Meg Medina, the 2023–2024 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (an initiative of the Library of Congress in partnership with Every Child a Reader), received the 2019 Newbery Medal for her middle grade novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears. In her latest picture book, No More Señora Mimí (Candlewick, Sept.), illustrated by Brittany Cicchese, a girl realizes that the arrival of her grandmother as a daily caregiver could mean saying goodbye to her longtime babysitter. Medina spoke with PW about being ambassador, how the village really does raise a child, and a memory of firing her beloved babysitter when she was young.

Are you participating in CI2024 primarily as Ambassador for Young People’s Literature or as a children’s author?

Both. There really is no way to cleave the work I am doing as an ambassador around libraries and reading and children and my own work and my own advocacy for reading. I’ll be speaking mostly about Señora Mimí, but not specifically to promote the title. Children’s Institute has a wider view than selling an author’s work. I do talk as ambassador about how we all raise children together, how we all raise readers together. And I do have a new book out that happens to look at the relationships that kids build with the people they love. But the conversation at CI2024 is about caregivers: about how we—as a bookselling community, as a book-buying community, as a book-making community—rethink who is raising our children, and how can we enlist all of those folks in helping us lift those kids as they grow up.

What accomplishment since you were named ambassador are you most proud of?

I hold public office hours quarterly when families can come to the library and spend some time with me. Kids come with their bags of books, they tell me about their reading life, about books they want me to read, about places in the library. The talking is all over the place, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish. Sometimes the parents are quiet, sometimes it’s a whole family conversation. It feels to me like an important step, especially for a role so tied to the Library of Congress. The message is, the library is yours, a place where you can access anything you are curious about. It’s opening the door for kids to be able to see themselves as legitimately belonging in that space.

What are your greatest challenges as ambassador?

It’s a vast role. You’re traveling a lot and trying to manage your own writing and school visits, and it’s hard to come by that quiet space you need as a writer. Also, right now there’s heated conversation around children and banning books. How do you encourage people to talk with their children about the books they’re reading, as opposed to blocking them? I’ve had to dig in to find the grace and patience to discover a common ground and give children space to read.

Was there someone in your life who inspired you to write No More Señora Mimí?

My mother got divorced and needed to work. There was a woman in our neighborhood, a fellow Cuban named Mimí, who took me in, along with other kids in the neighborhood. She was my babysitter until my mother announced that my family was arriving from Cuba and my abuela would be my babysitter. I was delighted, and said to Mimí, “My grandmother is going to take care of me, so I don’t need you anymore. Goodbye.” But you can see in photo albums across my whole life, I knew Mimí forever. Mimí was at my First Communion, at weddings, at all kinds of things. She was part of this whole network of immigrant women who were trying to help each other, and those friendships endured.

Why did you decide to write about a babysitter and her charge?

So many kids have experiences in daycare or with in-home care providers. That relationship they make with these people is essential. On top of all that, in-home childcare is predominantly done by Black and Latina women. There’s an entire ecosystem there I wanted to shine a light on.

How do Brittany Cicchese’s illustrations complement the text?

I give kudos to Brittany, a librarian who brings to illustration her own gentleness and an eye for what works for children. She really shines at emotion, and this largely is what Senora Mimí is about: the emotional lives of children and the people who love them.

Is it difficult to switch back and forth between writing picture books and middle grade novels, and is there a common theme to all of your books?

I have this child’s voice at different ages inside of me. I can find the problems of that age, the voice, and the feelings pretty easily. What dictates the genre is what the story is. What is the feeling of the story? Who is the audience? The themes I am always unpacking are growth, culture, growing up, and family—and what happens when those things all collide.

How does your Cuban heritage influence your writing style?

I call my writing style my clave: the clave are the rhythm sticks that are so essential to the three-two rhythm that’s a constant in Cuban music. It never changes, even if you put bongos and all kinds of music around it. It drives the music. My focus always is culture, growing up, and family, and where those intersect—whether it’s for someone who’s 17 or someone who’s six or seven.

There’s an entire eco-system there I wanted to shine a light on.

It’s your first Children’s Institute. Are you excited?

When your book is coming out, you’re thrilled! It’s like a baby being born. But I also like being able to say something meaningful about writing for children. That’s one way my ambassadorship and my presentation overlap. To be ambassador is not to sell your book: it’s to be in service to the nation’s children and their reading lives. Your focus has to be forward, and it has to include everybody.

Meg Medina will give the opening keynote on Monday, June 10, 5:15–6:15 p.m.

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