It's been exciting to have Star in the Forest
as a Scholastic Book Fair selection this winter! It's also been on a bunch of state reading lists. (Thank you, readers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington DC, Arizona, Vermont, Indiana, and Virginia!) I'm so happy that more readers are getting the chance to connect with the book. I've been doing more and more author visits about this book... and I've been thinking about it a lot lately as I go over the Spanish version with my good friend and talented writer Gloria Garcia Diaz, who is translating it! (Yes! It will
exist in Spanish form-- we haven't found a Spanish-language publisher for it yet, but we'll get it out there one way or another!)
I wrote this essay for Book Page
a few years ago, when the book first came out, but I thought I'd post it here so you can get a glimpse into my process of writing a book... which, for me, usually lasts years and years. Enjoy!
Behind the Book: Crossing borders to find the heart of a
by Laura Resau
I came across the bones of my book Star in the Forest on the
outskirts of a small town in southern Mexico. One day, fifteen years ago, I was
taking my daily walk down a dirt road lined with shacks made of corrugated
metal and plastic tarp and salvaged wood scraps. I strolled past smoldering
piles of trash and leaped over trickles of raw sewage, giving wide berth to
occasional packs of scrawny dogs.
You should know that I loved these walks. Each one was an
adventure. Curious kids would approach me, and soon their mothers and aunts and
grandmothers would meander over and offer me a glass of warm Coke or a tortilla
and beans. . . and new friendships were born.
On this particular day, I came across a family leading a
burro by a frayed rope. They smiled at me, and in perfect American English, one
of the children said, “Hey, what are you doing all the way out here?”
Surprised, I explained that I’d been working here as an
English teacher, then asked where they’d learned to speak English so well. They
chattered about their previous home in Chicago, where they’d spent most of
their lives until their recent move back to rural Oaxaca. It felt surreal to be
talking to such thoroughly American kids at the side of a dirt road where
chickens pecked at corn kernels hidden among old diapers and Sabrita
Over my next two years living in Oaxaca, as I met more young
people who’d spent part of their childhoods in the U.S., I tried to understand
how they might feel straddling two very different cultures. I jotted down
thoughts and observations in my notebook, thinking they might come out in a
A few years later, in Colorado, I worked with an
organization that assisted Mexican immigrant families with young children. I
made home visits in trailer parks where many of the families lived, and there I
met children on this side of the border who were also negotiating lives that
bridged two worlds. I came to understand that despite the relative luxuries of
their American homes—indoor plumbing and solid walls—undocumented kids have
lives brimming with uncertainty. Considered “illegal,” they lack a home that
gives them a sense of safety and belonging.
During my time working with these families, I wrote a short
story about a girl in a Colorado trailer park who misses her indigenous
community in Mexico, and finds comfort in her friendship with a neighbor girl
and a stray dog. My notes and ideas from my time in Oaxaca helped me flesh out
the girl’s flashbacks. I kept tinkering with the story over the next few years,
but, sensing that it was missing something, I always tucked it away again.
While writing my first novel, I worked as an English teacher
for immigrants. Then, after the book’s publication, my author visits took me to
schools with large Latino populations. During these years, I formed friendships
with many undocumented parents and children who shared with me their fears,
anxieties and personal stories. A number of immigrants I knew had close
relatives who had been deported from the U.S., leaving the rest of their family
behind. Others had been assaulted or kidnapped while attempting to cross the
border. Often, after hearing about these experiences, I took out my trailer
park story and wove in more layers, ideas and details. Yet the manuscript
always ended up back in a drawer.
On trips back to visit southern Mexico, I sometimes visited
the families of my new immigrant friends. I spent a week with a family in a
Nahuatl village called Xono and bonded with my friend’s adorable three-year-old
boy. On the morning of my departure, he looked at me with huge, earnest eyes
and begged in his small voice, “Laurita, por favor, no te vayas a Colorado.”
Please don’t go to Colorado. As I gave him a teary hug goodbye, I realized that
to him, Colorado was a black hole that swallowed his loved ones. Back home, I
pulled out my story again, incorporating experiences from Xono, adding bits and
pieces from both sides of the border. Still, the story didn’t feel
And then one day, I heard from a 12-year-old reader I’ll
call Maria. She connected strongly with Clara, the narrator of my first novel,
What the Moon Saw, who visits her grandparents in their Mixtec village in
Oaxaca one summer. Like Clara, Maria lived in the U.S. and had relatives in an
indigenous community in southern Mexico.
But unlike Clara, Maria was undocumented. She’d come to live
in her Colorado trailer park as a young child, after crossing the desert
illegally. Her father had recently been deported to Mexico, and soon after,
Maria began having problems at home and at school. After a particularly bad
argument with her mom, she yelled, “I want to go to Mexico, like Clara
Her mother pointed out that Clara was born in the U.S., and
could cross the border freely. Yet if Maria crossed the border, it would be too
dangerous and costly to return. “I don’t care!” she shouted.
Then her mother told her that if she moved back to their
village, she could no longer go to school; instead, she’d have to wash clothes
by hand all day to earn her living.Understandably, this made Maria even
angrier... and frustrated and sad.
Which made me angry, frustrated and sad. So I wrote about it
in my notebook. And suddenly, everything I’d been trying to say in the trailer
park story crystallized. I wrote about a girl in Maria’s situation, trying to
find a sense of power and comfort in a desperate situation beyond her control.
The novel that emerged had the framework of my original story, but now I felt
there was something more, something that made the story pulse and breathe.
After a decade and many journeys back and forth across the border, its heart