When I was asked by Carmen Agra Deedy’s publicist to participate in a blog tour next week for her new book, I almost shouted “yes” loud enough to be heard in Atlanta. You see, I have been privileged to sit under her storytelling three times in the past few years, and each time has been a joy. I consider this opportunity a bloggy coup on par with my interview of Hattie Big Sky‘s Kirby Larsen! What makes this even more exciting for me is that Carmen Agra Deedy’s picture books are every bit as good as her storytelling! I will be posting a review of her new book, entitled 14 Cow for America, next Friday, as well as an interview with the illustrator of the book, Thomas Gonzalez. This week I wanted to introduce you all to Carmen Agra Deedy.
Carmen Agra Deedy is a gifted storyteller and author who, with an amazing ability to slip from Southern drawl to rapid-fire Spanish in one sentence, recounts her own childhood in a Cuban family that fled their native country as refugees after Castro’s revolution. Her stories of her mother and father and their assimilation (or lack thereof) into Southern American culture as residents of Decatur, Georgia, are simultaneously hilarious and poignant. Her storytelling is very energetic and, at times, politically incorrect. She usually has me laughing uproariously in one moment and dabbing at my eyes in the next. I found a You Tube video of her spinning her magic in case anyone would like to sample her storytelling. I want to warn you that the language is saltier than I remember her being (perhaps due to the venue–I heard her at storytelling festivals geared toward families), but the ending of the tale gets me right in the heart every time I hear it.
My first experience with Carmen Agra Deedy was way back when I was first a college student, fresh out of high school. I worked as a public library aide, so I had a good bit of free time on my hands to peruse the stacks during our slow times. I found an audiocasette of her storytelling entitled Growing Up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia, took it home and listened to it, and then promptly forgot her name, if not her story. Fast forward several years and I was an elementary library media specialist. We had an intriguing picture book already on our selves when I took over the job: The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by none other than Carmen Agra Deedy. Obviously, this book has nothing at all to do with Cuban immigrants, but I was completely mesmerized by this romantic legend of a king of wore the yellow star to identify with God’s people as the Nazis overran his country. I love to read about this historical time period, so this book really hooked me! One of my favorite stories I’ve heard from Ms. Deedy is her tale of how she came to write this story. I won’t recount the details here, but trust me when I say it’s a good one. If you ever have a chance to hear her, take it!
Not only does Ms. Deedy have an amazing ability to sniff out the most inspiring of legends, she also has a way with folktales. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale is the story of a very unlikely heroine who finally finds her true love by taking her grandmother’s unusual advice. The best part about this story is the fact that the heroine is a cockroach–talk about upending expectations! I am so happy to have both The Yellow Star and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach in our home collection and signed by the author, no less!
As a former school librarian, I simply cannot fail to mention The Library Dragon. I know that Ms. Deedy has a very soft spot in her heart for librarians (and you do, too, if you’ve ever heard her story about the impact the librarian of her small southern town had on her as a child), and she really captures what it means to be a librarian in this charming picture book. The librarian in the story, appropriately named Miss Lotta Scales, has some learning to do when she becomes the new librarian at a school. This book is full of word play and would make a great read aloud for the beginning of the school year or with any new library user. I think this is the next book of Ms. Deedy’s I’ll add to our collection; I think my girls are old enough (maybe!) to not be put off by the idea of a library dragon!
Carmen Agra Deedy has written several other books (you can see her full list of published works here), and she has been the recipient of numerous awards. Most notably, Martina the Beautiful Cockroach was a Pura Belpre honor book last year. I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to review her newest picture book next Friday, and I will also be giving away a couple of copies, so be sure to check back next Friday!
I just can’t end this blog post without sharing one last little personal story. Last year for my birthday, Steady Eddie totally surprised me with a road trip which ended with an afternoon of Ms. Deedy’s storytelling. I had no idea when we took the trip, which was to just be a day of puttering around, shopping, eating out, etc., that it would end the way it did. It was at this storytelling event that I first heard Ms. Deedy’s tale that I mentioned above in which she recounted how she came to love reading and books, thanks to the public librarian in her town. That day holds so many warm, fuzzy memories for me–toward my wonderful husband for arranging such a fun and surprising day, and for Ms. Deedy and her ability to get right at the heart of the human story. I am already looking forward to another opportunity (hopefully!) to hear her this fall! If she’s anywhere within driving distance, I would recommend that you go hear her. I don’t think you’ll regret it!