Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Cecilia Gonzales Abraham, 1945

Independent Publishing is always miraculous. Like that time somewhere in 2004 when the door opened at Cinco Puntos Press and, Surprise!, the Abraham sisters, Susan and Denise, brought their mother Cecilia Gonzales Abraham to visit us. We had just signed a contract with the sisters to publish a YA book starring their mother Cecilia. And here she was, walking through the front door, a spry 83 year old woman ready to talk and laugh and maybe even dance if somebody would ask. We knew immediately where her daughters received their delight in their lives, their wit, their joy and their love for their mother. It was a great experience. We spent time with Cecilia on other occasions, but that first time was very special.

The two award-winning historical novels that Susan and Denise wrote about their mother--Surprising Cecilia and Cecilia's Year--were very special too. Cecilia was born in Derry, New Mexico in 1920. Derry is that little farming community you can see, going north on I-10, just before you cross the Rio Grande below Truth or Consequences. Derry was a wonderful place to grow up, but Cecilia wanted to see the world, so she had to buck the expectations that her family and the community placed on her. She had ambition and the wonderful surprising spirit that allowed her to follow her dreams. The stories form a wonderful portrait of a young girl becoming a woman. The story of Cecilia--from beginning to end--is a true American story. A true American woman's story!

Here's the author's note that Susan and Denise wrote for back of Cecilia's Year.

Cecilia Gonzales is a real person who really did grow up on a farm in Derry, New Mexico. Cecilia’s dream was to get an education and to make a better life for herself and her family. Through determination and hard work, she was able to see this dream come true.
Cecilia graduated as salutatorian from Hatch Union High School in Hatch, New Mexico in 1938. Against her mother’s strong protestations, she left the family farm for El Paso, Texas, where she attended the International Business College. She paid her tuition and supported herself through secretarial work, including working for the well-known architects, Trost and Trost. During World War II, Cecilia worked for the Office of Alien Registration under the Department of Justice and for the Post Quartermaster at Fort Bliss, Texas. Because she was bilingual, she was hired by the U. S. Office of Censorship, where she monitored telephone calls between El Paso and Latin America during the war.
In 1944, Cecilia left El Paso for New York City to marry her husband, Anees Abraham, a native El Pasoan. He had joined the army and was stationed in Pennsylvania. They were married for 49 years. While in New York, she worked for the American Red Cross, where she met Mayor La Guardia and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In 1964, Cecilia became one of the first employees of the Chamizal Project under the U. S. Boundary and Water Commission. She served as a hostess during the transfer of the Chamizal to Mexico where she met President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States and President Díaz Ordaz of Mexico. In 1967, she was the first employee of the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas. She met First Ladies Rosalynn Carter of the U. S. and Sra. Carmen Romano López Portillo of Mexico during their visit in 1977. Cecilia was assigned to take inventory of the LBJ Ranch home in Johnson City, Texas, before it was donated to the National Park Service by Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. Mrs. Johnson graciously met with Cecilia and the other Park Service employees, serving them coffee and cookies.
Besides meeting two Presidents and four First Ladies and retiring after over 20 years of government service, Cecilia has traveled all over the world to places such as South America, Europe, Greece, Turkey, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico—not bad for a young farm girl who used to sit daydreaming under a cottonwood tree.

 May Cecilia rest in peace. 

Cecilia Gonzales Abraham, 1995

Monday, July 15, 2013

George Ella Lyon's Ann Izard Storyteller's Choice Award Acceptance Speech

On May 10, 2013, George Ella Lyon's book, Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song, received the prestigious Anne Izard Storyteller's Choice Award. All of us--George Ella, illustrator Christopher Cardinale, and the CPP folks--were overjoyed. George Ella had hoped to attend, but couldn't for a number of reasons. So she wrote this beautiful speech to be read at the event. Where Which Side Are You On? is the story of a song, her speech is the story of a book. The story of how an idea becomes a story. Many thanks to George Ella for sharing this with us. 

To all who have worked on the Anne Izard Award:

I wish so much that I could be in White Plains to thank you in person for the honor you are giving “Which Side Are You On?” The Story of a Song. I once rented a car at your airport and drove across the state to Bath in search of a nineteenth-century schoolteacher. But that was for a different book. It was even in a different century! A person will do a lot once a story gets hold of her. But you know about that.

My obsession with this story began on a Saturday in another June nine years ago.  I was doing a reading and music event at the downtown library in Lexington, Ky., with The Reel World String Band.  One of the songs was Florence Reece’s iconic anthem to workers’ rights, “Which Side Are You On?” I’d known the song for a long time—one of my early ambitions was to be a folksinger—and I knew it was written in Harlan County, where I come from. I knew it grew out of the struggle of coal miners to form a union and bargain for safer working conditions, better housing, and better pay.

What I didn’t know until Bev Futrell, the Reel World’s mandolin player, shared it in her introduction, was that Florence Reece had written the song with her kids hiding under the bed while hired killers were shooting at her house. They were out to terrorize the Reeces because Sam Reece was a union organizer.  He wasn’t even home that night, but as Omie, the book’s child narrator tells us, “If a bullet hits you, it don’t matter whose name is on it.”

I was mightily taken with this story.  And it just so happened that I was driving to Harlan that afternoon to visit my mother. I was driving by the turn for Molus, where the Reece’s mining camp had been. I was headed for my homeplace where the story happened.

I told it to my son on the drive down, to my mother after we got there, and that night I condensed it into a paragraph in my journal.  It wouldn’t stay there, though. I couldn’t stop wondering about it.

Sometime in the next week, I started writing. I don’t know if I thought it might be a book or if I was writing it in my effort to understand Florence and to quit worrying about those children. Writing happens that way sometimes.

Eventually I did a lot of reading and interviewed folks who knew Florence and Sam Reece, including their granddaughter, but everything I learned had to be tested in Omie’s voice. If the storyteller wouldn’t say it, I’d have to leave it out.

I write by ear. It’s partly because I grew up listening to parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends telling stories. They couldn’t give directions without going into local history. They didn’t want to. And it’s partly because, since I had double vision till I was thirteen and couldn’t always read directions on the board, I listened hard.  This tuned my ear to the music in how people talk.

The music in “Which Side Are You On?” is being written while people talk. The Reece kids keep asking questions, trying to understand the crazy world they’re in, and their crazy mama who is writing in the midst of it.

Now that I have some distance on the story, I understand why it had such a hold on me. It wasn’t just the connection with the place and history I come from. It wasn’t just that Bev had known Florence and heard the story from her, so it was almost close enough to touch. It wasn’t that a miner’s wife in eastern Kentucky had written a song that’s still going around the world.  It was that Florence Reece, unable to protect her children from bullets, nevertheless stood up for them with the one tool she had: writing. In making new words for an old tune, she bore witness to the exploitation of miners and their families. She might die, but she would not die silent. She would give herself and those kids a voice.

Reece would recognize the situation in our nation today where we see the 1% protecting their ferocious wealth while the 99% struggle to get by. She would want to stand with the Occupy movement, the Wisconsin teachers, and all who suffer in a society where profit matters more than people. But Florence doesn’t have to be at those protests in person. They are singing her song.

Thank you for honoring her story and for helping it find new readers.

For all our voices,
George Ella Lyon

And don't forget to listen to Ma Reece herself sing her song, written while the hired thugs were riddling her house with bullets.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beauty is a Book Tour

The editors and poets of the acclaimed anthology Beauty is a Verb are hard at work this month, with upcoming book tour dates in New Jersey, New York and Virginia. Are you planning on attending any of these? Here's the full schedule:

Thursday, March 14
Don't Call Me Inspirational: a Literary Reading for Women's History Month
6-7:45PM  |  Hoboken Public Library
500 Park Avenue  |  Hoboken, NJ
Readings by Ona Gritz and Jennifer Bartlett, plus Harilyn Rousso will read from Don't Call Me Inspirational 

Wednesday, March 20
Virginia Festival of the Book
2PM   |  UVa Harrison Institute Auditorium
160 McCormick Road  |  Charlottesville, VA
Readings by Michael Northen & Anne Kaier

Thursday, March 28
Disabilities as Ways of Knowing: A Series of Creative Writing Conversations
7-8PM   |  Watson Theater, Syracuse University
405 University Place   |  Syracuse, NY
Readings by Laurie Clemens Lambeth, Jim Ferris & Stephen Kuusisto
8-9PM  |  Light Work, Robert B. Menschel Media Center
316 Waverly Avenue  |  Syracuse, NY
Reception and book signing

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Lee with BRLA Proclamation for Excellence in Publishing.
She couldn't be at the banquet, but she's still excited.
We thank the BRLA! 
Saturday night, February 23rd, 2013, the Border Regional Library Association invited Cinco Puntos to their annual Southwest Book Awards Banquet. The reason?! The BRLA gave us their EXCELLENCE IN PUBLISHING AWARD. And this is the 2nd one we’ve received. That’s the first time that’s happened! My gosh we were honored. And still are. ¡Muchisimas gracias a la BRLA!

Once again proving the librarians rock n’ roll.

The BRLA  is made up of wonderful librarians who go about their daily duties of promoting literacy, reading books, serving the public by answering questions, keeping books on the shelves, navigating the new world of e-technologies, lobbying politicians who just don’t understand and keeping the doors open—among their other jobs. Special thanks to Lisa Weber and Claudia Rivers who wrote and read the proclamation! It was a great evening! Good food, good talk and laughter, the celebration of wonderful books which won the annual Southwest Book Awards.

The only disappointment of the evening was that Lee couldn’t be there because she was out of town. But Susie Byrd and Ed Holland were there—both of whom worked with us six years or so beginning in 1996 until Susie became a politician and Ed a high school teacher; Johnny’s wonderful wife Ailbhe Cormack, and the irreplaceable long-time employee and close friend, Cactus Mary Fountaine. And in fact, Mary, who as a cottage industry entrepreneur makes the incredible hand-crafted and totally natural Cactus Mary’s Soap, inspired our favorite line from the Proclamation:

Whereas, the Press has supported hygiene in the borderlands by selling Cactus Mary soap at their headquarters…

But, please read the whole proclamation. It’s serious and fun at the same time.

A Resolution of the Border Regional Library Association

Whereas, the Border Regional Library Association is an organization dedicated to the promotion of libraries and literacy in the American Southwest; and

Whereas, Cinco Puntos Press has performed many acts in support of libraries and librarians since its founding in 1985; and

Whereas, the Press has brought fame and credit to the borderlands by publishing outstanding works by regional authors such as Dagoberto Gilb, Joe Somoza, Joe Hayes, and Benjamin Saenz; and

Whereas, the Press has promoted literacy by publishing outstanding children’s books in bilingual format; and

Whereas, Bobby and Lee Byrd themselves have written books of great merit; and

Whereas, Lee Byrd so dedicated herself to libraries that she even attended Library Science courses; and

Whereas, the Press has published controversial books by revolutionaries that received national press coverage and revocation of grant funding; and

Whereas, the Press has nurtured talented artists and designers by commissioning them to illustrate and design books; and

Whereas, the Press has supported hygiene in the borderlands by selling Cactus Mary soap at their headquarters; and

Whereas, representatives of the Press have braved long airline flights and international tensions to carry books from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to far-away book fairs; and

Whereas, the Press has been the recipient of seven individual Southwest Book Awards for books they have published and one award from the Border Regional Library Association citing its  encouragement of new literary talent; and

Whereas, after twenty years since the last award for Excellence in Publishing given to the Cinco Puntos Press, it is now time to recognize its continuing record of achievement.

Now therefore be it resolved, that the membership of the Border Regional Library Association at its gathering for the Awards Banquet on this 23rd day of February, 2013 of the Common Era do hereby express our unreserved appreciation of Cinco Puntos Press, and

Grant, to Cinco Puntos Press the honor of an unprecedented second BRLA award for Excellence in Publishing.

Johnny Byrd (CFO plus many other hats) and his wife Ailbhe Cormac, Ed Holland (son-in-law and employee emeritus, 1996 to 2002, and now a thriving high school teacher of film and literature), his wife Susie Byrd (also employee-emeritus who left Cinco Puntos to become a City Representative), Cactus Mary Fountaine, and co-publisher Bobby Byrd.
Not pictured is co-publisher who was out of town. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Which Side Are You On?, written by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Christopher Cardinale, has won the American Folklore Society's 2012 Aesop Award for Children's Literature. That's big news! Congratulations to George Ella Lyon and Christopher Cardinale. George Ella is an activist for the rights of coal miners and for the land on which she lives. Which Side Are You On? is truly a labor of love and an homage to Florence Reece--the author of the song "Which Side Are You On?" Christopher Cardinale traveled to West Virginia to study the Kentucky mines and landscapes for his illustrations. He and George Ella collaborated on this wonderful book that teaches us the story of Ma Reece, her husband and her children as they struggled for basic human rights. Cinco Puntos is proud of Which Side Are You On? and the Aesop Award, and so happy for George Ella and Christopher. We congratulate the Aesop Committee for recognizing the book's roots in the voice of the people--the folklore of the people--and its importance to the United States in 2012. It arrives at a time of renewed union struggle, a time in which our country seems to have forgotten about the struggles in the past. Which side are you on? 

Children’s Folklore Section
of the Children’s Folklore Section of the American
Folklore Society announces the 2012 Aesop Awards

The Aesop Prize and Aesop Accolades are conferred annually by the Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society upon English language books for children and young adults, both fiction and nonfiction. The award criteria include: Folklore should be central to the book’s content and, if appropriate, to its illustrations; the folklore presented in the book should accurately reflect the culture and worldvie w of the people whose folklore is the focus of the book; the reader’s understanding of folklore should be enhanced by the book, as should the book be enhanced by the presence of folklore; the book should reflect the high artistic standards of the best of children’s literature and have strong appeal to the child reader; and folklore sources must be fully acknowledged and annotations referenced within the bound contents of the publication.

2012 Aesop Prize Winner

Which Side Are You On? By George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale. El Paso, TX:
Cinco Puntos Press, 2011.

The urgency and bravery described in Which Side Are You On is at once both historic and contemporary.This picture book recounts the desperate circumstances that prompted the writing of a pivotal song of the labor movement in Kentucky in 1931. Author George Ella Lyon, and illustrator Christopher Cardinale, do a masterful job of portraying the historic setting and the unsung heroes of the coal miners’ strikes in the 1920’s and 30’s. And yet, by bringing this era into sharper focus, Lyon and Cardinale bring the realization that folk song is ever relevant in contemporary society. This book showcases a classic example of folk song, while simultaneously providing the context in which this song for social change took root. Social unrest, and the desire for justice, provide fertile ground for the flourishing of folk music as the voice of the oppressed. By describing the development of this song, Lyon and Cardinale remind us of its relevance today.

This is mainly the story of how Florence Reece wrote the song, “Which Side Are You On,” during one terrifying night, when the “gun thugs” (hired by the mine owners) were firing bullets into her home. Reece’s daughter narrates the scene, describing the way her six brothers and sisters cowered under the bed. Reece had gotten word to her husband (a mine worker and union organizer) not to return home, and to hide out. Amidst the questions bursting from the children under the bed, Ma tells them, “This ain’t easy, but sometimes you’ve got to take a stand.”

But this book is so much more than the story of Ma writing the song on the back of a calendar page, riveting though it is. The narrative simultaneously weaves three main threads into a cohesive flow: the unfolding plot in Reece’s home, background information on miners, and the lyrics of the song. Using an economy of words, Lyon imparts a surprising amount of information, in a child’s language. Readers learn about the grueling work of a miner, the meaning of a “company town,” payment in “scrip,” the meaning of a strike and a scab, and the reason a union is needed to set things right. The song lyrics visually swirl on intermittent pages.

The extensive author’s note provides even more information on the history, as well as reflections on folk music and the folk process, then and now. Cardinale, an accomplished cartoonist, achieves a style of illustration that captures the rough‐hewn quality of the setting, evocative of woodcuts. Illustrations and text work cohesively to portray a mood, not only of the violence, but of the resolve and love and solidarity of the family and the union.

Visualize the scene: Disenfranchised by those in power, the common people rise up to face their oppressors. These brave souls are armed with a powerful tool: the rousing refrains of a song. The music stirs their hearts and feeds their spirits, as they gather in strength and resolve. Does this scenario sound familiar? We hear about such uprisings and rallies on the news frequently. The use of folk song as a vehicle for righteousness is grounded in history, and those songs, old and new, still ring out today. Lyon and Cardinale have crafted a book that reminds us of that.

--Statement by the Aesop Award Committee

The Great Florence Reece singing her song!

Friday, October 5, 2012


It's time to get ready for Halloween, so that means folks will be telling and re-telling the legend of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman. The Byrd kids--Susie, Johnny and Andy--, when we moved to El Paso in 1978, learned about La Llorona on the playground in kindergarten and at Crockett Elementary School. Parents or teachers didn't tell them the story. The kids did. All the kids knew about La Llorona and where she lived and they knew to scare the new kids with what they knew. In our neighborhood, she lived on Franklin Mountain up Louisville Street, and at night she'd come howling out of a canyon, looking for her kids. Oh, wowweeee! Lee and I learned about La Llorona first thru out kids and our neighbors, but then we met storyteller Joe Hayes. We became friends. Joe told us a lot about the folklore of the American Southwest and the world (that's something most people don't know about Joe--he's a deeply committed folklorist), and from Joe we learned the history of the legend. But most importantly, we got to publish Joe's telling of the story. Oh, what a great gift that was. It was the 3rd book published by Cinco Puntos, our first bilingual children's book and by far our best-selling book of all time. We have over 400,000 in print in all of its various editions. We call Cinco Puntos Press "the House that La Llorona built!" Here's an interview I recently found in our archives (forgive me, I can't find the source, so if somebody knows, please tell me) where Joe talks about this great legend which is certainly an integral part of the culture where we live.  --Bobby Byrd


Q: Why are people so intrigued by the tale of La Llorona?

There are really three aspects to the character of La Llorona. First, she's a threatening character you have to look out for, especially if you're a kid. This by far the best-known aspect. Many people know of her in this role, without knowing the tale behind it, or knowing only the detail that she drowned her children.

And then there's the legendary tale explaining her origin. It's a legend because it's widely accepted as based on real events.

Finally, there are the many stories of personal experiences involving La Llorona.

In my version in The Day It Snowed Tortillas, I include all three aspects of her. And I think these three facets of La Llorona combine to make her so intriguing. Children are fascinated by a vague threat, and even more so if there's a safety valve, a way to avoid the threat: Stay inside at night.

The theme of a mother who kills her own children is widespread in folklore. It's such a violation of the natural order, that people can't quite get it out of their minds. And a character who is perpetually mourning and seeking forgiveness also has a strong hold on the imagination.

Finally, so many people swear they've seen or heard La Llorona, that children can never quite declare that they don't believe the story.

There's always that sense of "I don't really think it's true, but… but…"

Q: The story has many different versions. How did you adjust it to your book version?

I just started telling the story several decades ago, combining things I had heard as a kid with my own imagination. Over the years, the listeners helped me refine the story by the way they reacted to it. The printed version is somewhere between the way I started out telling and how I now tell it. I always tried not to glorify the violence that's inherit in the tale, but refused to abandoned the essential fact that she drowned her children.

I can't stand some of the contemporary versions that turn La Llorona into a helpful character, or say that she didn't actually drown the children.

They rob the story of it's mythic quality. The story of La Llorona, at least my version, is highly moralistic. It's a teaching story.

Q: As an Anglo man, what has appealed to you about communicating through different cultures?

I have always believed that stories belong the those who honor and care for them, those who put them to good use. Years ago when I first started tellling stories, I knew that the story of La Llorona needed to be perpetuated. No other storytellers were telling it. So without reasoning why I just started telling the story. That's changed now, of course. Many people tell it.

I now realize that because I'm not Hispanic I've been able to make a greater contribution--both to Hispanic and non-Hispanic children--than I could ever have made were I Hispanic. It's opened minds to the fact that words are for everyone, stories are for everyone. The human family is one big round circle, not a lot of separate straight lines.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Sometimes the border is a mirror, sometimes an escape,
and sometimes it’s just the bridge you cross to go home.


The Kentucky Club on Avenida Juárez is a touchstone for each of the stories in this remarkable collection. Saenz’ characters walk by, or they might go in for a drink or to score, or they might just stay and hang out for a while and let their story be told. Sáenz understands that a place like the Kentucky Club is an antidote to borders, welcoming Spanish and English, Mexicans and gringos, poor and rich, gay and straight, drug addicts and drunks, laughter and sadness—and sometimes even well-earned despair. It’s a place where you can sit at a polished mahogany bar, drink a cold beer, and become a part of history. “I’m going home to the other side.” That’s a strange statement, but you hear it all the time at the Kentucky Club.

“There is never a question of either Sáenz’s own extraordinary capacity for caring and compassion or the authenticity of the experiences he records...” Booklist 

“Sáenz's moving collection of short stories hinges on the intergenerational clientele of the titular borderland watering hole just south of the U.S.-Mexican divide on Avenida Juárez...there's much to enjoy in these gritty, heartfelt stories.” Publishers Weekly

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a poet and writer of fiction, young adult and children’s literature. Like these stories, his writing crosses borders and lands in our collective psyche. Poets & Writers Magazine named him one of the fifty most inspiring writers in the world. He’s been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN Center’s prestigious award for young adult fiction. Sáenz is the chair of the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club 
240 pages / Publishes September 2012
PAPERBACK ISBN 978‐1‐935955‐32‐0 / US $16.95 
E-BOOK 978-1-935955-33-7 (AVAILABLE @ ALL E-TAILERS)
Available to the trade at 
For more information, contact John Byrd ; 915‐838‐1625

(I recorded this video in August 2012 at the Kentucky Club on Avenida Juárez; la ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. The book's designer Antonio Castro H, Ben and I walked across the bridge to take photographs, looking for the perfect cover. We had a beer, talked to the waiters, took photographs and enjoyed ourselves. When it was time to go home, I asked Ben to say a few words about the stories. It was a good afternoon. --Bobby Byrd)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cadillac Chronicles - by Bret Hartman


A wild ride, Cadillac Chronicles explores what it means to—finally—find a real friend.


by Bret Hartman

Sixteen-year-old Alex Riley’s top priorities in life are to find his long-absent father and a girl with a decent set of breasts. But his mother has a knack for sabotaging his plans. To advance her political career, she takes in an elderly black man named Lester Bray. Lester arrives with a cherry Cadillac and an old man's personality. It takes a week for Alex's mother to ask Lester to leave. That makes Alex angry. On the morning of his eviction, Lester and Alex set out on a road trip to find the boy's father in Ft. Lauderdale. But the two don't just head south. They cross through un-navigated political, racial, and personal territory. A wild ride, Cadillac Chronicles explores what it means to—finally—find a real friend.

Brett Hartman distinguished himself early in life as the tallest kid in his class, though unfortunately this did not translate into basketball talent. He distinguished himself yet again in 1984 as the first of his graduating class to have a psychotic breakdown (see his memoir, Hammerhead 84). He spent a lot of time in school—Auburn University, Villanova and Indiana State from which he received a doctorate in clinical psychology. He and his wife Sarah live in Albany, NY with their two sons, Ben and Nick. Cadillac Chronicles is Brett’s first novel.

What was the spark for your story?
Back in the late 90’s I tried to start a non-profit organization that would match single elderly people with qualifying families—kind of an adopt-a-senior program. It never worked out, but the idea resurfaced years later when I started plotting this book.

Tell us about your most memorable road trip.
In the summer of ’88, I packed all my belongings, including my cat, into a UHaul (towing my car) and travelled with my grandmother from Ft. Lauderdale to Philly. The trip occurred during one of the most punishing heat waves on record and our truck had no functioning a/c. We lost the cat. (She was hiding inside the dashboard.) Then we got lost and had to abandon the car trailing behind us. My grandmother remembered that trip as one of the high points of her life. I’m not so sure the cat would agree.

"Angry, just-turned-16-year-old Alex, a white boy, and equally angry but very old Lester, a black man, are unlikely road-trip buddies in this novel that transcends its conventions…Alex learns to drive, comes to understand a little of the hard truth of race in post–Civil Rights–era America and spectacularly loses his virginity in a scene that will surprise readers as much as Alex…If there's little doubt about the end of the trip, readers will be happy they've gone along for the ride."

Cadillac Chronicles  
ISBN 978-1-935955-41-2 paperback/ 978-1-935955-42-9 e-book  
US $16.95 
304 pages / Publishes September 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Joe Hayes: "My life has been like a visit to an enchanted castle."

The new school year has started, and storyteller Joe Hayes is out on his journeys, doing what he loves to do best--telling stories to kids. We know Joe. He gets nervous if he's not telling stories, especially to kids. So to celebrate the new school year, and wish Joe the very best as the school year begins, we thought we'd post this interview for the National Book Festival where he was a featured writer last year. Teachers, librarians, principals--if you want Joe at your school, follow this link.

What sparked your imagination for your book – The Coyote Under the Table?

The book contains my versions of ten Southwestern folktales. Each story had its own unique appeal to me. It might have been humor, or a touch of wonder or some subtle wisdom. Or the images of the story may have delighted me. Whatever the quality that appealed, it made me want to share the story with children, hoping they'd find the same pleasure in it that I do.

What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?

I probably shouldn't admit this—especially to kids—but the biggest challenge is to make myself settle down and write. And the older I get, the harder it becomes. More and more things—mostly petty everyday things—seem to be crying out for my attention. It sometimes helps to keep a pencil and paper beside the computer and write down the chores that pop into my head, rather than jumping up to do them as soon as I think of them. If I write them down I don't have to worry that if I put them off I'll forget them.

The biggest help is to have the story pretty well worked out in my mind before I begin to write. I'm lucky because I'm a storyteller and can often work a story out by telling it before I write it. Another time I plot out stories is when I'm walking my dog. Ideas come more freely into my mind when I'm moving. I can sometimes do the same thing when I'm driving my car. But then the moment comes when I have to sit down and get the words written.

What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?

The most obvious advice is Stop hoping and start writing. And in a similar vein, don’t think about being a writer; think about writing. We make far too big a fuss about becoming a writer. The main thing to remember is that writing is just a way of sharing. If there's something you like, something you're interested in, there are bound to be other people who will also like it, so share it with them in writing.

Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?

One kind of story I like to tell and write is a tall tale—not the broad, literary ones like the stories of Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan, but the more traditional style tall tale, the personal yarn. These are what if? Stories. You ask yourself what if? And then think of a wild answer and then start telling it as if it really happened. I asked myself, What if I had a pair of shoes that got really stinky? I answered; a skunk might fall in love with them. And I started making up The Love Sick Skunk. What if you had a pair of smelly shoes, or socks? I asked myself, What if a hen mistook some big hailstones for eggs and sat on them? I answered; She hatched out a bunch of baby penguins. What if she sat on some light bulbs? What if she sat on some marbles? What might she sit on to hatch out a woodpecker? An owl? A roadrunner?

What is your list of favorite children's or teen books?

I pay more attention to folklore than to children's literature, so I don't have a ready answer, but the books that have been a great inspiration and guiding beacon to me are those of my friend Byrd Baylor. I don't know that I would have begun writing Southwestern stories without her pioneering influence.

How do you decide on themes for your books?

That's an easy question to answer. I don't. Only once did I take a thematic approach. That was for Watch Out for Clever Women/Cuidado con las mujeres astutas. I decided to do a collection of Southwestern stories in which a wise or clever woman saves the day. With all my other books I just focused on sharing a story, or a group of stories, that I liked.

How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?

I'm kind of embarrassed to call what I do research. It’s not that formal. I read folktales constantly. I especially read stories that were collected by folklorists and anthropologists, typically 50 to 100 years ago. I'm always looking for something that will excite me, some story idea that I can build on and make into a story to share with children. Most of the collections are in Spanish—not standard Spanish but the rural, informal Spanish of the villagers who told the stories. This also helps me understand the way traditional tellers used language and how they constructed their stories so that do an authentic job of retelling the tales.

What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?

I have nothing new to offer here. Parents who love to read tend to raise children who love to read. We all know that. Parents who frequently read to their children, to each other and to themselves, and who talk about what they're reading, provide a model children naturally emulate.

Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?

I have a couple of new things on my computer that I'm trying to make headway with. I hear over and over from librarians that another short bilingual chapter book like Ghost Fever/Mal de fantasma would be very welcome, so I'm working on that idea.

If you weren't creating children's books, what would you be doing?

If life hadn't led me into telling stories and sharing them with kids in books, I have no idea where it would have taken me. My life has been like a visit to an enchanted castle. I went inside and from the first room a door opened into another. There were other doors, but I just went through the one that was open. And in the next room I saw another door and, so on. I didn't plan for things to turn out this way. There are many other things I might have ended up doing, and enjoying very much, but I can't think of any other work that would have given me the opportunity me to make the same kind of contribution to the lives of others, especially to the lives of children.

Now let's listen to Joe tell two of his favorite stories--first one of Joe's "boy-favorite" tall tales, The Gum Chewing Rattler; and then A Spoon for Every Bite / Una cuchara para cada bocada, first in English and then in Spanish. Life is good when you're hearing Joe Hayes tell stories.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Count Me In - by Cynthia Weill


Oaxacan dancers and musicians celebrate with a colorful parade. 
Count yourself in the fun!

A Parade of Mexican Folk Art NUMBERS in English and Spanish

Practice your numbers in English and Spanish when you count the beautiful dancers, playful musicians, and happy children of Oaxaca as the Guelaguetza parade goes by! Pronounced Gal-a-get-zah, the lively celebration—full of traditional dancing and music—takes place every July deep in the heart of southern Mexico. ONE band leader with a big white balloon! DOS hombres with firecrackers! THREE musicians! FOUR giants! All exquisitely handcrafted by the Mexican folk art masters Guillermina, Josefina, Irene, and Concepción Aguilar, in collaboration with author and scholar Cynthia Weill. Bienvenidos! Welcome to the parade!

Cynthia Weill holds a doctorate in education from Teachers College Columbia University.  She is on the board of a foundation, Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art which seeks to promote and preserve the artists and artisanal work of the state.  Count Me In is her fourth book in the First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art Series.

The Aguilar sisters are Mexico’s most beloved artisans. They learned how to make clay figurines from theirmother Isaura Álcantara Diaz. These lively independent women are considered great masters of Mexican folk art and have been presented to Queen Elizabeth, Queen Sofia of Spain, various Mexican presidents and Nelson Rockefeller. Their humorous ceramics of the people of their town and state are in museum collections the world over.

The collection of parade figures from Count Me In was acquired by the Field Museum in Chicago for its permanent collection. 


Praise for other books in the First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art Series
ABeCedarios Letters in Spanish and English. “Highly recommended...” —Críticas
Opuestos Opposites in Spanish and Enlgish. “Direct and charming.” —Publishers Weekly
Colores de la vida Colors in Spanish and English. “The sculptures are hypnotic.” —Publishers Weekly

Count Me In
ISBN 978-1-935955-39-9 hardback 
 978-1-935955-40-5 e-book
US $14.95 
24 pages / Publishes September 2012

The Aguilar sisters, from left to right, Irene, Conception, Josefina and Guillermina.

For more about the Aguilar Sisters of Oaxaca, go here!

Catrina with Frida Kahlo References