Author, librarian, and educator Silvia López has much to share with kidlit & Solutionary Stories.
Meeg Pincus here, founder of Solutionary Stories. I'm so pleased to share this thoughtful interview with the wonderful picture book author, librarian, and educator Silvia López.
Silvia's curious, generous, compassionate soul shines through in this conversation, and her experiences offer an invaluable contribution to Solutionary Stories and children's literature.
Hope you enjoy Silvia's wisdom as much as I did—here she is!
Silvia, thank you so much for joining us on the Solutionary Stories blog!
As you know, our blog celebrates nonfiction picture books about diverse “solutionaries” who’ve helped solve problems for people, animals, and the planet. I consider artists to be a special type of solutionary, and your most recent books are about two groundbreaking women artists—Selena and Frida Kahlo. How do these artists serve as solutionary examples for kids today?
Selena and Frida excelled in artistic fields traditionally dominated by men. By breaking through gender barriers, they showed that women could achieve their goals in whatever field they chose. And each woman faced obstacles beyond gender discrimination. Frida overcame health problems. Selena faced racism and ethnic discrimination. But both were strong women who persevered and triumphed in their art. Both were solutionaries.
So true! And, I'd add, their barrier-breaking successes helped remedy the total lack of representation of Latinx women in their respective fields and their "crossover" examples have made them icons in U.S. culture—which we know is important for kids to see and absorb.
On that note, there's your own "crossover" experience that you bring to your work. Having moved from Cuba to Miami at age 10, you have a deep, personal understanding of the experience of children who immigrate to the US from other countries, learning a new language and culture at a tender age. How does this inform your work as a children’s book author today?
I think having had to learn a new language and adjust to a new culture made me more sensitive to other people who have overcome odds in order to succeed. This includes not only immigrants, but ethnic minorities, and—now more than ever—women whose achievements have been largely ignored or overlooked. When I write, I find my work gravitating toward their stories, and hope children will be as inspired by such people and events as I am.
Love that—and your readers are definitely inspired!
You also have a long background as a librarian and educator before you became an author. What have you seen over the years in the nonfiction picture book genre in terms of Latinx representation and how it has evolved (or not)? What would you like to see going forward—and how can our blog’s readers help make that happen?
Compared to previous generations, I think today’s immigrant children pick up language more easily, thanks in part to the inevitable exposure to TV and the internet. The bigger struggle pertains to culture. I think immigrant and minority children often find it hard to reconcile the reality of their home life—the practices and traditions of parents and family—with what they see on TV and read in books.
Up to now, many have not seen themselves realistically represented in the literature they read for pleasure, or in the curriculum. In my research I’ve come across Latinx in the U. S. whose accomplishments and contributions to different fields have gone unacknowledged in children’s books.
Thankfully, that seems to be changing. I am encouraged by new books and curricula that include the contributions of Latinx in many areas, from science to sports, education, and service to their country. Their stories should not be meant to replace or undermine stories of bravery and the achievements of any other group, but simply take their rightful place among them and enrich what we offer children to read.
Sites like Solutionary Stories help keep the idea of worthwhile, inspirational nonfiction books for children at the forefront. Blogs like these promote healthy discussions about this important topic among its readers and spark ideas to inspire those of us who love to write for children.
I'm encouraged by—and want to see many more of—these stories, too! And thank you for contributing to Solutionary Stories!
Speaking of, what “solutionary stories” of the past few years do you find most exciting and inspirational? How have they affected your own writing?
I have always admired the work of Pam Muñoz-Ryan, like When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson, and Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, both illustrated by Brian Selznick. More recently, I loved Planting Stories, by Anika Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar.
Although I enjoy reading and writing about strong women, I also like stories about outstanding men, such as the bilingual Sharuko: Peruvian Archeologist Julio C. Tello, by Monica Brown, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, Hard Work, But It’s Worth It: The Life of Jimmy Carter, by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Kyung Eun Han, and the little older but excellent A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis, by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
And some of my favorite solutionary stories are not biographies at all, like Equality’s Call, by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Magdalena Mora, and the wonderful and clever Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr.
I keep copies of these books close by. When my inspiration falters, I reach for one (or several) of them, read them once again, and tell myself that if my own writing can be half as good, I should keep going.
All great books, and writing inspiration, for sure! Any new projects of your own in the works that you’d like to share about? And where can readers find out more about you and your books?
I was so pleased to be tapped to be part of the My Little Golden Books series (as a friend said: “girl, you’re now a part of these classics…!”) with my story about Frida Kahlo. My second contribution to the series will be My Little Golden Book About Sonia Sotomayor, in both English and Spanish, which is scheduled for release in August of 2022. She was incredibly inspirational to research, and I found myself identifying with many of the situations in her early life.
I also have several new projects in the works. One will be a folktale retelling, another an easy reader, and a third a concept book. All bilingual! I will post the information about these soon on my website: http://www.silvialopezbooks.com and I hope you visit me there to find out more about me and my books.