Battle of the Books!

Hey guys!

I just had the best time in the Terre Haute area of Indiana, presenting as part of their awesome Battle of the Books!

Star in the Forest was one of about twenty books involved in the battle, and I was honored that they asked me to come and meet all the participating kids, who came from schools throughout Vigo County.  There were a few hundred kids total, and they were all amazing!  And so were the teachers and librarians who worked so hard to organize the Battle events.

I wish I'd remembered to take pictures at the presentation, but I was so busy chatting with these incredibly enthusiastic students that I completely forgot.  (Thanks, Angie Miller, for the above photo!)

I did manage a few pictures with my delightful liaison, Kathy Deal, who gave me the warmest welcome an author could hope for...

My farewell lunch included this gigantic milkshake... I didn't even get hungry on the plane ride home.

 I was so impressed with all the friendly cooperation among community members to make this event a success!  Thank you, Vigo County, for an unforgettable visit!

And now, on a different note.... I can't resist whispering this to you:  
Exciting, new-book-related stuff is happening in my life right now!  I hope to be able to tell you about it soon... but in the meantime, let's be secretly happy together! :-)


Finding the heart of a story...

Hey guys,

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 story
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 wrappers.  

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 story someday.  

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 complete.  

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 did!”  

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 had arrived.  

Things that make me SMILE!


Many things have been making me smile lately.... here's the first, which gave me happy shivers along with my smile.  It's a poem from the dog Star's point of view, inspired by my book Star in the Forest.  The poet is Orlando, a dazzlingly talented elementary school student:

My chain traps me from the world.
It locks my smile from my face
but I think
Zitlally has the key to unlock it.
She has the key. 
I can't tell you what an incredible feeling it is for an author to see the marvelous creations her story has inspired.  I feel deeply moved seeing readers' unique connections with the story. Beautiful poem!  Thank you, Orlando!
Here's another thing that makes me happy-- 

The golden fall light at the Poudre River near my house.  I walk along it nearly every day and love watching how it changes with the seasons.

Yet another happy little thing... the Princess of Water... Leslie Nayeli.  She's the adorable new baby of my co-author of The Queen of Water, Maria Virginia Farinango.

Caught in the act!  This sneaky critter has been feasting on the apples from our tree every night along with his two buddies.  They're really fat and funny little bandits... Ian and Lil Dude and I go outside with flashlights to watch their antics, which make us smile and laugh.

My rickety blue vintage cruiser bike that I'd had for years finally broke down to the point where I couldn't justify pouring more money into fixing it... so we went out and found this gently used cruiser... and it's pink! It's so very pink that I can't help smiling when I ride it...

Thanks for coming by!  Hope you're finding lots to smile about, too!