Publishers' Preview: Diverse Books Spotlight: Five Questions for Donna Barba Higuera

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Books Spotlight, 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 the picture book El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! (illustrated by Juliana Perdomo), Ramón discovers that his bedtime monster has fears like his. Can they both learn to be brave?

1. Do you remember what your own favorite bedtime story was?

Bedtime stories at my house were a hybrid of physical books and my father’s embellishments. My favorite was his version of Gumby and Gumby’s Pal Pokey to the Rescue, where the Claymation duo assists animals in dire situations. In my father’s version, with a lip-finger-pop, I was transported to their world, where I helped Gumby and Pokey save animals from mortal danger.

2. Who was hiding under your bed/in your closet?

¡El Cucuy! It’s basically the Mexican version of the boogeyman. My grandmother said that if I didn’t go to bed, El Cucuy would come get me. El Cucuy was hairy and had glowing red eyes, bloody fangs, and talons. He split his time between the closet and the shadowed cactus plant in the corner.

3. What’s a fear you are proud to have conquered?

Fears of “things” like sharks and dark places I still haven’t conquered. I won’t step foot in the ocean — thanks, Jaws. Like the characters I write, when I was young I was horribly afraid of what others thought of me. Being biracial was often complicated. I tried to hide parts of who I was, for fear I would not be accepted. But I’m no longer afraid. I am proud of all the parts of myself and my cultures.

4. How close are Juliana Perdomo’s illustrations to the story you saw in your head?

I was shocked when I saw Juliana’s version! It turns out she had a relative who scared her with a similar depiction of El Cucuy. Depending on which Latin American country you are from, El Cucuy or El Cuco, La Cuca or El Coco might vary slightly, but is always horrifying. Of course, Juliana’s illustrated version is adorable.

5. What did winning a Pura Belpré Honor last year for your first book (Lupe Wong Won’t Dance) mean to you?

Having a character like Lupe Wong, who is biracial and who represents my own children, receive this attention and acceptance has been extremely emotional for me. To have this thing that I was so afraid of as a child actually celebrated is probably the most important acknowledgment I could have received.

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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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