By Karen MacPherson Scripps Howard News Service
When Monica Brown became a parent nearly 15 years ago, she was surprised to find so few children’s books with a Latino focus.
At the time, the Pura Belpre Award, which honors children’s books by Latino authors and illustrators, had just been created, and many publishers weren’t offering many books with Latino characters.
So Brown, an English professor at Northern Arizona University, decided to write her own children’s books. She began with “My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz,” a 2004 picture book about the Cuban-born salsa singer.
Since then, Brown has published 10 other children’s books, including four this year. Many of Brown’s books are published with bilingual English/Spanish texts, and many are picture-book biographies of notable Latinos.
She’s written about Brazilian soccer star Pele, Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, labor organizer Dolores Huerta and author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Her latest books include a picture-book biography, “Pablo Nerudo: Poet of the People” ($16.99, for ages 4 to 7). In addition, there’s “Waiting for the Biblioburro” ($16.99, for ages 4 to 7), a fictional look at the impact of Luis Soriano, a real-life Colombian librarian who brings books to children in remote areas.
Brown also has just published “Clara and the Curandera” ($16.95, for ages 3 to 6), the story of how a grumpy young girl named Clara finds happiness.
But Brown may be most proud of her newly published picture book, “Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match” ($17.95, for ages 4 to 7), a tale inspired by her real-life experience as the child of a Peruvian-American mother and a father whose heritage blended European, Jewish and American Indian strands.
Marisol, a red-haired spitfire who loves to play soccer in her pirate outfit, learns that her mixed-race heritage is something to be proud of, not something to try to overcome. The mixed-media illustrations by Sara Palacios perfectly convey Marisol’s energy and enthusiasm in wearing polka dots with stripes and eating peanut butter and jelly on a burrito.
Brown now is working on “Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash,” and she envisions the possibility of a series of books about the red-haired girl.
Critics have consistently praised her children’s books. Two of them have won Pura Belpre Honors for illustration: “My Name Is Gabito,” illustrated by Raul Colon, and “My Name Is Celia,” illustrated by Rafael Lopez.
Brown has a picture-book biography of musician Tito Puente due out in January 2013. She’s also writing her first all-Spanish picture book, a biography of Pablo Picasso.