Esperanza Caramelo, the Star of Nochebuena / Esperanza Caramelo, la estrella de Nochebuena by Karla Arenas Valenti and Elisa Chavarri

Happy Wednesday! Please join me in welcoming Karla Arenas Valenti and Elisa Chavarri to Watch. Connect. Read.!! They stopped by to discuss Esperanza Caramelo, art, cats, cake, and more! I wrote the words in purple, Karla wrote the words in black, and Elisa wrote the words in green. Thank you, Karla and Elisa! 

Esperanza Caramelo, the Star of Nochebuena
is a
magical realist story about a long-forgotten sugar figurine in a bakery on Christmas Eve. When a touch of Nochebuena moonlight (and Elisa Chavarri's gorgeous artwork) sparks life into the heart of Esperanza Caramelo, she suddenly comes alive. But the magic doesn't end there. Esperanza twirls and dances around the bakery, awakening the other sugar figurines so they can all come together in a joyful holiday celebration.

Unbeknownst to them, a set of pointy ears and sharp claws hide in the shadows of the bakery where the resident cat watches the festivities unfold. As the merrymaking continues, the cat gets closer and closer and closer pounces on the party with disastrous consequences!

With the cake in shambles, and the sun soon to rise, the newfound friends must find a way to save Christmas. ((Spoiler: they succeed!))

A picture book is always a collaboration between the words and art, an author and an illustrator, and Elisa Chavarri has long been on my list of favorite artists and people-I-would-love-to-collaborate-with. Imagine my tremendous delight when she agreed to take on this project!

Why do I love her work so much?

Because Elisa's artwork is intensely evocative and inspiring. Her compositions are fluid, bursting with movement and color. She is brilliant at creating an immersive visual experience - capturing the emotional core of any story while also drawing your attention to the tiniest of details.

I could not have envisioned a more talented illustrator to breathe life into Esperanza and her friends.

Picture books are powerful tools to help promote children's emotional and intellectual development.

First, they create an inviting space for young readers to explore a range of emotions through bite-size experiences. They also facilitate emotional growth by enabling children to connect more deeply with art as a form of meaningful expression.

Second, the themes and topics of modern picture books are often quite sophisticated, encouraging readers to flex their minds as they contemplate these new ideas.

Finally, and not insignificantly, picture books help promote literacy in young readers, instilling in them a love of reading from a very young age. Which is not to say that only young readers can love picture books. In fact, picture books should (and often do!) have a place in the hearts and minds of readers of all ages.

As any librarian can probably confirm, it matters little which shape or form a story takes; what's important is that the story finds its way to the reader who needs it. And speaking of readers finding their any readers who need this book in Spanish, you are in luck because ESPERANZA CARAMELO is being published concurrently in both English and Spanish!

Esperanza Caramelo, the Star of Nochebuena / Esperanza Caramelo, la estrella de Nochebuena's cover was one of those lucky illustration projects where I quickly had an image in my head of what the cover should be and the end result was surprisingly close to the first original thumbnail sketch. The challenge was bringing it to life. I wanted Esperanza, our star, featured front and center, but to still include the magical cake and many of the other characters, including our antagonist, the kitty cat. I worked closely with my designer, Taline Boghosian, and the rest of the team at Knopf who gave special care to this project and offered great suggestions for how to add some extra magic and drama to the cover. They also suggested the lovely idea to change the text banner to papel picado, which ended up being the perfect finishing touch.

Karla Arenas Valenti is a dream author to get paired with. Esperanza Caramelo was an introduction to her work for me, but it was love at first read! The publisher described her writing as brilliant and magical and this book as a combination of the Nutcracker and Polar express magic, and I couldn’t agree more. Her text and descriptions almost read like a cinematic script to me, leaving a lot of space for the illustrations to tell part of the story and form that perfect balance of words and pictures we all aspire to in picture books. This story resonated with me on many levels and it was an honor and absolute treat to get to illustrate!

Picture books can be whole worlds created and printed onto thirty some pages. When they are created between an author and illustrator they are a unique fusion of two visions for one story, words inspiring the illustrations and the illustrations enhancing parts of the story not detailed in the text. They take on a life all their own. Our stories are how we make sense of the world and picture books provide this important introduction to books for young audiences. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite metaphors for books by Rudine Sims Bishop:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Thank you, Karla and Elisa! Congratulations! 

Karla Arenas Valenti writes stories for and about kids, taking readers on journeys steeped in magical realism and influenced by her Mexican heritage and layered with ideas and concepts she's picked up in her many travels around the world. Esperanza Caramelo is inspired by her abuela—a talented baker! Karla currently resides in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three kids, two cats, and hundreds of books. In addition to picture books, she is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel Loteria.

Photo Credit: Matt Konicek

Elisa Chavarri has illustrated numerous books for children including Pura Belpre Honor book Sharuko. She graduated with honors from the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in classical animation and minored in comics. Elisa hails from Lima, Peru, and resides in Alpena, Michigan, with her husband and two young children.


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