Earlier this year Meg Medina received the Newbery Award for Merci Suárez Changes Gears. The author is the second Latinx writer to win the coveted honor. The novel—Medina’s seventh book—is her second middle grade book and follows an 11-year-old Cuban-American girl who is a scholarship student at a private school in Florida.
You have spoken about needing powerful counternarratives to stereotypes about Latino immigrants in this country.
There are days when I am unspeakably sad about the narratives that have taken hold in our country regarding immigrant families—about how and why they arrive and about their so-called danger to us as a nation. I see a growing distrust, an us-and-them characterization, and mostly an ugly use of negative stereotypes that is poison to kids’ self-concept. I wrote Merci Suarez Changes Gears in celebration of immigrant families who love and support each other and who sacrifice themselves in large and small ways. I wrote about a clan for whom family is the center of absolutely everything. Those are the families I knew. Those are the families I see today.
You wrote about Merci’s grandfather Lolo and his decline due to Alzheimer’s. Why did you want to share this subject with young readers?
Kids deal with sad events in their lives, large and small. It can be as relatively simple as failing a test or as major as having a loved one grow ill or die. Most often, the first experience with loss is through grandparents. I chose Alzheimer’s’ disease as a vehicle because it is a loss on two levels: the loss of the personality, and then of the physical person. Right now, five million people live with the disease, and it impacts many more thousands of people who love them. The issue seemed relevant to a lot of readers.
“The Very Best in Middle Grade: Soman Chainani, Meg Medina, Raina Telgemeier, and Tracey Baptiste” 1:30–2:05 p.m. // Choice Stage
Favorite books as a Kid: Charlotte’s Web and the Nancy Drew series.
Favorite books as a teen: I jumped right into adult books. I remember getting addicted to Agatha Christie novels. I also read wildly inappropriate things, like The Happy Hooker.
Pumpkinheads, the graphic novel written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, focuses on love, friendship, and a pumpkin patch. Rowell calls it the “most lighthearted thing” she’s ever written. Hicks says, “I knew together we could make something really special, and I think we have.”
What was your collaboration like?
Rowell: I wrote a pretty detailed script and described the setting and characters. Then Faith came to visit me in Omaha because she’d never been to a pumpkin patch before! She really had a vision right away for how the script would work as a graphic novel. Looking back, it’s kind of miraculous that we were on the same page so quickly.
Hicks: Usually Rainbow would have a description for certain locations, and I would take her description and run with it. It also helped that, together, we visited a pumpkin patch, which was one of the inspirations for this book. I took lots of pictures and used them as reference, but I’d usually change the designs a bit or pump up the camp factor. Like, there wasn’t a caramel apple stand that was literally shaped like a caramel apple in the real pumpkin patch we visited, but I thought it would be fun to draw the stand that way in the comic book version.
What is the best aspect of writing and illustrating for young adults?
Rowell: I love teen readers because they’re not afraid to be earnest and enthusiastic. And adults who read YA are kind of the same way.
Hicks: Younger readers, both kids and teens, are a challenging audience. They are smart and won’t sugarcoat things for you when they don’t like a book you’ve made. But when they love something, there’s no audience with a greater passion.
“Must Read YA Graphic Novels” 1:45–2:30 p.m. // Room 1E14
Rowell's favorite books as a kid: Every Ramona book.
Hicks: The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander.
Rowell's favorite book as a teen: The World According to Garp by John Irving.
Hicks: I had probably an unhealthy fondness for Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I wanted to be Clarice Starling when I grew up.
Rowell's favorite word: Today? “Respite.”