Monday, December 21, 2009

Featured Book: Growing Up With Tamales/Los Tamales de Ana, by Gwendolyn Zepeda

Publisher's Description

"My name is Ana. Every year, my family makes tamales for Christmas. This year, I am six, so I get to mix the dough, which is made of cornmeal. My sister Lidia is eight, so she gets to spread the dough on the corn husk leaves. I wish I was eight, so that my hands would be big enough to spread the dough just right--not too thick and not too thin."

And so the years pass, and Ana turns eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen. But every year, big sister Lidia is always two years older. Ana envies her elder sibling and wishes she could do what Lidia does: put just the right amount of meat inside the tamales and roll them up; steam the tamales without scalding herself with the hot, hot steam; chop and cook the meat for the tamales without cutting or burning her hands.

When she turns eighteen, though, Ana knows she will keep making tamales and she will be able to do all of the steps herself in her very own factory. When Christmas comes around, Ana will deliver tamales to all of her customers around the world, in delivery trucks that say "Ana's Tamales." And maybe Ana will even let Lidia work for her.

Gwendolyn Zepeda's rhythmic prose is combined with April Ward's bright illustrations to create an affectionate and amusing story about sibling relationships that introduces an important Hispanic holiday tradition--making tamales!


Kirkus Reviews

Six-year-old Ana can't wait until she is eight, so she can be more grown-up like her big sister Lidia. Together, in this blithe bilingual tale, the sisters make tamales for Christmas, and with each passing year their responsibilities grow. As Ana dreams of life at ten (knowing songs on the radio), 12 (not being afraid), up to 18 (owning her own business), she measures her growth through the tasks awarded in their tamale-making tradition. Zepeda's charming story celebrates the satisfaction found in accomplishing a goal-no matter how big or small-and the trust new responsibility engenders. Ward's illustrations, while at times inconsistent, lend an honesty and warmth to the text. Her additive use of color and the immediacy of her brush-stroke effectively convey the love and longing of a little sister-and the patience and constancy of an older sibling. Young readers will delight in Zepeda's use of repetition and will giggle over the story's jocular ending. (Picture book. 4-8)

School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 3- Ana, six, impatiently observes that while she gets to mix the cornmeal to make Christmas tamales, "My sister Lidia is eight, so she gets to spread the dough on the corn husk leaves." She goes on to explain all of the things she will be able to do, "But when I am eight, Lidia will be ten. So she will get to fill and roll the tamales. I wish I was ten." The bilingual text, which stands out boldly on warm golden-colored paper, progresses in two-year increments until Ana cheerfully resolves she will open her own tamale factory when she is 18, and her older sister can come work for her. The Spanish translation is accurate, but the title is significantly different. The Spanish title, "Ana's Tamales," seems less awkward than the English and foreshadows nicely the sweet ending and the name of Ana's delivery truck. This is an upbeat multicultural family story with brilliantly colored artwork.-Kirsten Cutler, Sonoma County Library, CA

Criticas Magazine

Gr 2-4–Ana is six, which means that she is in first grade, learning to write, and beginning to read. But in terms of home, it means that she is old enough to mix the masa (dough) for the Christmas tamales. Her sister, Linda, is eight; so she is old enough to spread the masa on the corn husks. Ana dreams of being eight, so that she will be able to “...spread the dough just right—not too thick and not too thin.” But, of course, when she is eight, Linda will be ten, old enough to fill and roll the tamales. And so, this clever pattern book continues through the years, noting the things Ana will learn each year (when ten, for example, she will know the names of all 50 states and the words to songs on the radio) and the task that will become hers when making the Christmas tamales. By the time she has imagined herself at 18, Ana has given an entire set of directions for assembling and cooking tamales and decided that she wants to start her own business making tamales. This is an involving look at what it means to earn responsibilities—with just a little soupcon of sibling rivalry thrown in. A lovely complement to Gary Soto’s Too Many Tamales (Putnam, 1993), this story has some of the same family feel as Becky Chavarría-Chairéz’s Magda’s Tortillas/Las tortillas de Magda (Piñata, 2000). The Spanish translation is smooth and engaging, and the acrylic illustrations, though just a bit rough edged, make up in verve and vibrancy what they lack in execution (though children certainly won’t find them lacking). This is a cheerful look at a family tradition. Recommended for school and public libraries. -Ann Welton, Grant Center for the Expressive Arts, Tacoma, WA

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ramona Moreno Winner is an award winning author and publisher of bilingual books for children with multicultural themes. She entered the publishing industry in 1996 girded with lots of tenacity as well as skills in writing, public relations and marketing. Through trial and error, she has built a successful, small publishing company whose goal is to empower children and expand their knowledge of other cultures.

A member of the local Toast Masters Club, Ramona is also a dynamic speaker and has traveled to different states presenting to children, teachers, librarians and parent groups. Her bilingual delivery allows a wider audience to enjoy her stories and learn her precious lessons. Ramona’s award winning titles include It’s Okay To Be Different! ¡Esta Bien Ser Diferente!, Lucas and His Loco Beans, and Freaky Foods From Around the World/Platillos Sorprendentes de Todo el Mundo. She's here today to talk about her latest children's picture book, The Wooden Bowl/El bol de madera.

Welcome to Latino Books Examiner, Ramona. Do you consider yourself to be a born writer?

Gosh no. The very first time I recognized what good writing was, I was in the 8th grade. We had to write an essay and Rosie Molina wrote one on making tortillas. Her words were so descriptive I could smell the tortillas cooking the comal. I don’t remember her ending, but I do remember it being catchy. I don’t believe I read a book cover to cover until I was in high school. I had to hide to read my novels because my parents would complain that I was going to hurt my eyes by reading so much. One summer, I read through all our encyclopedias and I learned sign language out of our dictionary (I was raised in Arizona in the boonies by a very protective father). I am still a voracious reader, and now, like it or not, I wear reading glasses.

Describe your working environment.

I have a friend and well know author, Amada Perez. When I learned how disciplined she was in her writing, I was floored. “What is wrong with me?” I thought. I could never journal every day. Reality check! I can’t journal – period. My stories are constructed like a good stew. I begin with an idea that matures in my sleep, while I take my walks, while I drive in the car, while I live out my days. When the idea takes on structure, I sit at my computer and put it down on paper.

My physical office is a room in my house. Because I am in impatient soul, I publish my own books. My days are filled with writing, research, marketing, sales, bookkeeping, order fulfillment… As of late, I am considering finding an agent and finding publishers for my works instead of doing it all myself.

Who is your favorite author?

What is our favorite children’s book? My favorite author is Steinbeck and my favorite children’s book is Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard. When I read this book I think to myself, “I wish I would have thought this one up!”

What are you working on now?

My next project is titled: Mesquite Queen – Reyna del Mesquite. As a young girl growing up in Arizona, I spent most of my days outside playing underneath the Mesquite trees. We snacked on the seedpods and the sap produced by the trees at the peak of summer. Little did I know, people had been using the flowers, the seedpods, the sap, and the wood for hundred’s of years. The health benefits of using the fruits of these trees are well documented. The story leads the reader to believe the girl is moving through a parade where she will be crowned Queen of the Mesquite. In the end you find she was perched in a Mesquite tree imagining her coronation. Throughout the story the reader learns how her family’s life has been intertwined with Mesquite trees.

Tell us about your recent release.

My new book is The Wooden Bowl/El bol de madera. I encountered this story on inspirational blogs on the internet. It took me two years of research to learn that this was a Grimm’s fairy tale. I decided to write this story from the child’s perspective and make it bilingual to include a larger audience. Variations of this tale are found in the Mexican and Asian cultures. It promotes caring for our elderly relatives in a kind and respectful manner. After all, we are all headed in that direction. I liked this story because the message has no cultural, socio-economic, or generational boundaries.

What’s next on my horizons?

I love public speaking. As an award-winning author of children’s books, I have had many opportunities to address groups of educators across the United States. I have developed a workshop titled, Celebrating Diversity, that teaches educators how to incorporate cultural information into their existing school curriculum. Receiving emails from teachers telling me how they used the information I provided them with in the workshops, has been rewarding. I am a strong believer that we fear what we don’t understand. I believe we should be learning more about the people we call neighbors, we should celebrate the contributions different cultures have made to our society, and we need to keep an open mind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Review of The Magician's Castle, by Mary Cunningham

The Magician’s Castle is the fourth book in Mary Cunningham’s Cynthia’s Attic mystery/time-travel series for middle-grade readers. The action and adventure novels feature two best friends, Gus and Cynthia, who travel back and forth in time through an old trunk that lies hidden in the cobweb-filled attic of Cynthia’s house.

This time, Cynthia must travel back in time in order to find Gus, who stayed behind at the end of the third book. The problem is, an antique dealer steals the trunk and Cynthia must go through a series of obstacles to find it. When at last she does, an old magician named Sebastian the Great follows her, creating trouble. The old magician is searching for his long lost love, Kathryn, who disappeared through the magic trunk many years ago. An intriguing Book of Spells and a 1914 Swiss castle are just some of the things our young protagonists encounter as they travel back and forth in time.

I have read all of the books in the series and I have to say, the author doesn’t disappoint. This latest novel is action-packed and full of twists and turns that will keep most middle-grade readers glued to the pages. The pace moves pretty quickly and the dialogue is interesting and even witty at times. The banter between the two best friends is often funny, adding humor to the story.

The Magician’s Castle, as well as the earlier books, is especially appealing for girls. However, I recommend the books be read in order, as they might be confusing for new readers as stand-alone works.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Meet animal communicator Tim Link

Today on Pets & Their Authors my golden retriever, Amigo, interviews Buzz, proud owner of animal communicator Tim Link.

I'd like to extend an invitation to you all pet lovers to visit the blog at

You can also find out more about Amigo HERE.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

List of Christmas Latino children's books

The holidays are a wonderful time to read with your children. I don't know about you, but when my kids were little, I used to burrow tons of Christmas books every week to read to them at night.

This week I spent some time online searching for holiday books with Latino themes and these are the ones I found. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed at the small quantity. I was expecting to find a lot more.

I hope you'll check them out. Just click on the link to find out more about each title on Amazon. And remember to visit your local library and ask your librarian for more suggestions.

Happy holiday reading!

A Pinata in a Pine Tree

Federico and the Magi's Gift

Hurray for the Three Kings' Day

Farolitos for Abuelo

The Santero's Miracle

The Christmas Gift

Uno, does, tres, posada

El verdadero cuento de Navidad

N Is For Navidad

Carlos, Light the Farolito

The Night of Las Posadas

Cuentos de Navidad Puertorriquenos

The Farolitos of Christmas

Mimi's Parranda

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Guest Post by Dixie Phillips

I’ve always enjoyed working with children. So it should have come as no surprise when I began writing, most of my success would come from writing for little ones. I have discovered when I write for children, I feel I am finally in my write mind.

Children are transparent and you immediately know if they like your story. Their little eyes snap and tiny bodies wiggle with excitement when they try to figure out what will happen next. I’ll never forget last year when I was invited to a Christian school in Rochester, Minnesota, to read my book Stubby’s Destiny to their morning and afternoon kindergarten class. The children had never heard this story before, but right from the first page their little feet began to dance when I read about the horses’ hooves prancing down the cobblestone street. As I continued reading, they began to cheer for little Stubby, a defeated donkey who felt he had been born wrong. When Stubby discovers his divine destiny, they began to clap their tiny hands for joy.

I think great literature can help shape small souls. I plan to continue writing stories, which hopefully leave footprints in the hearts of wee ones. I believe the seeds of influence from my books will live longer than I do and produce a harvest of wisdom and help ignite a vibrant faith in the heart of a child, which will change a generation and time my eyes will never see. With all the advanced technology, it’s a great time to be a children’s author.

Dixie Phillips began writing seasonal plays for children in 1987. These delightful programs have been published by Abingdon Press, Standard Publishing, Eldridge Publishing, Evangelizing Today's Child and Gospel Publishing House. One of Dixie's children's books, Stubby's Destiny, was awarded the 2008 Best Children's Animal Story by Books and Authors. Guardian Angel Publishing has released Angel Eyes, One Noble Journey and Baby Jesus is Missing. Cinderfella and the Furry Godmother and Stilts the Stork will be released in 2010.

Dixie also has a passion for writing God's truths for adults. She has contributed to an award-winning devotional book and has ghostwritten books on marriage, health, poetry and personal testimonies. She is currently a topical curriculum writer for Randall House. Dixie is a pastor's wife of more than 30 years. She and her husband, Paul, have four grown children and have served the Gospel Lighthouse Church in Floyd, Iowa, for 28 years.

You can learn more about Dixie’s books and the Phillips’ ministry by visiting

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another rave review of Humberto the Bookworm Hamster

Kathy Davis of has given Humberto the Bookworm Hamster 5 stars!

"This lovely picture book will show your children that selfless acts of kindness are more important than worldly possessions. They'll also learn that reading is a gift that can be shared. Humberto proves to be every bit a hero, just like the ones he reads about in his books. Your kids will enjoy the story and the colorful illustrations too."

Read the complete review HERE.

For more reviews of this book, please visit this page.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Interview with Children's Author Mary Cunningham

Mary Cunningham is the author of the award-winning tween fantasy/mystery series, Cynthia's Attic, which was inspired by a recurring dream about a mysterious attic. After realizing that the dream took place in the home of her childhood friend, Cynthia, the dreams stopped and the writing began. Four books have been published in the series: The Missing Locket, The Magic Medallion, Curse of the Bayou, and just recently The Magician's Castle. She is also co-writer of the humor-filled lifestyle book titled, Women Only Over Fifty (WOOF), along with a published short story, "Ghost Light," and a new "Cynthia's Attic" short story, "Christmas With Daisy."

Welcome to Blogcritics Magazine, Mary! It's a pleasure having you as my guest here again. Tell us, do you consider yourself to be a born writer?

Hmmm...born writer? I guess I inherited the genes, from my dad, to become a writer. He was a journalist for over 40 years and was also my role model. Not only was he a wonderful writer, he was the kindest, most non-judgmental, open-minded person I ever knew. Wish he'd been around to see the books!

I was told from 3rd grade on to "Never stop writing. You have a gift." And, sure enough...40 years later, my first book was published! I have written all my life, but never considered writing fiction until I got the idea for "Cynthia's Attic." The first story was prompted by a recurring dream I'd had for over 20 years about playing in a mysterious attic. Once I realized that the attic was in the home of my childhood best friend, Cynthia, the dreams stopped and the writing began.

Tell us about your recent release. What was your inspiration for it?

Cynthia's Attic: The Magician's Castle
is the latest book release (DEC 1, 2009). All the books in the series are inspired by family stories and ancestors. The Magician's Castle was motivated by a magic show that Cynthia and I went to when we were about 7. I was chosen to be the magician's "assistant," and never forgot it. Neither did my mother after the magician gave me the rabbit I had helped pull out of his hat! I was thrilled, but a few days later, we took "Fluffy" to the farm of a friend.

I've also brought the Kistler side of my family into this story. The family tree has been researched back to late 1300s Switzerland, and since I've always been fascinated by genealogy, it was a perfect match.

Do you like to outline and plot ahead, or are you more of a stream-of-consciousness writer?

I've despised outlining since 7th grade, so I consider myself a seat-of-the-pants writer. I start with a basic idea, location and characters, but the storyline develops as it moves along. I'm a big believer in letting my characters determine where they want to go and what they want to do. I've actually had characters jump into my stories without any warning! LOL!

What was your favorite book as a child?

I adored sports biographies as a child and read them from A (Hank Aaron) to Z (Babe Didrikson Zaharias). In between, I read Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I was fortunate that my aunt was the librarian and would suggest books that were on a higher reading level than was recommended for my age group. I credit her with much of the love I have for reading and writing because she kept me challenged.

What’s your favorite children’s book of all time?

Although I love Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) and books by H. G. Wells that inspired me to write about fantasy and time travel, my favorite would have to be To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I just finished a very interesting biography of Harper Lee by YA author, Kerry Madden.

What is the best advice on writing you've ever received?

I had struggled with getting one rejection after another when I got a note from an editor simply saying, "Too much telling. Not enough showing." To give you an idea how unprepared my manuscript was for publication, I had no idea what that meant! But, I found out, spent about a year re-writing, and the rest is history.

My advice to writers would be to "write what you know."

Where are your books available?

All four Cynthia's Attic books, women's humor book, WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, and short stories, "Ghost Light" and "Christmas Daisy" are available through Amazon, Amazon Kindle, B & N, Fictionwise (download), any online bookstore, and through the publisher, Quake/Echelon Press.

Thanks, so much, Mayra for having me as a guest!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Guardian Angel Publishing new releases!

Guardian Angel New Releases!

September & October 2009

Author/Artist: Eugene Ruble
Print ISBN: 978-1-935137-90-0; 1-935137-90-5
eBook ISBN: 978-1-935137-91-7; 1-935137-91-3
Use as an introduction to our past by studying cave drawings, ancient symbols and
alphabets. Professor Hoot teaches with remarkable renderings of numerous artifacts
of man's past.

Humberto, the Bookworm Hamster Littlest Angel
Author: Mayra Calvani
Artist: Kit Grady
Print ISBN: 978-1-935137-92-4; ISBN 10: 1-935137-92-1
eBook ISBN: 978-1-935137-93-1; ISBN 10: 1-935137-93-X
Humberto loves books so much; he reads all day long. His neighbors, the squirrel,
the rabbit, the skunk, the hedgehog and the beaver want to become his friends, but
Humberto doesn't have time for them. He's too busy reading! Then one day, disaster
strikes and he must choose between saving his books and helping them.

Secret Service Saint Wings of Faith
Author: Janet Ann Collins
Artist: Eugene Ruble
Print ISBN: 978-1-935137-98-6; 1-935137-98-0
eBook ISBN: 978-1-935137-99-3; 1-935137-99-9
Loosely based on legends about a famous saint, this book tells the story of Nicholas,
who discovered the fun of doing secret good deeds. Kids who read or hear the story
at any time of the year will be challenged to do the same.

Baby Jesus Is Missing, Wings of Faith
Author: Dixie Phillips
Artist: K.C. Snider
Print ISBN: 978-1-61633-000-2; 1-61633-000-7
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61633-001-9; 1-61633-001-5
The annual Christmas decorating contest left no room for Jesus until little Josiah Carr
teaches his mommy and daddy the true spirit of Christmas is finding Jesus. This
captivating story is guaranteed to warm the coldest heart and become a Christmas
favorite for families everywhere.

Rainbow Nights, Littlest Angel
Author: Sally M. Harris
Artist: Kit Grady
Print ISBN: 978-1-61633-002-6; 1-61633-002-3
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61633-003-3; 1-61633-003-1
Dreams can be filled with fun and adventures! This bedtime story helps children look
forward to going to sleep at night. This is a delightful rhyming story with colorful art
to capture the imagination of the youngest readers.

Tiny Angel, Chapbook for Tweens
Author:Nancy Carty Lepri
Print ISBN: 978-1-935137-94-8; 1-935137-94-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-935137-95-5; 1-935137-95-6
When her dad is transferred to a new town, ten-year-old Macy Carver leaves behind
her best friend and everything she knows. Suddenly she's the new girl.alone and
bullied. An unexpected flash announces guardian angel Jody, who teaches her how
to fit in and become a forever friend.

November 2009

Natalie's Ark Wings of Faith Chapbook for Tweens
Kevin & Kristen Collier
Print: ISBN: 978-1-61633-007-1; 1-61633-007-4
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61633-008-8; 1-61633-008-2
A dam above a small town threatens to burst and Natalie finds herself adrift in a
rickety boat surrounded by animals plucked from the raging flood. Natalie's journey
leads her to discovery of faith, friendship, love and home.

The Legend of Lumpus & Ogols, Chapbook for Tweens
Author: Mel McIntyre
Artist: David McQuillan
Print ISBN: 978-1-935137-96-2; 1-935137-96-4
eBook ISBN: 978-1-935137-97-9; 1-935137-97-2
Lumpus and Ogols discover that by working together and using their special gifts
they can defeat the evil Glotabull, the monster responsible for the death of their
parents. They hatch a plot and follow it through, helping to make their land a safe
place for all who live there. Suggested age for readers: 9-12.

There's A Beetle In My Bed, Academic Wings
Author: Bill Kirk
Artist: Suzy Brown
Print ISBN: 978-1-61633-005-7; ISBN 10: 1-61633-005-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61633-006-4; ISBN 10: 1-61633-006-6
Imagine how surprised a little boy would be if a beetle suddenly appeared in his bed
at bedtime. Just look at how big it's getting! Beetles are cute but couldn't it find
somewhere else to sleep? Maybe Dad will know what to do. Keep reading to find out
what happens. Factoids, Glossary and educational pages, too.

If I Could Be Anything Littlest Angel
Author: Kevin McNamee
Artist: Marina Movshina
Print ISBN: 978-1-61633-011-8; 1-61633-011-2
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61633-012-5; 1-61633-012-0
If I could be anything, what would I be? I think that eventually I would be me . a
boy pretends to be different animals in this warm, rhyming, picture book. In the
end, he chooses to be exactly as he is. Love is the anchor that draws him home.

Smileytooth and Bushwhack Plaque Health & Hygiene
Author: James Gary Nelson
Artist: Debbie Bumstead
Print ISBN: 978-1-61633-009-5; 1-61633-009-0
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61633-010-1; 1-61633-010-4
In Smileytooth's next adventure, Bushwhack Plaque and his Cavity outlaws kidnap
children from the schoolhouse play yard. Sheriff Smileytooth, his deputies
Toothpaste and Toothbrush along with Schoolmarm Sarah, capture the outlaws and
save the children. Join in the fun when reading this good dental hygiene book.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Featured Book: Marie and Her Friend the Sea Turtle, by Nicole Weaver

The wonder and beauty of the ocean draws Marie to the beach each day in the hunt for the perfect seashell. Her adventures bring her to the best location on the island. Delighted to catch a glimmer in the distance, Marie rushes to retrieve what she believes will be the most beautiful seashell ever. To her surprise she finds a stranded sea turtle, who oddly enough communicates his frustration of being stuck on the beach. With love and determination Marie seeks a way to release the sea turtle back to his home in the ocean. Written in English, French, and Spanish children’s author, Nicole Weaver reaches many cultures and pulls at children’s hearts in their love and wonderment of the world around them. Illustrator, Ruben Chavez further brings the story alive with his colorful illustrations which certainly will make the reader yearn for their own beach adventures. Visit Nicole at: Ruben Chavez is an illustrator and fine artist. He enjoys rendering people in various mediums, with the intent of capturing their spirit and soul. Visit Ruben at:

--Reviewed by Donna M. McDine for the National Writing for Children Center.
Donna’s publishing credits include over 25 print and ezine publications and is the Marketing Manager at Stories for Children Magazine. She placed 12th in the 77th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition in the category Children’s/Young Adult Fiction and recently signed her first book contract with Guardian Angel Publishing. She is also a member of the SCBWI and Musing Our Children. To learn more about Donna’s writing career visit her at Sign her guestbook and receive her FREE e-Book ~ “Write What Inspires You! Author Interviews”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Interview with Children's Author Rene Colato Lainez

My guest today is children's author Rene Colato Lainez, who's touring the blogosphere with Latino Book Tours this week. In this interview, Colato talks about his books, his writing habits, and his road to becoming a published author. I hope you'll enjoy the interview!

About the author

René Colato Laínez is the award-winning author of I Am René, the Boy, Waiting for Papá, Playing Lotería, René Has Two Last Names and The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez. His picture books have been honored by the Latino Book Award, the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, the California Collection for Elementary Readers, the Tejas Star Book Award Selection and the New Mexico Book Award. He was named “Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch (and Read)” by He is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

It's a pleasure having you here today, Rene. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
I am born in El Salvador. Due to the civil war, my father and I left the country in 1985 to reunite with my mother in Los Angeles, CA.
I had two dreams: to become a teacher and a writer. I did not give up my dreams. Dreams come true.

Do you have another job besides writing?
I have been a bilingual teacher for seventeen years at Fernangeles Elementary School in Sun Valley, CA. Working with students is wonderful. They are a great source of inspiration.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

My Latest book is René Has Two Last Names. In El Salvador, like in most Latin American Countries, people use both the mother and father’s last names as a legal name. I was René Colato Laínez everywhere in El Salvador. In 1985, I received my School ID at Los Angeles High School. When I read my name, I was in shock. My mother’s last name was gone. I was only René Colato. My latest book is autobiographical just like my book I Am René, the Boy. In this new adventure, René works to keep his two last names because both last names represent his heritage.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I usually write an outline. I know that at least I need 14 scenes to write a picture book. I usually write the first and last scene and then work in the middle of the story. But also my writing is a stream of consciousness. I write about my immigrant experience and my experience about living in two cultures. I write from my heart. I will say that many times my heart whispers my stories while I type them in my computer.

What will the reader learn after reading your book?
I want the reader to feel proud of both sides of his/her families. We have received many gifts, stories and traditions from them and we are who we are thanks the love and effort of our familia,

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
I feel passionate about telling the stories of immigrant children and sharing the experiences of living in two cultures. Every day I speak English and español. Read the newspaper and el periódico.
Listen to music and música. Living in two cultures is fun and I want to keep sharing my stories with children and adults around the world.

Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
I have the best agent in the world, Stefanie Von Borstel from Full Circle Literary, After I graduated from Vermont College in Writing for Children and Young Adult, I decided to look for an agent. I met Stefanie at the Latino Book & Family Festival in Los Angeles. Stefanie knew so much about the bilingual/ Latino presses and told me about her passion for multicultural literature. Months later, I signed with her and have created many wonderful stories that are about to come.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
I published my first books with out an agent. I received many rejections letters from editors. Many times, you can find words of advice and encouragement in those letters. I will say, that my rejection letters helped me to polish my writing. I started to submit my work on March 2000 and received my first contract on October 2002. I waited a year and half to hear the good news. Many authors had received the good news right away others had waited long years. My word of advice is to believe in your story and never give up. Learn from rejection letters and from critique groups. Attend writing workshops and join to writing associations. If you are writing for children, join the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators,

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Please visit my website and my character René’s website Also I write about children’s books at La Bloga, and edit the Spanish blog for children Los Bloguitos,

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I have two new children’s books coming out next year. The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez (Tricycle Press) introduces the Latino tooth hero, El Ratón Pérez. How would the Tooth Fairy react? Read the book and find out. My other title is My Shoes and I (Boyds Mills Press). This is my true story crossing three countries in order to arrive to the United States.

Thanks for the interview, Rene, and good luck with your books!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Voice in the Dark newsletter is out!

Hi all,

I'd like to invite you to take a look at Voice in the Dark newsletter, which I have been co-editing for several years now. Reviews, interviews, columns, resources. Please consider subscribing if you like what you see. It comes out every two months.

and if you'd like to send a story, article or review, or be interviewed, just get in touch. We have about 300 faithful subscribers.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Meet author Helena Harper

Helena Harper is a native of England, but she grew up in a household that did things somewhat differently to other English households, because her mother was German (her mother had met her father in Hamburg at the end of WWII, when as a British soldier he had been stationed there). This mixed background has had a profound influence on Helena and her understanding of so-called national divisions and whom we call an ‘enemy’ and whom we call a ‘friend’.

From an early age she loved to read and write, particularly fantasy stories, and later she enjoyed studying foreign languages. At Surrey University she studied German, Russian and International Relations and spent considerable periods of time in Germany, Austria and Russia as part of the course. After university she went into banking, but soon realised that was a big mistake. “I felt like I was being suffocated,” she says of the experience.

She then spent a year teaching languages at a private school in London, and enjoyed it so much she decided she would get properly trained. She did a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Exeter University and then started her career as a modern languages teacher, a career which has lasted twenty years. During that time she has continued to write, concentrating primarily on fantasy stories for young children. However, in the past few years she has also discovered the joys of writing poetry for adults, and her first two books are poetry collections: It’s a Teacher’s Life…! and Family and More – Enemies or Friends?, which have been inspired by her professional and personal life.

Helena is now a private tutor and translator. She is continuing to write children’s stories, and illustrations for her first children’s picture book are now being done. Her aim is to see the book in print before the year is out. Many people ask Helena why she likes to write. She feels she can best express it like this:

The blank page calls,
the heart responds,
imagination spreads wide its wings
and launches into infinity…
Fingers dance,
words flow,
the page fills,
the soul takes flight
and the spirit sings.

Copyright © Helena Harper


1. Have you always been interested in writing poetry? Actually, no! I’ve always loved to write, but my first love has always been writing fantasy stories for young children. I wrote poetry at school, of course, and every so often when I was on holiday, but it wasn’t a regular thing.

2. So, what prompted you to write your first book “It’s a Teacher’s Life…!” Well, I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and about three years ago, when I was having a lovely holiday at a beautiful place in the country, I was inspired to write some poetry, and when I came home, I then had the idea to write some more poems about my life as a teacher. Each poem would concentrate on a different aspect of school life, such as the lessons, what went on in the staffroom, school trips, exams, report writing, and so on. I also wanted to pay tribute to some of the support staff who do so much to keep a school running, but are often forgotten about e.g. the cook, the caretaker/janitor, the nurse, the school secretary – the unsung heroes of life is what I call them.

3. Do you have a favourite poem? No, I can’t say I’ve got a favourite. Each one is written from the heart and it’s impossible for me to single one out in particular.

4. What prompted you to write your book “Family and More – Enemies or Friends?” I had the idea one day whilst driving to work. I was just thinking about my family and other people in my life who’ve had a big influence on me, one way or the other, and suddenly the idea popped into my head that I could write a second collection of poems about them and the lessons I’ve learnt from them.

5. Why is it called “Enemies or Friends?”
That’s got a lot to do with the fact that my mother is German and my father was English, and I just couldn’t get my head round the fact that, had I been born a few years earlier, all my German relatives would have been my ‘enemies’. To me they could never have been ‘enemies’, just ‘family’. It got me thinking about how futile it is to talk about so-called national divisions.

6. What did you find the hardest about writing your book(s)? Finding the time to finish them and then the editing, the endless checking and re-reading – it drove me crazy!

7. What was the easiest part? Just writing the poems – I was totally absorbed by the process and really enjoyed it.

8. How do you describe your style of poetry? Easy-to-read, easily accessible free verse. I want people to be able to read and understand what I’m writing about from the word go. I don’t like things to be hidden in obscurity. I write simply as I’m inspired to write. The poems I’ve had published in my two collections are really stories and character sketches that just happen to be in verse. One of the reviews on Amazon talks about me developing a new form of poetry, called the ‘anecdotal poem’, and I think that describes my style of poetry very well.

9. What’s the attraction of writing poetry as opposed to writing children’s stories? When I write poetry, I can concentrate on the rhythm and sound of the words and use vocabulary I wouldn’t be able to use in my children’s stories. It’s a marvellous linguistic challenge – the sound of words has always been something that’s fascinated me. It’s one of the reasons I studied modern languages. When I write my children’s stories, it’s more about escaping into a wonderful world of fantasy, leaving the mundane ‘real’ world behind – I find it wonderfully exciting and liberating.

10. When you’re not writing, what are you doing? Tutoring, translating, reading, walking, playing tennis or dancing, doing Pilates, spending time with my niece and nephew.

11. What are your future writing goals? The illustrations for my first children’s picture book are being done at the moment and I will then get the illustrations done for my second picture book. I’m really looking forward to having my children’s books published and going into schools to talk about them. Having been a school teacher for 20 years, I’m no stranger to the school environment, although it will perhaps be a little strange that I will be going into schools first and foremost as a writer rather than a teacher, although everyone can learn something useful, I hope, from my stories.

Published Works

No doubt you remember your life at school as a pupil – the long lessons, stringent rules and chaotic classrooms – but what was it like from the teacher’s perspective? Did they savour the experience of setting and marking our homework? Did they get a kick out of writing our reports? And, most intriguingly, what did they get up to in the staffroom?

If you’ve never been there yourself, you need to follow Helena Harper into this alternative world of coffee addiction, frantic marking, lesson-planning and inspections. She answers all of your questions and more, and her insightful, evocative and often sardonic descriptions leave you more appreciative of the trials and tribulations (and the occasional pleasures) of being the dragon in front of the whiteboard.

It’s a Teacher’s Life…! will open the eyes of the pupils who always thought that teachers didn’t exist outside of school hours… On the other hand, with such a long roll-call of meetings, assessments and after-hours activities, perhaps they were right all along!

Purchase the book HERE.


Who influences us in our lives? How do they influence us? Whom do we call an enemy? Whom do we call a friend? And why? Why do we have relationships at all? These are the questions Helena Harper eloquently asks in her collection of poems that examines the relationships in her own life. She has had to rethink her definition of ‘enemy’, not least because her father was English and her mother German and they met in the aftermath of World War II in Germany. She has also been forced to rethink her definition of ‘friend’. If we learn something from someone that helps us to grow and develop as human beings, becoming more understanding and compassionate in the process, then surely most people we meet in life will be our ‘friends’? Through the memories and experiences of the people in Helena’s life, others can hopefully reflect on their own and maybe come to understand themselves and their relationships better.

Purchase the book HERE.