LOTERÍA by Karla Arenas Valenti

Hello, Karla Arenas Valenti! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read! Thank you for stopping by to celebrate LOTERÍA.

Karla Arenas Valenti: Thank you for the opportunity to unveil this story with your readers!

First of all, let’s discuss Dana Sanmar’s illustrations and cover design.

Karla Arenas Valenti: Dana is a sheer genius. Her mastery of shape, color, and movement is unparalleled. With this cover, she has managed to perfectly capture and convey the breathlessness and vulnerability of being swept away by your destiny. Talk about “show don’t tell”!

There are so many details to take in, to absorb, to admire.

Karla Arenas Valenti: Yes! Exactly. Dana’s attention to detail invites readers to explore her artwork more deeply, to connect with it at an intellectual and emotional level (which of course, mirrors the themes of the book).

Are you up for taking us on a tour of the cover? 

Karla Arenas Valenti: 
I’d love to! Let’s start with the theme. LOTERÍA is a philosophical novel, exploring the concept of free will versus determinism. Simply put: do we get to choose our destiny or is it all determined by elements outside of our control?

How to convey this in art? Dana has the growing storm in the background reflects uncertainty, the arrival of something larger than us, something that makes us feel quite small. Not unlike the idea that anything could happen, anything can be.

You also see the cards, specific images that have a defined purpose in the game of Lotería.

Lotería is similar to Bingo in that players have no say in which card gets pulled and when. Which means, the winner of the game is defined the moment the cards are shuffled, for nothing will change their order (or the result). The only unknown is that the players are unaware of who it will be. But they have no choice in the matter.

Each of the cards Dana included in the cover plays an important role in the story.

Life (the dapper gentleman) and Death (otherwise known as Catrina) are ancient friends who meet once a year to play the game of Lotería. While the friends play the game, they engage in an age-old debate: is there such a thing as free will?

A pawn is always selected, in this case, Clara, the heroine of this tale (represented by the card of the Brave One)

As Life flips the cards, they unfold in Clara’s life—a treacherous rose, a devouring tree, a fiendish scorpion

One of my favorite aspects of the cover is Dana’s signature cut-paper style that harkens back to papel picado (the decorative Mexican art style made my cutting elaborate designs on colorful squares of tissue paper).

I could spend hours talking about the cover alone. But the beauty doesn’t end here! Dana’s interior art is as magical and evocative as what you see here. I could not have asked for a better partner to bring Clara’s story to life.

Thank you for that amazing and informative tour. If you were telling 250 5th graders about LOTERÍA, what would you share with them?

Karla Arenas Valenti: Imagine you are suddenly chosen for a game of chance. But you are not one of the players, you are the pawn. There are two players. If player A wins, your life will be amazing. If the player B wins, you will die. You have no say in how the game is played, but everything the players do will affect your life until the game is over.

That is what LOTERÍA is about. It’s a story about free will and how much of our life is influenced by forces beyond our control. It’s about how much power we have to make our own choices, and the consequences of those choices. It’s about family and what we’re willing to sacrifice for the people we love. It’s about magic and the worlds that exist beyond our own. It’s about Mexico and the food, culture, and traditions of the people in Oaxaca.

LOTERÍA is about asking deep and important questions about who you are and why.

Please finish the following sentence starters: 

Oaxaca City is the capital of Oaxaca state in the southwest part of Mexico. It was originally founded by the Zapotec and Mixtec people, who also built the important archeological site now known as Monte Albán, which lies on the mountains surrounding Oaxaca City. The name Oaxaca comes from the Nahuatl phrase “Hauxyacac.” Nahuatl is the indigenous language of the original settlers, and Hauxyacac means “among the huaje.” Huaje are the trees native to that area.

When the Spaniards arrived in the early 1500s, they conquered the Zapotec and Mixtec, and settled in that territory, building a Spanish city over the ancient one.

Modern day Oaxaca City has elements of both the indigenous and post-colonial settlements. It is a bright, colorful, and vibrant city that, together with Monte Albán, has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. That means, it is deemed to have cultural significance and historical value to humanity.

It is also a well-known gastronomical destination, popular with chefs from all around the world. Oaxaca is especially famous for its mole (a chocolate and chile sauce) and chapulines (roasted grasshoppers). It’s also renowned for its artisanal work, including alebrijes (delicately carved wooden statutes of fantastical animals).

Mr. Schu, walking down the streets of Oaxaca City makes you feel like you have entered a real-life magical territory. True story!

Did you know 
that all the places mentioned in LOTERÍA are based on actual places in Mexico? La Gruta de Oro is inspired by a massive cavern system, one of the largest in the world, with ceilings that are over 260 feet high, and enormous stalagmites and stalactites! El Arbol del Tule (located outside of Oaxaca City) is one of the largest trees in the world, with a trunk that is over 30 feet wide! Las Pozas is an actual surrealist garden in the tropical rain forest of Xilitla. And of course, there is beautiful Oaxaca City.

School libraries are as magical as Oaxaca City. Each book is a doorway into a new world, an experience that can nurture, inspire, transform. As guardians of these most precious passageways, school librarians are nothing short of magical themselves. To be able to match a reader with the right experience is no small thing, especially when that book can shape a reader’s destiny.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me whether I have any other books readers might enjoy. I do! In partnership with the Marie Curie Alumni Association, a global organization of over 17,000 researchers and scientists world-wide, I write the My Super Science Heroes series. This is a series highlighting key traits and characteristics (super powers!) that all children embody, showcasing how those skills can play a meaningful role in helping people reach their dreams.

Each trait is paired with a specific scientist who flexed that super power to great effect in their own life. Our hope is that children will be inspired by these super science heroes, to draw on their own super powers in pursuing their goals.

Thank you, Karla!

Author Karla Arenas Valenti writes stories for and about kids, taking readers on journeys seeped in magical realism and philosophical questions. Her storytelling is heavily influenced by her Mexican heritage and layered with ideas and concepts she’s picked up in her many travels around the world. She currently resides in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three kids, two cats, and hundreds of books. Karla writes picture books (she is the creator of the “My Super Science Heroes” series) and middle grade novels.

Look for LOTERÍA on September 7, 2021. 

The turn of a card could change your destiny... The Phantom Tollbooth meets Coco in this captivating magical realist adventure based on the Lotería card game.

A perilous game of chance.
A journey among myths and monsters.
A girl whose fate hangs in the balance...

It is the hottest hour of the hottest day in Oaxaca City when Life and Death walk into town, ready to begin a new game of la Lotería. But first, they need a pawn, a child whose fate will be determined by the winner of the game: a long and prosperous life or an untimely death. Fate finds this child in a robin-egg blue house, tucked beneath a massive jacaranda tree. And so, the game begins.

Every card reveals a new twist in Clara's fate: a tree, a scorpion, a fateful arrow, a mermaid, a deer, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.

Author Karla Arenas Valenti weaves an adventure steeped in magic and mythology, exploring the notion of free will in a world where fate holds all the cards


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