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

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. 




Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Pauli Murray: MG Biography of a Little-Known Civil Rights Activist and Interview with Author Terry Catasús Jennings~Julie Phend

Who was Pauli Murray?

How many of you know the name Pauli Murray? Until I read Rosita Stevens-Holsey and Terry Catasús Jennings' MG biography, Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist and Civil Rights Activist, released this February, I had never heard of this incredible woman.  

Julie’s Review:

This book, written in verse for ages 10-14, tells the story of Pauli Murray, a activist for Civil Rights and Feminism before either movement was fully established. Born the child of mixed-race parents in Baltimore in 1910 but raised by an aunt in Durham, North Carolina, Pauli Murray never fit in.


Bright and perceptive, she “saw injustice and unfairness with uncommon clarity. And she didn’t accept it.” Instead, Pauli Murray tackled injustice with all the force of her determination. Despite poverty, she graduated from Hunter College, taught for the WPA Education Project, and wrote articles pointing out injustice. 

Pauli Murray, 1944

Her activist heart sent her on a quest to change the Jim Crow laws that held back her race at every turn. She entered Howard University School of Law and graduated top of her class, ahead of all her male peers. A paper she wrote while at Howard became the basis for arguments in Brown vs Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that finally toppled those laws, though Pauli never received credit for it.


Despite a prize for her exceptional scholarship, she was barred admission to Harvard because of her gender. So she tackled gender laws along with Jim Crow laws. She went on to get a master’s in law from Boalt Hall of Law in Berkeley, California, and a doctorate from Yale University. She was a participant in President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women and a founding member of the National Organization of Women. (NOW)


Pauli Murray battled poverty, discrimination, racial and gender barriers. And she never gave up.


This moving and inspirational biography tackles difficult issues head-on, while creating a vivid portrait of an incredible woman. The free-verse form makes it easy to read and allows the authors to return again and again to the important themes of Pauli Murray’s life. 


Interview with Author Terry Catasús Jennings:

Terry Catasús Jennings

Julie: You’ve had a big year! You published the Definitely Dominguita series, Pauli Murray’s biography, and have a picture book, The Little House of Hope, coming out this month.


Terry: Julie, thank you so much for hosting me on the GROG Blog. I’ve been very fortunate. All these projects have been in the works for a while, and then their paths converged. 





Julie: I was surprised I had never heard of Pauli Murray, even though as a middle school teacher, I taught both the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements. How did you learn about Pauli and come to partner with her niece, Rosita Stevens-Holsey, to write this book? 

Rosita Stevens-Holsey


Terry: I discovered Pauli Murray during research for The Women’s Liberation Movement: 1960-1990. The more I learned, the more I felt her biography needed to be made available to young readers. While I could do justice to her story as a feminist, I could not do justice to her story as a Black person, so I wanted a partner. My research led me to the Pauli Murray Center, and through them, I tried, at first unsuccessfully, to find Dr. Murray’s family. Then I went to see a play about Pauli Murray at Howard University. There was a row of seats reserved for the family, so I introduced myself. When I said I was looking for someone to work with me, Rosita raised her hand. She’s a teacher!  And she was already working to promote her aunt’s legacy. What could be better than that? The partnership has been as productive as it has been delightful. 


 Julie: Why did you choose middle grade readers as your audience? 


Terry: I wrote the story, with Rosita’s help and concurrence, so it would be accessible and engaging to an audience beginning with fourth grade. To me, that’s when young readers can understand the damage and humiliation of the Jim Crow laws, the struggles of women in the workplace, and the rights given us by the Constitution. I hope that anyone above the age of ten can enjoy this book and garner new knowledge and understanding from it.
Pauli Murray, Lawyer

Julie: Why did you choose to write the book in free verse?


Terry: Pauli just seemed to flow in verse. There were earlier prose versions, including a picture book, but none of them seemed to have the heart that Pauli Murray demanded. At one point, I started writing verses, and then it flowed. At first, our agent wasn’t crazy about the verse version, but then Courtney Fahey from Little Bee Books became interested. She liked verse and fell in love with the project. I felt writing the biography in verse would honor Dr. Murray, who was herself a poet. Our aim was to tell her story in a respectful way that would be accessible to young readers. And for folks with a little more age and a little less time, verse provides a way to learn about a transformative individual in an easy manner.


Julie: What do you love about this book?


Terry: There are certain passages I love. The verse about Pauli’s mother knowing her life might last no longer than a whisper on a windy night. The imagery of Pauli being prickly and a thorn in the side of those in power. 

Pauli Murray, 1967
But what I most love about the book is what it teaches young readers about a person who was previously ignored. It shows how difficult it was to gain the rights we now take for granted. How some legislators did what was right, and others got around those forward steps and caused human rights in our country to regress. Pauli Murray believed in the Fourteenth Amendment—the one that guarantees all will be treated equally by the laws. Right now, laws are being passed that would not pass the Pauli Murray test. They do not conform with the Fourteenth Amendment. I love that this book comes at a time when it can remind all of us that our only weapon in the fight for human rights is the ballot box.


Julie: Thanks so much, Terry, for sharing your passion for this subject and for introducing us to this amazing woman!


*Watch for next week’s Grog blog post with a sneak preview of Little House of Hope and Part 2 of my interview with Terry.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

6 Views on Why We Need Nature

by Sue Heavenrich

Whenever I get stuck in my writing, I head outside. I tuck my camera in my pocket and tell myself that I’m just going out for a breath of fresh air. I might walk down my road, noticing how low the sun is in the sky, or the way snowflakes rest on dried rosehips.

I might wander around the yard, discovering brilliant green moss gardens. Or I’ll pull on my garden boots and head to the garden – which sometimes turns into a three-hour minivacation as I discover bees and flies, watch birds, notice buds opening. I’ve been known to turn a quick one-mile walk into an hour exploration.
photo by Sue Heavenrich

My excuse: being outside, in nature, is Good For Me. And there’s research to back it up. Time spent in nature – whether it’s a hiking trail or a patch of green in your backyard – can perk up your brain, decrease stress, make you happier, and increase your creativity. 

Add in some exercise, and you’ve got a winning recipe for breaking through tiny creative blocks. Not only is walking good for your health, it stimulates creativity and improves one’s mood. According to a study at Stanford, people’s creative output increased 60 percent while walking.

I know that when I come back inside, I feel more creative. So I asked a few friends whether they took nature breaks.

They are essential, says snail scientist and writer, Marla Coppolino. “If I've been struggling to figure out how to write or draw something, the "a-ha" moments come when I step outside and meander through my field and connect with the grasses, insects, and whatever else I meet. It re-awakens the parts of my mind that solve problems. Maybe part of this just comes from relaxing, but I think it's more of the connection I feel.”

Illustrator, Annie Zygarowicz spends time watching clouds with her husband. “When we’re driving, we’ll pull over to observe and photograph the cloud formations, their color, density and texture.” Cloud photos and memories inspire their painting and poetry.  

When author Kathy Halsey feels stuck, she heads out to a garden. “Being surrounded by growing things, the sounds of birds and the wind  make feel hopeful and refreshed. My head clears. I feel relaxed, less stressed, and able to sit and work again.” Spending quiet time outdoors has renewed her interest in writing haiku, and she shares her Saturday haiku on twitter using the hashtag #HaikuSaturday. In turn, writing haiku has made her more observant of nature. 

photo by Leslie Colin Tribble

Christy Mihaly sometimes takes her manuscript for a walk. “Usually I walk with my dog through the woods. Sometimes I focus on a particular story problem. Other times, I'm just taking a break and letting my mind wander. Either way, every time, it gets my brain out of whatever rut it’s in, and gives me a fresh start when I return to work. Often the universe sends me new lines for a poem as I walk.”

One such walk resulted in a picture book. Strolling by a hayfield and watching the balers operate, Chris mused, “Storing summer in a bale…” Those thoughts grew into HEY, HEY, HAY! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make them)

Photographer and nature writer Leslie Colin Tribble finds that being outside is the best therapy for feeding the creative part of her life. “The act of movement while being outdoors sparks my mind into focus and clarity. Putting one foot in front of the other clears my thoughts and gives me greater vision about a project - allowing my mind to wander into the story I’m writing. Nature photography sharpens my perception, and I love stumbling across the perfect vignette of rock, lichen, wildflowers and soil that I can capture with my lens. Focusing on the small things in the immense landscape where I live reminds me that the tiniest detail is important in creative efforts.”

Later, when she looks back on her photos, she feels the sense of place all over again – bringing back physical and emotional details she can incorporate in a story.

So this week, head outside and see what you can discover. And if you are looking for some weekly nature breaks, check out my Wednesday posts at Archimedes Notebook.