Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Writing Across Formats: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

Learn about Carmen T. Bernier-Grand.

What first inspired you to write across forms in children's-YA literature?

My editor at Marshall Cavendish asked me to write César: ¡Sí se puede! Yes, We Can! illustrated by David Diaz (2006) with a special voice.

The words started coming to me in the form of free verse. Strange, because I never considered myself a poet before that.

César was successful, so I used the same form to write Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life! illustrated by Frida Kahlo (Marshall Cavendish, 2007) and Diego: Bigger Than Life, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2009).

What inspired me to write in this form? Maybe my editor, maybe my I CAN READ Juan Bobo: Four Folktales from Puerto Rico, illustrated by Ernesto Ramos Nieves (HarperCollins, 1995), or maybe Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life In Poems (Front Street, 1997). I don’t know.

As I said before, the form came to me as a gift, almost as if I were channeling.

What have you learned from writing in a variety of formats?

Writing in itself is a learning experience. Picture books have taught me about rhythm; easy-to-reads have taught me to write a story using fewer words; novels have taught about story arc; nonfiction books have taught me that they can be as interesting as fiction; and poetry has taught me how to discover a voice I didn’t know I had.

What do you think about the pressure on authors to brand themselves by writing a certain kind of book?

For years, I wrote just what came to my heart, in the form it wanted to be. I published an easy-to-read, a biography in prose, a novel in prose, and a collection of folklore from Puerto Rico.

Editors kept telling me that readers wouldn’t know me unless I wrote in a genre or specific form.

I, however, know well-known authors who, from the very beginning of their careers, wrote in different forms. Why couldn’t I do the same?

I want to write whatever my heart dictates. But right now my heart is enjoying having readers.

Believe me, having readers is the best award.

Cynsational Notes

From Marshall Cavendish: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand grew up in Puerto Rico. She is the author of several children’s books, including Pura Belpré Honor Books Frida: Viva la vida! Long Live Life!, César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!, and Diego: Bigger Than Life. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Look for Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). From the promotional copy:

On August 8, 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve the Court.

In elegant free verse, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand describes Sotomayor’s remarkable journey from her childhood in the projects near Yankee Stadium to her stellar academic achievements at Ivy League universities to her rapid rise in the legal profession.

When confirmed as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, she said, "I feel I can touch the sky."

Also included: Biographical Summary, Glossary, Chronology, Sources, and Notes. Also available in Spanish.


The Writing Across Formats interviews were originally conducted in support of a keynote address by Cynthia Leitich Smith at a fall 2009 SCBWI-Illinois conference.

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