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Monday, August 31, 2015

Camping in My Sweet Lil Fifties Rig! (Part 1)

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Hello, everyone!

We took my sweet lil rig on her maiden voyage (for us at least)...  Ian and Lil Dude and Wilma and I went to the gorgeous Beaver Meadows in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado for the weekend-- about an hour from home.  We loved it!  Here are some glimpses of our trip:


And on a different note, here's a piece of nice news I recently received-- The Lightning Queen got a beautiful, starred review from School Library Journal this month.  (This is its 2nd starred review!):

★ Gr 3–6—If books were written in black and white, The Lightning Queen would be written in color. Esma, a young Romani girl, meets Teo, a young Mixteco living on the Hill of Dust in the mountains of Mexico, when her traveling caravan makes a stop in Teo's small village. The Romani bring with them the magic of cinema films, and after the loss of Teo's father and sister, Esma gives him a reason to feel alive again. When Esma's grandmother, the Mistress of Destiny, reveals Teo's true fortune—that he and Esma will be lifelong friends and will save each other—Esma and Teo work hard to make sure their fortune comes true. Esma gives Teo the courage to save others and ultimately helps him to save himself. In return, Teo lifts Esma up just when she believes that her own dream is an impossibility. Esma and Teo go their separate ways; she becomes a shining star admired by the world, while he becomes a healer like his grandfather—and it is not until they are both in old age that they meet again. With the help of Teo's grandson Mateo and Esma's granddaughter Ruby, Teo and Esma rekindle their lifelong friendship. Like surviving a lightning strike, this book is rare and incredible.  
VERDICT The diverse characters, heartbreaking events, and historical and present-day backdrops are excellently executed. Highly recommended.—Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX

So grateful for this heartfelt and poetic review!  The book comes out on Oct. 27, and I'll be posting my tour schedule soon.... I'll be doing events in Colorado, D.C, Maryland, and Minneapolis. :-)

Thanks for swinging by, my friends!


Monday, August 3, 2015

Early Kid Reviews of THE LIGHTNING QUEEN!

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with awesome teacher Mrs. McMahon of El Granada Elementary School

Hey guys,

One of my favorite places in the world to visit is Half Moon Bay, California, partly because of the glorious beach....

... but mostly because of the wonderful people there-- teachers, librarians, and kids!

I'm so honored that Mrs. McMahon and her students at El Granada have read most of my books together.  They were excited about my next one, THE LIGHTNING QUEEN, so I sent them a review copy.  I felt thrilled that they managed to squeeze it in as a read-aloud before their school year ended!  The kids were kind enough to jot down their impressions of the book afterward... and here are their blurbs:

Naomi Naito: 
I love that the hope in Esma's soul is contagious! The spunk and life in Esma is inspirational.  It is amazing how one girl singing can bring back the dead.

Natalie Sencion (whose family is from Oaxaca, and she loves going for visits with them!):
The Lightning Queen reminded me of being in Oaxaca: the metate, and hot chocolate, and my favorite, mangoes.

Noely Lopez:
The Lightning Queen is a great book for kids. It's hilarious, sad and it makes you have so many more feelings. It makes you wonder and think. It's amazing.

     With cool HMB librarian, Karen

Sinead McVey:
It's electrifying... makes me feel like I'm in the story. Really makes me feel for the Gypsies and Mixteco people.

Abby Kennedy: 
I love how Esma is so fierce, and it's really inspiring.

Jazmin Sofia Zilla:
A story of amazing friendship.

Mason McCallister:
The Lightning Queen is a fun book that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

     succulents on the beach cliffs

Leia Kenton: 
I liked that you made Teo a doctor and how you made him help animals.

Mikaela Sendino:
The Lightning Queen is very intriguing for all ages and you won't regret reading it.

       with amazing HMB librarian, Armando, outside El Granada Elementary

Viridiana Herrera-Salgado:
Laura, I'm glad you became an author because if you didn't, we wouldn't be able to read your wonderful books.

Jake Hessen:
I was on the edge of my seat for the whole time.

Victoria Preciado:
Great symbolism with the animals and people. Also, great spirit animals.


Diego Acosta:
Flash [the three-legged skunk] was really like Esma- they both are bright and have problems with legs. And, they cheer me up!

Ethan Gustin:
In The Lightning Queen, my favorite part was when Esma dropped the mango on her stepmother's head.

Thank you so much for these magnificent early reviews, kids of Half Moon Bay!  I'm grateful!  I love you guys!  Abrazos to you all!

(And if these reviews have piqued your curiosity about the book, you can read more about it here, and get links to a Book Club Party Guide, a Readers' Guide, and more.)


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Big-hearted non-profits I support!

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from the Reading Village website

Hey guys,

I've been meaning to do this post for a while now!  As you might know, I donate a portion of my royalties to non-profit organizations that support indigenous rights in Latin America.  Over the past nine years, I've donated to a number of awesome groups, all of which have some thematic connection to the people and places in the books I've published.

Here are the fabulous organizations I'm currently donating to, in case you're curious!

Nija' Nu A.C.: Apoyando a Nuestros Abuelos -- I am SO excited I discovered this non-profit (thanks go to my friend in the Mixteca, Melissa Ferrin.)  It's an absolutely perfect fit with my upcoming book, THE LIGHTNING QUEEN, which is framed as a grandfather telling his grandson about his enchanted friendship with a Romani (Gypsy) girl long ago in a Mixteco village. The novel was inspired by stories told to me by my wise Oaxacan healer friend, Maria Chiquita, who lived to age 97.

 photo from the Nija'nu website

Here's the description from their website:

 "Nija’nu" means elders and those who are regarded with respect and honor in Mixteco, one of the many indigenous languages of Mexico. Born out of a small town in the Mixteca region Nija’nu A.C. is a non-profit organization remembering those elders that for various reasons live in poverty with little or no family support.

Nija’nu A.C. works to alleviate immediate needs such as hunger and unsafe living conditions for elders living in Santo Domingo Tonalá and surrounding villages. With a deep commitment to providing elders with a dignified way of life, Nija’nu A.C. provides monthly food aid, specialized healthcare visits, and works toward improving the elders' living spaces. We also help elders with paperwork and applications in order to receive government benefits. We offer social activities, but most importantly provide care and company to our elders.

Isn't this wonderful?  Years ago, I visited several of the villages they work with, and have been blessed with wisdom from many of the elders in those communities!  I'm so happy to have some way to give back...


Another amazing organization I donate to is Reading Village, which is a great fit because of the Guatemala connection in RED GLASS and the indigenous literacy triumphs in THE QUEEN OF WATER and THE LIGHTNING QUEEN.  Their work is in impoverished Mayan communities in Guatemala, but they're based in nearby Boulder, CO, which means I've had the joy of meeting some of the hard-working and passionate people in this organization.

photo from Reading Village website

From their website:

Reading Village transforms lives through literacy. Leveraging reading and education as mechanisms to end poverty, we create the conditions for youth to discover their true potential and become agents of change in the world. Through collaboration and innovation, whole communities unleash their power to flourish under their own resources and creativity.  Our mission is to empower youth to eradicate illiteracy and lead their communities out of poverty.

I've been so impressed with the results they've seen with their work-- so many people empowered through education, and in turn, empowering others in their community.


The third non-profit I'm supporting, The Tandana Foundation, works with indigenous communities in Ecuador, which is a great tie-in with THE QUEEN OF WATER and  THE INDIGO NOTEBOOK. I've donated to their scholarship program, but I also love that they facilitate cross-cultural friendships, which is a theme in many of my books, including THE LIGHTNING QUEEN and RED GLASS. I first found out about their work when members of the organization connected with me because they'd been using THE QUEEN OF WATER with their participants!

with scholarship coordinator Veronica on the left, student Susana in the middle, and me on the right

This past winter, on a trip to Ecuador, I was absolutely thrilled to meet with the scholarship student I've been supporting-- Susana, a Quichua woman and mother of several children who is committed to her education despite many obstacles.  She lives in a very remote village in the Andes, and must commute for hours to get to school.  We had lunch together, along with Maria Virginia Farinango (my Quichua co-author of THE QUEEN OF WATER), Anna Taft (founder of the non-profit), and other dedicated people.

This is from their website:

The Tandana Foundation is a non-profit organization that offers intercultural volunteer opportunities, scholarships, and support for small community projects in highland Ecuador and Mali's Dogon Country.  Tandana coordinates volunteer programs that offer visitors to Ecuador or Mali the unique opportunity to be guests rather than tourists, to form intercultural friendships, to experience a rich indigenous culture, and to make a difference in the lives of new friends.  Its scholarship program allows rural Ecuadorian students to continue their secondary and higher education.  Its community projects support villagers in Mali and Ecuador as they realize their dreams of improving their communities. 

Tandana comes from a Kichwa root meaning "to gather together" or "to unite" and represents the spirit of our work.

 with Maria Virginia and toddler Leslie on the left, Anna in the middle, me on the right


All three of these organizations are 501-C3 non-profits, which means they are tax write-offs.  If you're interested in indigenous rights issues, I encourage you to donate or volunteer, too!

 Thanks for swinging by...


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gypsy foals frolicking...

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Hey guys,

Since there's a Romani (Gypsy) girl in my upcoming book THE LIGHTING QUEEN, I had an excuse to do fascinating research on this culture.... including my trip to the Irish Rose Farm on the outskirts of my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado two summers ago.  Charlie Cox showed me his gorgeous authentic vintage Romani vardos (wagons), which I wrote about in another post.

Over the past couple years, my Lil Dude and I have become friends with Charlie and Jan, who we see at the Farmer's Market every Saturday.  (They are such energetic people!  Jan sells fantastical succulents planted in creative upcycled containers like Minions, old baby doll's heads, vintage Star Wars fighter jets, Lego Darth Vader action figures, 1950s Nancy Drew books....)

So we were excited to hear about their two newborn Gypsy foals, and even more excited when they invited us out to see these impossibly adorable creatures.


Charlie and Jan actually breed this kind of horse (Irish Cobs), whose ancestors were used in Ireland to pull Gypsy vardos, and who were also well-loved, gentle members of the caravan. Jan and Charlie are an incredible wealth of information about Romani and Traveler culture in Ireland, and true experts on the Gypsy horses and vardos and dog that they treasure.

These horses are gorgeous and sweet, with distinct black and white patterning and elegant tufts of hair around their ankles. I love their luxurious manes and tails so much!

They lead extremely happy lives on the farm, staying for many months with their mothers, wandering the huge fields with a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, getting lots of love from Jan and Charlie and their Gypsy dog, Finn.  In Ireland, caravans often included this breed of dog who, like the horses, also were a useful, gentle, and well-loved part of the family.  They are expert hunters, and will go off on their own to fetch rabbits or other small animals to have for dinner. (Finn has proudly brought home rabbits and squirrels.)

So, more about these beautiful foals: The older of the two-- about three weeks old in these photos-- is named Skellig Michael (Skeilig Mhichil in Irish), which is also a rocky island in Ireland.  The 2-week-old girl is named Saoirse (pronounced Searrrsha), which means "freedom" in the Irish language, and has cool political/historical significance in Ireland.


Once the babies warmed up to Lil Dude, they enjoyed having him scratch their rump.

I honestly knew very little about horses before our trip to the farm.  The extent of my knowledge was what I'd gleaned from Lil Dude's easy reader books on the topic. ;-)

It's incredible to me that within a few hours of birth, the foals are already walking around... and within a few weeks they're already munching on grasses to supplement their mother's milk.  Supposedly Gypsy mare's milk is incredibly nutrient-rich and makes these foals grow heartier and faster than other horse breeds.

The mothers were so sweet with their babies, but generously let us close enough to touch them. We felt so fortunate!

Before I sign off, I'll give you a quick update on THE LIGHTNING QUEEN.  It's available for preorder now, and will be released on Oct. 27, 2015 in hardcover, ebook... *and audiobook*! So happy about this!

You can read more about the book here and get links to book club and educators' guides.

And if you're on Goodreads, you can add it to your "want-to-read" list here.  Review copies are out in the world now, and I've gotten a bunch of awesome early reviews from a group of elementary school kids in Half Moon Bay, CA! I'll share those blurbs with you in a post soon....

Hope you're having an enchanting summer!