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Five questions for Newbery Medalist Meg Medina

Photo: Petite Shards Productions.

Meg Medina is the winner of the 2019 Newbery Medal for Merci Suárez Changes Gears (read The Horn Book Magazine‘s starred review here). For our February issue of The Horn Book Herald: ALA Youth Media Awards Edition e-newsletter, Medina answered Five Questions posed by Horn Book reviewer, children’s librarian, REFORMA member, and ALSC board member Sujei Lugo and by Horn Book editors. Read more by and about Meg Medina from The Horn Book.

1. You’ve told SLJ about The Call…but what’s it like to watch The Webcast when you have the children’s book world’s best secret?

MM: For me it was the only way I could really understand what was happening. I sat in my kitchen, watching the webcast as I do every year. I started shaking when it was time for the announcement. Dr. Jamie Naidoo was at the podium, and all I could think about was the fact that he had been kind enough to invite me to the Latino Children’s Literature conference back when my very first book was published. It felt like I had come full circle in a lovely way. And then — there it was, my book cover, and the cheers. Then, of course, my kids calling and then, the whole world!

2. In your recent Talks with Roger interview you said: “Every birthday party — every everything — is for everyone from the newborn to the ninety-nine-year-old who’s getting wheeled up the ramp. That’s how celebrations happen.” How is your family celebrating your Newbery win?

MM: We plan to convene in Washington, DC, in June for the big party [the Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Banquet], of course, but for now we’ve celebrated in small and meaningful ways since we are a bit spread out, geographically. My husband and I enjoyed a nice dinner and Prosecco with our oldest daughter on that first night. I’ve brought pizza to share with my Tía Isa at the nursing facility where she now lives. I had to first explain what the Newbery Award is because she is just not aware of such things. “This is very important,” she said. And I said that, yes, I thought it was. She took my hand and said she was glad that she lived to see this, and then we both had a good cry.

3. “How we live confuses people…I just call it home.” From the very beginning of the book, you place Merci within a very specific family and culture and also make her completely and universally relatable. Why was that important to you?

MM: I always center Latinx families in my work, and that is certainly true of this book. It feels especially vital to me right now, when the national dialogue around immigrants has become so charged and so derogatory. It’s important for all children — and Latinx children in particular — to have a counternarrative.

4. You’ve consistently portrayed and advocated for realistic depiction of the myriad of Latinx women’s experiences and personalities. If all your characters (from all your books) sat down to chat, what would they be saying or talking about?

MM: Oh, what a great writing exercise! I’ll have to actually try this one day. Let’s see, I think they’d be talking about fairness and how it sometimes is missing in their lives. I think they’d talk about why it’s a smart idea to speak your truth. I think they’d talk about how to move forward, even when life gets hard.

5. You’ve been a multi–Pura Belpré Award winner and have had the support of REFORMA and the Latinx communities since the beginning of your career. What would you say now, to the audience that you have as a Newbery winner, about the Belpré award, CSK awards, and the other ethnic affiliate awards?

MM: I am so proud of my Pura Belpré Medal and Honor — and that will never change. They are affirmations that I created work that celebrates the struggles and truths of people who came here as immigrants, as my family did. In that way, it is the most personally touching experience of them all. I assume it feels very much the same for winners of all of the ethnic affiliate awards.

In general, I think all of those awards celebrate quality and authenticity, both of which are absolutely essential in works for young people. They also represent voice. These are the stories told by the people who have lived the experiences. My dream is to continue to elevate these voices and to increase their exposure. I’d like to see all of these award-winning books purchased and featured more prominently in all school and public libraries, as well as in bookstores.

From the February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Herald: ALA Youth Media Awards Edition.

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