A Q & A with Mariana Llanos, bilingual author of Poesia Alada
1. Please tell us about your background and how you became interested in bilingual poetry, reading and writing?
I have written since I was a child. I wrote in Spanish at first, because I’m from Lima, Peru. After I moved to the United States and had my own children I decided to pursue publishing. My children were more proficient in English so that was the language I decided to use to write, but as time went by, I realized that if I wanted them to be bilingual, I needed to give Spanish the importance it has in our lives, so I started writing in Spanish again.
2. Please tell us about your latest book, Poesia Alada and the mission behind it.
Poesia Alada is a poetry book that is close to my heart. When I moved to the United States and after the cultural shock (and probably the emotional shock of becoming a mother in a strange land, without relatives) I had an excruciatingly long writer’s block. A few years later, when the writing came back, it did so in English.
I began translating my own stories into Spanish, but I couldn’t write anything organically in Spanish. Until the poems of Poesia Alada appeared in my head. I couldn’t believe it, I was writing in Spanish again!
3. Why did you feel that this was a necessary addition to your already very impressive repertoire?
Although I had previously published seven children’s stories (four of those in Spanish as well), I didn’t have one book whose concept was all done in Spanish. Even the illustrators all speak Spanish. This book is an ode to our beautiful language.
4. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
I find inspiration for my poetry in nature and everyday things. To me, everything has a soul, and every soul has a story. That’s why you see a pencil come to life, the wind take the form of the Big Bad Wolf, or a winter garden brimming with life.
Continue reading to find out more about Mariana’s story..
5. You make school visits, skype sessions, and give presentations all over the country to many different dual language schools. How does presenting live allow you to further get your message across?
Yes, I have visited over 150 schools in the past four years, not only dual language but monolingual (English or Spanish) as well. It’s remarkable considering I’m a one-woman-band. I don’t have a team of assistants or publicists to help around. Visiting schools via Skype or even in person are the most important part of my job as a writer, not only because I use this time to vehemently encourage children to write and read but also because I see it as my social change contribution. Let me explain: when a child of Hispanic origin hears me speak in Spanish, I’m validating his or her home language.
When they hear my accent in English, they see their mother, aunt, or maybe themselves, and realize it’s okay to have an accent, it’s okay to make mistakes, because I make them all the time. But I believe the most important change happens when I visit a monolingual school.
Some of those children have only heard an accent like mine from the janitor or construction worker. Some kids aren’t exposed to a culturally diverse environment and that’s why it is especially meaningful for them to meet a person who comes from another part of the world to tell them a story they will cherish and enjoy. I believe I’m breaking biases and stereotypes as well as breaking barriers of communication. Also, I love encouraging children from monolingual families to learn another language. Like I tell them, it’s doable and so much fun!
6. You have had a successful career using your books to supplement Dual Language Education. What would you say you are most proud of your accomplishments?
I am proud every time a teacher tells me they’re using one of my books in the classroom. Some teachers like using my bilingual book Not Home for Christmas (Navidad Lejos de Casa) to teach about cultural awareness and differences between the northern and southern hemispheres. Other use No Birthday for Mara to talk about emotions. Others use The Wanting Monster to teach about Wants and Needs. Others use Tristan Wolf to encourage students to use their imagination.
7. What benefits do you see in creating a more multi-lingual community?
I believe a multi-lingual community is more tolerant, inclusive, and culturally integrated. And, there are proven benefits about becoming bilingual (or multi-lingual). As a person who comes from a Spanish-speaking country, I want to be able to thrive in my native language and pass that heritage to my children.
Continue reading to find out more about Mariana’s story..
8. How do you believe your books illustrate these benefits?
My books speak to a universal audience and bring multilingualism to the center of the conversation without making it feel foreign.
For example, at home my children are bilingual and bicultural, but they don’t want their life experiences to be about that. They don’t want to feel pigeonholed (and as an author, I don’t want that for my books either), they just want to read a fun story. On the health benefit level, the poems in Poesia Alada can be used to memorize and recite aloud, which helps improving memory skills and brain function in general.
9. How did you become interested in writing children’s books, specifically?
I never knew I wrote for children. When I wrote Tristan Wolf (which later would become my first published book) I showed it to a friend of mine. She said, “Oh, my daughter would love to read this story!”. And that’s when I realized my voice and my style where in fact suitable for children’s literature. I love it, and wouldn’t have it any other way, although I also write adult short fiction and poetry.
10. Why do you believe poetry is so important in Dual Language education? How can teachers use your poetry in their classrooms?
Teachers can use Poesia Alada to reinforce their lessons since I have a wide variety of themes. I am working on a teacher’s guide for this poem which combines movement and vocal expression. In some poems, some of the students might be able to recreate the characters and act like them, in others, we can use clapping and stomping to the rhythm. I’d like to see teachers encourage their students to create black and white illustrations that inspires a poem, and vice versa.
11. What would you say is the most important take-away from Poesia Alada, that you hope readers understand?
I hope readers understand that poetry is everywhere and inside everything. Poetry doesn’t have to be stiff or complicated, it should speak to all of us in the language of our imagination. Poetry helps us understand the world a little bit better by proving us an insight into the universe of the poet’s mind. Poetry is an outlet when things get complicated. Poetry is a celebration of life and it belongs at everyone’s fingertips. To me, poetry feels like a gentle autumn breeze: it nurtures and warms my soul. How about you?
Mariana Llanos was born in Lima, Peru. Mariana developed an early passion for writing and reading, writing poetry, short stories, and plays all the way through school. She studied Theatre in the prestigious school CuatroTablas based in Lima and moved to Oklahoma in 2002. In 2013, she published her first book, Tristan Wolf which won a Finalist spot in the 2013 Readers’ Favorite Book Award, and a spot in the 2013 Gittle List Independent Book Awards. Since then, she has published eight children’s books independently in English and Spanish. Her work geared toward an adult audience has appeared on Writer’s Resist, Blackbirds Thirds Flight, a Haunting of Words, among others. But Mariana’s real passion was ignited after discovering the magic of virtual technology. Using Skype and Google Hangouts, she has visited more than 150 schools in the United States and around the world. These visits allow Mariana to spread her love for reading and writing, as well as to promote understanding and cultural awareness. Recently, Mariana signed contract with the publishing company Penny Candy Books for the publication of her new children’s story, Luca’s Bridge, which will be available next Spring. Meanwhile, Mariana continues her work of visiting schools, enticing young minds with the magic of her children’s literature. In 2014 she won the Most Outstanding Latino Artist in Literature given by the Hispanic Arts Council of Oklahoma. Mariana was awarded the 2017 Global Citizen Award in Arts by the World Experiences Foundation for her contribution to multicultural literature, and the 2017 Human Rights Award given by the United Nations Association of Oklahoma City, which recognizes individuals’ contributions to the principles of Human Rights. Also, she received the award as Best Artist of 2017 from the Hispanic Council of Oklahoma. Her books in English and Spanish can be found on Amazon.com or her website www.marianallanos.com