Cynthia Leonor Garza is the author of the new children's picture book Lucía the Luchadora. A journalist, she has worked for the Houston Chronicle and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and written for The Atlantic. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Lucía the Luchadora?
A: I had been wanting to write a lucha libre story for a long time, so the theme had been in the back of my mind for a while. Then a few years ago, I was watching my young daughter play with a superhero cape and I thought that was so cool because I’d never seen her play superhero.
It got me to thinking about how we rarely see girls as superheroes and then it hit me, I needed to write a story about a little girl who wants to be a superhero. But not just any superhero. She would have to be a luchadora.
Q: What do you think the story says about superheroes and the images that kids have about them?
A: I think the image most children have of superheroes is they are good guys with capes who go around fighting off - as in physically fighting - the bad guys, or villains.
I think boys are just drawn to this fist-fighting action more than girls, and that’s not to say girls can’t be rough-and-tumble, but their play tends to be different and of course, much of that is based on the images they see.
Lucía shows children that there is more than one way to be a superhero. You don’t have to be a boy to be heroic, and you certainly don’t have to use your fists to fight for what is right. In fact, this may be the first lucha libre book that didn’t actually have any physical fighting in it.
Q: What age group do you see as the best audience for this book?
A: I feel second graders really get it. Kids go through a transformation at that age. They are more independent on the playground, they sort themselves into groups of friends and overall, they are just bolder.
The younger children enjoy the superhero part of the story - the masks and the capes and the high-flying leaps. But the part about standing up for what is right is something that comes from experience.
I think Lucía the Luchadora is like a lot of picture books that come with a lesson. The younger kids might not get it at first, but eventually they’ll grow into the story. In the meantime, there’s plenty of other parts in the book that can be appreciated by the wee ones.
Q: What do you think Alyssa Bermudez's illustrations add to the book?
A: They are gorgeous and the fact that the pages are super busy really matches up well with the fast-paced nature of the text. I think the art really captures Lucía’s world through the tiny details. Many of those details aren’t written into the story, but are essential for the reader to understand who Lucía is and where she comes from.
Abu looms large in the book thanks in big part to the illustrations. On the page where Lucía unmasks, there’s the detail of the watchful eyes looking down on her, and then on the final page, we see Abu sitting on a park bench in the background, and while you have to look closely to see it, she is winking. That wink - the tiniest detail - tells us so much.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a to-do list of stories I have to finish! I’m always juggling different types of writing and right now, I’ve got a backlog of near-finished essays and drafts of picture books and other stories I’ve had simmering for a while.
I’m constantly switching between different kinds of writing, and I think that process works for me. I’m always cross-pollinating what I learn from writing one way and using it in another.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I recently moved to Nairobi, Kenya so it’s been a year full of firsts and new adventures. I’ve gotten head-butted by a Rothschild’s giraffe and have seen orphaned baby elephants (with heart-breaking stories) up close, taking mud baths and holding their own oversized baby bottles with their trunks. I haven’t seen lions yet, but I’ve seen camels on the beach.
The animals are amazing, but of course, there is also so, so, so much more to life in Kenya. There is a lot of development in Nairobi but I’ve also noted that children’s books are hard to come by. I’d like to do some work while here with children and literacy, to make sure children have access to books.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb