LA Libros Fest: Interview With Laura Lacámara

Madeline Peña, Principal Librarian, Community Engagement and Outreach,
Laura Lacámara

Cuban-American Laura Lacámara is the award-winning author and illustrator of Dalia’s Wondrous Hair, a bilingual picture book about a clever girl who transforms her unruly hair into a vibrant garden. Laura also wrote Floating on Mama’s Song, and illustrated several books, including Mamá the Alien, a light-hearted, timely tale about an immigrant family. Laura is a popular presenter at schools, libraries, book festivals, and conferences.

Laura will be one of the featured authors at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family. Celebrating oral traditions, the festival will feature stories and music from Latin America—including México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia—and the United States. LA Libros Fest will take place at the Los Angeles Central Library on September 28, 2019, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

How did you begin writing?

I was showing my portfolio at a gathering when one of my creative friends commented that my art style would be perfect for children’s books. I had always loved the idea of illustrating picture books, so I rose to the challenge! I signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Otis. The teacher assigned us to write our own stories, so we would have something to illustrate. In an old family album, I found a black-and-white photo of my mother with her opera troupe, in Havana, Cuba. At first, I thought of the beautiful costumes I could illustrate, but then I came up with a story about a girl whose mother sings so beautifully that everyone who hears her sing floats in the air. I called it, Floating on Mama’s Song. I polished the manuscript and combined my text with accompanying illustrations to create a picture book dummy. By the end of the course, I had something to show publishers. After many submissions, one publisher finally said, YES! But there was one condition: “We love your story,” they said, “but not your pictures. We want to use a different illustrator.” The publisher was HarperCollins, so naturally, I accepted their offer—especially when I learned that the illustrator would be the amazing Yuyi Morales! So, I started out as an illustrator, but my first published book was as a writer!

What does being an author/artist mean to you?

It’s a very special role which provides me a means to express myself creatively, while also inspiring kids to express themselves and reach for their own dreams. Of course, writing and illustrating children’s books involves a lot of hard work—especially when trying to meet tight deadlines. But being an author/illustrator means that I get to experience the same joy as an adult that I used to feel as a child, when I would draw and write stories just for fun—and that makes it all worthwhile! Another one of my favorite things about this career is doing library and school presentations. I love it when kids see themselves in my characters and are inspired to create their own stories and pictures. Kids participate in my presentations and ask a lot of questions. I am often humbled by their creativity and the things they share with me. After I presented my book, Dalia’s Wondrous Hair, at a school in rural Texas, one little girl hugged her copy of the book tightly, swished her long braid back and forth, and declared, “I love this book. I love my hair. I love it all.” That sums it up!

What place do books have in your life? What about libraries?

A central place—I love reading all kinds of books, everything from memoirs and novels to a variety of children’s books. However, when I was in 2nd grade and still learning English, I felt very self-conscious about my reading ability. Back then, in suburban southern California, I was one of very few Latinx kids in the whole school. I’ll never forget the teacher displaying paragraphs on slides, and how quickly she would go from one slide to the next. Everyone else was done reading before I was. I felt a burning shame about being a “slow reader.” Eventually, I caught up, and now as an adult, reading books is very special to me. Especially, picture books!

Libraries are very important in my life—luckily, I live down the street from one. It’s a lot of fun to order the latest book I want to read and walk over to pick it up when it’s arrived at my branch. I regularly go to the library and check out large stacks of picture books. I study them to see what other authors and illustrators are creating; but mostly, I enjoy the meaningful, joyful experience of reading picture books!

What inspired you to participate in the Los Angeles Libros Festival?

I am honored to be participating! This festival is a wonderful family celebration that I believe in and am passionate about. All my picture books are bilingual. I grew up bilingual and bi-literate. Every afternoon when my brother and I got home from elementary school, my mother sat us down and taught us to read and write in Spanish. I’ll always be grateful to her for that. Plus, the festival is being held at the beautiful Central Library! What’s not to love?

What advice would you give to a kid or teen who wants to be a writer?

Never give up on your goals and dreams. There are many paths to becoming a writer, and yours will be unique to you! There’s no “right” way to do it. I suggest you read lots of books—not only will reading other author’s works provide you with inspiration and enjoyment, but it will also demonstrate for you ways to use words to express yourself in your own writing.

Also, dig deep inside yourself for what captures your attention or moves you—your writing will ring true and be that much more vital to you and to your reader. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun with it!

Books by Laura Lacámara

Book cover for Dalia's Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia
Dalia's Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia
Lacámara, Laura
Book cover for Mamá the alien/Mamá la extraterrestre
Mamá the alien/Mamá la extraterrestre
Colato Laínez, René

Bilingual Spanish/English

Book cover for Flotando en la canción de mamá/Floating on Mama's song
Flotando en la canción de mamá/Floating on Mama's song
Lacámara, Laura

Laura Lacámara at LA Libros Fest