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“The Latine/x experience is no single thing…” – An Author Interview with Celia C. Pérez

Celia C. Pérez is the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Cuban father. She is originally from Miami and is a graduate of the University of Florida and the University of South Florida. Currently, Celia lives with her family in Chicago where she works as a college librarian.

Celia's debut book for young readers, The First Rule of Punk (2018), was a Pura Belpré Award Honor Book, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards honor book, and a winner of the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award. Celia's second book, Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers (2019), is an Association of Library Services to Children Notable Children’s Book and was named to several best-of-the-year lists. Her third and most recent book, Tumble (2022), is already a Pura Belpré Award Honor Book, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book.

You’ve won awards that focus on the representation of Latine/Latinx people, like the Pura Belpré Award Honor and the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award. What does it mean for you to have the opportunity to center these voices and perspectives? 

It’s an honor to be able to write the stories that come from my imagination and from my experiences and to know that readers of all ages have access to them and, hopefully, are connecting to them in some way. Representation of Latine/x people in books was something that, as a lifelong reader, was always on my mind. I didn’t really explore this, and maybe didn’t even really understand why it was something I noticed, until I was in college and was looking for authors whose experiences and stories reflected my own life.

After my son was born, I made it a habit of reading together every day. I was always looking for books that reflected his and my heritage. It was interesting to discover how much had changed and how much had not in the world of children’s books. In all my books, I think my goal is to try to capture what it’s like to be a kid, to grow up, to live in between worlds, and to, coincidentally, be Latine/x. I try to write stories that celebrate different expressions of culture that may not necessarily be what people assume or expect.

In all my books, I think my goal is to try to capture what it’s like to be a kid, to grow up, to live in between worlds, and to, coincidentally, be Latine/x.

On your website, you have playlists and image boards for each of your books. What is your history with music, specifically punk, and zines? How did they influence your writing?

I’ve always been a big music fan. Thanks to my dad, I grew up listening to a lot of the classics of Mexican and Cuban music like Beny More, Pedro Infante, Lola Beltran, Vicente Fernandez. Later, in my young adulthood, I got into punk and zines. Punk introduced me to a world in which people found ways to live and express themselves without necessarily following traditional paths and expectations. For me, punk was always about finding a way to get things done when no mold exists. It was also about empowerment.

I don’t know that I would be writing books if I hadn’t spent years reading and making zines. Making zines helped me believe that what I had to write about mattered and was worth publishing. As far as the role of the playlists and image boards in my writing process, I’m always trying to capture a feeling in what I write. I make these sensory resources that I turn to when I’m trying to put myself in that place. The image boards are collages of the story I’m trying to put into words.

You’ve mentioned you really like research — what is your research process like for a new book? Do your stories inspire your research, or does research inspire your stories? 

It always feels like a chicken-and-egg thing where I lose track of what came first. There’s usually some element of a story that I am researching that leads to other topics of interest. I discover so many interesting things while researching that I often find myself having to figure out how to weave all these details into what I’m writing. And if they don’t fit, I save them for possible future use. I typically do research even on the topics I have some familiarity with like, in the case of my books, punk and wrestling and Florida.

Research can mean reading books and articles, but it can also be a lot of other things like watching videos and performances, interviewing people, doing or making something to have that experience before writing about it, or visiting places. These are all types of research I’ve done for my books. Research is one of my favorite things about working on a story. The cool thing about it is that no matter how much I think I know about a topic, there is always something new to learn.

The cool thing about it is that no matter how much I think I know about a topic, there is always something new to learn.

What do you find to be the most difficult part of creating middle grade and young adult books today? What is the most rewarding?

I think one of the toughest things about writing for and about young people is staying connected and not losing sight of what it’s like to be a kid, even as trends and technology and culture changes. I think the experiences, the pain and joy of growing up, aren’t that different today than thirty or fifty years ago. Staying true to those experiences, remembering what it’s like, is something I strive for. One of the most rewarding parts of creating books for young readers is having the opportunity to interact with them. I enjoy hearing their thoughts and questions. Once a book is published it’s no longer just mine. I have my feelings and thoughts about a story I’ve written, but once it’s out in the world it takes on whatever feelings and meaning readers give it too. It’s cool to know that my stories continue to evolve in this way.

What was your favorite childhood book or book you have read recently? What did you like about it?

I’m a big fan of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books and Owl at Home. These are some of my favorite books of all time, and I only first read them as an adult. These books make me feel so many things. They’re comforting and funny and tender and heartbreaking and honest and hopeful. They’re simple but also complicated, and despite having non-human protagonists, they capture the essence of being human. They’re proof that books for young readers are for all readers regardless of age.

Are you working on anything now? What’s next for you?

I have a lot of ideas that I’m trying to turn into something or into somethings. I love ghost stories and mysteries. These were favorites when I was a kid too. I would like to try my hand at these genres.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

The Latine/x experience is no single thing, just like the American experience is no one story. I think it’s important to remember this and not assume that all Latinx/e writers will write the same story or even a familiar story. And that’s the beauty of books, right? That we can discover how we are alike, how we are different, and through stories learn new things.

The Latine/x experience is no single thing, just like the American experience is no one story.

Diverse BookFinder would like to thank Celia C. Pérez for her time and input.

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