Antonio Sacre tells stories. His tales of growing up bilingually in a Cuban and Irish-American household have inspired children worldwide to gather their own family stories and become storytellers themselves. His stories have been published in award-winning books and audio recordings. His professional developments and keynote addresses have helped educators teach writing to students from pre-Kindergarten through graduate school. Now his stories are being developed for film and television. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two children, and two cats. Yes, he's a cat guy.
Antonio Sacre will be the Saturday host at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family. L.A. Libros Fest will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, September 24 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon and Saturday, September 25 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Our theme this year is Imagine a Better World. How do you think your books and stories help us accomplish this?
My book A Mango in the Hand shows a young boy trying to pick a mango, yet unable to do so. With the help of the wisdom of his father and grandmother, as well as a seemingly crabby auntie, he’s able to not only pick a mango but get enough to share with his family. For me, drawing on the wisdom of our ancestors and the power of family can be a hugely important way to accomplish change in the world.
In my book The Barking Mouse, the mother saves her family from being eaten by a cat by speaking another language; she barks like a dog! Knowing another “language” helps her navigate a difficult world. I think being bilingual or even multilingual is a superpower that too few people possess (or appreciate). I believe knowledge of our own culture and other cultures can lead to more empathy, and to possibly a better world.
What are some of the things you do to bring to life the world you’ve imagined?
In my own life I do the best I can to maintain contact with all the generations of my family across the United States. With my own children, I tell them stories of the family members they won’t be able to meet because they've passed and keep their memories and wisdom alive for them. My wife and I also chose a dual language education program for both of our children so they can experience the world in English and Spanish. Lastly, at the risk of sounding like a paid advertisement, we are constantly at the Los Angeles Public Library, grabbing as many books from as many different cultures and authors as we can.
"Libraries create a place of calm, wonder, and welcome. It can be an oasis in the busy world of the big cities and an incredible place to get a glimpse of the whole world. It’s a place for me, as a writer, to continually be inspired, a place where my children discover new authors and ideas, and a place where we might be able to find some common ground."
What stories inspired you as a young reader?
The first book I ever read cover to cover, and then immediately started reading it again, was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein. I loved getting lost in the fantasy world he created and yet still see elements of my own life in these fantastical creations. I was drawn to stories of unlikely heroes and heroines who didn’t seem to have any special skills but were able to triumph or at least contribute in the end. When I discovered Sandra Cisneros in my early adult life, a whole new world of stories was opened up for me. So much of what she wrote about reminded me of my own upbringing and family and inspired me to begin to explore these themes in my own writing.
If your book was turned into a movie/series, who would you cast?
If A Mango in the Hand was a TV series, I would cast Antonio Banderas as the dad because my wife says I look nothing like him! Rita Moreno would be perfect as the grandmother because Puerto Rico and Cuba share so many similarities in their culture.
What advice would you give to young writers?
The biggest advice I’d give to young writers is to read constantly. I would adjust this advice to also encourage them to push themselves as readers. When I was a kid I only read fantasy and my mother told me that there were other types of books in the library. I told her, “I know, Mom, but they’re all boring.” She found a non-fiction book, a poetry book, and a science book that were almost as exciting as The Hobbit, and she taught me a valuable lesson. I still love reading fantasy to this day, but I always mix in as many different genres as I can.
If a young writer is already a big reader, then I think the next step would be to write at least a little bit every day, even if it’s just a few sentences in a diary or a journal. For teen writers, I would suggest finding a creative writing class or club in their school or neighborhood and to not be scared to apply to writing programs around the country.
And finally, some practical advice, it’s important to have a first draft done, and I’m sad to say that very often the first draft is the worst draft. Don’t despair. It’s nothing that careful rewriting and help from other writers or teachers can’t make better. All of my published works have gone through a minimum of six rewrites, up to (gasp) 19 rewrites for the final draft of A Mango in the Hand.
How did you feel the first time your work was published? How was your publishing journey?
While I was very excited to know my book was published, the first time I saw it on the shelves of my local library in Chicago was a moment I’ll never forget. Knowing my book would be on that shelf for many years to come and would be possibly read by hundreds of people inspired me to continue reading and writing.
My journey of getting published was very typical in many ways. I had constant rejection, moments of doubt, and help from many mentors, some of whom I actually got to meet in person. I’m lucky to be a storyteller who was able to tell my stories out loud to students in schools nationwide as I waited for the books to go through the publishing cycle. I believe that there is an audience for the stories I create, whether they have been turned into books yet or not, and I try to find that audience.
What are the challenges of writing for young readers?
Because I’m in front of so many young people in so many different places, the biggest challenge I have is to tell a story that will resonate with all of these children. At first glance, it would seem that a farm kid from Nebraska, a child of Cubans in Miami, and a migrant worker’s daughter from Mexico would have nothing in common. However, I believe that if I can find a very specific and well-told story from my own experience, I can often get to the universal.
Also, being the father of two pre-teen kids, I am very aware of the pull of devices. Can I offer a story that will make a young reader put down their video game and want to read it? That’s a challenging bar that my son would say I have not yet met.
What was your experience like getting your book translated into Spanish or English?
My mom, my agent and I can’t believe this, but none of my books have been translated into Spanish! Every year or so I approach my publishers and tell them they are missing a huge opportunity to reach avid readers, including the millions of children who are studying Spanish in schools (like my own children).
How do you think libraries make our world a better place?
Libraries create a place of calm, wonder, and welcome. It can be an oasis in the busy world of the big cities and an incredible place to get a glimpse of the whole world. It’s a place for me, as a writer, to continually be inspired, a place where my children discover new authors and ideas, and a place where we might be able to find some common ground.
What are you working on now?
My next picture book is coming out in July of 2022, so I am working on the final draft of that. My agent is also shopping a middle grade fiction novel that is being rejected as we speak. I am always working on sequels and prequels to my existing work. Once or twice a year I have meetings with television producers to discuss ways my stories could be turned into television series. And the last three years I have been writing non-fiction books for an educational publisher, trying to make things like taxes and the federal budget exciting for junior high readers.
Books by Antonio Sacre
Antonio will be the Saturday host of Los Angeles Libros Festival.