If you’re anything like me, you’ve started a long list of New Year resolutions that will hopefully, maybe, but not really last the next month… let alone to next year. But this year is going to be different! I imagine everyone is feeling energized to be a source of positivity in 2017, especially after the year we just had (2016 seriously left me with a look of permanent shock on my face).
One of the books that I know will start the year off strong is Ellen Oh’s middle grade anthology in partnership with We Need Diverse Books; Flying Lessons & Other Stories. There is a dazzling array of diverse authors included (see full list of contributors) and it gives me hope that this anthology will find a multitude of readers eager to see themselves represented in books.
Lucky for us, we have Meg Medina here today to talk about her experience writing for the anthology, and to share some of her own 2017 resolutions.
Happy New Year, Meg! Do you have any book-related New Year’s resolutions you’d like to share?
Happy New Year! I’m usually bad at resolutions, but this year is going to be different. I think it’s urgent that we continue to produce work that names the widely diverse and beautiful experience of Latino kids and their families, particularly now, when there is so much anxiety about what the future holds. I’ve received several invitations in the last three months that have a variation of this message: Please can you come. Our students are feeling afraid. Our students don’t want to say they’re Latino. It’s heartbreaking, and it has to be addressed with a huge input of love and respect.
To that end, I am promising to read even more new authors and to share my discoveries wherever I go. As a publishing community, we have to keep expanding the ranks of Latino authors so that there are many, many options of things to read and authors to invite. I also want to take better care of my own creative life this year. That means carving out quiet and stillness to produce new work and to try new forms. So, if I seem quiet, don’t worry. Be happy for me. It means I’m working.
It’s so exciting to kick off the New Year with this great anthology, Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh with We Need Diverse Books! You and nine authors contributed short stories. What is your story about? What made you want to tell that story?
Thanks. I really like this anthology too, and I feel so fortunate to be part of the lineup. My story is called “Sol Painting, Inc,” it features 12-year-old Merci Suarez, who is about to begin middle school at the same elite private school that her genius older brother (Roli) attends. The story opens on the day that Merci, Roli, and their dad arrive at the school to paint the gymnasium in exchange for a tuition break.
It’s a story about school achievement, class differences, and the unspoken sacrifices families make for their children. It’s also about rotting corpses and dirty swimming pools, but you’ll have to read it to find out what happens! I wanted to tell [this story] because it felt so familiar to me. Among my mother’s friends, who were all immigrants, their children were the joy and the hope. Despite their own terrible jobs and financial difficulties, they always looked to their children’s successes as their ultimate affirmation. I believe that endures. Parents often make unthinkable sacrifices to come to the US because they want hope and opportunity for their children. And kids in this circumstance face their own brand of pressure and confusion. When you’re twelve, you might not completely realize what’s happening, but eventually it crystallizes. I wanted to capture that moment of understanding.
I love that this is a middle grade anthology! Why was it important to you and other writers to create an anthology for middle grade readers specifically?
WNDB will have this collection and, in 2018, a Young Adult anthology, too. Ellen Oh provides a terrific introduction in the anthology that handles that exact question for her.
The draw for me was clear—I am happy to lend my efforts to anything that helps kids connect with one another across their differences. Second, I love the voice that’s possible in middle grade fiction: equal parts goofy and worldly. Lastly, I think it makes good sense to provide short reads that can be used in classrooms as conversation starters.
Middle school can be a tricky time in terms of how we form our identity—and in terms of how accepting we are of other’s identities. Face it; we are rarely our best selves in the seventh grade. Books can help, though. They give young readers (and teachers, for that matter) a way to reflect and navigate the terrain with deeper understanding and compassion. Like kids in the classroom today, the characters in these stories within Flying Lessons & Other Stories are diverse along many lines. This anthology is going to feel familiar and interesting to them—but best of all, it will be fun.
Thanks so much for chatting with us Meg! I’m sure there are many readers, young and old, who will feel like your story is their story, as well as the others featured in this anthology. Flying Lessons & Other Stories is definitely on the top of my to read pile. And reading as many books from Latino authors as I can get my hands on is a New Years resolution that won’t be hard to keep.