Despite the always full schedule, Aldama agreed to spend time with him LARB To discuss the latest children’s book (illustrated by Nikki Rodriguez), Being Baba / With Babawhich is an honest, fun, and culturally rich celebration of fatherhood through a Latin lens.
Daniel A. Olivas: Being Baba / With Baba The serpent deity Quetzalcóatl begins with this role rather than having the stork give birth to the baby. This was new to me. Did you come up with this new idea of where babies come from, or is that something you heard when you were a kid?
Frederic Louis Aldama: The Guatemalan Abuelita drove a massive green Chevy Nova and had more stories under its headband wrap than Marvel. When I was Chavaletto, I filled my head with modern-day accounts of the adventures of the one-legged lightning god Huracán—and the feathered serpent creator god Gokumatz. I didn’t know it at the time (and yes, blame the K-12 system for staring at the eurozone), but the plum-shaped serpent god spread his wings widely across Mesoamerican mythology and religious traditions, known as Kukulkan for the Mayan Yucatecs and the Aztecs Quetzalcoatl . No wonder. Quetzalcóatl possesses some badass superpowers: the creator of the arts and sciences — and humanity.
Taking my cue from my Abelita spinning of superhero threads yesterday, I decided, in writing Being Baba / With Baba, that the charitable Quetzalcóatl will be the front page, front and center of our little hero’s origin. After all, isn’t it time we bestowed this widespread image of a large-beaked, pristine white, rosy-cheeked, soft-blond baby falling on the doorstep to be greeted Leave it to the beaver My mom is white/Dad is binary?
My hope: to give our young children and their fellow readers (guardians, siblings, extended family, librarians) a different and more spacious origin story, with a gentle and cheerful deity delivering a beautiful brown child to the doorsteps of all kinds of guardians, one papas included; To create an origin story grounded in deep Mesoamerican mythology that encompasses all the ways we miraculously get into the world (in the lab, surrogacy, and adoption, for example) and are nurtured and nurtured.
It is a picture book that I hope will capture the imagination of our young children. It’s also an opportunity for all of us who have been intentionally sidelined and ignored to see ourselves and celebrate our living, breathing, ever-changing, and echoing myths.
Well, storks are not included here, Daniel.
There is such love and joy as baby tells what he does with Papa, from first steps to running, from learning languages and songs to dancing and cycling – all as a great adventure of discovery. How did you decide what to include in this wonderful recitation of the things you can do with Baba?
Oh, my God, yes, there is an abundance of important moments from which one can choose in a child’s rediscovery of the world–and themselves as active actors and maker of that world.
For me, it was about focusing on those seemingly miraculous and joy-filled moments when children experience their bodies, senses, and minds in new ways; Those amazing moments when the child not only learns to walk, but also learns gravity differently by dancing or swimming; That moment when they use languages not only to express needs but also to give outward expression and form to their imagination: “With Baba, I whisper to shape other worlds with other tongues.”
But it’s not just about choosing moments. It also comes down to how we as authors choose to give appearance to these milestones in ways that convey this astonishingly wonderful stage of our early development – all while keeping our core audience ahead: little ones watching and reading alongside Papas, Mamas, Medrina, Apolitos, librarians and more.
I decided to write Being Baba / With Baba In both Spanish and English, which gives me the opportunity to use the poetry – sounds, rhythms, patterns and images – of both languages to form a child’s saga:
Con Papá, mis oídos aprenden an escuchar las flores floresiendo.
Escucho el crecimiento rápido y lento de la vida.
With Papa, my ears are learning to hear the flowers bloom.
I hear life is growing fast and slow.
Keep in mind, too, that children are poets. Not only in terms of being creative makers, but also in a way that they naturally borrow through the senses. It is perfectly normal for a child to talk about tasting the colors of the rainbow or hearing a flower bloom. Just as there are no limits to their imagination, there are no limits between the senses and sensations. For my little hero, “their lips paint the sky green and the mountains blue,” and when “the sky opens and cries,” their skin “tickles” and the mouth opens to “taste the sky.”
Children are our greatest poets – in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, as children grow into adolescence and then adults, society’s forgotten shackles of the mind tend to discipline and even obliterate this creativity.
Perhaps my little hero provides a model for the growth of new generations entering the world as independent creatures and as poets: “Without Papa, I set out on my own adventures. I decompress Heaven and begin.”
Oftentimes, door and window metaphors are used to talk about children’s literature and how spaces open up in the imagination. The mirror metaphor is also used. How do you see this playing in Being Baba / With Baba?
I think these are excellent, specific ways of thinking about how children’s lighting works. The metaphor of the mirror allows us to understand how important this is for all children We see Themselves are represented in these stories. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. in my book Latin/Children and Youth Writers on the Art of Storytelling (2018), I discuss in a more scholarly way how custodial practices (mainstream agents, publishers, editors, book reviewers, and acquisition librarians) continue to preserve the stories of Latin identities and experiences. But it doesn’t take my book to show this. Step into any public library and you’ll be lucky to find one or two Latin children’s books at best. Sure, we know that kids aren’t absorbent sponges, and they re-create, even if they don’t We see themselves in give the tree or a moderate or a Knuffle Bunny or a little red riding hoodWindows and doors are still used to travel to a new place. But that doesn’t mean the publishing industry gets a pass.
And because of so many knocks on publishers’ doors and protests on the floor (think easy on the #DignidadLiteraria movement), we’re starting to see more children’s books about Latino identities, experiences, histories, and cultures. Sold out and have your libraries order books by Francisco Alarcon, Margarita Engel, Gloria Anzalda, Pat Moura, Juan Felipe Herrera, Lucha Corbe, Jorge Argueta, Monica Brown, Meg Medina, Yuyi Morales, Matt de la Peña, Benjamin Aller Sainz, Duncan Tonatiouh and David Bowles And you Daniel.
While you’re at it, get your library to order children’s books that create windows and doors And the Mirrors for Latinx Readers – Books like Juan Vega Carlos, The Fairy Boy / Carlos, El Niño Hada (2020), Ernesto Martinez When we love someone, we sing to them (2021), Isabel Milan The Heart of Chabelita / El Corazón de Chabelita (2022). The more options children have for seeing themselves, inviting them into sparkling, sparkling worlds, the more flexible and open they will be to others and new experiences, as well as creativity and imagination, they will be in their teens and then adults.
The illustrations of Nikki Rodriguez are vibrant and eccentric. Can you talk a little bit about your collaborative process?
I love working – no, co-creating – with artists. That is why I chose to publish this book and The Adventures of Chupacabra Charlie With Mad Creek Books, an imprint of The Ohio State University Press. Unlike big children’s book publishers, who usually hire an artist for a project (unless you’re a superstar), smaller presses tend to allow for more freedom and flexibility. I was familiar with Nikki’s style. The line work and color palette of her illustrations and comics convey the strength of the character, threading us deeply into the ups and downs of her Latin characters. I also knew that she could use her skilful drawing skills to bring the life of the narrator and the unnamed, genderless hero to life in ways that would appeal to children.
The process was straightforward. I shared my vision for the characters, emphasizing the need for the protagonist to be non-gender and to be a distinctly Latino abilito to express the complexity of Latin interracial histories and heritage. In an email, I shared reference photos of my baby, Corinna, as a toddler. Then Nikki went to work. As her drawings cycled between me and the editors in the press, I revised the prose a little – just as I did her drawings – to avoid repetition as the words began to meet the visual elements more and more.
Nicky’s exceptional art reminds us that, just as words should dance off the page and into a child’s imagination, so should visuals invite pre-ABC readers to frolic with joy and spin from image to image as they are. Manufacture the story.
In the end, I hope the results speak for themselves. Nikki’s meticulous font, careful selection of perspective, and recognizable color palette of Latexes bring the characters to life. Nicky brings a visual rhythm to the story that invites us to pause and stop, and then move on to the next moment in the story – always in a calm but exciting (and not stressful) way. I hope others will experience what I do: to love deeply the unnamed protagonist and their expedition with Baba.
Daniel A. Olivas He is a frequent contributor to Los Angeles Book Review Which is the latest book How to Date a Mexican Bird: New and Collected Stories (University of Nevada PressAnd the 2022). Twitter: Tweet embed.