Category Archives: Artist Interview

Artist Spotlight: Diane de Anda

Diane de Anda

After devoting much of her life to education, professor emerita and social worker Diane de Anda recognized a need for children’s books in which Latino children could see themselves and their families. She began to write stories where Latinos were the main characters. Many of her twelve children’s books have won numerous awards.

 

In this Artist Spotlight, Star Bright Books talks with Diane, author of the book 21 Cousins. Diane shares about her life, her entry into children’s book writing, where she finds inspiration, and the themes that inform her approach to writing for children.

 

 

Star Bright Books (SBB): What was your favorite book as a child?

 

Diane de Anda (Diane): My favorite book as a child was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I read it at least three times and cried each time Charlotte died. When I was a freshman in college, a new friend (who is a close friend to this day) and I bonded over this mutual experience in our childhoods.

 

 

SBB: What inspired you to start writing books for children?

 

Diane: I had already been writing short stories for adults that included elements of my culture and people I knew who were not like most of those who appeared in the literature to which I had been exposed in college. When I began to buy books for my children, I realized that there were few in which Latino children could see themselves and their families; so I decided to write some myself. I remembered how different the Midwestern family in the Dick and Jane readers of my elementary school days seemed to me.

 

 

SBB: Who are some of your favorite Latino writers and artists?  How have these creative individuals inspired your own writing?

 

Diane: Among Latino writers, my favorite book is Isabel Allende’s The Stories of Eva Luna, because it is so beautifully lyrical. The works of Kahlo, Tamayo, Rivera, and Siguieros grace my walls.              However, they have not served as inspirations for my writing. The inspiration has come from the stories of their lives told to me by my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and other relatives, by the experiences of all the people who have confided in me both personally and professionally as a social worker and social work educator, and by my own experiences beginning in childhood. I find the everyday lives of people, their struggles and their joys, to be inspiring, rather than those whose lives have brought them fame.

 

 

SBB: Having written everything from children’s books to academic articles and even satire, do you see central themes or driving forces in all your work?

 

Diane: Most definitely, there are unifying factors. Most are driven by some issue which impacts people’s lives, be it personal, familial, societal, political, or even historical. Many of my short stories deal with the impact of historical evens (e.g. war) on the trajectory of people’s lives. Some of the children’s books deal with issues from a child’s perspective such as [the] deportation of a family member, a grandfather’s progressing dementia, healthy eating, etc., but all in the context of a story and a supportive family.

 

My latest book, 21 Cousins, deals with appreciating diversity within Latino culture in appearance, talents, and abilities and is aimed at correcting stereotypes. I write some things simply because I like to laugh and make others laugh too.

 

 

SBB: Can you share a bit about how you think humor and learning relate?

 

Diane: I was a junior high school teacher for four years, and had to find ways to get 250 early teens to be interested in history and English. Throughout my lesson plans I would add what I called “Motivational Activity,” which often had a component of humor. This perked up interest in whatever we were studying and motivated them [students] to engage in the learning process.

 

Sometimes humor can illustrate a point in a less threatening way. Humor can also add nuanced meanings. Most of all, humor adds a bit of a respite, and, I think, provides a different type of cognitive processing.

 

 

SBB: What are some ways your teaching experiences in social welfare inform your approach to       writing books for children?

 

Diane: My focus has always been social work with families and children whether in teaching, practice,  or research. This has given me an intimate knowledge of all the issues and situations with which they are dealing and the types of things that bring joy and pleasure into their lives. The field of social welfare also teaches us to listen to children and to find ways to have their voices heard.

 

 

SBB: What approaches do you take as a writer to assure you books educate and entertain without being overly didactic or moralistic?

 

Diane: As a writer, I have always followed the dictum “show not tell,” which helps keep one from becoming too didactic. In children’s books, I often have a child narrator who speaks in a straightforward and concrete manner, which also helps keep the text from becoming didactic or moralistic. I try to set things up so that readers can come to their own conclusions. I can’t stand anything “preachy” and prefer to let natural consequences do the “preaching.” Also, I try to present situations that show different perspectives rather than always a clear black or white view. Finally, the use of humor can get across a point without sounding too didactic or moralistic; that’s why I enjoy satire.

 

 

SBB: What were the biggest challenges and most exciting moments you encountered in the journey of your new book, 21 Cousins—from conceptualizing the idea through seeing it published and shared with the world?

 

Diane: Stereotyping has always bothered me. Being fair-skinned with reddish brown hair, I was often asked the rudely phrased question “What are you?” When I identified my ethnicity, the response was an equally rude reply: “You don’t look Mexican.” My snarky retort eventually became: “We come in all colors.” My large extended family did come in all colors and were loved as such. Even though diversity in appearance first came to mind, I knew I had to move people beyond that, to recognize and appreciate, in addition, [the] wonderful diversity on many levels, particularly in talents and abilities. The challenge was covering as many areas as possible that were contemporary, and so I included academics, athletics, music and dance, and technology. I tried to normalize the different appearances adolescents chose. I included children with disabilities, but focused on their talents or relationships rather than their disability, which did not define them. It was a pleasure working with my publisher, Deborah Shine, as we edited and shaped the different characters and made sure the illustrations were congruent with the descriptions of the children.

 

 

SBB: What are some things you learned in the process of researching and writing 21 Cousins, and, in turn, what do you hope readers take away from it?

 

Diane: One interesting thing I learned in the process was that I am actually one of twenty-one first cousins! When I first thought of the book, that number just popped into my head randomly, or so I thought. At some point in my life, I must have counted cousins and that number lay buried.

 

What I hope readers take away from this book is not just an end to stereotyping, but an appreciation of diversity and all the wonderful assets this offers to society along with a desire to have all children develop their talents and abilities and make their contributions to society. More subtle is a recognition of potential loss because of inequities.

 

 

SBB: Imagine there were a page in 21 Cousins featuring you!  What objects or surroundings would be around you in the accompanying illustration?

 

Diane: The illustration would be filled with lots of animals of all different species, as I have had (and loved) dogs, cats, rabbits, [and] chinchillas all in the double digits, as well as guinea pigs, hamsters, a large white duck named Henry (who sat next to me at age eight as I sang to him), a two-foot-long iguana named Spike who loved to have his neck scratched, various birds, a chipmunk, a gopher before he chewed his way out of his wooden cage, and many more.

Cover image of 21 Cousins by Diane de Anda, illustrated by Isabel Muñoz. Available in English and Spanish.

Artist Spotlight: Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon and her “rescue love dog,” Teddy

Star Bright Books had the privilege of speaking with Arizona-based writer Judi Moreillon about her life, her writing, and her newest book Please Don’t Give Me a Hug!. In our interview she discusses her life as an academic and children’s book author, as well as her inspirations from her childhood and into her career. Here is a portion of our conversation.

 

 

Star Bright Books (SBB): What does your creative writing process look like?

 

Judi Moreillon (JM): Although I have a routine, my process can be described as messy. I write and edit professional books as well as write children’s books. I write every day.

 

Since I have just completed a professional book project that is in production, I now have more time for my creative writing. If I have just an hour or so to focus, I pick a children’s book work-in-progress to read aloud and revisit. Ending a story is one of my weaknesses. So, I often spend time writing alternative endings.

 

If I have new inspiration, I write very sloppy rough drafts. When I can truly dedicate two or more hours to writing, I pick up a historical fiction project I started years ago. I am currently reengaged in a focused research effort for that project.

 

 

SBB: How have your experiences teaching and working in library science impacted your own

storytelling and views on children’s literature?

 

JM: Before studying library science and becoming a school librarian and librarian educator, I

was a classroom teacher. When a principal asked me what I most enjoyed about teaching,

I responded that I loved sharing literature and stories and conducting research with

students. She told me I should be a school librarian.

 

During my library science master’s degree program, I had the opportunity to study

children’s and young adult literature and how fiction and informational books can be

used to deepen young people’s thinking and increase their knowledge of themselves and

our world. One professor who greatly influenced me had extensive knowledge of the

history of children’s literature and made connections to folklore and storytelling. You could say I was hooked!

 

 

SBB: Growing up, did someone in your life encourage you to read? Did someone encourage

you to write?

 

JM: My mother said I loved stories from the very start of life. My father was working and going to night school, and well, Momma just didn’t have much time to read to me.

 

Fortunately, I had same-age cousins who didn’t enjoy being read to so my uncle adopted me as his star listener. I believe he made a difference in my love of the written and spoken word as did my dad who told my siblings and me made-up stories at bedtime most nights.

 

I also credit my third-grade teacher, Miss Schwab, with setting me firmly on the path of

writing. Miss Schwab loved poetry. She read poems aloud to our class daily and every

Friday we composed our own heartfelt poems. From those writing experiences, I learned

I had an innate understanding of meter and rhyme, and to this day, I feel great satisfaction

when I write a poem that captures an authentic emotion, curious experience, or exciting idea.

 

 

SBB: According to your website, you have written many poems that will “never be published.”

Why is that?

 

JM: Most publishers are reluctant to publish poetry collections. They say poetry doesn’t sell. To my way of thinking, it’s a great day to celebrate when a poetry collection or a book written in rhyme earns a prestigious children’s literature award. Sadly, those days are few and far between.

 

 

SBB: How do you use different sides of your writer’s brain, so to speak, to write both educational texts and books for children?

 

JM: For the past few years, the research-based educational texts side of my brain has dominated the more imaginative side. I am on the cusp of “retiring” the serious side and look forward to the resurgence of the playful side. My grandchildren—now eighteen months and three years of age—are powerful motivators for lightening and loosening my writing.

 

Even as young as they are, they have given me enough story starters to last for many

years of writing and submitting manuscripts for consideration.

 

 

SBB: What inspired you to write Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! ?

 

JM: Make Way for Books (MWFB), a Tucson-area nonprofit that offers early childhood literacy programs and services, hosted a writing contest. I had never written a work-for-hire or even entered a writing contest. I elected to write a story for children who do not like to be hugged. At the time, I was learning about young children with autism who preferred not to be touched and the idea of giving consent for the ways one wants to be touched was gaining more attention. For me, the story forthrightly addresses both the needs of touch-sensitive children and children’s rights to body autonomy.

 

 

SBB: What do you hope Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! will convey to adults and caregivers?

 

JM: I believe that the first-person point of view in Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! is essential in telling this story. The book makes it clear that children have agency with regard to their own bodies. They can say “no” to peers and adults alike; they can state how others should respect their boundaries. Understanding and practicing consent from an early age can increase how touch between children and between children and adults is understood in families, schools, and communities.

 

 

SBB: How do you think Estelle Corke’s illustrations help bring this book to life?

 

JM: As a picture book author who does not draw, I feel especially fortunate when an illustrator enhances my story. I appreciate that Estelle Corke’s child-friendly illustrations show three different children demonstrating autonomy while engaging in a wide variety of intergenerational social situations. The children and adults depicted are from various racial and ethnic groups and one character is assisted by a therapy dog. Estelle’s art shows each child’s discomfort when receiving a bear hug and their comfort in receiving greetings in other ways. Books published by Star Bright Books are sensitive to showing diversity in books that increase young children’s understanding that difference among people is both normal and positive. Estelle Corke’s artwork furthers Star Bright’s “concerted effort to include children of all colors, nationalities, and abilities in our books.”

 

 

SBB: How did you come up with the many alternative ways of showing a child love and affection that are mentioned in the book?

 

JM: As an educator, parent, and now grandparent, I have practiced all of the ways to show caring that are demonstrated in the book. All children deserve to receive (and ultimately give) kind greetings and meaningful acknowledgements.

 

It seems winks, waves, and smiles have always been go-to communication tools for

educators and family members. In addition to acknowledging auditory or speech differences, including the ASL sign for “hi” is also important. Some children may not want a soft pat on the back or a cootchie-coo under the chin, but it’s likely most will enjoy an air kiss. Our grandchildren like to sign-off our video chats by blowing us kisses. (The three-year-old is working hard to master winking!)

 

 

SBB: Should we keep an eye out for more Judi Moreillon children’s stories in the future?

 

JM: Absolutely!

Cover image of Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! by Judi Moreillon, illustrated by Estelle Corke