Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cuentos...discovering the Person Behind the Story: Duncan Tonatiuh

May Spotlight on Children’s Writer and Illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh

This month we are featuring Duncan Tonatiuh, an award-winning writer and illustrator who is well-known not only for his distinctive art style but for a narrative that often deals with various social issues. His newest book, Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, focuses on Sylvia Mendez and how her family fought for the desegregation of California public schools years before Brown v the Board of Education.             

Duncan, of the books you have written and drawn, which do you reflect the most on? Why?
I'm very proud of Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote. The book reads like a fable, but it is also an allegory of the dangerous journey undocumented immigrants go through to reach the US. Coyote refers to the animal, but its also slang for person that smuggles people between the US-Mexico border.
I like that I can read the book to 4 year olds -little kids like the suspense in the story. But I can also talk about Pancho Rabbit with older kids, teenager and adults. The book is a good way to start a discussion about immigration in the classroom.
I've had many rewarding experiences with Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote
The most rewarding experience I've had with it is when a group of 4th graders at Metz Elementary in Austin, Texas made a multi-voice poem video about their own immigrant experiences after they read the book. 
Here is a link to it. It’s very touching:

What advice would you give your younger self?
I'm not sure to be honest. I've tried to be curious and courageous. I've always tried pursuing the things I'm passionate about. There are many things I could have done better, but I think I've learned a lot from my mistakes.
I consider myself very fortunate. I am bilingual and I am a citizen of two countries. I think that growing up in both Mexico and the US has been a great privilege and an advantage. Its made me appreciate more what each of those countries has to offer.

What three children’s books, other than your own, would you name as must reads? Why?
Hmmm... There are a lot of great books out there, it’s hard to name only three.

I like Where the Wild Things Are. Its a fantastic picture book. The text and the illustrations work so well together. I love the design of the book and how the illustrations grow large and then small again.

Just A Minute by Yuyi Morales is another one of my favorites. I like the rhythm of the book and I like stories that can be read in more than one way. You can take Señor Calavera literally or metaphorically.

Another book I really like is Macario, by B. Traven. Its a short book -about 100 pages long.  I'm not sure if it has been translated to English. It’s the story of a very poor woodcutter whose dream in life is to eat an entire turkey by himself. One day his dream is about to come true, he is in the middle of the woods, about to eat the bird, when three strangers come to visit him. It’s one of the first books I read when I was a kid and I've remembered it ever since.

What are three places you would suggest children/families visit when in your hometown?
I grew up in San Miguel de Allende. Its a beautiful city in central Mexico. It was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The downtown, the centro, is very pretty. It has cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings. I think its very pleasant to walk around and sit in the Jardin, the city’s main square.
Another place that I recommend is the Botanical Garden. Its called el Charco del Ingenio. It has a large and beautiful cactus collection. Sometimes there are concerts, temazcales or other events. It’s a wonderful place.
My favorite place in San Miguel is the library, La Biblioteca Pública. It has a very good collection of children's book and one of the largest collections of books in English in Mexico.  It has a great courtyard, there are a couple rooms with cool murals, there is a theater, a cafe and a bookstore. It is a lively and pleasant place. I've written the stories and drawn the sketches for some of my books there.

To learn more about Duncan, visit his website

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