As the humble mascot of delicious, delicious Glee Gum, you know my sentiments on chewing gum. So you can only imagine my sheer delight at reading a new children’s book on the subject!
Chavela and the Magic Bubble, published this spring by Clarion Books, is about a little girl whose love of chewing gum leads her on a magical adventure. Incorporating Latin American culture, rainforest conservation, and the history of chewing gum, this fun story is written by Monica Brown.
The lovely Monica was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to discuss her inspiration, background, plans and more in an interview with Glee. Check it out!
AN INTERVIEW WITH CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR MONICA BROWN…
- Where are you from, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Mountain View, California, the daughter of a North American father and a South American mother. For the last eleven years, I’ve lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I am a Professor of English at Northern Arizona University. My specialty is U.S. Latino/a literature. In addition to California and Arizona I’ve lived, worked, and studied in Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, and Guadalajara, Mexico.
- When did you become interested in writing?
It was my interest in reading that led to my interest in writing. For me, always, it’s been books, books, books! As a creative and energetic child, I needed a place to channel all that mental energy. I can only imagine what a rascal I might have become had I not been able to have vicarious adventures through the characters in found in books. [She grins.] I went to college as a declared English major, and soaked up everything from Shakespeare to Chicano literature. After graduating, I worked as journalist on an American-owned paper in Guadalajara. I went back to school for my master’s in English and then just kept going for the doctorate. I’ve always been intrigued by the power of words across genres. Since I’ve spent my life teaching and surrounded by literature, it wasn’t a big stretch then, to try my hand at creating meaningful literature for children. I fully believe in the transformative potential of art—it can be an experience of beauty, of joy, of political awareness, of finding voice. I want my work to achieve all these things with the most important audience of all—our children.
- Here at Glee Gum, we absolutely love your new book, Chavela and the Magic Bubble. What inspired you to write about chewing gum? Where do you find inspiration for the subject matter in your children’s books?
Thank you! With this particular book, it was my daughter Isabella’s question, “Where does chewing gum come from?” that led me to do some research on the topic—what I found out fascinated me. I am always interested in the connectedness of all of us residing in the Americas and chicle is a rich part of that historical connection. My daughter Isabella’s love of fun, adventure, and chewing gum inspired the character of Chavela, of course! In Latino culture, “Chavela” is a common nickname for Isabel or Isabella. I often find inspiration from my culture—specifically Peru, the country of my mother’s birth and, more generally, Latin America. I’ve traveled extensively in Peru and Mexico and have explored the richness of the Americas. I’m also inspired by other writers—especially those writing in the magic realist tradition. I wrote a biography of Gabriel García Márquez for children, My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez (Luna Rising, 2007), and this inspired me to try and create a magic realist text for children. I also find inspiration in nature—like me, Chavela loves the birds and the butterflies and magical Sapodilla trees. Another character, Juliana in my book Butterflies on Carmen Street/Mariposas en la Calle Carmen (Piñata, 2007) is bewitched by butterflies.
- Are you a big gum-chewer, and do you have a preferred brand or flavor?
I happen to love chewing gum, and this made the idea of a little girl taking a magic bubble gum ride even more whimsical and fun. Finding out about Glee Gum was a delight because of your commitment to sustainable harvesting of chicle and because of the yummy product of course! My daughter Isabella’s favorite flavor of Glee gum is spearmint, but mine is–you guessed it—bubble gum flavor!
- How did you research for Chavela…? Did anything you learn surprise you?
I did do quite a bit of research on the topic of chicle and it led me, among other places, to your website. I was delighted to find pictures of the chicleros and the chicle harvesting process in your “From Tree to Glee” section. I also came across scholarly articles on the subject and was excited to discover that the ancient Maya were chewing chicle long before we ever were. Just recently, I’ve discovered a wonderful new book on the subject– Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas by Jennifer Mathews. In learning about the Grand Petén Rainforest, my commitment to environmental preservation was strengthened, and I decided to link to The Rainforest Foundation and your site in the author’s note at the end of my book.
- The illustrations in the book are beautiful. Did you collaborate with artist Magaly Morales throughout the writing process, or did she base her work on the finished manuscript?
Magaly Morales was the perfect artist for this project. She is a native of Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico and our collaboration crossed borders–just like Chavela does on her magic bubble gum ride. Magaly worked with the finished manuscript, though a few textual changes were made later on in the process. Her beautiful colors and fantastical illustrations bring the story to life.
- How have folks been reacting to Chavela…?
I’ve had wonderful reactions! I just debuted Chavela and the Magic Bubble at “Connecting Cultures and Celebrating Cuentos: The National Latino Children’s Literature Conference” at the University of Alabama and they quickly sold out. And recently, on two separate school visits, I shared sample packs of Glee Gum and that involved readers of Chavela’s story on a whole other level–the creative writing students wanted to know where they could buy Glee Gum. They were amazed that this delicious product came from a tree! In my town of Flagstaff, it is available at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace. As far as book reviews, I was pleased when Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist gave the book rave reviews. Teachers are especially excited when they find out that there is a wonderful new discussion guide for Chavela that can be found right here.
- What’s next for you?
I am lucky to have several books coming out over the next few years. My next book, out this Fall, is titled Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a Lado: La Historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez (Harper Collins, 2010). Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farmworkers Movement, just turned 80 and she’s still working for social justice. You can find out all about my current and future books at my website, MonicaBrown.net.
- Anything you’d like to add?
Just keep on keeping on! As a mother of two fabulous girls, I try to avoid unnatural dyes and synthetic products. I appreciate the quality of your products and applaud your company’s commitment to sustainable harvesting of chicle, environmental education, forest preservation, and fair labor practices. Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat!
Thank YOU, Monica! For those now raring to read Chavela and the Magic Bubble, it is available everywhere fine books are sold. Here are the links to find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at an independent book-seller near you. And stay tuned for the upcoming issue of the Glee Gum Newsletter, which includes a chance to win your very own free copy!