Beauty Woke by NoNieqa Ramos and Paola Escobar

Hello, NoNieqa Ramos! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read! Beauty Woke’s cover illustration is BEAUTIFUL and VIBRANT!!!!!!!! The colors pop and sing! What ran through your heart the first time you saw what Paola Escobar created?

NoNieqa Ramos: Mil gracias, John, for your kind words. You phrased my feelings for Paola’s work perfectly; her art ran through my heart. I was already a huge fan of her illustrations in PLANTING STORIES: THE LIFE OF LIBRARIAN AND STORYTELLER by Anika Aldamuy Denise and DIGGING FOR WORDS by Angela Burke Kunkel. I envision reading to children and having them make a beautiful mural just like the one you can find in BEAUTY WOKE. I also want to shout out designers Andrea Miller and Sharismar Rodriguez for their vision in fusing both Paola and my work together into a stunning final product that makes my soul sing.

Hello, Paola Escobar! What materials did you use to create Beauty Woke’s stunning illustrations?

Paola Escobar: I used my digital tablet and worked on the entire sketching and color process in Photoshop. I was so happy to bring this picture book to life!

NoNieqa, please finish the following sentence starters: 

Beauty Woke is a modern spin on the fairytale Sleeping Beauty. In the beginning of the story, Beauty and her family are preparing to participate in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Before the pandemic, the Puerto Rican Day Parade took place annually along Fifth Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York City. The parade was held on the second Sunday in June, in honor of the 3 million plus inhabitants of Puerto Rico and all people of Puerto Rican birth or heritage, like myself, living on the U.S. mainland. On this day Puerto Rican achievements, history, dance, food, and music are celebrated. Major celebrities turn out like Rosario Dawson, Rita Moreno, and Sonia Manzano. But as Louis Maldonado, board chair for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade said, "The parade is more than a celebration of pride and culture. It's a platform for preserving our heritage while advancing our community by informing on important issues and promoting educational achievement."

Beauty has a strong relationship with her Abuelita who reminds her to be proud of her Puerto Rican heritage. But one evening, Beauty sits with her tío and watches the news. She hears about President Trump downplaying the number of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico in September 2017. That hurricane claimed an estimated 5000 lives, many of whom died from negligent government response. She hears about migrant immigrant children caged at detention centers and learns of the deaths of Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, who fell ill and died in U.S. custody Dec. 24, 2018, after migrating with his father from Guatemala and the death of 7-year-old Guatemalan girl Jakelin Caal. Overwhelmed, she disavows the parade and falls into a deep sleep of dejection and hopelessness. Only with the love and strength of her family, her ancestors, and her community can she emerge from despair, embrace her cultural identity, and awaken to the beauty, power, and strength that pulses through her veins.

Love comes with knowledge, learning and unlearning, understanding, and empathy. When we write books that contain the particulars of our struggles we invite universal change and universal love. Because of children, I still have hope we can be better human beings, save this planet, and save each other. Love and hope are verbs.

Did you know BEAUTY WOKE was supposed to be my debut? Writing BEAUTY WOKE was therapy when I felt helpless and hopeless about the pain and suffering of the Puerto Rican people due to colonization and numerous traumatic weather events like Hurricane Maria and the earthquakes that began Dec. 28, 2019 and included a magnitude 6.4 quake on Jan. 7, 2020. Some salves for my Boricua soul have been the works and activism of authors Lilliam Rivera, Zara Gonzalez Hoang, Mia Garcia, Mayra Cuevas, and Amparo Ortiz.

Picture books are the way we send unconditional love to our most vulnerable readers… the way we gift-wrap laughter and joy… time machines in which we give the future, our children, the tools they need to create the world they want to live in.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I can’t wait to do after the release. After children and I read BEAUTY WOKE, we will have our own parade. I want every kid, particularly every BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ kid, to wave their flags of identity and dance to the music of their people and their hearts.

Paola, please finish the following sentence starters: 

NoNieqa’s manuscript for Beauty Woke was inspiring and exciting! It awakens our love for our roots and origins.

Beauty is the strength that we carry inside; the gift of being unique.

I hope Beauty Woke reaches the hands of many children so that together with their parents they awaken the love for our ancestors and our roots, the value of feeling happy with ourselves, and where we come from.

Picture books are a window to wonderful universes, a journey between stories, teachings, and fun.

Thank you, NoNieqa and Paola! 

NoNieqa Ramos is an educator who wrote the THE DISTURBED GIRL'S DICTIONARY, a 2018 New York Public Library Best Book for Teens, a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection, and a 2019 In the Margins Award Top Ten pick. It earned starred reviews from Booklist, Voya, and Foreword. Hip Latina named her sophomore book THE TRUTH IS in"10 of the Best Latinx Young Adult Books of 2019." Remezcla included THE TRUTH IS in the "15 Best Books by Latino and Latin American Authors of 2019." You might find NoNieqa in Virginia salsa dancing with her soulmate and her children Prince Lango Tango and PrincX Rainbow Cat.

Paola Escobar is a Colombian graphic designer and illustrator. Her portfolio is incredibly versatile and she has worked for a variety of publishers worldwide including SM Spain, Planeta, Norma, Fleurus.

In the UK her clients include Oxford University Press, Penguin Random House, Walker, Scholastic UK, Laurence King, Little Brown Book Group, HarperCollins and Chicken House. Over the coming years she also has a variety of projects coming out with US publishers Little Bee Books, Versify, Zonderkidz, HarperCollins US, Schwartz and Wade and Simon & Schuster.

In addition to publishing, she has worked across a broad range of printed and digital magazines. She currently works as a freelance illustrator and lives very happily in Bogota with her husband and dog Flora.

Look for Beauty Woke on February 15, 2022. 


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