By René Colato Laínez
Congratulations on your new book Pele King of Soccer, Monica you are truly the queen of Latino children’s book biographies. How did you get the idea for this great book?
How fun to be queen of something! More seriously, I am surrounded by people that inspire me, from the children I meet to the folks in publishing who fight to get these stories told. As a Peruvian-American, I grew up with an appreciation for Pelé's physical genius and an understanding of what he represented for the children of South America. The idea to write about him grew out of conversations with my husband (who has coached each of our girl's soccer teams) and my agents, Stefanie Von Borstel and Lilly Ghahremani. I've was also inspired by my brother Danny, who has played soccer semi-professionally and who now plays for the CAL Men's Club team. Since I have a soccer-crazy family, this was a natural project for me.
Tell us about Monica, the big foot player.
Well, I had a particular coach--Coach Charlie--who called me "big foot" because I had such a big kick! I always played defense. As you can see from the photo, I played AYSO!
Your daughters must be thrilled with this book. What was their first reaction? I know they are fútbol players too.
They were so excited! I dedicated the book to my nine-year-old daughter Juliana who plays for a club, Flagstaff United. We travel with her team and it is truly amazing to watch these rough-and-tumble nine year old girls leave everything on the field!
The illustrations of the book are wonderful. I love how the illustrator captured Pele in action in the cover. How was the process of illustration? Did you have contact with Rudy Gutierrez?
Rudy and I have been in contact over email and I hope to have the pleasure of meeting him in person soon. He is incredibly talented and has a great spirit. Rudy has worked quite a bit in the music industry--he illustrated Santana's Shaman album cover--and his blend of color, movement and rhythm was perfect for a story about Pelé.
We have many writer visitors in La Bloga. Can you tell us about Monica, the researcher? What places do you visit? Books? Media?
I put a great deal of time and effort into research and I think my biographies are stronger for it. The internet is a great initial source, but I always end up with real books from a real library! In addition to writing children's books, I'm a professor and a scholar and ever since I was a college student I've found libraries restful, meditative places. The more thoroughly I research, the more inspiration I have to draw on. In some cases, I'm able to glean information directly from the source.
Now that you have all the data, what is the process of writing the books? You must collect tons of great information and we know that children’s books are very limited with words. How do decide what to include?
Well, first I think about the shape and structure of the book. Will I begin in the present and then look backwards to the subject's childhood? Will there be a recurring image, rhythm or theme? I begin with these questions and then I begin drafting. It's hard to fully describe the process of writing because honestly, I can't pinpoint the source of a particular line or turn of phrase except to say that if feels like a gift when it's flowing. When I have a complete draft, I ask myself more questions: Have I captured the spirit of my subject in all its brilliance and joy? Will children and their parent's be moved and inspired by this story? Will they have fun reading it?
A little bird told me that your next book is about Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. Can you tell us about it?
I cannot begin to express how excited I am about this book! The book, illustrated by the incredible Joe Cepeda, is called Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a Lado, La Historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez and is forthcoming from HarperCollins Rayo this Fall. Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez were partners in leadership and my book places this side by side in history. Dolores Huerta reviewed the manuscript and she and her family were incredibly helpful in terms of writing a historically accurate book. It was an honor to write this book, inspired by two people who are my personal heroes.
There are many children full of dreams and in your books they can see that dreams can become a reality. What is your message for your readers?
My message is one of inspiration and pride in our beautiful and diverse Latinidad. So many of my subjects came from challenging beginnings, but they believed in themselves and achieved greatness. As a boy, Pelé and his friends were so poor that they couldn't afford an actual soccer ball and would play with a sock stuffed with newspapers. I want all children to feel that their only limitation is their own imagination. As teachers, writers, artists, and activists, it is our job to make sure that this is true.
Thanks Monica, where can our readers catch you and say hi! When and where are your future presentations?
I will be speaking at several events this spring, including the International Reading Association in Phoenix and The Texas Library Association Annual Meeting in Houston. I'm always interested in visiting schools, conferences, and book festivals. Speaking to students and their teachers, as well as other creative writers through children's writing workshops, is particularly rewarding. The best way to find out about my upcoming appearances or to contact me about speaking to your group is to check out my website at www.monicabrown.net
Monica Brown is the award-winning author of My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz(Luna Rising), My Name is Gabito: The life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Me Llamo Gabito: La Vida de Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Luna Rising); Butterflies on Carmen Street (Piñata); Pelé, King of Soccer/ Pelé, El Rey de Futbol (HarperCollins Rayo); and the forthcoming Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez (HarperCollins Rayo).