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.
Growing up celebrating Eid as an Arab American in the 1990s vs. today
1996. Third grade. Minot, North Dakota. December. It was Christmas season and everyone was buzzing about what gifts they asked Santa for. Christmas books were read. The classroom was decorated with dazzling lights. My friends told me Santa is real and one of my friends even swore she saw him in the sky. I was the only Muslim in the class. In fact me and my brother were the only Muslims in the entire school in the small town. Ramadan wasn’t until January and Eid was a month after that. But it was fine because we were excited for the three weeks of winter break and all the yummy treats our friends and neighbors would share.
1999. Lima, Ohio. 6th grade. December. It was Ramadan too! My brother and I and one other girl were the only Muslims. We fasted and our classmates wondered why we weren’t eating while they wondered what they were getting for Christmas this year. A Sega Dreamcast? A nanopet? We were looking forward to the three weeks off, most of it during Ramadan and wait until Eid where our parents would take us to a small rented building the twenty Muslims in town went to pray Juma’a and held Eid prayer. We would receive our Eidiya, our Eid money, eat my mom’s delicious ka’ak el Eid, flaky buttery cookies topped with powdered sugar. We would share them with our lovely Indian neighbors and they would exchange their delicious gulab jamun with us throughout the year.
2001. Ohio and Cairo. Ninth grade. Phew. We were now in an Islamic School and everyone at school celebrated Eid and Ramadan. Late night taraweeh at the masjid with my schoolmates, halaqas at my house and my friends’ house on Friday nights. We would host fabulous Eid brunches at our house.This year would be extra cool because we would spend Eid and the last few days of Ramadan in Egypt since was during winter break and it was magical. We stayed up until morning Eid prayer with my cousins. Streets were adorned with Ramadan and Eid decoration. Lots of lights! And so many lanterns, fawanees, everywhere.
2012. Charleston, South Carolina. December. My first was born. Eid wasn’t until August so we had plenty of time to prepare for her first Eid. Eid came in August, and we dressed her up in the cutest Eid dress. We went back home to Ohio for Eid to celebrate with the family. We all dressed in our best, and put up Eid lights at home. We even got my daughter a onesie that said My First Eid. I never had that when I was young. There was even an Eid book out, published in 2007. Not bad! I’m sure there will be more as my daughter gets older.
2015. Ohio. June. My second was born. And Eid was next month! My first born daughter was 2.5 and was going to preschool. We made goody bags for her classmates and I was asked to come talk about Ramadan and Eid and read an Eid book! I found one or two Eid books. Not bad. But they were either a bit difficult to find at the library and local book store or written by…people who weren’t Muslim? It’s okay, I’m sure there will be more as my kids get older.
2015-2019. Ohio. My third was born in 2019. We went all out on Eid for the kids. We put lights inside the house (and outside!), decorated the house with lanterns, baked, decorated cookies, shared with our friends and neighbors. As my kids entered grade school, I was asked to come in talk about Eid/Ramadan and even read some books. A few books about Ramadan were being published, but there were still barely any Eid books. It’s OK though because there were lots of other fun Eid and Ramadan things we didn’t have when we were young: personalized pajamas, modern yet traditional Eid decor, LED lights, Eid cards. My friends and I even collaborated with the local library and planned Ramadan and Eid events. It was the best. My kids were excited for Eid.
2023. The Night Before Eid was sold a few weeks after. It was released just last month. It’s been mentioned in The Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press and more. Target stores nationwide bought a few thousand copies for their store and I will never forget the first time I went in the store and found it there. Finally, our stories are being recognized. Finally, our Arab traditions are celebrated. Finally, our food and language are normalized.
I needed this book growing up as an Arab Muslim in America, and I hope kids will embrace this story filled with intergenerational love, baking, and the magic of Eid. Although there are a few Eid books out there or coming out, there’s still work to be done. From a 2019 research, only 1.2 percent of books, 45 books, had some type of Muslim diversity. There’s a lot of work to do, and we are still underrepresented in children’s literature, but the talent amongst Arabs in America is incredible. We just need more publishers and editors to welcome us and believe in our stories.
This blog post is part of the #30DaysArabVoices Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature Arab voices as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Sahar Mustafah (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).
You can find out more about Aya's books here.