By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
Ray Jaramillo’s first picturebook for children, Gust, Gust, Gust! (Page Publishing, Inc., 2021), is the story of a young boy who is afraid of the wind. Gustavo, called Gust, lives in a village located in southwestern New Mexico, U.S.A. where the wind blows constantly. To comfort Gust, his Tata plays the bongos each time the wind begins to whirl. Eventually, the villagers grow tired of listening to Tata play his bongos and ban him from ever playing again. Unbeknownst to the villagers, banning Tata’s bongo playing has devastating consequences for the village. To find out if the villagers can survive without the music of Tata’s bongos, pick up Ray’s new picturebook, Gust, Gust, Gust!
Ray Jaramillo wasn’t always a writer and storyteller. In fact, Ray admits “I was actually afraid of public speaking when I was growing up. I learned to talk into a microphone at a bowling alley” where Ray worked while enrolled in college. Each night at Sun Lanes, Ray had to make announcements to hundreds of bowlers. “I became a little bit more confident with the microphone and that was how my public voice started to be shaped.”
From an Announcer to Published Author
Ray’s journey from the bowling alley to published author is filled with influential people like Barbara Dedera, the owner of Alpha Schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Through a chance encounter at the bowling alley, Barbara invited Ray to fill in as a substitute teacher at Alpha Schools for two days.
It was a Thursday, Friday. Then they asked me, “Can you work one more week and that will get us to our Christmas break, and then we’ll hire somebody. I ended up working two weeks and they talked amongst themselves. Then they offered me the job! It was supposed to be two weeks and now I’m here at Alpha School 20 years later.
Ray admits, “When I first got to Alpha School, I knew zero about early childhood education.” He credits Barbara for introducing him to children’s literature, storytelling and reading aloud to children. Ray recalls attending a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference where Barbara encouraged Ray to buy children’s books.
She said, “Buy every book that you want” and she gave me her credit card! I thought, “Oh my gosh. I’m spending so much money.” I remember her telling me, “If you love the books, you are going to bring that love to the kids.” I remember coming home and being so excited about having those books to read to children. I didn’t let anybody do circle time. I had to be the one to read all those books and share all those books everyday with the children!
Working at Alpha School has been life-changing for Ray. He met his wife while working at Alpha School. Ray also return to college and earn his bachelors and master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education while working at the school.
During his graduate studies, Ray enrolled in a STEM class where one of the assignments was to write a children’s STEM book. As Ray started to write Gust, Gust, Gust (see Figure 2) he used storytelling techniques from his favorite authors including Mercer Mayer and Robert Munsch. Ray says, “a lot of my favorite books are intertwined in Gust, Gust, Gust!”
But the main idea for Gust, Gust, Gust! came from Ray’s experiences with a young child who was afraid of the wind.
Here in Las Cruces we have winds from February to May. So, this little child was really, really scared of the wind. I remember creating sounds outside [the classroom] to change that wind sound a little bit and it worked to reduce the child’s anxiety! So that’s the wind behind the story.
Other features of Gust, Gust, Gust! are based on real people, places and events in Ray’s life. The character, Tata, is based on Ray’s own grandfather who “was an important person in my life.” The images of Tata and Gust were drawn using photos of Ray’s grandfather and of Ray as a young boy. Ray wanted to include features and elements that connected to New Mexico’s landscape and people. He chose the Spanish names of Gustavo and Tata for the main characters in the story because
I really wanted children to see themselves in the picturebook. In fact, when I got my first copy back, there were a lot of blonde haired, blue eyed people in my book. Although there are plenty [of characters] out there with those characteristics, I wanted children to see the world that I envisioned and that was dark skinned, brown eyed characters. It was important that children saw that.
In one illustration of a village meeting, Ray noticed that the illustrator had featured a male character as the person in charge of the meeting. Ray requested that the character be featured as female and the change was made.
Sharing Gust, Gust, Gust! with Readers
Once the story was published, Ray shared it with the children and teachers at Alpha School. He recalls placing an autographed copy of Gust, Gust, Gust! in each classroom library. “Every classroom has my book (laughs).” But much to Ray’s chagrin, he noticed that the teachers had placed the book out of the reach of children.
I said, “No! I want these books in the hands of children. I want them to be ripped. I want to use tape to fix it. As a matter of fact, I got so excited, I took a picture of it (see Figure 3), my first taped book from a ripped page! It was really cool to see my page torn and the children coming to get the tape like all the other books. I thought. “I’m in with all the other books!”
Ray has autographed many more copies of Gust, Gust, Gust! and has distributed the picturebooks at family events throughout the community. Plans are in the works to distribute Ray’s picturebook to children and families throughout the state of New Mexico.
Plans for a Second Picturebook
Ray has some ideas for a second picturebook, ones that connects to Gust, Gust, Gust!. His plan is to write something similar to Love You Forever (1986) by one of his favorite authors, Robert Munsch.
Gust comforts Tata at the end of life with the bongos and his [Gust’s] children are watching him comfort his Tata at something he’s scared about. I envision a hospital. I envision what our children are experiencing now with COVID. I envision an experience of people looking through a window because they can’t go inside. But they can hear the sound of a bongo and that memory that comes together with it. Which is, I think, the premise or the foundation of the continuation of Gust, Gust, Gust!.
As Ray plans his next picturebook, readers can enjoy his first, Gust, Gust, Gust! published by Page Publishing, Inc. Then watch for the second story about Gust, his Tata and their bongos!
Authors’ Corner is a periodic profile featured on our blog where authors discuss their writing process and the importance of school visits. Worlds of Words frequently hosts these authors for events in the collection. To find out when we are hosting an author, check out our events page. Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.