Interview with author Lucia Gonzalez
Award-winning author, storyteller, and children's librarian, Lucia Gonzalez was born in 1957 in Havana, Cuba, and grew up in Cuba and Miami. She attended the University of California at Santa Barbara and received her Masters degree from the University of South Florida, in Tampa.
Lucia has always been fascinated by the folk tales of other countries, and has lived in Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela. It was while living in Venezuela that she came up with the idea, that would lead to her books for children, to compile some of the most popular stories told to children throughout the Americas and retell them in English. She is the author of three award-winning bilingual books: The Bossy Gallito, a Cuban folktale; Señor Cat's Romance, a collection of popular folk tales from Latin America; and, her most recent title,The Storyteller's Candle, which has been selected for inclusion in our 2010 Spirit of PaperTigers Project.
Lucia Gonzalez lives in Miami, Florida.
As a children’s librarian, storyteller, and author, Pura Belpré is my inspiration. Ms. Belpré has always been my role model. It was my dream to write a book for children about her work. In January 2006, I received a call from Children’s Book Press asking me if I was interested in writing the book. I didn’t have to think about it twice. I accepted on the spot and immediately set to work. It was a great honor and a dream come true.
What message do you hope The Storyteller's Candle sends to children?
I would like children to learn about the experiences of other children and their families during their first year in a big city in America. I would like children to learn, or remember, that the public library is a wonderful place for them and for everyone in the family. I also would like children to meet Pura Belpré, a woman who made a difference in the lives of so many children who listened to her stories.
What are some of the responses you have had from children regarding the book?
Children get so immersed in the story that sometimes when reading the part where Ms. Belpré asks for volunteers to help with the celebration of Three Kings' Day, the children in the audience raise their hands as if they were there, planning the big event.
Like Pura Belpré, you are yourself a talented librarian, author and storyteller. When did you first think of yourself as an oral storyteller?
On my first day of work in the children’s department of a public library, I was sent to an all-day training workshop. The trainer was a magnificent storyteller named Jackie Torrence. Her stories and her way of telling them transported me to my own childhood when my great-aunt told me stories. During that first year of work as a children’s librarian, I also met a wonderful librarian, Marta Garcia, who had worked with Pura Belpré in New York. Marta became my mentor and the one who first introduced me to Pura Belpré. I learned from Marta the art of puppetry and storytelling as taught to her by Pura Belpré.
How has your early life in Cuba and being of Latino Heritage influenced your work?
My cultural heritage and my experience as an immigrant adolescent are the backbone of my writing. Growing up during the 1960’s in post-revolutionary Cuba had a great impact on my vision of the world. My most cherished memories are of my great-aunt telling us stories in the impenetrable darkness of the night, in the countryside. When I came to the United States I was 12 years old. I didn’t know the language and didn’t have my extended family and friends near. My parents depended on me to translate and help them in difficult situations. Everything in my life changed rapidly. The magical memories of my childhood in Cuba and my first experiences as an immigrant in the US are a very important part of my writing.
Can you please tell us about your work, through your library, with Latino families?
I have been reaching out to Spanish-speaking children and families since I started working in libraries at the Miami-Dade Public Library System (MDPLS) in 1991, when I was hired as Children’s Outreach librarian in The Imagination Factory, a grant- funded program connecting children and libraries through storytelling.
I always encourage Spanish-speaking children and their parents to read and share books in the language they feel most comfortable and free. During my tenure as Associate Director for Broward County Libraries, I developed bilingual children's story time for libraries, public schools, and daycare centers throughout the county.
Through my work with REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, I am able to reach children and families in communities everywhere. For example, we just launched a new family literacy initiative, NOCHE DE CUENTOS @ MI BIBLIOTECA (this year's theme is "Everyone Comes from Somewhere"). During the week of March 20-27 families from Latino communities across the United States will join the global community in the celebration of World Storytelling Day by gathering at their libraries to share stories, songs and experiences from their families, their communities, or their countries' oral traditions. Those interested can go to REFORMA's website and click on the NOCHE DE CUETOS icon to find a wealth of storytelling resources and promotional materials to host a NOCHE DE CUENTOS. I am very proud of this program. I am an adamant believer in the power of storytelling to transmit and preserve culture.
As a librarian, what do you consider a great picture book, and how do you help children find their way through the maze of books written for them?
A great picture book must combine the elements of great literature and great art while speaking directly to the child and the child’s experience, yet resonating in the mind and soul of the adult reader. The art and the text must go hand in hand. As a librarian I let the children find their own book. I show them the way to quality books but, in the end, they are the most expert selectors.
What can you tell us about your company, "In Other Words: Multicultural Children's Books and Consulting"?
I made the decision to transition full-time to do my life’s work and fulfill a lifelong dream. I launched my company “In Other Words” to assist and support families, schools, libraries, museums and early learning centers in their efforts to build literacy and connect with their diverse communities. I count on a network of trainers, performers, and consultants that include library and education professionals, as well as award-winning children’s authors, storytellers and performers of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds who bring a wide range of hands-on knowledge and expertise to the work.
Do you have any new books coming out soon?
I am working on a new story for older readers, but have yet to find a home for it.
If you were to pick a place anywhere in the world to send The Storyteller's Candle, where would it be, and why?
I would like The Storyteller’s Candle to travel to Puerto Rico, to be in classrooms, libraries, and homes from the smallest town to the capital city San Juan. I want children in the island to know and be proud of the work of Pura Belpré, and to re-encounter the stories that belong to them.
*Aline Pereira is PaperTigers Managing Editor.
Posted February 2010
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