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Classical 91.7-Arte Público Press Author of the Month: Amy Costales

Author Amy Costales is the subject of this month’s Classical 91.7/Arte Público Press Author of the Month. In the next installment of a series of monthly features, Classical 91.7’s Eric Ladau spoke with the author.


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Amy Costales learned her first words of Spanish on her grandfather’s lap. He was a teller of tall tales who created a fantasy world about Spain and Cuba. When her family moved to Spain when she was a child, Grandpa’s fantasy world became hers. Spain captivated her. To this day she dreams of wood smoke and the sound of her shoes on cobblestone streets.

In her teens Amy moved with her parents to Southern California. She struggled to adjust, dropped out of high school, and moved out. She married a young Mexican immigrant and soon had a daughter. Her husband was physically abusive, and Amy left him, but she never left the Mexican community to which he introduced her.

At age twenty-one, Amy was a single parent, still a drop-out and working as a maid. She had experienced homelessness twice. She decided to go to school. Without her family and friends—who offered love, childcare, places to live, car maintenance, and laughter—she would not have made it through college.

Her experiences lead her towards a career in education. She has taught Spanish, Social Studies, ESL, and bilingual primary school in the U.S. public school system and in international schools in India and Thailand. Most recently, she has taught Spanish at the University of Oregon.

Abuelo Vivia Solo CoverDuring the first year of her teaching career, she was reading a book to her bilingual third grade class when a student came up and snuggled on her lap.  His mom was a single parent, undocumented, with four children. They lived in a garage. Amy was suddenly struck by how different the lives of the children in the book were from the life of the boy on her lap. She started writing about kids she knew: kids that share rooms and beds, drink horchata, suck on tamarind candy, speak Spanish, wear cowboy boots, dance, and sometimes cross borders without papers. They live in extended families that rely on each other, and sometimes they don’t have a father. Amy firmly believes that all children should be able to open books and see the astonishing diversity of the world, as well as a life that looks like their own. This belief, above all other things, led her to writing for children.

Her newest bilingual book for children, Sundays on Fourth Street / Los domingos en la calle Cuatro (Piñata Books, 2009), is a tender tribute to time spent with loved ones. Based on real-life visits to Fourth Street in San Ana, California, Amy Costales has written a story that pays homage to a special street and—more importantly—time spent with family.

Her first book, Lupe Vargas and Her Super Best Friend / Lupe Vargas y su super mejor amiga (Luna Rising, 2006), a Junior Library Guild Premier Selection, is about two confident and unstoppable girls who share daily adventures until they have a fight. This story celebrates girls, childhood, and apologies. Amy’s second book, Abuelita Full of Life / Abuelita llena de vida (Luna Rising, 2007), an Américas Award Commended Title, is about a young boy who must adjust to the arrival of his grandmother from Mexico. José has to give up space for his abuelita, speak Spanish to her, and listen to her music. He discovers that he doesn’t mind the changes at all because Abuelita is astoundingly full of life. This book celebrates life, aging, and the extended family. Her third book, Hello Night / Hola noche (Luna Rising, 2007), an International Latino Book Award Best Bilingual Picture Book, is in bilingual verse. Written for her son, it is sure to sooth any child at bedtime.

Another bilingual picture books for kids, Abuelo vivía solo / Grandfather Used to Live Alone, is forthcoming in 2010 from Piñata Books. A passionate advocate of multicultural education, she lives in Oregon with her husband Fernando, her children Kelsey and Samuel, and a myriad of pets.  She is currently finishing a memoir.

In the next installment of a series of monthly features, Classical 91.7’s Eric Ladau spoke with Ms. Costales about her works.