On May 21, 2022, the talented NoNieqa Ramos will be a featured author at Gaithersburg Book Festival (1:15-2:05pm in the Jim Henson Pavilion). Nonieqa will also lead a writing workshop entitled, Mirror, Mirror and Magnificent Me (11-11:45 am in the Children’s Workshops Pavilion.) I hope you enjoy learning about NoNieqa and that you come out to the Gaithersburg Book Festival to meet her in person. This is our first in person event after two years of virtual GBF and we are overjoyed to see our authors and guests at our new location: Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 So. Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg, MD 20877.
I hope you enjoy my interview with NoNieqa Ramos!
What is your writing space like?
Thank you for inviting me to speak on Creative Librarian: Adventures in School Librarianship, Melissa!
At the opening of my office, you’ll see a homage to feminine divine energy, a goddess with a crown of candles. Step further into the soft blue light and you’ll pass my altar to my ancestors, trickling with flowers. Across from my standing desk are two old school black chalkboards with outlines for a current middle grade novel-in-progress currently titled Crescent Dances with the Stars. Occasionally a beloved bow-tied kitty warms my chair.
Behind me on a floating shelf sits my debut young adult novel The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary beside the vinyl record, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, a pivotal song in my fifteen-year-old protagonist’s journey. Adjacent to my young adult novels, you’ll see my picture books Your Mama illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, Beauty Woke illustrated by Paola Escobar, and Hair Story, illustrated by Keisha Morris. As a child, I fantasized about being a museum curator. Maybe that’s part of my love for picture books; they are portable museums of art and culture!
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your books?
There truly could not be a more volatile and difficult time in publishing or in the current state of this country to have a book called Beauty Woke published. Wokeness is so politicized and misunderstood. In my book, wokeness refers to a marginalized child’s triumph over racism and her awakening to her beauty–inside and out.
My young adult novel The Truth Is, in which my protagonist Verdad confronts her internalized racism and homophobia as she embraces her queer identity, was on Senator Matt Kraus’ banned book list and was also targeted for banning at school board meetings in my hometown in Virginia.
It’s been exhausting, but I gain strength from educators and librarians at the front lines of #FReadom. I hope librarians continue to support me by promoting my picture books with all ages.
How about including Your Mama in a poetry celebration? Middle graders can use Your Mama to study free-verse poetry. High schoolers can study the misogynistic past of Your Mama jokes and how my book confronts sexism with tenderness, affirmation, and celebration.
How about having a cultural pride parade after a reading of Beauty Woke with Littles? Every child can make a flag representing their own cultures. Middle graders and high schoolers can study the history of Puerto Rico and the importance of the Puerto Rican flag depicted in the book in various forms. On June 10th, 1948 Law 53 was approved in Puerto Rico. The Gag Law or La Ley de la Mordaza made it illegal to display or own a Puerto Rican flag, even in one’s own home. Police and national guardsmen could enter anyone’s home without a warrant and search and seize all property, regardless of probable cause. What an opportunity to research, discuss, and debate!
I would love to see more front-and-center book displays with unique themes. I recently enjoyed a gorgeous display of Beauty Woke, which was included in an Encanto-themed collection focusing on magic and family. I especially need librarians to share my picture books in social media postings on Twitter and Instagram and to recommend my books to educators.
How about inviting me over! I am currently working with the New York Public Library to do Caregiver Literacy Workshops! Mil gracias to every librarian who has shared my work to their readers!
What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?
Children start to learn about race and culture the minute they are born. And tragically, racism doesn’t “start” when you are an adult or when you are educated and prepared to deal with it. Racism blindsides you. Children witness racism against their parents, families, and friends. They see it on social media and hear about it in the car on the news on the way to school.
All marginalized children are going to be exposed to racism whether it’s through personal experiences or whether they are witnesses to it. I hope that Beauty Woke is an opportunity to recognize and validate children’s experiences, and to provide them the sacred space of a picture book and a caregiver to heal, explore, and embrace their cultural roots and seek refuge and love from their families and communities. Like Beauty in the book, I hope they experience triumph in knowing who they are and where they come from is beautiful.
Want to read more about NoNieqa and Beauty Woke?
Kathy Temean: BEAUTY WOKE by NoNieqa Ramos
Lorena Germán, cofounder of the groups #disrupttexts and Multicultural Classroom and author of The Anti-Racist Teacher: Reading Instruction Workbook and Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices, writes: “This gorgeous book is about more than hair. Hair becomes the vehicle for a conversation about identity, beauty standards, bias, relationships, self-love, and more. Ramos has created a picture book that touches upon identity as it is intertwined with other elements of life, all by celebrating hair types and styles.”
Charlotte Offsay, author of The Big Beach Clean Up said, “This truth is carried in NoNieqa’s words and Keisha’s art. It’s a beautiful ode to Black and brown children, celebrating their hair and their identity and encouraging “young readers to embrace themselves just the way they are.”
As Preciosa and Rudine embrace their natural hair, readers are invited to do the same.
Who is the reader you are writing for? Describe them!
I am writing for the parents and caregivers. Just like many of them, I did not see representation of Latine and marginalized groups growing up, and by reading these books to our children, we heal ourselves and society.
I am writing for Latine children. For queer children. For Black, indigenous, and children of color. For white children. For she and hes and theys. For abled and disabled children. For children who like to climb trees, children who climb the walls, children who knock down walls like dominoes every day they wake up and smile and start fresh. All children.
What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
I need picture books just as much as they do! Picture books are for all ages. 0-1000. Todos.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?
Paola Escobar created the stunning illustrations in Beauty Woke. Kirkus phrased it perfectly when they said, “Escobar’s powerful panorama of diversity is a blazing exclamation point to Beauty’s triumphant journey.” Paola brilliantly exemplifies the power of family and community.
Keisha Morris created the joyful illustrations in Hair Story. I especially love the ‘FRO-MENTS IN TIME’ page where famous icons in history and their hair stories are displayed and the back matter where Keisha and I share our own hair stories.
Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?
I appreciate every single reader who has taken the time to review my work, and I absolutely adore every reader who has reached out to me personally through my website, Twitter, and Instagram. I take screenshots of these messages so I can remind myself why I am writing and who I am writing for.
Receiving an NCTE Notable Poetry award lit me up because of my experience teaching language arts and drama for 15 years!
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
This will be one of the first times since the Pandemic that I am able to interact and build community IN-PERSON with educators, librarians, families, and readers! In addition to my author presentation, I’m looking forward to leading an Affirmation workshop with Littles!!
NoNieqa Ramos (they/them) is an educator and writer of picture books and young adult literature. They wrote The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary, a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection. Their debut picture book Your Mama illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara was selected by The Virginia Center for the Book as Virginia’s GREAT READ for 2021. Your Mama was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, a School Library Journal Best Picture Book of 2021, a Kirkus Best Picture Book of the 2021, a Nerdy Book Award winner, and a National Council of English Books Notable Poetry Book. Their picture book Beauty Woke illustrated by Paola Escobar has earned Booklist and Kirkus starred reviews. NoNieqa is a proud member of Las Musas Books collective, the Soaring 20s PB debut group, and Pb Tales 2022 group. You can learn more about them and the school visits and workshops they offer at www.nonieqaramos.com!