Today on the blog Alliah L. Agostini is thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with KidLit in Color member Alyssa Reynoso Morris, debut author of Platanos are Love (and as you will learn, much, much, more!).
ALA: Alyssa, you have a very busy 2023, but I’m very excited about your debut, Plátanos are Love. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for the book? How much of this story is taken from your own experience?
ARM: Plátanos are Love was based on my childhood experience cooking in the kitchen with all three of my grandmothers. Cooking was how they showed me they loved me. It was also a time for us to talk about school and life. We would cut and fry and dice and mash while sharing stories and making plans for the future. My abuelas have since passed but Plátanos are Love is my way of keeping them, their memories, and their love alive.
ALA: I love how you managed to weave in the multi-generational and historical importance of platanos to Dominican culture - why was this important to you as you molded the narrative?
ARM: I have always been interested in how our history impacts our present, which is an interest imbued in me by my abuela Nona (one of the abuelas that influenced this book.) My interest in history makes its way into all my stories, but it really is the HOOK of this book. I wanted to show that plátanos - a food many Dominicans eat everyday - is not just a food we love, it is one we are able to enjoy because of the resilience of our African ancestors.
ALA: Your book is dedicated to your three abuelas for teaching you the magic of storytelling and food. What wonderful lessons. Did/do they have any signature dishes that bring you particular joy? Which ones can be found in Plátanos are Love?
ARM: I LOVE THIS QUESTION! They each had their signature dishes and all could be found in Plátanos are Love. If anything it was HARD to pick only a few of their dishes because they could all cook up a storm and because plantains are such a versatile food. Some signature dishes I was not able to include in the text are mofongo, alcapurria, pastelon, yaroa, and many more.
ALA: I love books like this one that use onomatopoeia beautifully. What’s your favorite sound word?
ARM: I love onomatopoeia and alliteration. These are some of my favorite literary techniques. My favorite sounds in the English version of the book is “CRUNCH MUNCH” but my favorite sound word in Spanish is “MACHUCA” which means “to mash.” It is just so much fun to say. I had so much fun translating my book into Spanish. The Spanish version Los Platanos Son Amor will come out in 2024.
ALA: Are there any Easter eggs readers should look out for as they read the book?
ARM: OHH YES!!! Great question! The amazingly talented Mariyah Rahman included real pictures of both our families in the illustrations.
ALA: What is your favorite way to eat plátanos? This is a big point of debate in our family.
ARM: Asking me to pick my favorite way to eat plátanos, is like asking me to pick my favorite book… Ahhh. I can’t! I am sorry to disappoint you, because it depends on my mood. When I want salty and crispy I eat tostones. If I have time and want something more filling then I make mofongo or mangu. If I want something sweet, I eat maduro. If I want plátanos but don’t want them to be the star of the dish I will eat it in pastelon, which is basically like lasagna, but instead of noodles we use plantains cut into thin slices.
ALA: You provide three delicious recipes in the back of the book. Are you a big chef? If so, what’s your favorite thing to cook?
ARM: I am NOT a chef, but I can cook. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being an amateur and 10 being pro-chef; I am a solid 7. I love making meals that remind me of my abuelas. I feel like they are hugging me as I cook. I love making dishes from my culture and sharing them with others. I also enjoy trying out new recipes from other cultures because I love to learn and believe in celebrating our cultural diversity.
ALA: What do you want readers to take from Plátanos are Love?
ARM: I want them to know that they are loved. I want them to have pride in their roots, culture, and recipes. I want them to know about the resilience of their ancestors. I want them to know that they matter and that their stories and experiences matter.
ALA: You have two more books coming out right? Would you mind telling us a little bit about them?
ARM: Yes of course! On October 24th, 2023 my second book The Bronx Is My Home comes out, and my third book Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book comes out in 2024.
The Bronx Is My Home is a picture book celebration of hometown pride including the history, landscape, cuisines, cultures, and activities unique to this vibrant community. Welcome to the Bronx, New York, where you can see bodegas and businesses bustling on every street, taste the most delicious empanadas in the world, smell the salty sea air of Pelham Bay, and pet horses at the Bronx Equestrian Center. From sunrise to sunset, Santiago and Mami have many treasures to enjoy in their neighborhood on a beautiful Saturday, including colorful birds on the Siwanoy Trail and fresh cannolis on Arthur Avenue. This energetic and joyful family story offers both a journey through and a love letter to this special borough. The Bronx Is My Home is a triumphant celebration of hometown pride, as well as a heartfelt invitation to all, for readers of My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Pena, and Saturday by Oge Mora.
My third book Gloriana Presente: A First Day Of School Book is a bilingual picture book that features a Dominican American girl overcoming anxiety and finding her voice in the classroom.
ALA: While many picture book authors are fairly prolific, there tends to be a common thread throughout most of our work - what would you say is consistent throughout yours?
ARM: I love this question. All my books are very different.
Plátanos are Love is lyrical and poetic. The Bronx Is My Home gives off non-fiction sightseeing vibes. Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book is character and plot driven with a struggle the main character has to overcome. The themes that can be found in my books are family, pride, resilience, and joy, but if I were to sum up what strings all of my books together in one word it would have to be LOVE.
Plátanos are Love is a LOVE letter to plátanos, my culture, my family, and my ancestors.
The Bronx Is My Home is a LOVE letter to The Bronx and a reminder to kids from the BX that they can be whatever they want to be.
Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book is a LOVE letter to my Abuela, to immigrants, and to those who struggle to find their voice.
I want my audience to feel loved by my books so they go out into the world and spread it far and wide. We can all use more love in the world.
ALA: Where can readers find you, and most importantly, how can they best support your work?
ARM: Please find me on my website which is www.alyssaauthor.com as well as on Instagram and Twitter at @AReynosMorris. The best way to support my work and authors is by ordering our books and/or requesting our book at your local library. After you read our stories, please review them. It helps to boost and share our stories. I also do author visits and am open to media appearances so hit me up.