Passionate about bilingual education and biliteracy development beyond the primary grades. My goal is to share ideas, resources and tips that promote the sustainability of biliteracy past the primary grades.
Over the past few weeks, I had the pleasure of featuring some bilingual authors from Illinois who are doing some great work. From young adult fantasy novels featuring Latinx girls to a novel that helps young people heighten their environmental consciousness, Latinx authors in the Chicagoland are up to some great things!
But that’s not all. A group of Chicagoland educators are doing some great things for the Latinx community. One of them is Nancy Dominguez-Fret, who is featured on this post.
Nancy is a doctoral candidate in Literacy, Language and Culture in the College of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC). She currently serves as the chair of the Spanish for Heritage Learners Special Interest Group for ACFTL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) and was recently awarded the prestigious Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. In fact, Nancy is the first recipient of this fellowship from UIC in nearly twenty years!
Nancy grew up in the Little Village neighborhood, on the Southwest side of Chicago. She identifies as a heritage speaker of Spanish and learned English in an elementary bilingual program. Since early childhood, she has frequently traveled to Jalisco, México, where both of her parents were born. She is a first-generation doctoral student and the mother of Sofía and Sebastián Fret; two bilingual MexiRicans. Nancy is a former high school Spanish teacher. She taught four levels of Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL) at Bolingbrook High School for three years and currently teaches SHL at the College of Dupage. Nancy enjoys exploring the city of Chicago with her husband and two children, running and eating tacos.
Although there has been an increase of Latinxs going into academia (including myself!), roughly 7% of PhD recipients are Latinx. I’m currently on my third year and I’m on my way to taking qualifying exams this summer. It hasn’t been an easy journey! I will share more about my personal experiences in academia soon but I think it’s also important to share the perspectives of others that are on the journey beside me. Here are things from Nancy’s perspective:
What inspired you to become an educator?
I decided to become an educator because of my third-grade teacher, Mrs. García, who saw me not only as a student but also as a human being who was juggling being a student and her parents’ separation. As soon as she saw my grades were getting low, Mrs. García intervened, reached out to my mother and provided us with strategies to ensure my academic success. Mrs. García also provided me with a safe learning space that I will never forget. My experience as a student in her classroom during the most challenging years of my life, inspired me to want to become a maestra and treat students like she treated me; with love and respeto. As a heritage Spanish (HS) speaker, I grew up speaking Spanish at home. My mom ensured my siblings and I maintained our language by taking us to my family’s home country, México, and a Spanish speaking church frequently. During my high school days, I noticed many of my Latina/o/x friends hardly spoke Spanish and I did not understand why. Later, I discovered that over the last decade, Spanish fluency among U.S. Latina/o/x families has decreased with each generation. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that in 2006, 78% of all U.S. Latinos spoke Spanish at home, but this number decreased to 73% by 2015. Learning about this language shift inspired me to become a Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL) teacher. I desired to encourage Latina/o/x students to maintain their Spanish and pass it on to future generations.
What inspired you to go into academia?
When I began teaching Spanish as a Heritage language (SHL) at Bolingbrook High School, I realized how unprepared I was to teach my own comunidad. I was prepared to teach Spanish as a Second Language (L2) but was never provided with the tools to teach SHL. Soon I realized that I was not alone, that most Spanish educators across the nation are not trained to teach SHL. This is a result of most preservice programs not requiring coursework that provides teachers with tools to teach in SHL classrooms. This leaves Spanish teachers who want to (or have to) teach SHL courses to simultaneously educate themselves about their students’ unique needs and build new curriculum without having any guidance or support. During those years, there was also a lack of professional development opportunities for SHL educators nationwide and this motivated me to enroll in a Ph.D. program at in the College of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago with the goal advocating for change in the systemic structure of Spanish preservice programs that center whiteness and exclude the needs of Latina/o/x Spanish speakers. Since then, I have given various workshops on designing culturally and linguistically sustaining SHL curriculum and have served as a consultant for school districts who aspire to develop SHL programs.
Describe your journey in academia. What has gone smoothly for you? What challenges have you faced in your journey?
I embarked on this journey with a 6 month old daughter and knew since the onset my journey was not going to be easy. I decided to apply to UIC because I had a strong desire to stay home and close to my family and comunidad en Chicago and because I knew there was potential to have an advisor that had similar research interests to mine and who was also a first-generation Latina scholar.
It has most definitely not been a smooth ride, I had my son during my second year in the PhD program and took a leave of absence. Aside from this, I had to look for my own funding for a couple of years, found it and continued my journey.
As a mother in academia, sometimes I feel like I am missing out on important experiences during this PhD journey, but with time I have learned I will always have to pick and choose what I participate in and that is totally fine. I think the most challenging time for me during this program was during the pandemic, when I lost all of my childcare, nonetheless, I was still able to defend my proposal and publish a chapter focused on my research with my advisor. How? I am not sure, but I promise it happened. Nonetheless, it was a very stressful time in my life. I am blessed to have a really strong support system, my husband, madre, hermanas, amigas, and academic advisor, I would not be where I am today without them and their constant support and encouragement.
Talk about Latinx representation in academia. What would you like to see more of in your field?
This is a really good question. Currently only 7% of individuals in academia are Latina/o/x. In my experience, academia can be a very white centered space, and not designed for students that look like us. Even in Spanish departments, most individuals in tenure track positions are not U.S. Latinxs. I would love to see this change and for more U.S. Latinxs to be in these positions. That’s one of the reasons I am passionate about completing my PhD because I want students to see themselves reflected and represented by their professors. I want my students to become the future of academia.
Describe your research interest(s). What inspired you to research this particular area in the field?
My dissertation research focuses on exploring the lived experiences, across the K-16 educational pipeline, of U.S. bilingual Latina/o/x teachers who teach Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL). My research seeks to learn from participants’ narrative testimonios and explore how participants’ educational experiences inform their teaching practices. The results of my research will expand the scarce knowledge base in both Bilingual Education and SHL about the experiences of bilingual Latina/o/x students across the Pre-K-16 educational pipeline. My research also offers possibilities for changes in pre-service Spanish language programs–changes that are centered around humanizing and socially just pedagogies. Aside from my dissertation project, I also conduct research on the lack of access Latina/o/x communities have to Dual Language education programs in Chicago. One of the goals of my research is to collaborate with parents, educators and scholars to disseminate research on the benefits of bilingual education and call for the implementation of more rigorous and social justice-based Dual Language education programs in Chicago.
What advice would you give to other Latinas who are interested in going into academia but may feel intimidated or unsure where to start?
I am going to answer this question with a few consejos:
Reach out to one of us already in academia and ask us questions before you make any decisions to enroll in programs and or get in debt or a degree.
Find an academic mentor/ advisor who has similar research interests as yours. Do not choose an advisor because they are famous or have published extensively. Instead, talk to their students and ask them to share their experiences working with this individual. This is important because this person will work closely with you for your entire PhD journey.
Find a PhD program with funding or potential for funding (e.g. T.A.ships )
Most importantly YOU CAN DO IT. I was once questioning my potential and now I am almost at the finish line. Do not give up on your dreams.
Para esta entrevista, tuve el placer de conectarme con Abigail Silva. Abigail es mexicana, nacida en la Ciudad de México. Estudió en la Universidad de las Américas y es Licenciada en Comunicación Humana con una especialidad en Problemas de Lenguaje, Aprendizaje y Audición. Tiene una maestría en Educación Especial y Lenguaje y tiene más de 20 años de experiencia trabajando con niños y con familias.
Abigail es fundadora de Conectando corazones, un espacio creado con mucho amor para ayudar y conectar corazones con la comunidad hispana. La misión de Conectando corazones de ayudar a la comunidad hispana, madres, padres, abuelos y jóvenes estudiantes mediante talleres, seminarios , cursos y pláticas de motivación.
Conectando corazones es un espacio de unión, aprendizaje, crecimiento y armonía. Juntos podemos apoyarnos y lograr muchas cosas positivas, lograr un cambio positivo en las vidas de los estudiantes , sus familias vidas y en nuestra comunidad.
Para más información, visite la página de Conectando corazones en: https://conectandocorazones.us/p%C3%A1gina-de-inicio
Aparte de ser una educadora, Abigail es autora de literatura infantil. Su libro Mi pequeño gran lider fue publicado en el 2021. El objetivo de este libro es de de orientar a padres sobre diferentes estrategias que pueden usar con sus hijos para ayudarles a ser los líderes del mañana y a liderar sus propias vidas con éxito. La infancia y la adolescencia son las etapas claves en las cuales se aprenden las habilidades de liderazgo. Es importarte enseñar a nuestros hijos lecciones a lo largo del camino que impacten de manera significativa en sus vidas. El líder nace y se hace en el hogar con el amor, la guía y el acompañamiento de los padres. El enfoque de esta entrevista es para saber lo que inspiró a Abigail a publicar su libro.
¿Qué te inspiró a convertirte en autora?
Mi carrera. He trabajado con niños y adolescentes por más de 20 años. Además la experiencia de madre.
¿De dónde sacaste la idea de escribir tu libro?
Mi primera inspiración llegó cuando una estudiante me compartió su historia. Una historia de negligencia y abuso. La estudiante estaba tan devastada y triste que intentó cortarse las venas y tuvo que ser internada. A partir de ese momento decidí escribir un libro de empoderamiento para las nuevas generaciones. Una guía con herramientas para los padres para guiar a sus hijos durante su infancia y adolescencia.
Describe el proceso de publicación de tu libro. ¿Qué te fue bien? ¿Qué desafíos enfrentamos?
El proceso fue muy difícil pues elegí una editorial de España. Y ese fue un gran error; pues la comunicación era muy difícil y los términos de la editorial no eran claros para los autores. Tuve una experiencia bastante desagradable porque la editorial tenía mi material y yo no sabía cómo recuperarlo después de que ellos lo habían puesto en Amazon sin autorización. Fueron momentos de mucha tensión, al final con la ayuda de un abogado recuperé mi escrito y encontré una editorial que me ayudó y lo publiqué con ellos. La nueva editorial me ayudó a cambiar el formato; una nueva portada . se modificó el nombre del libro y uno que otro cambio y pude publicar mi libro en Estados Unidos y México. Los desafíos que enfrente fue recuperar mi obra literaria y encontrar una editorial confiable.
Habla sobre la representación latina en la literatura infantil en los Estados Unidos. ¿Qué te gustaría ver más?
Me gustaría que hubiera más promoción en la literatura en español. Y no nada más en la literatura infantil; sino en la literatura en general en español.
¿Qué es lo que más disfrutas del proceso de escritura? ¿Qué es lo que menos disfrutas?
Poner mis ideas y mis pensamientos; Hablar de mi propia experiencia, compartir mis conocimientos con otros para el bien de la comunidad.
Qué consejo le darías a otros autores de herencia latina que están interesados en escribir/publicar pero que no saben por dónde empezar?
–Les diría que se animen; que hagan su sueño realidad; que no lo piensen más y pongan las manos en acción lo más pronto posible.
–Llevar una libreta con ellos siempre; en donde vayan anotando todas sus ideas y lo que quieren compartir.
–Y por último al elegir una editorial que investiguen mucho, hablar con personas cercanas que han publicado libros, que hablen con las casas editoriales y que se aseguren de entender todos los términos y condiciones. Y que la casa editorial que su corazón les dicte, esa elijan es muy importante tener una comunicación clara y de confianza con la casa editorial en la que decidas publicar tu libro.
This week, I have the pleasure of featuring another talented Latino author who recently published a novel about heritage, culture, and love for our planet. The Blue Q: The World As I See It tells the story of a world in peril and out of balance. The author, Dennis Avelar, vividly paints the story of our planet, the beings responsible its wellness and the selfish desires of those who are destroying it. It is an “all call” for all of us to come together to restore that which has been taken from the natural ecosystem.
Dennis Avelar is the youngest first-generation, American-born son of Guatemalan immigrants. His parents taught him to value the importance of hard work, of staying focused on his commitments, and to invest as much as possible into his career and education. As a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s film program, Avelar understand how visual arts play a key role to telling profound stories, which provide the basis of his written work. Professionally, he has experience in media research, local government, non-profit outreach, and small business operations, among others professional ventures. When given the opportunity to do so, he enjoys traveling, taking road trips, outdoor cycling and running, and spending time with his wife and his family. Avelar currently resides in Addison, Illinois.
When interviewed about his journey through the creative writing and publishing process, this is what Dennis shared:
What inspired you to become an author?
For me, it was both the love of telling stories and the power of the written word. I believe I was 12 years old when I wrote my first story. I enjoyed reading and I loved watching movies and playing video games that had strong storylines, but writing was not something I gave much thought. I do not know exactly how or why I wrote that first short story, though I do know that the protagonist of it was my brother, who to this day provides me an endless supply of real-life tales. Years later, I learned that my father photocopied the story, titled “My Big Brother”, and took it to his job. I later learned how that story had an impact on him; he told me how on particularly rough days at work – when he felt sad or upset or just felt like he was missing out on our lives – he would read the story and it never failed to lift his spirits. That’s when I learned that written words are more than just about entertainment, but instead they have the power to create action. If a four-page story was enough to turn anger and frustration into laughter, then the opportunity to create a more compelling story with greater results became my goal. Sadly, I was too young to follow-through with anything other than what captured my attention at the time, and in the years that followed I became more attracted to visual arts – theatre, cinema and television. The only person who constantly reminded me about writing was my mother. She never lost hope that I would eventually become a writer. Even while pursing my education in film studies, she only ever made one request: that I take just one writing class. After graduation and over 15 years of coming up with excuses as to why not to write anything other than homework assignments (oftentimes not my own), business documents, or scripts for a short web series, I had run out of reasons why I could not pursue what I most wanted. I found an idea for a story that I wanted to tell – one that would make an impact in many ways, but also one that could be set in the real world and become a catalyst for positive change. I went back to my roots, going as far back as the book that I loved when I was in 5th grade, and I found the inspiration in something that represents me. The spark started roughly 25 years prior, and it took me that amount of time to find the courage to convince myself that I wanted to be an author.
Where did you get the idea to write your book?
The idea actually came from a painting I requested of an aunt of mine who lives in Guatemala. My aunt is a talented painter whose passion is to create landscapes, butterflies, plants, and birds. On one particular occasion, I asked her to paint something special for me. I asked her if it would be possible to paint a bird, but not just any bird; I asked my aunt to paint a resplendent quetzal – the national bird of Guatemala and a symbol of freedom for all Guatemalan people – but to do so in a unique shade of blue. You see, the bird itself is bright green, with a prominent red-colored chest, and a set of long tailfeathers that stretch up to three feet in length. It is a beautiful sight to see one of them in person (from what I have been told), and because it is considered one of the most beautiful birds of the world, it is also endangered. My request of the painting was to have that same bird, only that instead of bright green and strong red, I asked of it to be painted in blue, with its chest colored white. Needless to say, my aunt thought that my request was peculiar, but she agreed to do it. Months later, my mother traveled to Guatemala and brought the artwork with her upon her return. When I saw it for the very first time, I froze in admiration of my aunt’s talent. I knew in that moment that there was more to that bird than what was in the painting. The blue quetzal had a name, it had a story, and it was a story that everyone on Earth needed to read. This had to be the start of something bigger, better, and greater than I had ever done before, and this blue bird was going to be it!
I must have admired the painting for maybe 10 minutes, then set it on my mantle, and failed to think of it as anything more than a pretty picture. Nine years passed, and while the painting itself never once moved from its location – never changed its stance, never altered its color – the discourse of my life changed entirely. I found myself at the lowest point I had ever been, filled with more emotions than I know to put on paper, and I had nothing but a trail of poor excuses as to why I did not pursue my passion. One day, out of the clear blue, I came home after an especially difficult day and noticed the painting once more. The same rush of thoughts I had when I first saw the blue quetzal came back to me, but now there was more to the story. This time, it became now or never. I set it in my mind that I would not waste this chance and that I was going to make something of this story, though I had not the slightest indication on where to begin. I studied movies – particularly the films of those I consider master storytellers – and the idea sparked at the moment I saw a bird in one, oftentimes overlooked scene of a children’s film, which prompted me to ask myself a single question: “I wonder what the origin story would be to that bird?” And that was it. I put pen to paper that same day, and did not stop the process for the next nine months. I learned as I went along, taking “advice” from the pages of the stories I loved most, and I became passionate about my story. It was more about writing the story that I wanted to tell and less about word count or page numbers. Once the noise became increasingly easier to silence, I discovered the endless joys found in the universe I created in my mind, then found a method in which to transfer that universe onto a cohesive storyline.
I still have that painting, and every time I see it I smile. That blue quetzal does have a name, as well as a story, a history, and a mission. It enabled me to discover something that I was unaware even existed, and I will forever be grateful that the answer I needed, when I needed it most, was in front of me the entire time.
Describe the book publishing process. What went smoothly for you? What challenges did you face?
There is a scene in the film Rocky Balboa in which the protagonist says this about life, “it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it”. The same could be said of the writing and publishing process. For me, I had no clue what I was doing. After the final draft of the manuscript was completed, I approached someone who worked in book printing, and he was kind enough to provide me with a checklist of “to-do’s”. I also found that there are people on the web who genuinely want to help, and others who want to take advantage of our lack of knowledge and experience. I discovered a cover artist who was kind enough to understand and interpret my vision for the cover. I watched a number of YouTube training videos to learn things like page layouts, how to typeset, page sizes, ISBN numbers, bar codes, and so much more. I spent hours upon hours of my free time learning how to structure what was originally written in one program to make it work in another, only to get though almost the entire book and learn that I had to start over. It was a time of trial and error that was far more frustrating and infuriating than any point in the entire process. However, I have yet to find a greater sense of relief than the moment I had the print-ready PDF. I was so excited yet overwhelmingly drained by the entire process that I wanted nothing more than to step away from my computer and not think about any part of the process for as long as I could, perhaps spoil myself by splurging on a fancy meal, taking a few days off and traveling to the most remote luxury resort I could afford, and just soaking in the natural “high” I felt after completing one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
No more than 45 minutes and a mostly untouched pizza later, I was back at work. Now I was looking at creating an e-book, and working on the printing process, and researching publishing houses, and learning how to self-publish, and watching videos on how Amazon works with independent authors, and learning that there are more options than just Amazon…and it went on from there. I have since discovered that the publishing process does not necessarily stop; it may slow down at some points – for example, after the conclusion of the printing process – but once one aspect is done, there remains so much more to do. No part of the process is simple, other than perhaps the decision you have to make in order to do it.
Using that same Rocky reference, “it ain’t about how hard you hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward”. It makes far more sense after you have been hit and have gotten back up, time and again. It becomes a part of who you are as a person, and it ultimately is reflected in your story. I did not have the funds available to outsource almost any aspect of the process other than the printing of the book (which is far better than anything I can make with a home printer) the cover art (which is far better than my stick-figure artistic talents enable me to do), and the translation of the Spanish edition (which is likely going to be the aspect of the project for which I am most grateful). After that, the publishing process is only as effective as the amount of time, funds, and effort that I invest into it. I do have the ability to pull the plug at any point, and perhaps cut my losses and be content with what I was able to accomplish. However, I have never been more confident or passionate about any self-driven initiative as I have about this story, and so I will exhaust myself and every possible resource I can discover in order to achieve the standard of success I wish to attain.
Rejection hurts, at any level. Bad reviews sting. I can’t count the number of people who have told me, “you know what you should have done…?” or who have supplied me with criticisms that are more about me than they are about the book. I have discovered errors in the copies that were printed, even after checking, and checking, and rechecking, and rechecking again. I have given books to those who are closest to me, and with one hand I can count those among them who have actually read it. But there are those who see the work and believe in what it represents. I have gained fans and a following, though I have worked hard for each and every ‘like’ and ‘follow’ on social media. I have had excellent reviews, have been welcomed in schools, have presented at an international book festival, and have even had the honor to be asked to participate in blog posts, Q & A sessions, library presentations, and so much more. To me, this is entirely the publishing process, and it is everything I was told that it would be: as frustrating as it is invigorating, as rewarding as it is belittling, and unlike any other self-driven challenge I have ever experienced.
Talk about Latinx representation in young adult literature. What would you like to see more of?
In terms of Latinx representation, I believe that it would be best to have a greater selection of Latinx authors. There are so many great stories to tell, and so many incredibly talented authors who are out there wishing that someone, anyone, would read and appreciate their work. I also see that there are a number of writers who have some of the most creative, imaginative minds the world of literature has ever known, but their stories are oftentimes hidden under or ignored entirely because they do not fit a pre-determined mold. There are so many excellent and compelling immigrant stories, but there is more to being Latinx than just that. There are profound, life-changing stories about our struggles (in the United States and around the world), but there is more to being Latinx than just that. Our ancestors were some of the most innovative and imaginative dreamers to have ever lived, and our archetypes should reflect our current dreams and passions. I believe that being a Latinx author (or writer, or filmmaker, or banker, or marketer, or photographer, or President) should not confine us to a box of pre-determined, sellable stories from which we are to choose, but rather that it enables us to share our culture, our dreams, our hopes, and our passions with the rest of the world. I applaud those who have achieved their goals and successes by carving their own path and following the road less travelled. I respect and admire the storytellers who stepped far from their comfort zones and created a vision of their world that we, as readers, are fortunate enough to witness. And I hope that I, too, can discover my audience among readers who enjoy and appreciate my work, where everything that I am – my culture, my roots, my joys, my pains, my achievements, my failures, and my beliefs – are deeply embedded in every chapter.What do you enjoy the most about the writing process? What do you enjoy the least?
I enjoy the blank page. I also loathe the emptiness of the untouched canvass, where sometimes the dread of the blinking curser is the only thing reminding me that I have not lost my mind. Perhaps that was a little exaggerated. Please allow me to explain.
By a substantial margin, the absolute most difficult part of the entire writing process is getting started. The first step is getting over the sense of fear, followed immediately by fear’s cousin, doubt. Then there is the questioning and requestioning of your intentions, and the seemingly endless purgatory of story development. And you might put it on paper and realize how ridiculous it all is, then scrap the entire thing and binge-watch a series on Disney+ or something. But at some point you come back to it, and then the magic starts happening.
I began the writing process concurrently with training for a marathon. Now, pushing yourself to your absolute maximum physical limits enables you to gain a new perspective on yourself, which opens your mind in many ways. For me, it was the way in which I was able to get through a tunnel of darkness I can only describe as an abyss of pain and loneliness. However, when you reach a certain goal that you create for yourself, you begin to lose your fear. When you reach a certain point, you discover that the pain is less and less with each passing day, and you feel that you can run towards that sunset you’re so vehemently chasing. That runner’s “high” for me was never a state of euphoria, but rather a statement of my self-accomplishment. If I can run x length, I can push myself to do more, but you have to get “in the zone”. The writing process, in turn, has the exact same process.
Words cannot fully describe the sense of joy that exists in creating something from absolutely nothing but an idea. One word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, one chapter at a time, one act at a time, one book at a time. Writing The Blue Q was one of the most profound, deeply personal and overwhelmingly altering experiences of my life. And I fell in love with the entirety of it all. I cried at certain points, more so as I read the drama I was trying to convey during certain scenes that were not as powerful when I thought of them earlier that day. I laughed hysterically, mostly at the dialogue that developed between some of these characters and as my mind provided each of them with distinct voices. I felt the rush of finishing a chapter as much as I felt the intensity and the madness that my mind creates when I actually want the light to turn red so I can safely stop and write down an idea that suddenly came to me which I refused to lose. I danced solo in an large, empty room, trying to explain to myself how I did it so I can describe the movements of some of the characters. I researched voices, dialogues, forms of speech, terms said by people in various countries, birds of all kinds, a number of countries and local customs, and so much more…and I found every moment of it to be fascinating. It was just as rewarding as crossing mile 26.2 on my own two, worn-out-yet-still-standing legs; as meaningful as each word of the vows I said to the best friend who is now my wife; and as emotionally overwhelming as the contrast that exists between pure darkness and glorious light.
But with all that being said, there is a process to it all that must not be ignored. It was difficult to have so many sleepless nights, wondering where the next chapter would go. It is not easy to work 45+ hours per week, feel tired, try to eat healthy, stay in shape, and be focused enough to write. I chose to write over watching movies or television, or staying connected with friends, or going out and meeting new people, or checking out a restaurant I was told about, or socializing in almost any way, or do anything that might distract me from my goal. The first phase of the process lasted nine months, and I can honestly say that I do not regret any of it. I actually look forward to doing it all over again.
What I enjoy the most of the storytelling process is the infinite amount of possibilities found in the blank canvas, where I choose the direction that I want to go, tap into my deepest roots and the core of my being, and produce the story that I both wish to write and wish to read. What I do not enjoy in the slightest is the inner voice that continues to tell me that it is not good enough, that it will never be good enough, and that no one will ever read nor benefit from a story about a blue bird. I silenced that voice once, as I held copy number one of The Blue Q in my hand for the very first time. I am going to stop short of describing that feeling, for I hope that everyone has a chance to experience that moment in their lives, and then may perhaps understand why the dreamers of the world so vehemently and relentlessly pursue their passions.
What advice would you give to other young people of color who are interested in writing/publishing but may not know where to start?
Tell YOUR story. Tell the story you want to tell, not the story you want to sell. I know, I know…that second one makes little sense, but hear me out.
It’s your story, plain and simple. No one in this universe will ever see everything from your perspective, but you can explain the map of your mind and allow them to draw their own conclusions. You may win (people buy your book, good reviews, etc.), or you may lose (you give your book away and still no one reads it, your book is not selected as a winner, bad reviews, etc.), but more than anything, you will discover something within yourself that you never even knew existed. That is why you write. You write the story you are proud to read, proud to put your name on, and one that you hope your mom will read and tell all her friends about.
And start now. There is no reason to wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow easily becomes next week, then becomes next month, then next year, and before you realize it a decade has gone by and you are no further along than where you began. The uphill battle upon which you will embark is by no means a simple one. Most people will not make it half as far as where you think you may be going. There is no clear path to success, and even if it did exist, it likely would not provide the sense of achievement you get when you lift a copy of your book above your head and tell the universe that it was all worth it.
The color of your skin is not a limiting factor, and you yourself are not a genre. Remember that. Yes, you will take it personally. Yes, others will tell you what they think you should be doing, some may even get offended when you kindly reject their ideas. Yes, it will hurt when a celebrity or politician releases a book and instantly becomes a bestseller when months go by and not a soul has heard of you, your book, or is even willing to entertain the notion of your story. Nevertheless, I implore you to look beyond your fear and self-doubt. Dig deep and find your characters, find their stories, and push yourself to be the great author you know you were always meant to become. Your mind will automatically find excuses to block you from going any further, especially when it gets tough, but your heart will be there to get you back on track.
And despite the stress, despite the overwhelming weight of the world, despite the belittling voices meant to distract you or disarm any advancement you make, and despite anything you may feel you lack, just have fun with it. Do you have any idea how exhilarating and fun it is to run 26.2 miles in one day? It’s tough, almost unbearably so. But the big event was only one day. It took nearly 400 days of training to get that point, so I learned to enjoy and embrace the training . The same goes for writing; enjoy the process, enjoy what you are doing (typos and all), and enjoy the canvass that your mind is painting.
I am no one to tell you what to do or how to be doing it. I am not here to judge you, your idea, your story, or the process by which you will make it happen. But I can be the one to encourage you to go get a pen, find a piece of paper, and think of your idea. I can be the one to encourage you to open your laptop and finally – after overcoming every obstacle, after failing and trying again, after being knocked down and getting back up – move that blinking curser from one side of the screen to the other, and do not stop until you know you made it.
Dennis Avelar’s novel The Blue Q is available for purchase in both English and Spanish. For more information on Dennis and his work, access the links below:
When I was a child, I don’t recall seeing very many Latinx characters in the literature I read in school, the programs I watched on television or the movies I watched on the silver screen. Even though the times that we live in now are certainly more inclusive than generations past, there is still much room for improvement. Asian authors only make up four percent of the author population. African American authors encompass nearly six percent. Authors of Hispanic/Latino descent consist of only a few percent more, currently making up seven percent of the author population in the United States.
There is a growing number of authors of color who have rich stories to tell about their personal and cultural experiences. However, a saturated book market and the pervasive gatekeeping in the publishing industry, among other things, makes it difficult for authors of color to place their stories front in center to shine, for everyone to see and appreciate.
One such author is Candice Yamnitz, a Latina young adult author from my state of Illinois. She is a homeschooling mom, blogger, and teacher. She taught in an elementary dual-language classroom for seven years before having her three spirited children. She mentored teen girls for years and aims to inspire through stories.
Her debut novel, Unbetrothed, was released in February 2022 with Illuminate YA. It tackles self-worth in a Latin-inspired, magical world. She infused her experiences visiting her family in Puerto Rico and Mexico.
When she’s not inventing magical worlds, she’s spending time with her family, chatting with the #bookstagram community, illustrating new characters, or reading a book.
I had the pleasure to interview Candice about her journey and this is what she shared:
What inspired you to become an author?
I fell in love with reading when I was a senior in high school and chose to minor in English. Throughout all the time I spent reading, I loved processing life through different perspectives, but I didn’t see myself in the books I read. A story sparked in my mind one day while I was writing, and I just needed to write it.
Where did you get the idea to write your book?
UNBETROTHED is my second book baby. My idea came in a strange postpartum stage where I realized I wouldn’t return to my career, and I was working through the toddler stages. I also mentored teen girls who also juggled inadequacy and them finding their place in life. My story started with a premise about a princess with no magical gifting while everyone else had a gifting.
How would you describe the book publishing process?
The book publishing process looks different for everyone. Mine took 5 years of showing up to my laptop. In that time, I wrote and edited more times than I can count. I finished my book. Then, I queried to find an agent. Once I signed with an agent, I edited again. We went on submission with publishers. A hand full of publishers were interested and eventually one offered a contract. Of course, once I got the contract, we edited again.
What went smoothly for you?
Nothing. Every part of the process took effort and learning. I wrote most of the book within a month and that was the smoothest part, but it still took time, and the end result wasn’t lovely.
What challenges did you face?
I faced lots of rejection. I went through writer’s block soon into my project. I also edited my manuscript at least 20 times.
What are your impressions about Latinx representation in young adult literature?
Growing up, YA novels didn’t exist and neither did having Latino protagonists. If we were in books, we’d have to fit into a certain box. Lately, I’ve seen an uptick in Latinos being published in YA, ranging from romance, fantasy, and contemporary. When I first started writing, I wasn’t seeing this outpour of own voice authors telling their stories. Even still, I don’t know many high fantasy books with Latinos.
What would you like to see more of?
I’d love to see open and honest arguments in books—always in a fun storyline.
What do you enjoy the most about the writing process?
I love when you reach that moment in drafting where everything clicks together. You’re just typing the conversations and things you see in your mind’s eye.
What do you enjoy least?
I hate editing the first draft. The writing process always seems fun until I have to clean up the mess I wrote and rearrange the events. I much prefer line editing an almost finished draft or writing something new.
What advice would you give to other young people of color who are interested in writing/publishing but may not know where to start?
Start writing today no matter your ability. No one starts writing high-level writing without practice.
Read a lot of books. Books in your genre. Books about writing. Even audiobooks. You need to know what professional writing looks and sounds like.
Find a serious writing group and share your work.
After you’ve gotten feedback and have edited your work, attend writing conferences.
I’ve been a bilingual educator for the last eighteen years. During that time, I worked as a classroom teacher and a program coordinator. Now I’m a doctoral student, a children’s book author, and a curriculum writer. In addition to that, I’m a multilingual learner and a parent. When it comes to my knowledge and experience in field of bilingual/multilingual education, I feel that I have multiple perspectives.
That is why I’ve decided to launch a monthly focus for my blog that showcases the perspectives and experiences of different participants in the field. Ranging from monthly features of authors, teachers, academics, and parents, these highlights are meant to dive into the world of bilingual/multilingual education from different eyes.
Get your book out there: Your best (and easiest) bet is to begin close to home if you plan to promote a children’s book independently. Contact booksellers in your neighborhood and ask if they have a Local Author section, then request to be included. Offer autographed copies of your book to help spark sales. Stores often put markers on the covers of signed books to make them more attractive to buyers.
Host an in-person event: If your book has a theme, offer to host a promotional event. Don’t be afraid to be creative! Interactive events are a great draw for families and the media (as well as a fantastic opportunity sell your books whilst you’re there)! People are more likely to buy children’s books from authors they’ve met or read about online.
Connect with your local library and book stores: Many authors are surprised by the role libraries can play in children’s book marketing. Donate copies of your book to your local libraries or offer to hold a reading at your library, as most libraries provide activities for children. If the library doesn’t let you sell books on-site, be sure to hand out promotional material or business cards directing people to stores or online sellers where your book is available.
Get to Know Your Neighborhood Schools (or teachers!): Schools are always looking for guest speakers and authors. In most cases, you can arrange to donate books to the school while parents receive order forms for autographed books—which are great for them to give as gifts! Don’t forget to be prepared with an exciting presentation about a theme in your book or your background.
Talk to People!: Always have a camera with you to document children reading your book and viewing your presentations. Don’t be shy about asking for testimonials, either! Testimonials from teachers and librarians are especially valuable because they lend credibility to your book. Make sure to include photos, testimonials, appearances, and events on your website and post to your social media.
Marketing your self-published children’s book can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not keen on using social media or other digital platforms. But whether you’re using tech or not, the key is to build relationships!! I don’t always have time to post on SM but I make it a point to build genuine relationships with people that are interested in the knowledge and ideas I have to share. And there’s no better way than to do that face-to-face!
As a bilingual educator and Ph.D. student in bilingual education, I know first hand that there is an increasing demand for bilingual education books and authentic resources for teachers that are developed and originally written (not translated!) in the languages of their diverse student populations.
As a children’s author, I’ve had the pleasure to meet and connect with other talented children’s book authors who have brought beautifully written stories to life. However, many of those authors don’t have a background in education and are unaware of what is needed in schools or how they can align their published books to those needs.
Writing and publishing a children’s book is one thing. Marketing that book to the right audience is another thing entirely. Authors, particularly those who are self-published, often struggle to find an audience in a saturated market. There is a market in schools, however. The increasing number of bilingual and dual language programs, for example, has created a significant need for resources that will help teachers integrate language, literacy and content in their instruction. Bilingual resources are needed to model rich vocabulary to students. Multicultural texts are needed to increase representation and depict stories from various cultural perspectives.
My books, Mi prima islena y yo/ My Island Cousin and I & Somos gemelas pero no somos identicas / We Are Twins but We Are Not Identical! are just two examples of bilingual children’s books published in the last year. Both of my books were published during the summer of 2021 and highlight the themes of multicultural identity and pride. Mi prima islena y yo juxtaposes the experience of two Puerto Rican cousins: one who lives in the island and one who lives in New York City. The first cousin has the privilege of being immersed in the language and culture of the island on a daily basis. The other cousin lives in a city surrounded by all of the world’s cultures, yet remains closely connected to her island heritage. Somos gemelas y yo juxtaposes the experience of two family members as well, but this time compares the experience of twin sisters of multicultural backgrounds. The twins’ Italian ancestry is more dominant with one twin whereas their father’s Guatemalan ancestry is more evident in the other. The themes of personal and cultural identity are important to highlight with young children who are learning about their connections to their families, their cultures and the world.
I am working on publishing a teacher’s guide for these books, which will be published at the end of 2022. I will post updates on my progress as well as information regarding the launch of the guide.
My experiences working on Naibe’s teacher’s guide as well as my own has inspired me to share important considerations for aspiring children’s authors who are looking to expand their work to a wider audience or hope to align their stories to topics students learn at school:
Familiarize Yourself with the Content
If you’re thinking of writing a teacher’s guide, it is important to ask yourself who the guide is for. Is it for elementary school? Middle school? High school? Will your teacher’s guide be focused on one subject area or will it be multidisciplinary? Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s important for you to familiarize yourself with the content area topics that may be covered for your target grade level(s). If you’re doing a teacher’s guide for social studies, for example, you want to make sure that the topics that are covered are appropriate for your grade level audience.
Does your children’s book align with a particular subject? If not, is there a prominent theme you can extract from your book that can help drive the focus of your teacher’s guide? Maybe your children’s book touches on the development of social-emotional skills or executive functioning skills. The content of a teacher’s guide doesn’t only have to be linked to Language Arts, Math, Science, etc.
Get to Know the Standards
If you’re trying to break into the educational market, it’s important to consider that teachers follow standards when planning for instruction. There are different standards, depending on the course subject, but a great starting point would be to check out the Common Core Standards. These standards are organized by grade level and you can familiarize yourself with the skills students are expected to develop in both English Language Arts and Math. If you’re working on a bilingual teacher’s guide, like me, it’s helpful to also consider the Spanish Common Core Standards.
Make it Engaging, yet Rigorous!
As someone who was in the classroom for fifteen years, I can tell you that I have tried pretty much everything to “entertain” my students. Yes, school should be about learning and not entertaining, but let’s be real. It is much easier to get children to do what they’re “supposed to do” if they are highly motivated and engaged.
That is why it is very important to make sure that the activities and lessons included in your teacher’s guide are fun, as well as highly educational. Your teacher’s guide should have more than simple worksheets and fill-in-the-blank activities. If possible, make sure to include 21st-century activities and skills like digital literacy and environmental stewardship.
Teachers are busy, busy people. They are highly appreciative of resources that will make their busy lives easier and will save them time. If a teacher can find a resource that is well aligned to the content and the standards they teach AND will make their kids happy because they’re engaged and having fun, you have a winner!
These are just some preliminary considerations for anyone interested in creating a teacher’s guide. I will continue to share my progress in the coming weeks and months as well as some sample lessons and activities.
If writing a teacher’s guide seems too overwhelming and you’d much rather delegate the task, I’d be happy to help! Please reach out to me by completing this contact form so we can set up a time and date to meet to discuss your teacher guide or children’s book’s authorship vision!
Se ha dicho mucho sobre la educación de las niñas: que no se les debe negar ser definidas por su género, que tienen el derecho exigir igualdad y que sus voces deben ser escuchadas. Sin embargo, no se ha escrito mucho sobre el papel de los padres en la crianza de estas jóvenes.
He escuchado a muchos padres afirmar: “No soy un misógino, pero creo que los roles de las niñas son muy diferentes a los de los niños, y deberíamos aceptar esto como un hecho de la vida.” Como orgullosa feminista y madre de cuatro niñas, declaraciones como estas me molestan muchísimo. Actitudes prejuiciosas como estas siembran semillas de misoginia temprana en la mente y la vida de los niños y luego se perpetúan en las generaciones futuras.
Si uno se propone a pensar, no creo que podamos fingir no tener ideas misóginas. Los signos de prejuicio de género están en todas partes: en nuestros hogares, escuelas, espacios públicos, películas, literatura, anuncios, noticias, programas de televisión. Los prejuicios se han propagado en todos los aspectos de nuestra vida. Inevitablemente, es nuestra elección qué hacer cuando nos damos cuenta de este hecho: podemos continuar el ciclo o excluirnos conscientemente y hacer un cambio consciente.
Una forma en que podemos detener el ciclo sexista es volviéndonos más conscientes de nuestro lenguaje. Por ejemplo, podemos observar las palabras que usamos para elogiar a las niñas pequeñas: “agradable”, “dulce” y la siempre omnipresente “niña buena”; para los niños usamos “fuerte”, “duro”, “valiente.” La forma en que hablamos con nuestros hijos se convierte en parte de su subconsciente y la forma en que hablamos de ellos se convierte en sus historias de vida.
El lenguaje es también el hilo que construye el discurso en torno a las identidades. Si las niñas son sólo “amables” o “dulces,” entonces sus identidades se restringen y luego buscan activamente protección de los hombres que son “duros” y “fuertes.” No nos debemos confundir: ¡las dicotomías deformadas y restrictivas se establecen para los niños desde una edad muy temprana!
La misoginia siempre nos pilla desprevenidos, ya sea a través de una broma sexista o un comentario frívolo. “¿Vas a seguir intentando para tener un niño?” era uno que solía escuchar todo el tiempo. “Tu pobre esposo, viviendo en una casa con tanto estrógeno,” es un viejo ‘favorito.’ El sexismo puede manifestarse en la forma en que los hombres de la familia hablan con las mujeres de la casa; qué llega a decir quién, con qué autoridad y qué efectos causa. Como las esponjas, los niños absorben esto y lo internalizan para uso futuro.
Los prejuicios de género llegan a nuestros hogares de muchas maneras: muñecas para niñas y autos para niños, rosa para niñas y azul para niños, baile para niñas y deportes para niños. Sí, los niños finalmente muestran agencia hacia su elección, pero no se puede negar que sus elecciones a veces están influenciadas por puntos de vista de la sociedad sobre las normas de género.
Una cosa que quiero que mis niñas aprendan es que los niños tienen sus propias fallas y frustraciones con las que lidiar y les dan las herramientas para manejarlas por sí mismas en caso de que un niño las desate. En términos de política de género en las relaciones, encuentro que cuando los hombres se sienten inadecuados, se desquitan con las mujeres, y cuando las mujeres se sienten inadecuadas, se desquitan con ellas mismas. Quiero que mis hijas no sean duras con ellas mismas solo porque un chico les haya proyectado sus deficiencias.
Eso me lleva a otro tema crítico: las niñas y sus cuerpos. Me horroriza pensar en la presión que ejercemos sobre nuestras chicas para que tengan cierto tipo de cuerpo y se vean de cierta manera. Me entristece ver a las jóvenes sentirse inferiores solo porque no encajan en el molde de lo que la sociedad cree que deberían verse para ser consideradas “aceptables.” Todos necesitamos tener conversaciones abiertas sobre cómo no debe haber conformidad cuando se trata de tipos de cuerpo y color de piel. La belleza tiene un final abierto y no debe definirse por ideas preconcebidas obsoletas y arcaicas.
Cuando hablamos de misoginia y diferencias de género, normalmente surge el tema de la seguridad. Los padres tratan de poner límites sobre cómo se visten las niñas, o dónde deben ir sus niñas y cuándo, mientras que los niños están dando mucha más libertad. Entiendo la preocupación por haber vivido situaciones desafortunadas yo misma, pero también me preocupa que limitar a mis hijas así se convierta en un ejercicio más sexista que moralista. Ya puedo escuchar a mi frustrada ‘yo más joven’ gritar: “¡Todo lo que hago, digo y uso está siempre listo para ser inspeccionado! ¡Mientras tanto, mi hermano puede salirse con la suya solo porque es un niño! ” ¿Qué injusticia es eso?
En lugar de simplemente poner la responsabilidad en nuestras niñas por su seguridad, ¿no deberíamos tener más conversaciones con los niños sobre lo que pueden hacer para que este mundo sea más seguro para las niñas?
El ícono feminista Gloria Steinem dijo la famosa frase: “El primer problema para todos nosotros (hombres y mujeres) no es aprender, sino desaprender”. Es cierto que tengo mucho que desaprender, pero espero que al hacerlo pueda ayudar a mis hijas a superar la toxicidad de la misoginia y crecer para ser “fuertes”, “duras” y “valientes.”
A lot that has already been said about bringing up girls: Ones who refuse to be defined by their gender, that demand equality and to have their voices be heard. Not much is written about the role of parents in bringing up these young ladies, however!
I have heard many parents (fathers especially) claim, “I am not a misogynist, but I do think girls’ roles are very different from boys, and we should accept this as just a fact of life.” As a proud feminist and mother to four girls, statements like these annoy me to no end. Prejudiced attitudes like these sow seeds of misogyny early in children’s minds and lives and are then perpetuated on to future generations.
If you think about it on a larger scale, I do not think anyone can claim not to hold misogynist ideas. Signs of gender bias are everywhere: in our homes, schools, public spaces, movies, literature, advertisements, news, TV shows — it has permeated our entire lives. Inevitably, it is our choice on what to do when we become aware of this fact: We can either continue the cycle, or mindfully opt out and make a conscious change.
One way we can stop the sexist cycle is by becoming more mindful of our language. For instance, just observe the words we use to praise little girls: “nice”, “sweet” and the ever pervasive “good girl”; for boys we use “strong”, “tough”, “brave”. The way we talk to our children become part of their subconscious, and the way we talk about them become their life stories.
Language is also the thread that builds the discourse around identities. If girls are only “gentle” or “nice”, then their identities get restricted, and then they actively seek protection from men who are “tough” and “strong”. Do not mistake it: warped and restrictive dichotomies are set up for children from a very young age!
Misogyny always catches us unawares, whether it is through a sexist joke or a flippant remark. “Are you going to keep trying for another boy?” was one I used to hear all the time. “Your poor husband, living in a house with so much oestrogen”! is an old ‘favourite’. Sexism might come through in the way men in the family talk to the women in the house; what gets to be said by whom, with what authority, and what effects it causes. Like sponges, children absorb this, and internalise for future use.
Gender biases come in our homes in so many ways: dolls for girls and cars for boys, pink for girls and blue for boys, dance for girls and sports for boys. Yes, children ultimately show agency towards their choice, but you cannot deny that their choices are sometimes influenced by societal views on gender norms.
One thing I want my girls to learn is that boys have their own failings and frustrations that they deal with and give them the tools to handle themselves should a boy unleash these on them. In terms of gender politics in relationship, I find that when men feel inadequate, they take it out on women, and when women feel inadequate, they take it out on themselves. I want my girls to not be hard of themselves just because a boy has projected his inadequacies on them.
That brings me to another critical issue: girls and their bodies. It horrifies me to think of the pressure we put on our girls to be of a certain body type and to look a certain way. It kills me to see young girls feel inferior just because they do not fit a cookie-cutter mould of what society thinks they should look like to be found ‘acceptable’. All of us need to have open conversations on how there should not be conformity when it comes to body types and skin colour. Beauty is open ended and should not be defined by outdated and archaic preconceptions.
When we talk about misogyny and gender differences, typically the issue of safety comes up. Parents try to put limits on how girls dress, or where their girls should go and when, whilst boys are giving much more freedom. I understand the concern having lived through unfortunate situations myself, but I also worry that limiting my daughters like this becomes more of a sexist exercise rather than a moralistic one. I can already hear my frustrated younger self screaming, “Everything I do, say, and wear is always up for inspection! Meanwhile my brother can get away with anything just because he is a boy!” How unfair is that?
Rather than just putting the onus on our girls for their safety, what we should be doing having more conversations with boys on what they can do to make this world safer for girls.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem famously said, “The first problem for all of us (men and women) is not to learn, but to unlearn”. I admittedly have much to unlearn, but hopefully by doing so I can help my daughters rise above the toxicity of misogyny and grow up to be “strong”, “tough” and “brave”.