Music Credits: “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T, from the cd Soul Sand. Used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.
Jo Reed: From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed….
Meg Medina: I wouldn't have said, "Yes, I'm only going to write for young people," when I first started, but my whole life sort of pointed me that way, right? I had been teaching. I liked children's books. I liked reading. I really, really enjoy the company of young people. I was a mom. Like there were all these experiences that were pointing me in that way, so when I finally sat down to write, that's what emerged. This alchemy of family story and culture and young people.
Jo Reed: That was author and the Library of Congress’s 2023-24 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Meg Medina, the first Latina to serve as Ambassador in the program’s history.
During her two-year term, Meg Medina looks to engage readers across the country to embrace the joy of reading and encourage connection among families, classrooms, libraries and communities by talking about books that both reflect the readers’ lived experiences and those that open them up to new perspectives.
This diversity of perspective is something Meg has been advocating her entire writing life. Herself a Cuban-American, Meg’s protagonists are strong, if flawed, Latina girls. Her books examine how culture and identity intersect through the eyes of young people even as they explore problems familiar to any kid navigating home and school. For example, her award-winning YA novel “Yacqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass” looks at bullying, while “Burn Baby Burn” takes place in NYC in 1977 the summer serial killer Son of Sam terrorized the city, Her middle-grade novel the 2019 Newbery Medal Awardee “Merci Suárez Changes Gears,” is the first of three books in a trilogy about the Suárez family and the illness of a beloved grandparent while her recent award-winning picture book, “Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away,” examines change in the life of a young child. Whatever the target age, Meg’s books are alive with vibrant characters and have a laser-like focus on authenticity and truth.
I spoke with Meg Medina shortly after she was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and I began by asking her what she thought we should know about her.
Meg Medina: I am a writer who writes picture book, middle grade, and young adult fiction. I float pretty easily from one age group to the other. My background is Cuban-American. My parents arrived in this country in the early '60s and the rest of my family throughout the '60s and '70s. But I grew up here. I was born here. So, I was the first North American born in my family, which was a strange position to be in. I was sort of the translator general for the family. Not only literally, translating English in forms and things like that, but just culturally what this country was and how things were here and what was okay in childhood here. What were the books? What were the styles? All the things. What were the normal activities of an American kid? And so, I feel like that experience of growing up in an immigrant household where money was tight. When language was both a joy, an expansion, being able to speak Spanish and English. But also, an obstacle sometimes. All of those experiences I think I'm going to be able to bring with me into the Ambassadorship for the better. I think we have so many different kinds of people in this country and so many languages spoken and I just think it'll be helpful to be able to connect with them.
Jo Reed: Where were you raised?
Meg Medina: I was born in Alexandria, but I wasn't there, interestingly. Just before my birth, my parents' marriage dissolved. And so, my mother found herself in this country with no relatives. You know, everybody was still back in Cuba, but she did have a cousin, Minna Hernandez who lived in Queens New York, and Minna got on the Greyhound Bus and came to Alexandria. She taught my mother this concept called the garage sale <laughs>, this American concept. They sold everything that wasn't nailed down and then my mom brought us to New York, the biggest city in the world, right? And when I think back on what that must have been for her. But she raised us. She raised my sister and me in New York in the '60s and '70s, which was a hot time in New York City. <laughs> And that must have really been, I think bewildering for her. Then I spent some time in Massachusetts. I lived in Florida for ten years where my own three children were born. And interestingly, because life is funny that way, through job transfers and so on of my husband, we ended up back in Virginia. And today I live in Richmond.
Jo Reed: Well, New York certainly is a multicultural hub with a large Latino population
Meg Medina: Yeah, and certainly in Queens. Queens is, I think, the most diverse county in the U.S., for sure one of the most diverse places. When I was growing up in Flushing, Queens, it was a really interesting mix of people. There were, the older sort of European immigrants from Greece, from Italy, Ireland-- that group. But there was a big group of Cubans who had just arrived, Columbians, Indian families were growing and of course, it was the beginning of the establishment of the Asian population in Flushing, which is now heavily Korean. So, it was everybody. It was a wonderful way I think to grow up. It offered just the daily experience of living and learning with people who are like you in lots of ways, have families and jobs and concerns and all of those things, and also really different. I'm really grateful for that experience.
Jo Reed: Yeah, I grew up in New York, too, and when I think back now-- just in my building, how many first-generation people were in that building, but from literally all over the world. And to me it was just natural, like breathing out and breathing in. But now I look back and I realize how lucky I was.
Meg Medina: Yeah, I think so, too. It was just a natural way to learn how to be and share space with people and be respectful and learn from each other, you know, and love each other and see each other as part of the community.
Jo Reed: Where was reading in your life when you were young?
Meg Medina: Well, you know, it was in lots of places. Interestingly, so there were not a lot of Latino characters, obviously in the books that I was reading in the '60s and '70s, or at least not in the books that were being introduced to me. I was being given the books that many kids in the early '70s were being given, the Judy Blume, Witch of Blackbird Pond, My Side of the Mount-- all of those sorts of old classics. I read all of those and I enjoyed them. I liked reading. Mostly I liked story. And so, I didn't need to have the character look exactly like me to enjoy the escape that reading provided me. My family, though, were real storytellers, just naturally. They, I think, processed their trauma through story. So, they process like their leaving their country and their family. I was filled with stories of what Cuba looked like, and who their neighbors had been and the time that So-and-So, did this. It was just a constant storytelling in the family. And for all kinds of purposes--sometimes to advise me in life. "I knew a person who did this once and look what happened to them," and I'd get this whole story. They used story in lots of different ways. So, I think I just sort of naturally developed an ear for that kind of drama and the interest in how people behave. And I find that in my work all the time. You know, when I'm writing, I'm really fascinated, not exactly by like the events of the novel, but by how the characters respond to those events. And so, I just feel like that I could trace right to storytelling. And then in terms of reading, you know, my mother did the best that she could. I mean, she had been a teacher in Cuba, so she knew the value having knowledge. My mother was wise enough to get me a library card, to get us the Encyclopedia, to let us buy books through the Troll Book form, those little order forms that used to come through school Even though money was really, really tight. I think she really liked to see us figuring out language, being able to read in English. Being able to know things. That mattered to her.
Jo Reed: Well, you taught for ten years before you turned to writing.
Meg Medina: I did.
Jo Reed: Was it a vocation for you, sort of inspired by your mother? How did you come to teaching?
Meg Medina: <laughs> That's really funny. I came to teaching kicking and screaming. Okay, here's how-- here's the true story of how Meg Medina became a teacher. I did not want to be a teacher because my mother wanted me to be a teacher. My mother wanted me to either be a teacher or inexplicably a translator at the U.N. I don't know why she thought that <laughs> could be possible, but okay. Or the other thing she also often mentioned was the phone company. The phone company was a good place. And my mother really wanted me to have health benefits, and she wanted me to have security, and she didn't want me to worry as she did here as a factory worker about those kinds of concerns. Like how you were going to feed yourself and house yourself. And those seemed like really practical jobs. So, I graduated college and I went to work at Simon and Schuster where I was the worst Editorial Assistant probably ever. I was not good at it. And you know, then as now, life in Manhattan is expensive and having a wardrobe for those kinds of jobs and getting yourself there, all of that cost money. And I was from what was then, especially, another universe in the Boroughs, right, in Queens. I just was not suited to that job. And I decided to leave it, because believe it or not, I could make more money as a public schoolteacher, and New York City was having a teaching shortage. So, all you had to do was promise to take 15 credits and then they'd give you control over the fate of 36 poor little kids in your class, right? So, they sent me to P.S. 19, which is the largest elementary school in Queens, or it was at the time. And my students came mostly from the Dominican Republic, very recently arrived. Some like within days. The beginning was pretty rough, I go to say, right, because they have a teacher who does not know things like, "What is a lesson plan?" and other basics that are important. But here's what happened in very short order. This job that I took just sort of as a placeholder while I really figured out what I quote/unquote "really" wanted to do, it just took me because the kids were adorable. And I felt really connected to their families, like their experiences were very familiar to me--their neighborhood, all of it. And I just fell in love with them, with children's literature, and what I most remember about that year is the last day of school when I sat at my desk and I just cried, because I was going to miss them and I was worried that their next year's teacher wouldn't maybe love them or respect them in the way that I felt that I did, or I don't know, I just was so attached to them. And then I just stayed teaching. I got very curious. I went to the Louis Armstrong School and then I taught at an Arts Magnet School in Florida. And I just became enamored with literature and writing and children's books and young people of every age. They kept me laughing, they were maddening sometimes-- especially the teenagers later, they were asking really hard bold questions. And I loved all of that, all of that, very unexpectedly.
Jo Reed: You made the next transition and you were 40 when you decided to make the leap and begin to write.
Meg Medina: Yeah.
Jo Reed: What motivated that?
Meg Medina: So I had been teaching writing for a long time. But I wasn't doing much of it myself. In other words I was teaching other people how to give voice to the things they were curious about, but I was not completely fulfilled in teaching. I loved it. I loved my students, but there was something still missing. And the missing thing was that I really wanted to be writing. So, I started small. I started writing at little newspapers and I wrote I can't tell you how many articles for like $50 an article. It was just a ridiculous starvation kind of wages. But I built up my clips. I built up a thick skin to be able to edit. Like when an editor says, "Yeah, the lead is terrible, you got to rewrite it. Ten minutes," <laughs> you know, you can't get darling about your words then, right? You have to be able to separate and do the thing,
So, I started that way, but mostly, when I turned to children's writing it was more dramatic. I had moved to Virginia with Javier and we had three kids. And I was in a new city and my friendships were largely with the mothers and fathers of my children's friends. And I was living in a suburb and there were very few Latinos and I felt disconnected from the arts community, and I felt just lonely. I felt really spectacularly lonely. And so, at 40 I knew someone through a board that we sat on, who said to me one day, "Have you ever thought of like thinking of a vision statement for yourself? Like what do you want your life to look like as a writer and an artist, if this is what you say that you're missing?" And so, I did it. I came home. It felt ridiculous, I have to say, it felt ridiculous. But I did it, I wrote it, and I kept that piece of paper. The first thing is that I got very weepy when I finished reading it, because I thought, "This is ridiculous. Who am I to wish these things? This is just silly. It felt like I was writing fantasy. What's interesting is I wrote that document in like 2003 maybe. I don't remember the exact year but almost everything that I wrote came true. I don't know how to explain it, but I share that story with writers a lot, because sometimes putting it down, like getting it out of your imagination and putting it down on a piece of paper like it's a tangible thing that you can look at, helps raise your sights. It helps you sometimes be more accountable. Like, “this is what I want, so what's one thing I could do today to move me closer to that?" And that's how I just started moving in that way and one thing led to the other and here I am. It's not like you write the wildest wish and it comes true. It's not like a genie in a bottle. But taking yourself seriously.
Jo Reed: It can focus the mind.
Meg Medina: Yeah, I think so. I think so. So, I think it's an important exercise to do with writers, with kids, with everyone as we're growing up, "What is that you want?"
Jo Reed: And was it always books for young people?
Meg Medina: No, but it's hard to say. I wouldn't have said, "Yes, I'm only going to write for young people," when I first started, but my whole life sort of pointed me that way, right? I had been teaching. I liked children's books. I liked reading. I really, really enjoy the company of young people. I was a mom. Like there were all these experiences that were pointing me in that way, so when I finally sat down to write, that's what emerged. This alchemy of family story and culture and young people. It ended up being like a clava, which is the rhythm in Cuban music that 3/2 rhythm, or 2/3 rhythm that is sort of the underpinning of Cuban music, so like you can't-- that just never changes in a composition, right, no matter what you put on it. And I feel like that. That ended up being my clava--growing up and culture and family.
Jo Reed: Well, your books are very, very different from picture books, to middle grade, to YA. And they're different characters encountering different challenges and different joys. But there are commonalities and you mentioned family is certainly one of them. What are some of the others?
Meg Medina: Oh, I think girls finding their voice, for sure. I think love, especially within families. Because when we talk about families, the very same people who love us so very much, sometimes really hurt us. And looking at that little sliver feels important to me. I think I am willing to walk into grief and hard things with children. And bring them through the experience like honestly and safely. Whether that's the death of someone, whether it's a violent family secret, whether it's bullying. But those really hard dark spaces that kids go through growing up, I like to feel that they don't have to do it completely alone. They can sort of experience it, practice it, read about it, think about it, with one of my books as their companion.
Jo Reed: You know, while the experiences your characters encounter are culturally very, very specific, they are familiar to first-generation kids from anywhere. As you mentioned translating not just English, but habits, culture, technology to parents and sending money back home. This is first-generation. That's what happens.
Meg Medina: Yeah, yeah, for sure. That's one of the joys. I love that. I love when that happens. I love when someone who has nothing to do with me-- like I had a young woman in Wisconsin, she came to me and she said, "Oh, my gosh. “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”, that's my story!" This is not your story <laughs> is what I was thinking about. I was like, "This is so different. This is a Queens Latina girl," you know? But for her this issue of being bullied, of being targeted, being alienated at school all of that really resonated with her. And certainly, that has happened with “Burn, Baby, Burn” and with others. It's really rewarding. I mean, so being able to be both specific and universal at the same time. And that comes, I think, truly from just being very honest to the experience. And that's the experience I have when I read other people's books outside of my experience of my own cultural experience. I'm drinking in all that they are opening up to me. I'm drinking in the culture, the language, the customs, all of it. And I'm also feeling connected and seen in those moments where those events, those people, an attitude that a character has resonates with someone I know or something I've seen. And that I think is at the heart of why children's literature can be so powerful. Especially when we create really robust inclusive collections, in classroom libraries and school libraries and neighborhood public libraries. Because it knits us together. It allows us to do both things. To celebrate all that we are and all the cultures that make us up as a country, and who we are as people. Like just as human beings. The commonality. And I think that is really vital especially now.
Jo Reed: Well, it's kind of the alchemy of literature, that strange alchemy that happens when the more specific you are, somehow the more universal it becomes.
Meg Medina: Mm hm, for sure. I believe that's true. And making sure that the cultural details are exactly right. There's something about that that is deeply respectful and necessary in literature. Especially literature for children. We want to make sure that the books that we're offering them are accurate, so that they have true understanding of who their neighbors are, who they are themselves. You know, just getting it right really matters. And I think just as you say the specific and the universal is the flipside of the same coin.
Jo Reed: How do you start any book? Do you start with an idea, with a character?
Meg Medina: Usually the character and the age, that frames the concern. So, if I’m going to write a story, a kid’s in the hospital. It’s a very different experience if you’re six versus if you’re seventeen, right? So, the age really helps frame the voice for me and that’s the first thing I’m really looking for, the character’s voice, their personality, what they sound like, and what their initial problem is. And when I say initial, it’s not just the first thing that comes up, but like the problem the character is willing to tell me at first when I just know them minimally. It’s like going to a dinner party with people, right? You get “Oh, hi, this is so and so. They do this for a living.” You’re knowing these very superficial things-- they’re important details, but they’re not really the story of that person. As I write the book, as I’m exploring this so-called problem that they have, usually they crack open and we get to the deeper issue. Somewhere, I don't know, around page 50 or 60, I have a much deeper idea of what the character is really up against and then we start mining, for sure. So, I always start that way. Although, I say that and I’m working on a fantasy right now and I’m just finishing up the manuscript and I started with setting on that one, which I’ve never really done. I started with a sense of place and who is in that place and then I pulled the character from there, but the place was very, very important. It takes place in the abyss in the ocean.
Jo Reed: Wow… How much do you look at your own background, your own girlhood when you write? If not for the experiences themselves but for the kind of questions you were asking yourself.
Meg Medina: Oh, gosh, 100 percent of the time. Really. People ask, "Why you write for children?" And the truth is you're actually not, right? You're writing for who you were at a particular age. I know that sounds so narcissistic, but that's what actually ends up happening, at least in my process. When I'm writing someone 15/16, I inhabit who I was at that age and the things that hurt me at that age, and the outrage I felt at different things at that age--all of it. I try to become that person again. And to do that, I have to go back through memory. I have to unpack things that in some cases I don't want to think about at all and really think about them and lay them bare, and decide like what part of that still resonates now and why have I remembered it for 30 years or 40, you know, whatever? And come to some revelation that I can provide with the character in the story. So, I feel like with Yaqui Delgado for sure, I was bullied in exactly the way that you see in Chapter 1. It happened to me a little earlier in junior high school, but that was essentially what happened. “Burn, Baby, Burn”, I was 14 the summer that Son of Sam was murdering girls in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and so on, all the boroughs-- you don’t live through that without remembering that and certainly, I knew family troubles and depression and things like that in the house, which are also themes in “Burn Baby Burn,” all of it. I pull from my life shamelessly and I use my books not only to create entertainment and artful pieces, but really to unpack and understand all that has happened.
Jo Reed: It’s interesting because when I read young people’s literature, my emotions are much more on the surface. I’m a pretty engaged reader in general, but with young people’s literature, I laugh more. I cry more. I know at a certain point, I found myself saying “Oh, Mercy, don’t do that. Just don’t do that.”
Meg Medina: Me too. I do the same thing because I don’t plot these books. I write them very intuitively. So, I sit down and I just follow Mercy through the story. Like, I have vague ideas of what might happen just because the age and the setup, but generally, I’m very surprised and I can’t tell you how many times I said that to Merci, like “Oh, come on. You can do better. Come on, Merci. Tell the truth. Step up.” I had all kinds of motherly advice. But that’s the thing. The mother, the writer, that person has to step away. When you really give yourself to writing a book for kids and you’re writing it this way, where the character is sort of leading you, you have to leave all of the adult concerns far away. They’ll have a place, but it’s not in the drafting of the book.
Jo Reed: Let’s talk about Merci Suárez and the wonderful Suarez family. How did the Merci Suárez series come to be
Meg Medina: I started that as a short story. It’s in an anthology called “Flying Lessons and Other Stories.” Ellen Oh from We Need Diverse Books invited me into that anthology. It was ten authors from different backgrounds and we needed to just write a story that featured a character who was from a traditionally marginalized background and so, I said “Sure. I’m going to write a Latina character.” So what? I would say after you say yes and you sign the contract, it’s like “Okay, but she doesn’t sit around just thinking about her Latinidad, right? So, I wanted to look at this notion of what parents are willing to do for their kids to move them ahead and sometimes they have to swallow some really bitter pills. So, in the story “Sol Painting, Inc.,” Merci is about to start school at this private school where here genius brother is also attending and her father has traded his painting skills-- he’s going to paint the school gym in exchange for some tuition breaks and it was a look at what it’s like to be a scholarship kid, but more what it’s like to be invisible, one of these careers that people think of as invisible, yard workers, painters, like they call you “The Paint Guy,” “The Yard Guy,” like you’re nameless. And her father is that and yet, she’s going to be a student at this fancy school and the push and pull of that, the shame, the pride, the fury, all of the feelings that go into that, into finding yourself being asked to be grateful for this wonderful opportunity that is being given to you and also frustrated and having lots of feelings about what it’s like to move in those circles. So, I wrote the story. I loved the story and then the book did really well. It’s in a lot of school libraries and I just couldn’t stop thinking about Merci and both the editor, Phoebe Yeh, who edited that anthology, and my editor at Candlewick said the same thing, “Merci is just too big for a story. I think you want to write a novel for her,” and I did and that was “Merci Suarez Changes Gears,” and that was her in the sixth grade and then I kept thinking of the metamorphosis that happens from sixth to eighth grade and I said “I’ll just keep going.” Sixth grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade and then it gives me a chance to really have her deal completely with her grandfather and middle school and all of the things that are bananas about middle school.
Jo Reed: It is the most wonderful series. I read the first book when it came out and I was just so entranced and jumped on each one as soon as they came out. So, thank you for doing it.
Meg Medina: You’re welcome. I’m proud of that series. I’m glad like that I’m leaving it behind. It was hard to say goodbye to the Suárez family because I want to be adopted by them, but I feel like I told the whole story and I don't know, I hope kids continue to find the Suárez’s in the years to come.
Jo Reed: I’m sure they will. Now, you’re the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. So, tell me about your ideas for this role.
Meg Medina: Wow. Yeah. It’s big. So, my idea is that I want to rescue reading from this sort of notion as something that belongs only to schools, that we test. Just think about how we talk about reading to kids. “If you don’t read by this age, this is going to happen or that’s going to happen. Your ears will fall off,” like all these really dire warnings that may in fact be true if we’re looking at the data and so on, but it’s the reading joy that seems to come last. And I really want to rescue reading and reconnect kids to reading in a different way and thinking about reading and talking about reading in a different way. So they ask you to design a framework for how you’re going to move throughout your two years and my framework is called “¡Cuéntame! Let’s Talk Books!” So, “¡Cuéntame!” is this phrase that Spanish speakers use, like when we don’t see each other for a while and it’s like “Hey, what’s up?” We say “¡Cuéntame! What’s up?” Like, “Tell me what’s going on.” So, mine is “¡Cuéntame! Let’s Talk Books.” When I visit schools, they’ll have a chance to ask me questions about my work and all of that, but mostly, I’ll be modeling for them, I’ll be book talking for them the books that I am reading and loving and want to shout about. So, when we talk about books that we love to somebody else, we’re not only talking about the book. We’re also talking about ourselves. We’re sharing what excites us, what we love, what we think is interesting and so, that, I think, is where connection is. Like, if I come to you and say “Oh, my gosh Jo, you’ve got to read this book because...” and I’m super excited, I’m sharing myself with you in a very important way. So, I’ll be book talking to them and I’m hoping that they’re going to book talk to me the books that they’re reading. I’m already getting suggestions in the mail from kids. I’ve been given lots of suggestions for manga and graphic novels, which I’m devouring as quickly as I can.
Another part of my platform of ¡Cuéntame! is connecting families with the public library, especially now. I am a huge library fan and a huge fan of librarians and they’re just not the shushing places of yesteryear. They are vibrant places that have something for everybody in the family. And so, creating a push for library cards and highlighting really great programs that are going on in different libraries, I’m really just encouraging kids to think of the library as a place to go to gather books to make it part of their life. And then the last part I’m really interested in is just creating sort of an audio archive at the Library of Congress of new authors creating work now. I think what happens sometimes is we rely on the voices and the names that we’ve known or that our parents read when they were little, like the biggies and they’re great and they endure for a reason. But, my feeling is we’re in a golden age of children’s literature. There are just so many incredible authors coming to the table and writing from all sorts of experiences and so, I want to have a place where the kids can just come and click and hear the author read us what they think is their best minute or two of writing, tell us why they think that is a great minute or two and also share with us something they believe is true about children and reading. I think when we hear an author’s voice, when we hear their work in their voice, it's thrilling. So, those are right now the three main prompts of ¡Cuéntame! Now, as every good teacher will tell you, you plan. You put it into effect and then you just sort of see what’s sticking, what’s working, and you make adjustments. So, I think as the ambassadorship moves forward, there will be adjustments. But right now, that’s what I’m cooking.
Jo Reed: As you look ahead to the next two years, what are you most looking forward to?
Meg Medina: What am I most looking forward to? I think I am most looking forward to connecting with kids. Like, being able to spend two years really going into schools that have applied to have me come, who have collaborated with their public library, who have given like deep, deep thought to our time together and then being there in community with that whole school community, their moms and dads, their teachers, their school librarians, their neighborhood librarians, like helping them knit themselves together around books and being part of that. That, to me, feels really, really exciting.
Jo Reed: Okay. That is a good place to leave it. Meg Medina, thank you and congratulations and I’m thrilled.
Meg Medina: Thank you so much, Jo. I really appreciate the time.
Jo Reed: You’re welcome. That is author and Library of Congress’s 2023-24 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Meg Medina. She’s the author of many books including the Merci Suarez trilogy and award-winning picture book, “Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away,” You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. We’d love to know your thoughts—email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple, it helps other people who love the arts to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.
In this episode, we speak with Meg Medina, a Newbery Award-winning author and the current Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.
Meg Medina has written numerous books for kids and young adults, including "Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass," “Burn, Baby, Burn” and the Merci Suárez triology which she just concluded. In this interview, Medina talks about growing up in the multi-cultural hotbed of Queens, NY as the first child born in North America to Cuban parents and her role as linguistic and cultural translator for the family. She discusses the importance of family’s storytelling to her own writing, not finding herself on the pages of books she read as a kid, but treasuring the escape that books offered. We talk about her ten years of classroom teaching and her transition to children’s literature, her mining of her own experiences as kid in her writing process, her belief in the power of stories to create empathy and understanding, and the importance of authenticity and diversity in young adult literature and in stories that represent a wide range of experiences and perspectives. We also talk about her role as Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People's Literature where she’s create a framework she’s calling “Cuéntame!” which is designed to highlight the joy to be found in reading and create spaces where kids that share joy with each other and with their families. And yes, we talk about Merci Suárez! Let us know what you think about Art Works—email us at email@example.com. And follow us on Apple Podcasts