Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Tanya Guerrero!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

We’re chatting with with Tanya Guerrero, the author of


He’s only twelve years old, but he’s lived in more countries than he can count. After his parents divorced, he and his mother have moved from place to place for years, never settling anywhere long enough to call it home. And along the way, Pablo has collected more and more fears: of dirt, of germs, and most of all, of the ocean.

Now they’re living in the Philippines, and his mother, a zoologist who works at a local wildlife refuge, is too busy saving animals to notice that Pablo might need saving, too. Then his mother takes in Chiqui, an orphaned girl with a cleft lip—and Pablo finds that through being strong for Chiqui, his own fears don’t seem so scary.

He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.

Let’s talk to this terrific author about her wonderful book!
This is Tanya. Everyone say, “Hi, Tanya!”

Tanya Guerrero

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Tanya! Tell us about yourself!

I’m Tanya Guerrero, a Filipino-Spanish MG author based in the Philippines, (I live in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila.) In my free time, I love to bake sourdough bread, grow my own fruits and veggies, obsess over my houseplants, and of course read. I also volunteer for an animal welfare organization, and have my own mini-rescue at home, (don’t ask me how many cats and dogs I have), though, I’m sure my 9-year old daughter would love to tell you each and every one of their names. HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, my debut novel is out on March, 31st, 2020.

What was the inspiration behind HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?

What happens to my main character, Pablo in HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, definitely reflects a lot of my own experiences as a child. When my parents separated, my sister and I moved to Spain to live with our maternal grandparents. Although, I’d been to Spain before on family vacations, it was a completely different living and going to school there. I barely knew any Spanish, and had to learn quickly. And then there was all the anxiety with missing my parents and my extended family and friends. After a few years in Spain, we moved again, to New York City. We had to start all over again. New place, new schools, new friends. Although I knew how to speak English, the American culture was quite new to me. Even after I managed to settle in, that feeling of being an outsider—an immigrant, never really disappeared. Then, several years later, when I was twelve going on thirteen, I moved back to the Philippines. A new start. Again. It was a strange time for me. I had been away for so long that I felt completely removed from my own culture—like a foreigner even though I’m half-Filipino.

So essentially, everything I went through, inspired Pablo’s story. I made his character half-Spanish and half-American to reflect my mom’s side of the family and the many years I lived in the US. The fact that he feels disconnected to his life in the Philippines, mirrors the same feelings I had when I moved back. Through his character, I show what it was like to learn, to discover, to appreciate the Filipino culture, especially the Filipino people.

I also based a couple of the secondary characters on some real life people I know. For example, Pablo’s mom is fictionalized version of the amazing women I’ve met in the animal welfare network I volunteer in. Heinz the surfer, is inspired by some of my Filipino surfer friends. And even, Lucky the dog, is based on a friend’s rescued Labrador who passed away last year.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories here at Kick-butt Kidlit!)  

Well, my story isn’t all that exciting. Unfortunately, because of time zone issues, (the Philippines is 12-hours ahead of Eastern standard time,) a lot of good news happens while I’m asleep. So on the day I found out about the offer on my book, I’d just woken up and was still super groggy. I have this terrible habit of checking my email first thing, so that’s exactly what I did. When I saw an email from my agent, Wendy, my heart skipped a beat. And then I opened the email, and saw that we’d gotten an offer from FSG BYR, which was one of my dream imprints. Since my husband was still asleep, I went to the bathroom and did my happy dance there. I’m secretly glad nobody was around to witness my dorky celebratory dance moves.

That’s still a fun story! What great news to wake up to!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA

  1. Since Pablo’s mom is a zoologist, I did quite a bit of research on wildlife and wildlife rehab, particularly on species that are endemic to the Philippines. His mom is also really into crystals, so I learned a lot about particular kinds of crystals and what their benefits are.
  2. Though I have experienced visiting orphanages in the Philippines, I made sure to speak to several friends who are either fostering children or have adopted children. This gave me a more authentic way to portray how Pablo reacts to his foster sister, Chiqui, and how Chiqui reacts to her new foster home. I also did a lot of research about children that are born with cleft lips—specifically, why it’s prevalent in developing nations like the Philippines, how it affects the children that have them, and what happens pre and post corrective surgery.
  3. I have a couple of scenes that take place in the Monteray Bay Aquarium, since Pablo’s father is a consulting marine biologist there. Since I’ve never visited, I studied their website, travel blogs and Google images, to make sure the scenes felt authentic. Now, I kind of feel like I have actually been there!

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Pablo feels really alone, not only because he is an only child with a mom that moves them around a lot, but also because of his severe anxiety. I think he would feel a lot less lonely if he had friends that were experiencing some of the same issues as him. So I would love to send Pablo to visit, Charlie from The Someday Birds, Molly from Finding Perfect, and Willow from Counting By 7s. I have a feeling they would become fast friends!

Agreed! That would be a great crossover to read!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

Growing up, books were a huge part of my childhood, particularly MG books like Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A Wrinkle in Time, and pretty much anything by Judy Blume. These stories were of solace to me, something I could escape to when times were tough. I was pretty much THAT kid who read way past her bedtime with a flashlight under the covers.

Reminiscing about those anxiety-filled middle school years, and how much I relied on those books for comfort, convinced me to shift my storytelling to focus on the upper-MG. Another thing that convinced me, was when I was on sub for a YA thriller I’d written, an editor commented that she thought my voice was more suited for an MG-aged protagonist. So, that’s how I came to write, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, which was my first attempt at writing an MG story.

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes! I actually just finished my second round of revision for my next book, ALL YOU KNEAD IS LOVE, which will be published by FSG BYR in 2021. Here is the short synopsis that was included in the Publisher’s Weekly announcement:

The middle grade novel is about a 13-year-old girl of Filipino and Spanish descent who goes to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona to escape a domestic violence situation at home, and who finds new friends, rediscovers family, and uncovers a hidden talent for bread baking. 

My main character is named, Alba, and I hope readers will love her as much as they love Pablo.

That sounds fantastic! Can’t wait to read it!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I’ll be completely honest here. When I started writing HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, I had this fear that readers would be turned off by a book set in a different country with a lot of Tagalog and Spanish dialogue. But as soon as my ARCs went out, and I started getting reviews, I was surprised that readers could really relate to Pablo’s story, despite all the cultural differences and language barriers. It’s made me a lot more confident about writing in settings outside of the US, as well as including as much non-English dialogue as I want. I now know that readers are craving for something different, and that perhaps, I can be the one to write those stories for them.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading an ARC by a fellow 2020 debut, FRIEND ME by Sheila M. Averbuch. It’s an MG sci-fi-ish thriller, that has some serious Black Mirror vibes. I also have more MG ARCs lined up next, WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF by Sarah Allen and PEPPER’S RULES FOR SECRET SLEUTHING by Briana McDonald.

I also like to read adult fiction to balance my TBR out a bit. I just started, THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT by Claire Pooley, which I am loving so far.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Craft-wise, I think the most kick-butt advice I can give is to read a lot and to read widely. I have learned so much about writing from reading all types of genres, across all age groups. For example, one thing I learned from reading adult fiction with main characters that are children, is how the adults are always fully-fleshed out characters, which I don’t always see in MG and YA books. This prompted me to make sure that whenever I write adult characters in my own stories, that they are as three dimensional as possible, with their own little character arcs within the larger arc of the main story.

Great advice!

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Tanya!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA! It hits shelves on March 31st!

how to make friends with the sea


Connect with Tanya on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to win a copy of HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA!
Contest closes Tuesday, March 31st at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

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