Sunday, June 15, 2008

Professor finds publishing niche with bilingual biographies for kids

Inspired by her Peruvian-American heritage and passion to share Latino stories with children, Monica Brown's writing career is taking off like one of magic carpets she writes about in her newest bilingual biography for kids.

My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez, published by Luna Rising, sold nearly 10,000 copies in its first three months. National Book Network is printing thousands more.

"Gabito is not only a biography, but a book about imagination, observation and the unending possibilities of our own creativity," said Brown, an associate professor of English at Northern Arizona University, who specializes in multicultural literature and cultural studies. "Gabriel García Márquez was one of my earliest literary inspirations, and I wanted to introduce children to the concept of magic realism."

Based on García Márquez's 2003 adult autobiography Living to Tell the Tale, Brown's lyrical narrative transports young readers to "Gabito's" early childhood in northern Colombia. Brown engages her young readers by asking them in both English and Spanish to imagine some of the mysterious realities he wrote about during his influential career as a journalist and a Nobel Prize-winning novelist. "Can you imagine a man with enormous wings falling from the sky? Can you imagine flying through the air on a magic carpet?" Brown asks.

Now Brown's own contribution to literature is taking off. My Name is Gabito received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was a Junior Library Guild Premier Selection. My Name is Gabito also was one of the Críticas magazine's best books of 2007. The book's artist, Raúl Colón, won a 2008 Puré Belpré Award for its dazzling color-pencil illustrations.

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Brown's speaking schedule is keeping her busy. After delivering the plenary at the National Society for the Study of Multiethnic Literature in the United States conference this spring, she recently was a featured speaker at Book Expo America in Los Angeles on a panel titled "Children's Books for Latino Voices of the Future," along with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oscar Hijuelos and actor-turned-author Cheech Marin.

In July, she will be delivering a keynote on Children's Literature and Social Justice at the National Council of Teachers of English Literacies for All Summer Institute in Tucson.

HarpersCollins Rayo publishers recently contracted with Brown to complete her next three books: Pelé, King of Soccer and Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, and a forthcoming fiction picture book. Brown's two young daughters are excited that Pelé, King of Soccer, due out in January, is already chosen as a Scholastic Book Clubs and Fairs selection.

Brown began re-creating images of community in multicultural children's books with My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz, which won the Americas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature and a Puré Belpré honor for its illustrations. Her second picture book, My Name is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral, shares the story of the first Latina to win a Nobel Prize.

Brown features writers such as Cruz, Mistral and Márquez because she wants to inspire young readers with the "rich and imaginative legacies of these thinkers," she said. "I try to be a meticulous researcher and honor historical records. It is my dream that my books provide the opportunity for children to understand their communities and others and ultimately celebrate the connectedness of all of us."

Children's books aren't Brown's only bailiwick, she has authored numerous scholarly articles and the book Gang Nation: Delinquent Citizens in Puerto Rican, Chicano and Chicana Narratives, which looks at novels and memoirs exploring Latino/a gang culture as it intersects with violence, citizenship and identity.

This summer, Brown also is working on her first novel for adults.

For information, go to http://www.monicabrown.net/.

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