January 27 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

As part of the celebration of MCCBD, I recently had the privilege of interviewing Maritza M. Mejia.

Maritza is an author, advocate, educator, translator, and speaker. She won the FAU Treasure Coast Poetry Contest Spring 2010 and Virtue Christian Book Awards for Best Poetry 2015. She received the “Crystal Apple Award 2006” for her service to the community. She’s a member of the Florida Writers Association and Morningside Writers Group. Her two bilingual children’s books, Vanilla and Chocolate and Grandma’s Treasure received five-star reviews from Readers Favorite. You can find more about her books, including links to Amazon, at her website.

The Interview

Can you tell me about yourself, and how you became an author?
I am from Bogotá, Colombia and came to Florida, United States, in 1993. I became a self-published author when I published my memoir, Hazel Eyes in 2010. Then, I continued with a collection of bilingual children’s books called Lessons for Living. The first story, Vanilla and Chocolate , was published in 2012, and the second tale, Grandma’s Treasure, in 2014. During 2015, I ventured with my first poetry book called Poems, Thoughts and More.

What or who inspired you to become a writer?
It seemed natural to me; I don’t recall a person to inspire me to write. I just started writing letters to my relatives abroad since young age, acrostic poems to my friends as a teenager, and children stories to teach my kids a moral as a mother. Later in life, I decided to write my memoir to leave a legacy to my family and friends.

What’s the best part of being a children’s book writer?
The best part of being a children’s book is the opportunity to read my stories to children at school events, family reading festival or classroom read aloud. I enjoy looking children’s faces and love the honest comments they express. When they capture the message of my books or enjoy the illustrations my daughter creates for the stories, they encourage me to keep writing.

Besides writing children’s books, you also write poetry. Can you tell me a little bit about your poetry?
Poetry is a natural gift I have since my early teens. Love, nature, and life are my inspiration to write poems. My poetry book is a celebration of life. I not only share monthly poems, but also funny flash fiction and anecdotes of my travels as tourist guide.

You translate books that other people have written. When you translate someone else’s work, is it different from translating your own work? How do you approach their writing?
When I translate my own work from English to Spanish, I don’t have to think about the meaning behind the lines since I know it. It’s an easy process that only takes time. However, it is not as easy to translate into another language someone else’s work. It is a long process to find out the real meaning and message other authors wants to transmit. I do not do it as a professional job, only as a favor to help a few friends reach the Hispanic community.

Why did you choose to write bilingual books?
I decided to write bilingual books to promote multicultural literature and keep traditions alive. Since I could not find dual language books with the values I learned from my parents, I began to write the stories to my children. I never imagined publishing them, but the opportunity arrived when my daughter agreed to illustrate the same stories I told them at early age. It is a collection of six books called Lessons for Living. At the moment I have only published two: Vanilla and Chocolate and Grandma’s Treasure.

Nearly all of the bilingual English-Spanish books I’ve seen are about the cultures and traditions of Spanish-speaking communities. Vanilla and Chocolate is not. How did you choose the topic of the book? What have parents and teachers said about the book?
This is an excellent question and thank you for asking! As an educator and immigrant, I have encountered different situation related to racism and discrimination. The main purpose of Vanilla and Chocolate is to teach how to build tolerance in our classrooms and homes. I have received good feedback from teachers and students, but a few parents do not like to talk about that topic. I respect their decisions and accept any kind of critics with respect.

What do you do to promote your books?
As a self-publishing author, promoting and selling is a challenge. I used social media as a main platform to promote my books. In addition, I participate in local library book fairs, classroom visits and young author speaker activities.

Can you tell me about a time when a parent or teacher had something wonderful happen because of your book?
Once, I received an e-mail from a parent from another state who bought four copies of Vanilla and Chocolate to share with her local church during Christmas time in 2012. I was impressed not only of the social media impact, but also the importance of comments and feed backs about your book. As soon as she published the review on Amazon, more people bought the book that year.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

MCCBD Mission

The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.

MCCBD Sponsors and Co-Hosts

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books * Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk * Candlewick Press

Silver: Lee and Low Books * Chronicle Books * Capstone Young Readers * Tuttle Publishing

Bronze: Pomelo Books * Author Jacqueline Woodson * Papa Lemon Books * Goosebottom Books * Author Gleeson Rebello * ShoutMouse Press * Author Mahvash Shahegh * China Institute.org*

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Hosts, and you can view them here.

Classroom Reading Challenge: A Special Offering from MCCBD

The Classroom Reading Challenge offers teachers and classrooms the chance to (very easily) earn a free hardcover multicultural children’s book for their classroom library. These books are not only donated by the Junior Library Guild, but they are pre-screened and approved by them as well. There is no cost to teachers and classrooms and we’ve made the whole process as simple as possible.

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Justinian and Theodora: A Love Story: St. Theodora, the wife and co-ruler with St. Justinian the Great, is one of my very favorite saints.

Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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