Flagstaff publisher wins national award for bilingual kids book
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 25, 2006

Janie Magruder

A very small fish in the big pond of children's literature has hooked a national award, likely the first Arizona publisher to pull one in.

On Monday, in announcing its 2006 Newbery and Caldecott medals, the American Library Association also named My Name Is Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/La Vida de Celia Cruz a Belpré Illustrator Honor Book. Written by Flagstaff author Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael Lopez of San Diego, the book was published by Luna Rising, the bilingual imprint of Rising Moon, a division of Northland Publishing of Flagstaff.

Published in October 2004, it's the story of the late renowned salsa singer, from her upbringing in Havana to her worldwide acclaim. Forced to leave her native Cuba as a refugee under Fidel Castro's regime, Cruz created a musical buzz in Miami and adopted New York City as her home.

The Belpré award was established in 1996 to honor Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian in the New York Public Library system who, as an author and storyteller, preserved and disseminated Puerto Rican folklore. The prize is given biennially to Latino writers and illustrators whose work portrays and celebrates their cultural experiences in children's books.

Northland is likely the first Arizona publisher of kids books to receive an ALA award, said Kathleen Horning, president-elect of its Association of Library Service to Children. With just 12 employees, it also may be the smallest ever, Horning said.

"It's very unusual for a small press, in any part of the country, to win an award of this distinction," she said.

The honor puts Northland, a 48-year-old company once known for its Western and Native American art books, in a league with industry giants Random House, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin and Scholastic Press.

Dave Jenney, Northland's publisher, said it's good company to keep.

"The hair on my arms is standing up," Jenney said after hearing of the award on Monday. "We're so far removed from Boston, New York, San Francisco, the mega areas where publishing is done, where all the agents congregate. We're in the sticks. So, it's wonderful to be doing what we do and living where we live."

Jenney's company can't afford to print dozens of books like its big counterparts. So decisions are made carefully and involve everyone from the newest sales associate to seasoned editors, he said.

"We've largely built a list by discovering new talent, as opposed to going after the guys who are already established," Jenney said. "Those guys are out of our price range."

Theresa Howell, Northland's children's book editor, found Lopez in the Directory of Illustration, where graphic artists advertise their portfolios.
Lopez, a muralist, had never done a children's book but jumped at the chance to do Brown's out of devotion to Cruz, Howell said.

Jenney described the resulting illustrations as "vibrant, sassy and spicy."
Brown, meanwhile, has written a book about Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Northland's second in its bilingual series, and is working on a third, about Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American woman to win a Nobel Prize for literature, in 1945.

My Name Is Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/La Vida de Celia Cruz, for ages 4-8, is $15.95. It's available at bookstores and at amazon.com.

Reach the reporter at janie. magruder@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8998.