Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
We’re chatting with Angela Dominguez, the author and illustrator behind many awesome titles, including the upcoming:
STELLA DIAZ NEVER GIVES UP
Stella gets a big surprise when her mom plans a trip to visit their family in Mexico! Stella loves marine animals, and she can’t wait to see the ocean for the first time . . . until she arrives and learns that the sea and its life forms are in danger due to pollution.
Stella wants to save the ocean, but she knows she can’t do it alone. It’s going to take a lot of work and help from old and new friends to make a difference, but Stella Díaz never gives up!
This is the second middle-grade novel from award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez. Based on the author’s experiences growing up Mexican-American, this infectiously charming character comes to life through relatable story-telling including simple Spanish vocabulary and adorable black-and-white art throughout.
Let’s talk to this awesome creator about her delightful book!
This is Angela. Everyone say, “Hi, Angela!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Angela! Tell us about yourself!
Hi, everyone! My name is Angela Dominguez. I like to say that I’m a children’s book illustrator that became an author. Namely because I studied illustration in college and became an illustrator first before starting my writing career.
Like Stella, I was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when I was less than two years old. I’m very proud of being Latina, and I love celebrating that in my books through either language or culture. I’ve worked on thirty plus books so far over my 12-year career. I currently live in Virginia with my boyfriend and our rescue dog, Petunia.
Wow! Thirty books! That’s awesome! Let’s focus on your novels for a bit:
Stella Díaz Never Gives Up is the sequel to Stella Díaz Has Something to Say.
Did you always have a sequel in mind while you worked on the first book?
A sequel was far from my mind. Truthfully, I never expected to write a middle grade novel not to mention multiple novels! I originally wrote Stella as a picture book, but it didn’t quite work for that format. After working on it as a picture book with an editor, it was rejected at acquisitions by their publisher.
At first, I felt defeated by the rejection and I put Stella aside. Then a small part of me, the part that couldn’t quit Stella, dared me to write Stella as a longer format and I quietly did.
I worked on it secretly for eight months with my agent who mentored me on my transition from picture book to chapter books. I injected my personal experiences with shyness and being a Mexican immigrant into the story. Once I had my new manuscript completed, I showed Stella to my now editor, Connie, over coffee. She loved Stella and her voice, but thought it needed to be three times the length in order for the story to fully work.
When I finished Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, I expected that to be the end of my wacky three-year adventure and middle grade novel career.
That didn’t last long. The problem is I fell in love with writing middle grade and middle grade literature. Then the same part of me that dared me to write it longer, dared me to write another. Even though I was intimidated about writing a second novel, I approached Connie with ideas of how to continue Stella’s story. Thankfully, my publisher was supportive and they signed on to do Stella Díaz Never Gives up.
Lucky for us readers that you never gave up either!
You also did the illustrations for the novels which is very cool! How did you decide which scenes to illustrate?
With the first book, it was easy. Since I envisioned the original story as a picture book, I just used some of my sketches to create some of the illustrations and I filled in the rest.
With the second book, I wrote the text first, but made a little list of things I wanted to draw along the way. I wanted to make sure that the illustrations showed a range of Stella’s expressions and images that I found visually interesting especially sea creatures.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on Stella Díaz Never Gives Up?
Fun! Well, most of what I discovered relate to either aquatic creatures or the growing problem with ocean plastics.
For instance, did you know that sea turtles’ eggs are pure white and look like ping-pong balls?
Or did you know there is an island in the south Pacific called Henderson Island that is uninhabited by people, but is covered in plastic litter?
While the pollution facts are terribly upsetting, it’s also one of the big reasons I wanted to create the second book. We’re seeing a wave of young passionate activists and I wanted to encourage kids to stand up for what they care about just like Stella does in the second book. Hopefully some readers might become environmental activists or at least more eco-conscious.
I also discovered a fun fact about the Vietnamese language. Did you know that there isn’t a universal way to say hello in Vietnamese? You have to personalize it for each person depending on their age or gender. Languages are just so fascinating!!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
Hmmm, good question! I think Stella would enjoy hanging out with Matilda. Stella would love to hang out with another girl who loves reading and is perhaps more outwardly courageous. I also think she would be a good influence on Stella. I also could envision Stella hanging out with Monica Brown’s Lola Levine since she was a big inspiration to me. Oh, and Swiss Family Robinson because I adored that movie/book as a child. I bet Stella would love living in a tree house. I know I would.
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I think I’m too boring for Young Adult. Truthfully, it’s such a lovely age and my favorite audience to present to. It’s the age when you’re just starting to form your own opinions and see beyond your own corner of the world.
Any hints about your next book project?
I’m happy to say that there will be more Stella’s in the future. I’m working on a third and fourth. I’m also working on new picture books. One will be published in 2021. It’s called I Love You, Baby Burrito. I’m also working on a picture book idea that hopefully will be picked up. Fingers crossed.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed too!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
The fact that I’m writing so much is still surprising. I always loved stories growing up and I had a few teachers who encouraged me along the way. One of my favorite teachers in high school, Ms. Horn, even compared me to a young E.B. White. While I do not think I’m in the same stratosphere as E.B. White, that comment stuck with me. It gave me confidence especially since I struggled with speech as a child and felt insecure about my grammar.
I didn’t start writing professionally until 2011. With no new illustration projects in sight, I decided to be bold and try writing. I was also getting less excited about illustrating other people’s stories and wanted to tell my own stories. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
What are you reading right now?
For the past eight months, I’ve been judging a SCBWI book award with 2 other authors. I have read many books. A 199 books to be exact. It was an overwhelming process, but utterly inspiring and surprisingly emotional. I never expected to outwardly sob over books, but it speaks to the quality of books published in 2019.
In fairness to the judging, I’ll hold off on 2019 titles for right now. A few of my favorite books that I read prior to judging were The Poet X, Bob, The Parker Inheritance, and Be Prepared.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Be persistent and be able to take feedback. Persistence will help you carry on when you want to give up, are frustrated, or worse get rejected. You also have to be able to take feedback. If your story is not being acquired by publishers and you keep getting rejected, it means your story might not be working or be the right format yet. Pay attention to comments that you receive and be willing to make bold changes. You can always undo.
So very true!
Thank you for joining us, Angela! It was lovely chatting with you!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, check out STELLA DIAZ NEVER GIVES UP!
It hits shelves on January14th!
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Click here to enter to win a copy of STELLA DIAZ NEVER GIVES UP!
Contest closes on Saturday, January 11th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!