Aside from roller skating and swimming, I’d say I was the happiest when I was coming up with my own art projects. I remember drawing a doggy on bright turquoise cloth and cutting it into the pattern for a hand-sewn stuffed animal. In school, my favorite thing to do was to write and illustrate stories and make them into little books. DIAPER-GIRL SAVES THE DAY! was one of my best titles. Once, when I was in 5th grade, my former 4th grade teacher summoned me to her classroom to demonstrate on the board how to draw a rabbit. It was the proudest moment of my grade school career!
When you went to college, were you already pursuing a writing career?
To earn my BFA (in drawing and painting), I went to college in two shifts -- one right out of high school and the other 10 years later. The first time around I went to UC Santa Cruz, the ultimate earth-mama hippie college. To get to my fine-art painting and Iyengar yoga classes, I would walk past deer grazing among the redwoods. “Commercial art” was frowned upon at UCSC -- I remember the shame I felt when one of my teachers commented that my painting was too “illustrative.”
What gave you the idea for FLOATING ON MAMA’S SONG?
A few years ago, when a fellow artist suggested that my images would be ideal for picture books, I signed up for a children’s book illustration class. I instantly fell in love with both writing and illustrating for children. In that class, I wrote the first draft of FLOATING ON MAMA’S SONG.
My initial inspiration was to write about my mother, who had been an opera singer in Havana. Imagining illustrating the character’s costumes and the lush tropical setting excited me artistically, but I still didn’t have a story to tell. Then, in the middle of the night, it came to me! What would happen if mama’s singing literally lifted her off the ground? Who in the story would love it and be supportive? Who might feel threatened by mama’s floating and want to stop it? The story flowed from there.
Have any of your books earned special recognition?
FLOATING ON MAMA’S SONG was chosen as a Junior Library Guild children’s book selection for Fall 2010 and has been recommended by Booklist..
When is your next book going to be in book stores?
My first two bilingual picture books are coming out this Fall -- one I wrote, and the other I illustrated:
Also, I recently won a contract to illustrate another bilingual picture book, ALICIA’S AGUAS FRESCAS (Piñata Books), which will come out in the summer of 2011.
When you first started creating books for children, did you always intend to illustrate (and/or write) - and were you successful in getting to do both on your first book? (so often writers or illustrators begin by doing one or the other)
In the children’s book illustration class I mentioned earlier, students were expected to finish a black and white ‘dummy’ and one full-color illustration by the end of the ten weeks. Our teacher believed in students illustrating their own stories, so I initially wrote FLOATING ON MAMA’S SONG simply to have something I could get excited about illustrating. HarperCollins ended up buying my manuscript, and they assigned the illustrations to the amazing Yuyi Morales!
Is there anything about yourself that you’d like to share - hobbies, where you were born, special talents other than writing/illustrating, what other jobs you had before you became a writer/illustrator?
I was born in Havana and I was a baby when my family fled Cuba and came to this country. My father was an art director in one of the biggest advertising agencies in Havana. A connection with a bank client resulted in my father obtaining four visas for our family to leave.
I’ve only had one 9 to 5 job in my life, when I was in my early 20’s. I worked at a newspaper office doing paste-up -- the old-fashioned way with wax and a roller. I quit after one week.
Penguins on surfboards helped me establish myself as a freelancer. Working part-time by day at a design studio (again doing paste-up), I drew and colored penguins (surfing, skating, etc..) by night. When I had built a portfolio of 10 pieces, I approached resort-wear companies with my art. The first time out I sold four designs and thus launched my freelance career.
Over the years, I’ve taught Spanish to kids and yoga to adults. Once my daughter came along, I decided to focus exclusively on pursuing children’s book illustration and writing.