Meg Medina, winner of the 2019 Newbery Medal for Merci Suárez Changes Gears, expects a very different kind of year in 2020. Last year began with the big win, followed by travel, speeches, appearances, conferences, and more travel. This year begins with plans for an as-yet-untitled Merci sequel and a new picture book, Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away (Candlewick, Sept.), illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, the cover of which is revealed here. But Medina says she expects to spend the majority of her time writing.
“One of the first things that happens when you win the Newbery is that former Newbery Medalists call you with congratulations and advice,” Medina said. “Several of them said, ‘This is going to cost you a book.’ I didn’t believe that, but the distractions are on a surreal scale. There’s just so much to do. I tried to write squirreled away in hotel rooms but it’s not the same.”
Mercifully, the text for the picture book was largely done by the time of the Newbery announcement, and the fine tuning that remained needed to wait until Sánchez completed the artwork. “Usually the thing that drives you crazy with a picture book is waiting for the illustrator because their work takes so much longer,” Medina said. “This time I was like, ‘Take your time, Sonia!’ ”
The story, which is inspired by an episode from Medina’s childhood, is set during the last play-date between best friends Daniela and Evelyn. “It happens to everyone: friends move on,” Medina said. “Sometimes it’s just the move to another class or to somebody they like better, but it happens and it’s painful.”
Candlewick executive editor Kate Fletcher, who acquired world rights to both the picture book and the Merci sequel from Jennifer Rofé at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, had spoken with Medina throughout the year but was still surprised when the first full draft of Merci 2 arrived in her inbox during the first weekend of the new year. “I’m so impressed she found the time to get this done because she has had a crazy busy year,” Fletcher said.
Evelyn will be published simultaneously in Spanish and in English. Candlewick will also publish new editions of Merci Suárez Changes Gears in 2020: the paperback (due out in April) will feature fresh art from Joe Cepeda, who created the art for the original cover, and a Spanish-language edition, translated by Alexis Romay, is scheduled for September.
Meanwhile, Medina and Fletcher will be working to produce the Merci sequel (planned for spring 2021), the idea for which may owe some credit to the organizers of a Pura Belpré Awards ceremony a few years ago. (Medina has twice been honored by the Pura Belpré committee.) Fletcher says she and Medina were at the ceremony when a troupe of energetic young dancers performed a traditional Spanish dance. “They were just so amazing and Meg leaned over to me and said, ‘Can you imagine Merci doing that?’ ” she recalled. “We were already talking about ideas for a sequel, but those dancers may have been the first seed.”
Medina will not attend this year’s ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia where the Youth Media Awards are traditionally announced, but she did end 2019 with another prestigious honor. In December, she was named Richmond (Va.) Person of the Year, an award she shared with Rodney Johnson, a teacher serving imprisoned teens who also won another high honor earlier in 2019—National Teacher of the Year.
“I went to the luncheon for all the nominees and you hear about all the incredible things these community organizers and leaders are doing and you are just so humbled to be included in the group,” Medina said. “I am so thrilled to share the award with Rodney, who is doing extremely valuable work with kids some people would prefer to ignore.”
But she admits it’s almost a relief to not have a book in the running for this year’s awards. She’s looking forward to watching the livestream, in her pajamas, with a cup of coffee. “I always get so excited. If it’s a book I have read and loved, perfect. But if there are books I haven’t read, it gives me a reading list for the whole year.”
Plus, she said, she’s already looking forward to a new responsibility: “I get to call this year’s winner!”