Author urges students to pursue their dreams

An award-winning Latina children’s author shared her passion for writing with students in the age group she writes for Wednesday morning at the TexasSouthmostCollegeArtsCenter.

Some 200 students in the GEAR UP program in Brownsville schools attended a keynote address by Angela Cervantes that turned into a hands-on workshop about her newest book, “Me, Frida and the secret of the Peacock Ring.”

Cervantes’ appearance was part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s annual Festival of International Books & Arts.

The book is due out March 27, but Cervantes brought advance copies with her to Brownsville for the students. It is the story of 12-year-old Paloma Marquez, who accompanies her mother on a trip to her father’s birth country, Mexico. Paloma quickly finds herself entangled in a mystery involving an artifact that once belonged to legendary artist Frida Kahlo.

Cervantes first told the students, all seventh-graders, how she had dreamed of writing books for children since she was a child. She graduated with a degree in English from the University of Kansas and never gave up on her dream. Eventually, she convinced the publisher Scholastic to take on her first book, “Gaby, Lost And Found.”

She told the students how it took her nine months to write that first book, that it had 45,000 words, 34 chapters and 238 pages. It wasn’t quite a book yet. It was a manuscript, but she didn’t give up. By the time she was finished it was 38,000 words and 160 pages.

Everything in a manuscript “has to be tight and good,” she said, but still she got rejected. Finally, Scholastic called her the day before Thanksgiving and she signed a contract. She urged the students to follow her example and not give up on their dreams.

Cervantes’ other books include “Allie First and Last,” and the junior novelization of the Disney Pixar movie “Coco,” still in theaters. It retells the whole story of “Coco,” which is about the main character Miguel’s dreams of becoming an accomplished musician.

For her Brownsville appearance, Cervantes brought a script from “Me, Frida and the secret of the Peacock Ring.” She convinced three students to join her on stage to read the parts of the characters in the book.

Even though Cervantes is from Kansas, she grew up in a neighborhood that celebrated its Mexican heritage. She also lived in Brownsville for two years right after college and said she would have stayed if she could have found the right job.

“Even though I didn’t know anyone, I found it to be a very warm and accepting place,” she said. “There’s just this very nice, rich culture we have here.”

The theme for this year’s FESTIBA is “Transcending Borders: Building Bridges through the Arts.” Events continue through Saturday and are designed to help visitors discover how the arts can be a humanizing force with the potential to build bridges around the world, and between cultures and communities.

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