|Mayra Calvani with Ramses|
Author, MAMA GRACIELA'S SECRET
Mayra Calvani recently released her latest children’s book MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET for three-to-seven year olds about the efforts of Mama to save her restaurant from being closed by an inspector due to her large number of cats. Reviewers say it’s “a picture book with character, voice and story.” Calvani, who also writes award-winning adult fiction and non-fiction books, enjoys penning all types of books but appreciates the “quicker gratification” she receives from children stories.
Wishing there were more hours in the day, Calvani is currently doing final revisions on another picture book manuscript and is also working on a YA mythological fantasy novel under pen name Zoe Kalo. She lives in Belgium with her husband, two children, and her three pets.
Q You have written a number of children’s books besides your newest, MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET. What started you to write children’s books?
Mayra Calvani: First of all, thank you for having me on your blog, Joyce! I fell in love with children’s books after I had children. Before then, I was writing only for adults, but reading picture books to them every night made me fall in love with the genre. I had many ideas for stories so I thought, why not give it a try?
Q: Your newest book, MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET, has a touch of mystery along with its whimsical side of “TENDER, CRUNCHY, SPICY bacalaitos fritos enjoyed by people and cats from all over the island.” Do you find that a touch of mystery appeals to kids? Or is it all about the magic?
Mayra Calvani: You must be referring to the scene when Mama Graciela gathers all of her cats to help her find a solution so that her restaurant will not be shut down and all the cats taken away. You’re right that there’s a touch of mystery there. It’s kind of a mystical, otherworldly moment because there’s a communication between Mama Graciela and her cats. Who wouldn’t want to communicate with their pet? I suppose there’s also magic in that, not in a literal sense but in a figurative way.
Q: What kind of characters do children relate to? Is Mama Graciela someone that a kindergartner will understand and care about?
Mayra Calvani: Children relate best to children protagonists, but they can also relate to adult characters who have childlike qualities and who have feelings that kids can empathize with. Mama Graciela hasn’t just rescued a few cats. She has rescued one thousand cats! And she will do whatever it takes to protect them. You know what they say, when you save a life, you’re responsible for that life.
Q: You’ve said that MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET is for children ages kindergartner through SIX. Do you write for different age groups? How do you adapt your story and characters for different ages?
Mayra Calvani: I write fiction and nonfiction for adults and I also write YA fiction under my pen name Zoe Kalo (www.ZoeKalo.com). Language and content set the difference between the various ages groups. The younger the audience, the simpler the language. The older the reader, the more complex and sophisticated the content.
Q: The illustrations in MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET are special and important for children. How did you meet Sheila Fein? How did you impart to her what you wanted for illustrations? Or do any of the illustrations come first?
Mayra Calvani: It was my publisher, Tannya Derby from MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, who provided the illustrator, so I didn’t know Sheila before then. She was wonderful to work with and at all stages of the illustrating process I was able to provide feedback. We went back and forth on all the artwork until the completion of the book. At the beginning it took a couple of tries to get the color palette right, one that would fit with the tropical island setting. The same happened with Mama Graciela, but once we had those the rest moved pretty quickly. It was more about the finishing touches than big modifications.
Q: You also write non-fiction and fiction for adults. Do you prefer children’s story over adult fiction and non-fiction?
Mayra Calvani: I love both! They’re so different from each other! The thing with children’s stories, though, is that since they’re short you get quicker gratification because you see the end result--meaning the completed manuscript—sooner. It may take me a few weeks to write, edit and polish a children’s picture book, but it may take me up to two years to finish a novel for adults.
Q: Do you include villains and heroes in your children’s stories? If so, what characteristics do villains have that you find effective?
Mayra Calvani: Yes, I do. In Mama Graciela’s Secret, Mama Graciela is the hero because she selflessly sacrifices her secret recipe to save her cats. The Health Inspector is the villain because he is in the way of Mama Graciela keeping her cats. He wants to shut the restaurant and take away her cats. But he is also doing his job and preventing a health hazard. This is important because successful villains must have a good quality, too.
Q: Do you embed messages in your children’s stories to help teach values to children? Or are your stories strictly for entertainment?
Mayra Calvani: Never only for entertaining. My children’s stories always have a message, but I don’t hit readers over the head with it. Mama Graciela’s story teaches about love for animals, self-sacrifice, decision-making, and ethnicity.
Q: What’s next? What else are you working on?
Mayra Calvani: I’m doing final revisions on another picture book manuscript that I must send to my agent. I’m also working on a YA mythological fantasy novel under my pen name Zoe Kalo. I have many ideas for many more books. If only there were more hours in the day! J
Q: Tell us about Mayra Calvani. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Mayra Calvani: I lead a quiet life. I like to think myself as a disciple of writing. But when I’m not writing or revising, I love reading (duh!), journaling, dining and going to the cinema with my hubby, and just spending time with my pets and kids.
About Mayra Calvani
Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her children's picture book, Frederico the Mouse Violinist was a finalist in the 2011 International Book Awards; her anthology Latina Authors and Their Muses was a First Place winner at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards; her nonfiction book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, was a Foreword Best Book of the Year winner. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications like The Writer, Writer's Journal, Multicultural Review, Bloomsbury Review, and others.
She lives in Belgium with her husband of 30+ years, two wonderful kids, and her three beloved pets. When she's not writing, editing, reading or reviewing, she enjoys walking with her dog, traveling, and spending time with her family. www.MayrasSecretBookcase.com
About the illustrator
Born in Queens, New York and living in Los Angeles since 1987, Sheila Fein has always been
About MAMA GRACIELA’S SECRET
Mamá Graciela’s TENDER, CRUNCHY, SPICY bacalaítos fritos are the best in town...
Local customers (including stray cats!) come from all over the island to enjoy her secret recipe. But when the Inspector discovers that Mamá secretly caters to so many cats and he threatens to close her tiny restaurant, Mamá must come up with a plan to save it—and all of the animals she loves.
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing Orders@maclaren-cochranepublishing.com
Publishing company Contact Info: MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing 1024 Iron Point Rd 100-1478 Folsom CA 95630 916-897-1670
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing 620 Buchanan Way, Folsom, CA 95630 916-897-1670 www.maclaren-cochranepublishing.com
**This book also has version printed in the Dyslexic font, the typeface for people with dyslexia. Go to www.dyslexiefont.com to find out more about the typeface.