIGHTY MOOSE in fall 2023. 

Follow Beth! https://bethandersonwriter.com  
Twitter • Instagram • FaceBook • Pinterest 




Wednesday, June 8, 2022

INTERVIEW w/ Sophia Gholz & BUG ON A RUG PB by Eileen Meyer

 

Hi! Thanks for having me. I’m a big fan of GROG Blog and am so excited to be here sharing my new book.

 

1. Tell us a little bit about your newest picture book, BUG ON A RUG . . .

 

Bug on the Rug shares the story of a rug-loving Pug and a rug-stealing Bug. When these two encounter one another, a hilarious battle erupts with surprise twists and turns, until a third friend joins the fray and ultimately helps everyone find common ground. In general, this is a funny rhyming book that’s packed with action. But at its core, this is a story of friendship, empathy, compromise, and forgiveness.

 

2. How was this book different from your previous releases?


Bug on the Rug is different from my previous books in a few ways. First, this marks my fiction debut. Hooray!

 

Many years ago, when I began writing, I only wrote fiction. Fiction was what I envisioned I’d always write. It just so happened that my first three published books were nonfiction (with a few more in the works now). But I’ve found I approach both fiction and nonfiction the same way: by falling in love with a story first. The nonfiction books I’ve written weren’t subjects I sought out just for the sake of writing nonfiction. They were stories that I found fascinating and couldn’t stop thinking about. So, my draw to each of my books, whether a true story or not, has come from that same obsession and desire to tell those stories.

 

But Bug on the Rug is different in more ways than one…it also marks my rhyming debut! Poetry isn’t new to me. I love various forms of poetry, verse, and playing with sounds. But despite studying and exploring poetry, for many years I was terrified to truly pursue a full rhyming text because I doubted my skill. Rhyme can be so tricky! I’m truly in awe of the master poets out there. But when I began writing Bug on the Rug, the story wrote itself in rhyme. There really was no other option for me once I began drafting it. So, I had to be brave. I decided to run with it and here we are.

 


Last, but not least, Bug on the Rug is full of giggles. Humor is another one of those things that I’ve always written. But for those who are familiar with my previous books, this will be the first funny story you’ve seen from me. That said, it won’t be the last! A History of Toilet Paper (And Other Potty Tools) hits shelves this August and is another humorous tale. I’ve got a few more books in the works that haven’t been announced yet—both humorous and quiet. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to write both the raucous funny books and the quieter heartfelt stories.

 

3. Which character in BUG ON A RUG is your favorite and why?

Oh my. This is a hard question to answer! Can I just say all of them? They are each such fun characters and illustrator extraordinaire, Susan Batori, has done such a phenomenal job of making them unique and quirky. But I guess if I really had to pick one...maybe Slug? Slug is more of a peacemaker and I love that about him. J

 

4. For what age group would you recommend your book?  


I’d say 3-7 is a great age range for Bug on the Rug. The play with phonics in this story also makes a nice tool for early and emergent readers. The humor and rhyme here are also great for story times. I recently presented this book to K-4th grade at an elementary school visit and each one of those age ranges had a blast reading the story, trying to guess what would happen next and acting out some of the characters. So, I think anyone who likes a humorous adventure can have a good time with this book.

 

For those interested, I have free classroom guides, crafts and activity pages that accompany Bug on the Rug and can be downloaded from my website here:

https://www.sophiagholz.com/teacher-guide

  

5. Tell us something we don’t know about you, Sophia . . . 

People may not know that I have severe OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I was diagnosed as a very young teen and it’s something that I’ve had to learn to navigate my whole life. It’s also something that I’m slowly learning to talk about more openly. When I was first diagnosed waaaay back in the day, OCD wasn’t something that was widely discussed. I thought I was broken or crazy. Trying to overcome that inner voice telling me to keep my struggles secret has been a challenge. But I know how easy it is to flip through social media and assume life is perfect for someone else, and I think it’s important, for mental wellbeing, for others to see that they aren’t alone. At least, I know that’s been important for me. 

 

Thank YOU for sharing from your heart today, Sophia—we are cheering you on and wishing you and BUG ON A RUG great success! If you want to know a little more about Sophia, here you go: 

Sophia Gholz is an award-winning children's book author, business major, and magic seeker. She enjoys writing fiction with humor and heart. When writing nonfiction, she pulls on her love of science and strong family background in ecology. Since 2017, Sophia has helped oversee the Henry L. Gholz SEEDS National Field Trip Endowment for The Ecological Society of America, funding field experiences for students from diverse backgrounds. Previously, Sophia worked as an advertising copywriter and made a career working with visual artists in New York City. Sophia’s books have received numerous awards and accolades. When she’s not writing from her home base in Florida, you can find Sophia reading, visiting schools or exploring the great outdoors. For more, find Sophia online with the links below:

 

Web: www.SophiaGholz.com

Instagram, Twitter, & TikTok: @SophiaGholz

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDQwIwDuBuZrGNVqTCcIKlg

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/sophiagholzauthor

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Time to Pivot - by Kathy Halsey

 I forgot I signed up to interview Becky Gehrisch on her adorable debut picture book ESCAPE TO PLAY and her very successful foray into self-publishing. But Becky was sick; I discovered a friend at a weekend graduation party contracted COVID. Oops! 

What to do? Make a new plan. Today I pivoted. Becky and I will talk about successful self-publishing July 13, 2022. You have plenty of time to anticipate our discussion and Becky’s tips.  I’ve pivoted lots these last few months. I’ve discovered being able to “pivot” is a useful tool for the writers and illustrators.   

 

Case in point, when I searched Pixabay for an image for “pivot” a few male basketball players showed up and arrow images, too. (I wanted a female b-ball player, btw.) 

 

So, I had to pivot and figure out how to use this image. I was making something out of what I had. This image looks like a wave or many iterations of how to end up at the same place. What do you see?


Maybe it’s time to change our game plan, adapt, or improve our practice.  It’s June! We’re almost halfway through 2022. If you’re like me, the last few months have gone so fast, I need to think about my shiny 2022 goals and find if they still serve me. If not, I’ll lean into change and redirect myself. (synonyms for pivot!)


Using myself as a case study. Here WAS my 2022 plan.

  1. Be my own book wife - turn off news earlier, read poetry, revise or write in the AM.

  2. Keep building on my way to “chunk” big goals into seasons. This past season was the season of exploration and trying new writing techniques.

  3. Continue with submission goals of 100 submissions in 2022 via, beginning with 5 queries a month.

  4. Keep my schedule light to feel creative: do yoga, walk, and don't take on extra responsibilities.



Where Did I Loose Direction? 

I’ve drifted out of #1, #3, and #4. But instead of chastising myself, I’ll be honest about what I know to be true! 

  1. The daily news makes me nauseous and raw. I am writing haikus to channel those feelings now. 

  2. I stopped querying for a month to prepare for the ABLA Big Sur Cape Cod Writers’ Retreat. I took 4 mss for that weekend and have more actionable advice on the work I’m sending out from top-notch agents and editors. 

  3. I’m back to walking with my husband and dog Scrappy Doo and going to volunteer at the church community garden.    


If you’re spinning your wheels or feel stuck in old routines, why not pivot? Give yourself permission to swim in a different direction this summer. How about creating a motto or inspirational phrase in Canva and using it as your desktop wallpaper? That’s what I’m doing as a reminder. Share your new course correction or motto in the comments.

Here's my new "seasons" mantra.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Little House of Hope (La Casita de Esperanza) A Sneak Preview and Interview with Author Terry Catasús Jennings~Julie Phend

 

 

 


Here’s a sneak preview of The Little House of Hope (La Casita de Esperanza) by
Terry Catasús Jennings, illustrated by Raul Colón, scheduled for release by Holiday House on June 14, 2022, and interview with the author.

 

Julie’s Review:

 

This beautiful picture book for ages 4-8 tells the story of a family who immigrates from Cuba to the U.S., where they rent a modest house.

 

It was small. 

It smelled like old, wet socks.

It had rickety, tattered furniture

from a church basement…

 

But the family was together.

They were safe.

They were happy in la casita.

 

To make ends meet, the parents each work two jobs, and Esperanza and her brother Manolo work hard in school. On weekends, they fix up the house, scrubbing, painting, and making repairs. La casita becomes home, complete with the good smells of Mami’s cooking and decorated with the children’s art. Esperanza makes a collage of her name in Spanish and English. Esperanza=Hope, which is what they found in la casita.



As they learn of other families who need somewhere to live, they open their doors. By sharing their home, they help other newcomers achieve their dreams

 

Little House of Hope is a heartwarming story of hard-working immigrants who come to the U.S. full of hope and promise, and share what they have to help others. Terry Catasús Jennings’s text is spare and lyrical, while Raul Colón’s watercolor illustrations bring the family to life in vivid, expressive detail. This is a book that is at once charming and important.

Interview with Author Terry Catasús Jennings:
Terry Catasús Jennings

Julie: Welcome back to the Grog Blog, Terry! Today, we'll talk about The Little House of Hope. Like the family in the book, your family emigrated from Cuba in 1961 when you were twelve years old. How close is the book to your own experience?

 

 

Terry, center, in Cuba with extended family, 1959
Terry:  Oh goodness, so close! When my family (Mom, Dad, my brother Tony and I) came to the U.S., we could only bring fifty dollars and one small suitcase each. Can you imagine starting a new life like that with no one to help you? However, my uncle and his family had been in the U.S. for about a year, and they opened their home to us. They also took in my aunt’s brother and his wife and baby—they lived in the garage like one of the families in the book.

When our family was finally able to rent a house of our own, our furniture came from the church basement, and I decorated the walls with collages I made on colorful poster board. One house we rented did have a peculiar smell, like old wet socks. When we lived with my aunt and uncle, the good smells of my aunt’s cooking filled the house. BUT after we moved out and my mom cooked, it mostly smelled of burnt rice. Mami had never cooked before in her life! She lived with her grandmother until she got married, and then she had a maid. So I stretched things a bit there.

Terry in Cuba with her Mami and Papi and brother Tony

Julie: In your Author’s Note, you say this book was born out of anger. Tell us about that.

 Terry: A realtor I knew told me he never rents to Hispanics because they live four families to a house and trash the property. It made me angry. He knew I was Cuban and had known me for years. Then I had a lightbulb moment: I was one of those people! We lived three families to a home, and we left it better than when we moved in. That was the kernel of Little House of Hope. I wrote the book very quickly. Neal Porter expressed interest within hours of my agent’s e-mail, and we had an offer two weeks later.

 

Julie: What do you love about this book?

Raúl Colón, Illustrator

Terry: How can you not love Raúl Colón’s illustrations? They are so evocative. When Neal Porter, our editor, told me Raúl was to illustrate The Little House of Hope, I was elated. I was already captivated with his work in Good-by Havana, Hello, New York. Raúl is from Puerto Rico and his wife is Cuban, like me. Raúl got Cubans right. One of the spreads in Little House shows the father after he has a good job. That man looks just like my papi. It made me cry.

 

I also love that I got to do the translation for La Casita de Esperanza. Neal allowed me to keep my Cubanisms, words like guagua, which we use for bus, when other Latin American countries use autobus. I had a fairy godmother, Eida DelRisco, who watched over me to make sure my grammar and usage were correct. We found that some phrases were more lyrical in Spanish, so we changed the English to match. When we got a review that praised the lyricism of my Spanish, I knew we’d nailed it. I couldn’t be happier about the way the whole project turned out.

 

Julie: Many of your books are based on your life experiences. As a writer, how do you mine your past for story ideas?

 

With friends, in costumes

Terry:
As writers, our experiences always inform our stories. In the Definitely Dominguita series, I was the girl who was just as happy reading as doing anything else. I didn't need friends because I had my books. When I look at pictures from when I was young, so many show me in costumes because we loved to pretend. That became the basis for Dominguita.

The story of The Little House of Hope is largely true. I use events in my life in all my stories. I have experienced discrimination—stupid things, large and small, that made me feel like a second-class citizen. Those experiences hurt. For the longest time I wouldn't tell anyone I was Cuban. My English was good, my last name was Jennings. Nobody needed to know. I kept that up until I was 46 years old!

 

Having experienced discrimination, I want my books to show that people like me are not different. When I was younger, I used to tell my friends, "You know, there were big buildings, museums, and world-renowned restaurants in Cuba, too," because many kids thought I’d lived in a hut made of sticks with a thatched roof. When people view you through a lens that distorts the truth, it’s your responsibility to bring that truth out in your books.

U.S. Citizenship Day (Terry in green)



 

From anger, I hope this book brings understanding. It is dedicated with unwavering gratitude to the country that took us in, and to all immigrants who come to the United States in search of hope.

 

Julie: Thank you, Terry, for your insights. Best wishes for success with Little House of Hope. It’s a lovely book.