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An Interview with Sara E. Echenique Author of Our Roof is Blue

 

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS SARA E. ECHENIQUE,

AUTHOR OF

OUR ROOF IS BLUE

Illustrated by Ashley Vargas

(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 5-8;
also available in Spanish as NUESTRO TECHO ES AZUL)

 

 

Our Roof is Blue cover blue tarp covers roof in Puerto Rico after hurricane

 

Nuestro Techo is Azul cover spanish edition

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This heartfelt story of resilience follows two siblings as they work to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Maria destroys their home in Puerto Rico.

Before an intense hurricane hits their home in Puerto Rico, Antonio told his sister vibrant stories each night. During the storm, they huddled with their parents in a closet and hear the storm blow the roof right off their home. After the storm, their family uses a temporary blue tarp for a roof, and Antonio stops speaking. Gradually the siblings imagine their blue roof playfully–as the ocean above them or a parachute helping them fall from the sky. As the narrator helps her little brother feel safe once more–and after the family and community build a new roof–the little boy begins to speak again.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: One of the reasons Our Roof is Blue is so touching is that it was inspired by your own childhood. Did you do research too?

Sara Echenique: Oh, absolutely. In addition to drawing from my personal experiences with hurricanes, I spoke with family and friends on the island who lived through Hurricane Maria, and read article after article about the experience of Puerto Ricans on the island post-Maria. I spoke with parents of children who have lived under blue tarp roofs to better understand their own experiences. And for the book’s back matter, I researched pretty extensively the latest science on climate change, and how it is exacerbating hurricanes and other major weather events.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int1 Antonio tell me a story
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: I thought this was a color book at first, so the storm came out of the blue for me (so to speak)! I think that made it even more impactful. Was it hard to find the right level of scariness?

SE: That’s so funny because you just never know what a reader is going to take into your story. My own young children have always been drawn to books that don’t shy away from the truth. I went into writing this story knowing that I needed to trust my readers, both old and young, because they want and need these types of stories. Unfortunately, many of them will be impacted by inclement weather events stemming from climate change at some point in their lives. I wanted to be honest about that, but it was important to me that it didn’t feel hopeless or inaccessible. Yes, the storm is scary, but my hope is that it doesn’t overshadow their bond, and their use of play, imagination and storytelling to help each other.

 

KT: It’s heartbreaking how many kids this story is directly relevant for. But you did a great job finding that balance. One of the ways you do that is through the central image of the roof and its colors. How did that evolve?

SE: I drew from several mentor texts, including A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams. Among so many beautiful parts of her book, I was drawn to how, on its surface, the story could be about a chair, but she brings depth and layers to the experience. I tried using the roof this way to make the tragedy more accessible, which allowed me to anchor Antonio and his sister’s emotional journey around their roof’s visible journey.

 

KT: I really love the sibling relationship—was that always part of the story?

SE: Yes (and thank you)! Throughout the story’s many, many iterations, their relationship was always central. Family is such an important part of the Puerto Rican community. I was fortunate to grow up with siblings who anchor me, and am raising children who will hopefully feel the same way. In Our Roof is Blue, Antonio and his sister were always going to find the other side of trauma because of, and for, each other.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int2 parachuting gently down
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: How did you become a writer?

SE: I’ve always loved reading and writing, filling dozens of notebooks throughout my childhood. I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian who writes stories about their job (like James Herriot) and got in the habit of scribbling haphazard character profiles of all the people in my life. I put that particular dream on pause when I pursued my English degree from Williams College and law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Shortly after having my oldest two children, I reconnected meaningfully with children’s literature and rediscovered writing as a creative outlet. Several years (and one additional child later), my writing dream has become a reality!

 

KT: What was your favorite book as a kid?

SE: I can’t choose just one! I most fondly remember the Babysitters’ Club series by Ann M. Martin, which my mom often read along with me. It was a glimpse into life on the mainland and I vividly remember my heart racing when I discovered a new book in the Scholastic Book Fair flyer. I love that the series has had a revival in graphic novel form and now get to enjoy re-reading them with my own daughter.

KT: I loved the Babysitter’s Club too! Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at Our Roof is Blue. It’s going to be a meaningful book for so many people.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase from Books and Books.

Click here to purchase from Bookshop.org.

Click here to purchase via the Publisher’s Page.

 

Author Sara Echenique photo credit Rebecca Zilenziger
Sara E. Echenique Photo Credit: Rebecca Zilenziger

AUTHOR BIO:

Sara E. Echenique is a Puerto Rican lawyer and children’s author living in South Florida with her three young children, husband, and their rescue dog, Luna. She acquired a degree in English from Williams College and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. After almost a decade practicing as a litigator in cold New York City, Sara decided to move her family to a place that felt more like her childhood home.

Roaring Brook Press published her debut middle-grade book, Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente in September 2022 in both English and Spanish, which received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was long-listed for the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund’s Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World. Charlesbridge Publishing published her debut picture book, Our Roof is Blue (Nuestro techo es azul), in April 2023 in both English and Spanish.

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut picture book, Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023), uses riddles to introduce biomimicry.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AUTHOR:

Twitter: @autoraechenique 

IG: @autoraechenique 

Website:  www.saraechenique.com

ILLUSTRATOR:

Ashley Vargas

Instagram: @art.ley

Website: https://artley.myportfolio.com

PUBLISHER:

Twitter: @charlesbridge

IG: @charlesbridgepublishing 

Facebook: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc

INTERVIEWER:

Twitter: @katrinatangen 

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: Katrina Tangen Author

Website: www.katrinatangen.com

PROMO GROUP BUSY PBS:

Twitter: @busyPBs

IG: @busypb

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Middle Grade Book Review – Happily For Now

 

HAPPILY FOR NOW

Written by Kelly Jones

Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

(Knopf Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Happily For Now book cover

 

 

Happily for Now written by Kelly Jones and illustrated by Kelly Murphy follows Fiona who is sent away for the summer to live with relatives she’s never met because her mother is entering a treatment program for an unspecified addiction. In addition to her mother, Fiona is leaving behind Ms. Davis, who is like a guidance counselor to her (although the text doesn’t state that) but whom Fiona describes as her fairy godmother and whom she wants to emulate. Throughout the summer, she will be able to speak with Mr. Rivera who will also be able to help her with anything she might want to discuss.

Although the storyline involves Fiona’s addicted mother, this is not the main plot of the book and the focus is really on how Fiona tries to lend an eager hand to her quirky extended family, making this middle-grade novel a more light-hearted read.

With the help of her new friend Julia, Mr. Rivera’s daughter, Fiona sets out in her new town to try to help her relatives with their problems, or rather, try to help them help themselves, like any good fairy godmother (although she prefers the term fairy godperson because she is not a mother) who grants wishes might do, since she doesn’t want to just sit around being a princess. Her Aunt Becky’s bakery hardly has any customers because she keeps baking the same boring desserts she’s always made. Her great-uncle Timothy hardly ever speaks but has a secret talent and her great-aunt Alta is all doom and gloom. Can Fiona help them? And if she cannot get her happily ever after, can she at least get happily for now? She’s sure going to try.

Text is interspersed with emails between Fiona and her mother and between Fiona and Ms. Davis, which readers will enjoy, as the story progresses through these exchanges. I eagerly looked forward to reading these email conversations which provided updates on how Fiona’s mother was faring in her treatment program, as well as further guidance from Ms. Davis on Fiona’s fairy godperson training. Fiona, is at times both childlike, as she discusses fairy tales, witches, and the like, and like an adult, as she deals with her mother’s addiction and has to convince her to stay with her treatment program when she wants to leave early. Fiona easily makes us care about her and all the people in her life so that we enjoy spending time with her and want to see her have a happy ending.

Murphy’s black-and-white illustrations are a welcome addition to the pages, adding a lightness to Happily for Now and its tough subject matter. I do think it’s important since it’s not mentioned on the book jacket, for parents and young readers to be aware that, despite the lightness of this story, addiction is still included. However, young people who are living with a parent who is struggling with any sort of addiction or other illness will take comfort in reading such a thoughtfully crafted and thoroughly engaging book in which the protagonist is dealing positively with similar circumstances as they are.

  •  Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili
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Middle Grade Book Review – Wrecking Ball (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 14)

WRECKING BALL
(DIARY OF A WIMPY KID BOOK 14)
Written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney
(Amulet Books; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Wrecking Ball DOAWK14 cover

 

 

The popularity of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid middle grade series is still blazing. Kids at our daughter’s elementary school were counting the days until the release of book 14, Wrecking Ball. Then it was noses in books as they devoured Greg Heffley’s latest escapades. So what’s the appeal of this best-selling series? When I asked kids this question, the answers were simple: the familiar way the book looked, the story’s relatable humor, and its well-known characters. Great reasons since everyone likes comfortably sharing a laugh with a friend.

The title Wrecking Ball refers to construction and destruction to the Heffley’s house. As parents, we can relate to the nightmare of home improvements, remodeling, and house-hunting. Seeing these things from Greg’s perspective is, of course, funny but also very true. From tried-and-true sight gags (plumber’s crack) to the much deeper consequences of starting over elsewhere—the possibilities to reinvent yourself but also the complexity of feelings of being split from your best friend. Kids will be white-knuckled wondering if Rowley’s being written out.

Kinney’s hilarious illustrations accompany every page. I especially enjoyed Greg’s dream house which will be really small (to avoid attracting attention since he’s famous), but include a vast interlinking underground network. [PAGES 40-45] Who hasn’t envisioned what they’d build if they were rich? Greg’s idea of a glass bathtub that sits inside a giant aquarium is a kick. If your tween has some holiday cash to spend, this book is sure to please.

Visit the Wimpy Kid website here.

Fans can add to their collection with The Diary of a Wimpy Kid spinoff book Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid as well as The Wimpy Kid 2020 Wall Calendar.

 

 

Read another middle grade book review by Christine here.

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Kids Book Review – Saving Emma the Pig by John Chester

SAVING EMMA THE PIG
(The Biggest Little Farm)
Written by John Chester
Illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

saving emma the pig book cover

 

Last month I had the good fortune to see the delightful documentary, “The Biggest Little Farm” and I’m not kidding when I say my husband thought I’d immediately head home to don overalls and work boots after the film had ended. Yes, I was that enthused but I’d also like to add that you don’t have to have seen the film to appreciate this farm story or the real life characters in Saving Emma the Pig reviewed here today.

Saving Emma the Pig, an utterly adorable 40-page nonfiction picture book just recently released, is going to win fans and perhaps even inspire future farmers and vets once in the hands of young readers. “Based on the award-winning film” by documentary filmmaker John Chester about bringing Apricot Lane Farms to life in Moorpark, California, Saving Emma the Pig is the first in a new series of children’s books. Each book, narrated by Chester, will capture a unique and engaging tale of an Apricot Lane Farms animal and “the special people who care for them.”

 

saving emma the pig interior spread 1
Interior illustration from Saving Emma the Pig: The Biggest Little Farm written by John Chester and illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer, Feiwel & Friends © 2019.

 

Chester’s debut story recounts the true events about a particularly personable and apple-loving pig named Emma. Not just a new arrival at the farm, Emma also happens to be pregnant, and ill. Chester is determined to get her well again so she can properly care for her piglets. The premise here is quite simple yet also powerful, selflessly give love and devotion and it’ll come back to you tenfold. And that’s exactly what Chester, his wife Molly and his team set out to do.

Everyone expects Emma will have a fairly normal sized litter but when she goes into labor, the piglets keep coming. It doesn’t even stop at a dozen. Nope, seventeen piglets are born, close to a record number and quite a feat for a sickly swine. But the poor hog isn’t producing milk so the newborns move into Chester’s “teeny-tiny” farmhouse where they can be looked after while hopefully Emma recovers. There’s just one problem and it’s rather a big one. Emma has no appetite and in order to get better she must eat.

 

saving emma the pig int illustration 2
Interior illustration from Saving Emma the Pig: The Biggest Little Farm written by John Chester and illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer, Feiwel & Friends © 2019.

 

Perhaps offering Emma apples is the way to get her back onto her feet. When this solution doesn’t work and Chester is at his wit’s end, there’s just one last thing to do to save Emma, bring back the piglets. Clearly they were missing their mama and she was missing them because, once reunited, Emma’s health and spirit improve. Together again, Emma and her piglets thrive with the piglets eventually growing up and moving into their own pasture.

It’s here both in art and text that Chester introduces another farm animal, Greasy the rooster, who bonds with Emma. This unlikely and funny friendship is setting the stage for what is sure to be the next book in the series. Meanwhile, John and Molly figure if Emma can handle seventeen little ones, surely they can “raise one of our own,” and an addition to the Chester family is also depicted.

 

saving emma the pig int illustration 3
Interior illustration from Saving Emma the Pig: The Biggest Little Farm written by John Chester and illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer, Feiwel & Friends © 2019.

 

Artist Jennifer L. Meyer’s illustrations are so good that I cannot picture anyone else’s working as well. There’s a warmth that emanates from every page and brings Chester’s charming narrative to life. In the second spread we even spot Greasy taking up much of the left hand page as he watches Emma from a distance following her arrival. I also like that she’s added bees in her artwork. Another spread, with the piglets splashing, burping and slurping in the Chester home, shows Molly and John just outside a window wondering how they will cope with the litter and worrying if Emma will recover. An author’s note on the last two pages details the origin of Apricot Lane Farms, tells a bit more on Emma who now weighs in at seven hundred pounds and includes acknowledgments as well.

Bring the Chester family and the animals of Apricot Lane Farms into your life today. Share the Biggest Little Farm stories with your family to enter the wonderful world of bio dynamic farming where humans and nature are interconnected, helping us to learn about more about ourselves and the world around us.

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read more at the links below:

John Chester

Jennifer L. Meyer

 

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