Interview with Yuyi Morales, Part 4

by Jeanne Fain, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

We wanted to hear Yuyi’s insights on publishing and inquire about her future plans. Additionally, we wanted to end our blog with children’s responses to Yuyi’s work. We asked our colleague Robin Horn from Galveston Elementary in Chandler, AZ and a preschool teacher associate of Julia’s at Spears Creek Road Child Development in Elgin, SC to share responses from Yuyi’s new book with Tony Johnston, My Abuelita. The children responded sharing their stories and connections with the book.

Jeanne: What are your thoughts about children’s publishing especially in regards to bilingual children’s literature?

Yuyi: I think we are hot! Not only there is the need and demand for bilingual books in the publishing world, but the ranks of those who create them are lining up with amazing heart and talent. I try to keep an eye on those new books published every year by Latinos, for Latinos, bilingual books, dual editions in English and Spanish, and those only in English that, nevertheless, cradle Spanish as a voice, and I continue being amazed at the beauty, innovation, and power that these new books are bringing forward — I am talking of books so irresistible that they serve their multicultural purpose as much as their pure book purpose, that of being of service to any reader no mater his or her language of origin. I believe it is just a matter of time until we are no longer a separate shelf in the book collection but rather an integral, indispensable, pulsating force in the children’s literature heart. I am prepared for nothing less than that.

Jeanne: What are you planning to do next? Are you collaborating with anyone new?

Yuyi: I am approaching the end of my collaborations. For some time now my agent has stopped taking in new manuscripts for me so that soon I will be able to illustrate only my own stories. I have so many in me! But the process has been slow as picture books take a long time to illustrate, and I still have more than a couple of projects with other authors to which I am committed. Next year I will have a book about art. Georgia in Hawaii is about Georgia O’Keeffe’s trip to Hawaii where she was commissioned to paint a pineapple, and then not painting one. This book is written by Amy Novesky. Ladder to the Moon is a story inspired in Ann Dunham’s love for storytelling and service, written by Maya Soetoro Ng, President Obama’s sister. After that, there are a couple of exciting projects under contract — one including a beautiful text about Pablo Neruda and a Frida Kahlo book. Fortunately, there is much more ahead.

Jeanne: We are also fortunate and look forward to all you have planned!

Robin’s third grade students respond to My Abuelita in writing with illustrations.

Julia: The 3, 4, and 5 year-olds from Spears Creek Road Child Development and I have been reading and studying Yuyi’s books and artwork for the last month. We have watched all the videos that she has posted on her Web site and enjoyed them immensely. Last Friday, I asked the children to think about what they wanted to say or ask Yuyi, so we generated a list of questions. Yuyi was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule (you’ll see what just how busy when she shares her future projects with us) to respond to the children. Below are the children’s questions and/or comments and Yuyi’s responses.

Children: How do you make your pictures so pretty?

Yuyi: I am happy that you like my pictures! The truth is that most of my pictures don’t look very pretty at first. In fact, my first attempts at making pictures usually look so bad that I need to remind myself to keep trying. Has that ever happened to you? I do a lot of erasing and re-drawing, putting another color here and there, cleaning off what doesn’t look good and painting again and again until it looks just right!

Children: What is the dog’s name in the Sr. Calavera movie? Is that your dog? I was scared when he was pulling the hat — I didn’t like that he did that but I am happy that Sr. Calavera ranned away.

Yuyi: The dog in Sr. Calavera’s video is Luna, my crazy, beautiful, mutt dog. She lives with me and my family and is very playful and very strong! I am glad too that Señor Calavera ran away because Luna, guess what is luna’s favorite thing to chew on? Yes, you guessed it right: bones!

Children: I like your cat. I know her name is Frida because I saw the My Abuelita movie.

Yuyi: Thank you for liking my cat. Yes, the cat in my abuelita’s book is Frida. You can see some more picture of Frida in Abuelita’s Web page.

Children: I like how your cat hides in Just A Minute! Is Sr. Calavera going to be in more movies — he makes me laugh! Why does Sr. Calavera make us laugh so much?

Yuyi: Yes, I also like how the cat in Just a Minute hides! What do you think she might be hiding from?

We are not sure yet when Señor Calavera might able to appear in another movie because in his last film he got pretty banged up! He got chased by dogs and thugs and he had to do a lot of running, jumping, and dancing. It was very difficult for Señor Calavera to do all of that without breaking or loosing any bones. Right now he is taking a good rest, hoping to be ready for more adventures soon.

Children: Why did you put strings on the Calavera?

Yuyi: The Señor Calavera you see in the movie is actually a puppet. I used strings, my hands, wires, and other devices to holding him in place and make him walk, run, dance, jump, and even ride a motorcycle.

Children: Why did the skeleton leave a message?

Yuyi: It seem to me that Señor Calavera is a very well mannered guy; he probably realized that leaving a message was the right way to thank Grandma Beetle for the fun and the party, and also to let her know that he was leaving but that he intended to come back for her next birthday party.

Children: When are you coming to visit us? I know, can you make a movie like Pedro’s mommy and send it to us here at school because I think we, I mean, yeah, can you make a movie and send it to us on the computer?

Yuyi: I think that making a movie of me saying hello to you is a great idea! I will work on that some time soon.

Children: Is Sr. Calavera your baby? Does he live with you? I think he does because you had him in your house.

Yuyi: Señor Calavera lives with me. I am looking at him from my desk right now! But I think he doesn’t like to think that he is my baby. He likes to think that we are friends, and so do I.

Children: Is that your family in the movie with Sr. Calavera dancing and reading Just in Case?

Yuyi: The people dancing and playing music in the video of Señor Calavera are my family and my best friends. The thug that gets the banana peel on his head is my son. Everybody else are my good friends who came together to help me film Señor Calavera.

Children: Sr. Calavera is cute. He looks cuddly like my dolls. I don’t know why someone would be scared of him, he is cute and I like all those hats he wears in the other movie, the Darth Vader hat is cool on him!

Yuyi: Exactly! I also think that Señor Calavera is very cute! And I like his hats a lot too. He is such a dandy. I’ll tell him that you said that. He is going to be delighted!

Julia: Yuyi’s work is so beautiful and speaks to readers of all ages. From the soft and gentle illustrations in Nochecita (2007) to the whimsical Señor Calavera in Just A Minute (2003) and Just In Case (2008) and to the beautiful dolls and toys (as the children call them) in My Abuelita (2009) — there is something for everyone in all of her books.

Jeanne: We hope our postings revealed the depth of Yuyi’s multidimensional work. We agree with Yuyi that we would like to see bilingual and multicultural children’s literature as a part of children’s collections in libraries and bookstores. We think it’s important that children, regardless of ethnicity, have multiple opportunities to interact with many types of books that showcase various languages of origin.

We wish to thank Yuyi for the time she took to participate in WOW Currents with us and also the time she took to respond to the children! Yuyi has many exciting projects in the hopper and we look forward to many more years enjoying her work!

Please visit wowlit.org to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission.

One thought on “Interview with Yuyi Morales, Part 4

  1. How beautiful to see these chiquitos laughing and reacting to Señor Calavera’s video. Julia and Jeanne, a giant thank you for sharing my work with the children. The drawings and the witting about grandmothers remind me how unique, powerful, lovable, and unforgettable grandmothers can be in a child’s life — even if they wake up early in the morning, play loud music in the radio, and wake up children who can sleep no more!

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