The Latina Book Club welcomes author René Colato Laínez and chats with him about his new book and illegal aliens.
Q: Congratulations on your new book, MAMÁ THE ALIEN/ MAMÁ LA EXTRATERRESTE. We love how your books are bilingual. Do you write the Spanish version first or the English?
René Colato Laínez: Thank you! I am so happy that MAMÁ THE ALIEN/ MAMÁ LA EXTRATERRESTE is ready to fly and visit homes, classrooms and libraries. When I am writing a story for the first time, I write it in English or Spanish. When it is time to submit the manuscript for publication, my agent always submit an English manuscript. I work on that manuscript with my editor until it is ready to print. It is until then, when I translate the manuscript from English to Spanish.
Q: Thanks to you and many other diverse authors, our children are finally seeing books with heroes that look like them. When you were growing up, did it bother you that the books you were reading had no Latino characters? Did you then fill your writing with them?
RCL: I grew up in El Salvador speaking Spanish, having fun with my friends and relatives and celebrating all the national holidays. It was until I arrived to the United States and I began to read books to my students when I noticed that there were not characters that look like us in those books. So I decided to write my students’ stories. I illustrated them with the students’ photographs or drawings. Then, they took their books homes. They were so happy to be in those books. I wanted my students to see themselves in books and to know that their stories are important. This challenged me to start to write and submit my own stories for publication.
Q: We know your uncle author Jorge Buenaventura Laínez was your inspiration. What other authors –Latino and non Latino-- do you enjoy?
RCL: As a child I enjoyed reading the Spanish translation of Charlotte’s Web by E.B White and the Spanish classics Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and Marianela by Benito Pérez Galdós. The first book that I was able to read in English was Charlotte’s Web because I knew the story by heart in Spanish. Knowing the story in Spanish helped me to understand what I was reading in English. I like to read Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, Laurie Halse Anderson and Kate DiCamillo. I have so many favorite authors that it is so hard to only name a few.
Written by Rene Colato Lainez
Illustrated by Laura Lacamara
Lee & Low Books
Q: The Library of Congress just recently banned the works “illegal” and “alien” from their postings and all libraries. What do you think -- Is this one small step for libraries, one giant step for immigrants?
RCL: I am happy that the Library of Congress wants to change “illegal alien” to “undocumented immigrant.” Many children just like myself did not have any other option that to cross a border to come to the United States. I could not understand the illegal aspect of my journey. Was it illegal to escape from a war and to look for better opportunities in another country? I wrote an article about this topic. You can read it here.
I think this is a big step for both libraries and immigrants. I hope that other institutions do the same because we are all children of Planet Earth.
Q: Your children’s books are amazing. Do you ever think about writing a longer children’s novel? What are you working on now?
RCL: I just actually finished writing my first middle grade novel that looks at the experience of war through the eyes of two children, based on my own experience growing up in the middle of the Salvadoran Civil War. Also, I have a forthcoming bilingual picture book about the childhood of Salvadoran priest and human rights activist, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. In Telegrams to Heaven/ Telegramas al cielo readers will discover the dream of little Oscar to become a priest. (Luna’s Press, Fall 2016)
Q: Before we go, we have to ask…. What do aliens eat for breakfast?
RCL: Maybe they drink a lot of milk for breakfast if they are traveling in the Milky Way.###
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: René Colato Laínez was born in El Salvador. He is an award-winning author who holds an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Críticas has called René's characters "immigrant heroes." He currently lives in Los Angeles, California. Learn more about him and his books at http://renecolatolainez.com/