By Chloe Grant, Read to Them staff
Hello there, readers! We hope you’re enjoying your first couple of days reading Stella Díaz Has Something to Say. While much of the fun is still to come, we already have so many questions and things we love about this story that we just had to talk about! Lucky for us, we were able to chat with Angela Dominguez about all things Stella! Check out our Q&A with her below:
What was your relationship with reading like growing up?
I was an avid reader growing up. My happy place was the library. I loved exploring the shelves and discovering new books and genres. That fascination with reading and libraries has never really gone away.
How did you find your way to becoming a writer?
As a child I enjoyed making my own books. Still, I was also timid about sharing my stories. Even though we moved to the United States when I was very young, English is technically my second language. While I was a good student in school, I often made grammar errors especially in my creative writing. At that time, I found it to be super embarrassing. Thankfully, I had people in my life who told me I was a great storyteller like my mom and my high school AP English teacher. That always stuck with me. Later after a few years of illustrating, I realized that I wanted to tell stories with my character designs. With the encouragement of my literary agent, I decided to make the big leap. I began with picture books and a few years later began writing the first Stella Díaz. I am so glad that I did, too!
It’s been said that this story is based on your own experiences growing up Mexican-American. What can you say about how important representative literature is for our youth?
Like many of my fellow diverse authors, I never saw myself in a book growing up. I never saw someone with my last name or my same background on the cover of a book, either. I didn’t experience that until I was an adult in college, and when I did, it was eye-opening. For the first time, I could read about someone who understood what it was like to be an immigrant or torn between two cultures. I immediately felt less alone in my experience.
This is why representative literature is so important. Giving kids today the opportunity to see themselves in a book during their formative years is everything. Just imagine the confidence they can gain. I cannot imagine a bigger reward than helping a child feel less alone and more seen.
Further, in addition to your own experiences, where else did you draw inspiration from when writing this story?
So much of the story is inspired by my childhood. It’s sometimes hard to separate the two. However, the big differences are the Chicago setting and Stella’s fascination with sea creatures. I referred to my experiences visiting Chicago and friends from Chicago for their suggestions on setting. As for the sea creatures, I watched documentaries and spent hours at the library filling notebooks with facts.
How did you land on marine life as being one of Stella’s primary interests? Do you have a favorite sea creature?
I always knew the story would take place at an aquarium. I find them to be both beautiful and inspiring. Once I had a setting, I had to give a reason why Stella would be there. That’s when I decided to make her obsessed with marine life.
Oh, a favorite sea creature is tricky! I have a few, but I’ll narrow it down to two. First, the pufferfish. When it is not protecting itself, it is the cutest fish in the ocean. I recommend looking this up immediately afterwards. Second, the octopus. They are highly intelligent and of course, amazing escape artists.
What can we learn from Stella?
If you struggle with shyness, you can work on it like Stella does in the book. There is nothing wrong with it as long as it doesn’t stop you from trying new experiences and making new friends. That said, being reserved is also not a weakness. It just means you’re introverted and like to observe. Those are wonderful qualities.
What is something you hope families get out of reading Stella Díaz Has Something to Say with Read to Them?
That whether you’re shy or come from a different place, everyone has something to say and it’s worth hearing, too. I also hope they might laugh and relate to Stella and her adventures.
This was your first novel, which you beautifully penned and illustrated. What made you decide to choose this format for Stella, and how would you describe your experience being both the role of author and illustrator?
The idea for the story started back in 2013 with a drawing of a girl with curly hair and a polka dot dress. Once I saw the drawing, I knew I had to write a story for her. I eventually came up with this idea to do a picture book about a girl named Stella at an aquarium with her family. Her perfect day is ruined because there was a kid at school named Stanley that she is too shy to talk to. Instead of enjoying the exhibits, she keeps running away from him all day until she overcomes her fear.
While I still love that version, it didn’t quite work as a picture book. People couldn’t understand why Stella was so shy and she couldn’t speak to someone from school. Then I started thinking about why I was shy growing up and used my experiences as inspiration for the rest of the story. From there the story continued to grow and evolve. That’s when my vision for the book shifted from a picture book to a novel. I imagined it to be in the same category as Ramona, Clementine, Alvin Ho, and Lola Levine. With some help from my amazing editor, Connie Hsu, it finally became a chapter book and now a series.
What advice would you give to students like Stella who can feel nervous when trying to make new friends?
It’s okay to feel nervous because that means you care. That said, everyone is human (including your potential new friend) and struggles with insecurities. Try to focus on just getting to know them, ask questions, and be yourself.
What advice do you have for young readers, writers, and illustrators alike?
My biggest recommendation to anyone is to read. Reading fills you with ideas and knowledge. It also gives you the opportunity to experience life from different points of view both real and imaginary. It’s also just very fun!
For the writers and illustrators, it’s so important to persist. Most things in life are not about getting it right on the first try. The first draft of your story or first drawing is just to get ideas down on paper. The revising is where the real magic happens.
Well friends, we have lots of things we’re taking away from this Q&A, and we hope you do, too. We’ll see you next time to wrap up our first week with Stella. Until then, happy reading!