Describe your new book/project/work.
The Red Umbrella is a historical novel that follows 14-year-old Lucia from her carefree life in a small town in Cuba to an unknown future in the heart of Nebraska. The novel is based on the very real events that occurred from 1960 to 1962 when the parents of over 14,000 Cuban children made the difficult decision to send their children to the U.S., alone, because they feared the actions of Castro's communist government. This story strikes a personal chord with me because both my parents and my mother-in-law were part of this exodus of children, which later came to be known as Operation Pedro Pan.
What is your favorite family story?
There are really so many great stories in my family, from the inspirational (like the focus of my book) to the sitcom variety. I have often said we are a little bit like the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding except everyone is speaking a mix of English and Spanish. Just like the movie, I have a very large extended family (my aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, nieces, and nephews all get together for every major holiday and summer vacations... there are over 50 of us) and with that many people you're bound to have some hilarious moments.
One particularly funny story involved a church softball game in the small Southern town where I grew up. That day, my grandmother (who spoke no English) went with us to the ballpark and during the game started shouting "Linguine! Linguine!" I wondered why she was yelling about pasta and when I asked, she shrugged and said "that's what all the Americans are saying." I listened to the crowd and heard shouts of "Let's win it! Let's win it!" Baseball games and linguine have never been the same since then.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
My most memorable teacher was Mrs. Collins. I was in elementary school and I remember her as this little old lady with white hair who had more energy and enthusiasm for teaching than anyone I've ever met. She pushed her students to learn beyond what was in the textbooks and challenged me to not only read (which I loved doing), but to also write my own stories. I vividly remember her having me select sample pieces of wallpaper to make "covers" for my handwritten books. She made me believe that being a writer was a possibility… even if it took decades for me to finally chase my dream.
What was your favorite story as a child?
I was a Nancy Drew-aholic. I read every single book and would bug my parents on the weekend to drive me to Tallahassee (about an hour away from our small town) so I could go to the bookstore in the mall to find more books.
What is your idea of bliss?
Sitting by a beach, hearing my kids play in the surf while reading a good book, and munching on some Oreos. Total happiness.
Why do you write books for kids?
I think childhood is the time in a person's life when everything is a possibility. When you're young you begin your search for who you want to be in the future and books can be a huge influence. I find it exciting and challenging.
What's your clean, kid-friendly curse word substitute of choice?
Fudge. It gives you the familiar "oomph" of a curse word, but at the same time defuses the situation because, really, how mad can you be if you're thinking of chocolate?
Is there a maxim or philosophy that you live by?
Haz bien y no mires a quien. My grandmother used to say that and it's always stuck with me. Its literal translation is "do good and don't look at to whom" and I think of it as putting good karma out into the world.
What kids' book do you think would make a great movie — that isn't one already?
Besides the obvious answer of saying my book, The Red Umbrella, (really who doesn't dream of having their book made into a movie), I'd have to say James Dashner's The Maze Runner. Reading that book, I could see the special effects in my head already.