Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interview with children's author Lucia Gonzalez

It is my pleasure to introduce you to award-winning children's author, storyteller and librarian Lucia Gonzalez. Her classic Cuban folk tale, The Bossy Gallito, was awarded the Pura Belpre Children's Literature Honor Medal by the American Library Association, and selected for New York's Top 20 All Time Favorite Children's Books by the New York Times "Great Children's Read." Her second book, Senor Cat's Romance, a collection of popular folk tales from Latin America, also received immediate recognition. Her latest children's book, The Storyteller's Candle, is dedicated to Pura Belpre, New York City's first Latina librarian.

Thanks for being my guest today, Lucia. Tell us, when did you begin writing for children?

First, I was a storyteller and children’s librarian. As part of my job in the library I told many of the stories that were told to me while I was growing up in Cuba but that I could not find in books. While telling those stories I wrote some of them and sent them to Scholastic. They loved them and published my first two stories in an anthology, From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folksongs, edited by Amy Cohn. This was in 1993.

Which one of your books was published first? Would you share with us how the publishing process was?

For me the publishing process has been a great gift from life. Among the stories I submitted to Scholastic in 1993, was one about a bossy little rooster on the way to the wedding of his uncle the parrot. The editor loved that story so much that she asked me if I wouldn't mind publishing it as a stand-alone picture book, illustrated by Lulu Delacre. Imagine my surprise. I wrote the story in Spanish and English, keeping the rhythm and internal music of the Spanish version in the English retelling. The book became The Bossy Gallito, published in 1994 by Scholastic.

Tell us about your latest book,The Storyteller's Candle, which, as I understand it, is a homeage to Pura Belpre, New York City's first Latina librarian. What compelled you to based one of your stories on her?

Yes, I wrote The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos dedicated to the memory of Pura Belpré, a devoted and talented librarian, author, and storyteller who was also a community activist and a visionary pioneer in providing library outreach services to immigrant families and who understood the importance of honoring the immigrants' languages and preserving their stories. I was also inspired by New York Public Library's storytelling tradition.

Would you describe your creative process when writing a children's picture book?

As a storyteller, I tell before I write. The audience is my first editor. I follow my instincts and my firm conviction that the books I write are needed. I do a lot of research, immersing my self in the culture, or the subject of the story so that I can capture its spirit and I can write a story that is faithful to it.

What makes an excellent picture book?

The most important elements are honest language and authentic voice in telling the story.

Wearing your librarian's hat, would you tell us what type of children's stories are the most popular with kids right now? Has the children's book market changed a lot during the last decade?

Children like series. They like the continuity of series. The Harry Potter books had a lot to do with the proliferation of series. Books that are made into movies also gain sporadic popularity. Fantasy is now very popular and many boys are becoming avid fantasy readers.

Regarding the children’s book publishing industry, it has boomed in the last two decades. Children are being bombarded, more than ever before, with mediocre books. Hollywood stars or prominent public figures think they can write for children. Without guidance, it has become a lot more difficult for children to find their way through all this nonsense and find those books that are going to become memorable.

Your performances seem to be very popular with students. What makes a great school presentation/performance. Any tips for new authors?

I perform with all my heart. When I go to schools, I want the children to enjoy the stories that I tell them. That is my number one goal. A great presentation is one that is not about the performer but about the stories and the children.

Is Caracolito Books your company?

My company is In Other Words: Multicultural Children’s Books and Consulting. Caracolito Books is a dream. My dream is to be able, one day, to publish those stories that I want to see published. There are many voices waiting to be heard and many stories that need to be told. I hope that Caracolito provides the way to publish those stories.

Your books are beautifully illustrated. Did you have any input on the artwork?

I am lucky that Lulu has illustrated my books. I’ve always admired her work and the authenticity with which she portrays Latino culture in her books. I give her the script and let her take over. I know she will find the most beautiful way to tell my story with her art.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with my readers?

It was a pleasure to have this opportunity to share with you and your readers. I will be happy to hear from them. My contact information is on my webpage

Thanks for the interview, Lucia!

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