Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors and Illustrators: Five Questions for Areli Morales

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors and Illustrators, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In Areli Morales’s Areli Is a Dreamer: A True Story, illustrated by Luisa Uribe, kindergartner Areli is finally leaving Mexico to join her parents in New York; she and they are undocumented immigrants.

1. Are you hopeful for the DACA program?

I am hopeful that DACA will continue to offer protection to many Dreamers, and I encourage those who are eligible to apply. I also hope for legislation that will build a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

2. What is your strongest memory of childhood in Mexico?

Waiting to talk to my parents on the phone. I felt excited but also nervous because it was hard to remember them; at times, they felt like strangers. But although I didn’t have my parents physically present, my life in Mexico was filled with love and happiness. I developed a close relationship with my abuela.

3. What do you retain most vividly from your immediate impressions of New York?

It was loud, big, and crowded. I missed my hometown’s open landscapes and was shocked to learn that multiple families lived in one building! I was mostly impressed with the Manhattan skyline. I compared it to my old view in Mexico of the magnificent volcano Popocatépetl. Both views made me feel small, yet part of something big. I think Luisa Uribe’s illustrations capture the beauty of Mexico and the diversity and busy life of New York City. The cover alone perfectly contrasts my two worlds and how I belong to both.

4. How has being a teacher affected your approach to writing a picture book?

I’ve used many wonderful picture books to help my students understand another person’s life. I believe authentic stories of the immigrant experience written by immigrants themselves can spark powerful conversations around what it means to leave one’s home for a new land. Through diverse books, we can help immigrant students cope and others empathize with those who are living in America’s shadows.

5. What advice do you wish you could have given your young self for the first day of school in America?

Be fearless and proud. Starting school in a new country can be scary and lonely. Despite the challenges, we can achieve our dreams like the immigrants before us.

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From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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