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Interview with Angela Dominguez, author of Stella Díaz Has Something to Say

Sara Hudson

Since Stella Díaz Has Something to Say joined the Read to Them catalog of books in 2021, thousands of students across the country have shared this special book for their school-wide reading program, and the feedback from schools has been overwhelming. Students, teachers, and families all fall in love with sweet Stella as they root for her to find her voice. I recently had the chance to ask some questions of the wonderful creator of the words and pictures for Stella, the talented author and illustrator Angela Dominguez.

YH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7What kind of reader were you when you were Stella’s age? Did you prefer nonfiction like Stella, or were you more of a fiction reader? Do you remember any favorite books or authors from elementary school?

I adored books of all kinds when I was Stella’s age. Both nonfiction and fiction. I loved animal books like Stella, but also biographies. It was empowering to discover people who overcame adversity. I always root for the underdog even to this day.

Books were my entertainment, my escape, and fuel for my imagination. As a shy kid, I especially loved reading.  Because I struggled with language, I found the words printed on the page much less intimidating than the words I had to speak aloud.

It’s hard to choose my favorites of that age, but I’d probably say Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Shel Silverstein, Jon Scieszka, and the Babysitter Club books were in constant rotation on my nightstand.

You are both an author and an illustrator. Is there a role that you prefer?

That’s tricky. I don’t believe I could choose one over the other. Every time I start writing, I’m convinced it’s my favorite. The same thing happens when I start illustrating! They both are rewarding in different ways. That said, I’m newer to writing novels so it’s very exciting to see how I’m evolving as an author. I mostly think I know what I’m doing now.

You have illustrated your own books, but you have also illustrated books for others including Richmond-favorite Meg Medina and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. How is it different to illustrate someone else’s words?

It’s so gratifying to illustrate books for people you admire. I’ve been lucky to have done it a few times. When I’m writing picture books, I usually have images in mind. Then I’ll revise the story with the mindset that I have both tools to tell the story.

When I’m the only illustrator, all I have is the author’s words and my imagination to guide me. Then the author, the publisher, and myself come together to make the best possible book we can. That can produce some exciting results.

Stella Díaz Has Something to Say was your first novel for young people. How is writing a novel different from writing a picture book? Do you like one form better?

I always tell young readers that the biggest difference is there are way more words. My picture books can have less than a hundred words and Stella is around 26,000 words. With a novel, I’m focused more on the plot and I rely heavily on an outline. With a picture book, the images do most of the heavy lifting. Both types of writing are so fun, but Stella has been one of my favorite projects. It’s such a big part of me.

Throughout the series, Stella is working hard to improve her Spanish. Do you have any advice for readers who are trying to improve their ability to speak the language of their family?

Knowing two languages is such a gift. It means double the friendships! I recommend practicing and not to feel embarrassed if you make mistakes. It’s how we learn. Sometimes doing things that are uncomfortable is the best thing you can do for yourself.

I know you do a lot of school visits – both virtually and now back to in person. What do you hear from students who have read Stella Díaz Has Something to Say as part of a school-wide reading program?

I adore school visits, but the Stella visits are my most meaningful. Seeing kids connect with Stella warms my heart and they relate to her in many ways. Some are shy, some are dealing with a bully, some love art, some love sea creatures, some know Spanish,  and some are immigrants which is all a part of who Stella is. Whatever their connection may be, whenever they tell me that they are just like Stella, I feel emotional. It goes beyond what I could have imagined for the book.

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What do you hope readers take away from reading Stella with their families and classmates?

I hope they will have more empathy for each other. It’s something that feels like it can be in short supply. I also hope it sparks their curiosity for nature and our beautiful oceans. Most importantly, I hope it inspires them to create and read more books.

For fans of Stella, do you have other middle grade novels or authors that you would recommend?

There are so many great books, but here are just a few:  Pie in the Sky by Remi Lai, Team Pom Squid Happens by my pal Isabel Roxas, anything by Meg Medina or Erin Entrada Kelly, and Bob by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass.

What about for budding authors and illustrators – any advice for them?

Create it as often as you can. Push yourself but be kind to yourself. Sometimes you make bad art or the story is not working, but that’s okay! You’ll do better. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it makes you really good at something. Finally, revisions are your friend. I always drag my feet to revise, but it’s thrilling to see how much your story improves.

Congratulations on the publication of the fourth book in the Stella series – Stella Díaz to the Rescue. Did you always plan for Stella to be a series? Are there more Stella books coming?

YH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7Thank you! It was a pleasant surprise to me. I wrote Stella Díaz Has Something to Say originally as a picture book, but it didn’t quite work. I revisited the story and it organically grew over the course of a few years into a novel. Once I finished it, I thought, “Whew, that’s over!”

However, something inside me kept wondering about Stella and what adventures she might continue to have. Thankfully, my publisher and editor have been so supportive that I’ve been able to do more. I’m wrapping up a fifth Stella Díaz book and that will be sadly the end of Stella for now. However, she may live on in a different way one day. All I know is I’m grateful to have written five books and to have had all this time with her character. I’ll miss her, but she lives inside me and I hope for Stella fans.

To stay in touch with Angela and hear more about Stella, you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And be sure to check out her website!

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