By Thushanthi Ponweera
Today we’re pleased to welcome Cynthia Harmony and Teresa Martínez to the WNDB blog to discuss their picture book Mi Cuidad Sings, out June 14, 2022! We previously revealed the English and Spanish covers for the book here.
After experiencing a devastating earthquake, the spirit of a charming and vibrant Mexican neighborhood might be shaken, but it cannot be broken.
As a little girl and her dog embark on their daily walk through the city, they skip and spin to the familiar sounds of revving cars, clanking bikes, friendly barks, and whistling camote carts. But what they aren’t expecting to hear is the terrifying sound of a rumbling earthquake…and then…silence.
With captivating text and lively, beautiful illustrations, this heartwarming story leaves readers with the message that they can choose to be strong and brave even when they are scared, and can still find joy and hope in the midst of sadness.
The story is about an earthquake that destroys Mexico city—a repetition of what happened thirty years before. Both times, it was rebuilt. What values unique to Mexican culture do you think this highlights?
Cynthia: I felt inspired to write this story because it’s a real account on how the community rallied together with resilience, camaraderie, and kindness. Mexico, considered a collectivistic-oriented culture, values the well-being of the community over individualistic goals. This connectedness often finds a path in our culture through music helping us build bridges to celebrate, but also providing strength to rise above a challenging situation together; which is exactly what happens in Mi Ciudad Sings.
Teresa: As usually happens in major catastrophes, people tend to act in solidarity to help, but in Mexicans something closer and more intimate was seen, a sense of “family” that made everything more sensitive, loving and warm. At least that was my perception.
What do you hope young readers will take away from this book?
Cynthia: Locally or globally we all face challenges and I believe readers of all ages can go beyond “looking for the helpers” and join these efforts to find long lasting hope and comfort. When we offer support even in small ways to another person or pet, we find purpose and strength. Anxiety or deep sadness after a natural disaster usually set in when we feel isolated and it’s within our community, connecting with others, where we can truly heal.
Teresa: I hope that the narrative of this book offers children a way of facing an unexpected event in a calm and positive way, always thinking about the feeling of family.
Teresa, what is the best part about working on projects that center your lived experience?
I love to paint from my memories, especially places where I have been and have analyzed with my eyes. On this occasion I particularly wanted to focus on Coyoacán (a district of Mexico City), its aesthetics and environments, since it is a neighborhood that I used to frequent a lot with my family as a child.
Cynthia, you are a former WNDB picture book mentee as well as the co-founder for #Latinxpitch. What do you advocate for most when it comes to diversity in children’s publishing?
WNDB has been groundbreaking, opening up a path for much needed diverse representation in children’s books, and has been essential in my career.
Latinxpitch came together when many books with harmful Latine stereotypes (by creators who lacked lived experience) kept being published and in response to criticism someone in the industry said they couldn’t find Latine creators. All the Latinxpitch co-founders felt compelled to create a platform and network specific for Latinx talent to connect with publishing professionals, to increase the possibilities to accurately and truthfully reflect the variety of stories from the Latin American diaspora.
And finally, what other recently published or forthcoming books about your culture would you recommend for children?
Cynthia: I would recommend titles by my fellow talented Musas (a collective of Latinx authors and illustrators) in all age categories from board books to YA. A couple of my recent favorites award-winning books are Child of the Flower Song People: Luz Jimenez, Daughter of the Nahua by Gloria Amezcua and Duncan Tonatiuh for Picture Book, and The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera for Middle Grade.
Teresa: I would especially like to recommend the book I worked on written by Grecia Huesca called Dear Abuelo, since it’s written from the point of view of a girl going through a cultural change.
Cynthia Harmony is an educational psychologist who has created exhibits and bilingual learning materials for children and science museums. Originally from Mexico City, Cynthia is a children’s author and translator, and this is her debut picture book.
Teresa Martínez is the illustrator of numerous books for children, including The Halloween Tree, Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla, and It’s Not a Bed, It’s a Time Machine. She lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Thushanthi Ponweera is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books and a WNDB 2021 picture book mentee with author David LaRochelle. She was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka where she lives with her husband and two children. She grew up reading and falling in love with stories about children and places that were foreign to her. She believes that someday children from around the world will read and fall in love with stories about children in Sri Lanka. She hopes to write those stories. You can find her on Twitter @thushponweera and on Instagram @bythush.