Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

3 Award-Winning Latina Authors Are Symbols Of Hope For Next Generation Of Writers


Children's literature handed out some of its biggest awards this past week. And among those celebrating are not one, not two but three Latina authors.

MEG MEDINA: The most unbelievable thing happened. And that is being named the Newbery Medal winner.

ELIZABETH ACEVEDO: I was awarded the Printz prize.

JUANA MARTINEZ-NEAL: And then I heard Caldecott Honor and the name of my book. And I just cried and say thank you because what else can you say, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Meg Medina, Elizabeth Acevedo and Juana Martinez-Neal, winners and honorees for the Newbery, Printz and Caldecott awards. We wanted to hear what this moment means for each of them. Here's Meg Medina, author of "Merci Suarez Changes Gears."

MEDINA: I'm just so grateful that Merci Suarez connected across all kinds of cultures so that it's a story about family and that people sort of were able to see it and judge it in that way. My plan for the next 12 months is to maximize its impact, like, not just this beautiful thing that it does for me personally, right? And it is a beautiful thing. But, you know, how do I leverage this - right? - to make this so that it has a lot of impact, the widest impact I could make it have on other authors for Latina girls, for families right now? How do I harness that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, Medina has already had that effect on Elizabeth Acevedo.

ACEVEDO: So Meg Medina is like my comadre, my (laughter) madrina, which is like my godmother. She doesn't even know it, right? Like, I tell her all the time. I don't think she believes it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Acevedo won the Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature. Her debut novel "The Poet X" is about a Dominican-American girl in Harlem who finds her voice through poetry. But her strict religious mother won't allow it. The book is dedicated to Acevedo's former eighth-grade students.

ACEVEDO: I taught at a school that was 78 percent Latinx, 20 percent black, had never had a Latinx teacher, had never had an Afro-Latina teacher. And for me, my ideal reader was my student, were these young people who struggled with reading, who struggled with finding themselves in literature and would time and again tell me, where are we? Where are we in these books? And I had, you know, an upbringing that had its challenges. And I turned to books. That was where I would go for solace when I didn't know an answer, when I didn't understand what was happening in my family. I turned to books. To be committed fully to language and to words and to telling those stories with tenderness and generosity that often gets stereotyped about a community of people means the world to me. And I've been working on this my whole life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Juana Martinez-Neal's book "Alma And How She Got Her Name" is a Caldecott Honor Book. It's a picture book about a young girl who learns to love her long name.

MARTINEZ-NEAL: Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I can totally relate. Alma's story has autobiographical elements. Juana was born in Lima, Peru. She came to the U.S. when she was 24 and has been working on the book for eight years.

MARTINEZ-NEAL: I just kept getting stuck. And it was a fear of putting yourself out there. But I am so much more than those eight years that I was trying to get published and trying to get published not as an author but as an illustrator. When I moved to the U.S. when I was 24, in my struggle to become an American, I lost who I was. I lost my direction. And I stopped writing. And I stopped painting. So it took a long time to actually realize that what I needed to do was paint people who I know - brown people - and write the stories that I stopped writing (laughter) for so many years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The book was released in English and Spanish. For all these women, these awards are a symbol of hope for the next generation of Latina authors. But the most important thing, Martinez-Neal says, is to just write a good story.

MARTINEZ-NEAL: They happen to be about Latinas, but they are good stories. And that's all that matters. You tell your story. You say it right. And then things happen (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congratulations to Meg Medina, Elizabeth Acevedo and Juana Martinez-Neal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.