Since you’ve already heard a lot about the unusual (magic) chickens in my novel, let me tell you a little bit about the farm girl that’s trying to protect them.
Sophie is twelve years old, and she just moved to her great-uncle’s farm from Los Angeles. She’s shy, brave, and not quite sure how this whole farm thing works, but she always does what needs to be done, no matter what it takes. Sophie misses living near her Mexican-American mom’s family, and she particularly misses her abuelita, who died not too long ago. She also wishes she’d known Great-Uncle Jim, her white dad’s uncle who left them the farm, and she writes to him and to her abuelita, telling them about her new life — especially when Jim’s magical chickens show up.
Sophie is a brown girl who happens to be having magical adventures. Although Sophie’s main struggles are about protecting her new chickens, not about being mixed-race, she certainly notices how people treat her, and compared to LA, Sophie feels like she sticks out as a brown girl in her new community.
As a white writer who worries about the lack of diversity in children’s books, having a protagonist like Sophie come along was a pretty big decision. Could I write her the way she deserved to be written, or would I get everything wrong? I hadn’t published anything before — would it be harder to find representation for a book with a Latina protagonist,or harder to sell it? Could I allow my own worries to push brave Sophie’s story back down and leave it unwritten? What kind of writer would that make me?
I decided to give it a try, and to do my best. I used tips from Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward (absolutely recommended — so many practical suggestions!). I also asked for help from Latino/a writers and readers for things I hadn’t experienced or didn’t know.
My agent fell in love with Sophie and her chickens, agreed that Sophie’s heritage is a key part of her and was not to be changed, and offered representation. Yay, Mandy Hubbard of D4EO, who believes all kids need to see themselves in books!!
My editor agreed with us, and considered Sophie’s heritage a selling point when she bought the book. Throughout all the edits, Sophie’s heritage remained intact (and the amazing copy editors checked cultural details as well, to be sure things were as correct as we could get them). She asked for my opinion on artwork, and agreed that Sophie, her mom, and Gregory the postman would all be visibly people of color whenever they appeared. The artist they’ve chosen is doing amazing work, and I’m so excited. (Yay, Katie Kath, who gets Sophie just right!) Yay, Nancy Siscoe, the copy editors, and the art department of Knopf, who believe that people buy books about mixed-race Latina girls and their adventures!
I am trying to tell Sophie’s story as well as I can, but it is just one of many stories. While you wait for Sophie’s book, please consider trying some of my favorite reads about other Latino and Latina kids!
Just A Minute and Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales – picture books by one of my favorite illustrators (who also illustrated Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez — on my list to read!) Read them, and then make a lucha mask or a Señor Calavera puppet!
Pickle by Kim Baker – The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School — such a funny middle grade story about Ben Diaz and his super-secret practical jokester friends!
The Tía Lola stories by Julia Alvarez — warm, funny middle grade reads about Miguel and his family.
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall — a young adult retelling of the Odyssey, or, what happens when five Mexican-American sisters find a dead man’s body in the Rio Grande and decide to take it to his family in Mexico.
And please let me know your favorite diverse reads of any kind!