Festival Five with NSK Juror Monica Brown

October 1, 2020


A photo of NSK juror Monica Brown juxtaposed with the logo for the 50th anniversary Neustadt Lit Fest

Monica Brown is the author of the Lola Levine chapter book series, Sarai chapter book series, and many award-winning picture books, including Waiting for the Biblioburro (illus. John Parra), Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina (illus. Sara Palacios), and Maya’s Blanket / La manta de Maya (illus. David Diaz). Her picture book biographies include Tito Puente: Mambo King / Tito Puente: Rey del mambo (illus. Rafael López) and Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (illus. Julie Paschikas). Her latest picture book, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos (illus. John Parra), was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2017 and 2018 Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration. Monica’s books have received multiple starred reviews, Pura Belpré Honors, Américas Awards, as well as an NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor for best nonfiction and the Christopher Award, among many others. Her books are inspired by her Peruvian and Jewish heritage and desire to bring diverse stories to children. She is a professor of English at Northern Arizona University.

In addition to serving as a juror for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, Brown will participate in the Readings and Book Giveaways by the 2021 NSK Prize Jury event.

Q: What was your first favorite book, the book that made you a reader?

A: I don’t have one first favorite book, but rather many! I remember loving the National Geographic books for young explorers series. They had ones about bees and whales, and I especially liked one called A Day in the Woods, which is delightful to reflect on considering that I now live in the middle of a forest!

Q: What is the best book-receiving experience you’ve had?

A: My Tía was a kindergarten teacher, so I remember being delighted with the books she gave me. My senior year in high school, a leader in my Catholic youth group gave me One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, and it changed my life forever. I was struck by the power of one book to enthrall and move and represent the complexity of a continent. It felt like home to me and gave words to feelings about my sprawling South American family and the sometimes brutal history of the region.

Q: From among your (likely) tall to-be-read stack, which book or two are you absolutely determined to read soon and why?

A: I’ve been dying to read The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, by the talented NoNieqa Ramos, and also Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s Children of the Land. I own them both, and they taunt me as I look up from stacks of grading and from behind my own book deadlines.

Q: What is the book you most often gift children and why?

A: In terms of my own books, I probably gift Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina most often, because it delights children who don’t neatly fit in one box, or who have creative, nonconforming spirits! Soccer fans (I’m obsessed) get Pelé, King of Soccer / El rey de fútbol, and my older nieces and nephews get books from my Lola Levine chapter book series!

Q: Your most recent picture book is Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, illustrated by John Parra. What is the most interesting thing you learned about Frida Kahlo while working on this book?

A: My mother was an artist who greatly admired Frida Kahlo, with whom she shared much in common, so I grew up hearing about Frida and surrounded by books about her art. When my mother died after a lifelong struggle with a brutal, chronic illness, I inherited many of her art books, including Hayden Herrera’s seminal biography. Reading the book, and seeing my mother’s handwritten notes, inspired me to write the biography—from a new perspective, one that I thought would delight children. I learned that Frida’s animalitos were not only her muses but her comfort, her delight, and her most loyal companions.