Publishers' Preview: Picture Books and Graphic Novels: Five Questions for Ruth Behar

This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Picture Books and Graphic Novels, 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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Tía Fortuna’s New Home might be “La Casa de los Viejitos,” but as her little niece helps her move in, Tía, through Behar and illustrator Devon Holzwarth, tells stories of a life well lived.

1. Tía Fortuna talks to trees; do you?

I am in awe of the royal palm trees, sacred ceiba trees, and exuberant banyan trees of Miami and Cuba. I enjoy their shade, admire their steadfast beauty, and respect their rooted presence. I have hugged these trees. I have yet to talk to them, but I’m sure I will, if I’m lucky enough to become an elder like Tía Fortuna.

2. Which foods do your loved ones associate with you?

Borekas, of course. And coconut ice cream.

3. What one valued possession has been yours the longest?

I wear a gold ring on the ring finger of my right hand that has a heart in the center inscribed with my initials in Hebrew. Somehow I’ve been wearing the same exact ring since I was a little girl in Cuba. I guess my finger grew around the ring. It was made from my maternal great-grandmother’s gold tooth.

4. This is your first picture book. What was the most difficult part?

There was so much I wanted to say about what it means to pass on a heritage. I struggled with how to make that come alive in few words and through an experience that takes place in one day. I revised Tía Fortuna many times. Every word had to count; every detail had to be just right. Writing my first picture book was like making filigree jewelry. It was painstaking.

5. Where and what is your fantasy old-folks home? (Asking for a friend.)

I left New York for college when I was eighteen, and though I visit often, I haven’t lived there full-time since. So one fantasy I have is to go back and live in a co-op (or something similar) and spend my elder years surrounded by interesting people, enjoying parks, libraries, museums, theater, and delicious foods of all cultures. I also fantasize about one day being in an actual old-folks home in Miami, like Tía Fortuna, and enjoying a lush garden, borekas, friendly neighbors who speak many different languages, and a quiet place to sit and write my memoirs.

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Photo: Gabriel Frye-Behar.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. from 1996-2021. 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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