Author Spotlight: Alexandra Alessandri
Dec. 31, 2021
We are excited to feature Alexandra Alessandri and her new picture book, ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL, illustrated by Courtney Dawson (Sleeping Bear Press, 2021). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’ve always been a storyteller with a huge imagination, and I grew up devouring books and making up stories, though not the written kind. Those came later. Books were my solace as an only child, which oftentimes felt lonely. As a teen, I fell in love with poetry and later pursued a career in English lit, which led me to teaching. It wasn’t until I had my son, though, that I rediscovered the joy of picture books and children’s literature, and I began doing the work to learn more about craft and publishing. In particular, I loved the way the books I read to my son captivated him in much the same way that stories had captivated me as a child. I knew then I wanted to do my part in making lifelong readers.
Congrats on your picture book, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School! Tell us about the book and what inspired you to write it.
Thank you so much! Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is about Isabel who is excited and nervous about her first day of school, particularly because she doesn’t speak much English and she doesn’t know how she’ll understand her teacher or make friends. But Isabel is artistic and creative, and she processes everything through color—it’s these characteristics that ultimately let her bridge the language barrier.
The story was inspired by an experience I had as a kindergartener in Queens, New York. My parents are Colombian immigrants and I came from a Spanish-only home, so when I started school, I didn’t know any English. This resulted in some uncomfortable situations, including getting lost within the school because I’d misunderstood my teacher. While my story and Isabel’s story are slightly different, I wanted to bring those strong emotions of feeling lost and show how kindness can go a long way in helping someone feel welcomed.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
My road to publication has been rather long and winding, with some detours and sharp turns. I began earnestly pursuing publication in 2012, and it wasn’t until 2018 that I received my first offer. Coincidentally, while Isabel was the first book I sold, it was the second to be published.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently editing my debut middle grade novel, The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía, about a 12-year-old girl who doesn’t believe in her father’s tales about the mano peluda, madremonte, and patasola, but when an earthquake injures Papi and leaves her stranded with her brother in a strange—and magical—land, she must face the madremonte’s wrath if she has any hopes of getting home and saving Papi. I’m also working on some new picture book manuscripts I’m excited about.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Do the work—read a lot, write a lot, learn the craft, find mentor texts—but also, find your community. Writing can be lonely and trying to get published can be hard. There’s so much that’s out of your control, and the journey is paved with rejection and lots of waiting. But having a community of other writers who are with you helps make the hard moments easier and there’s nothing sweeter than celebrating the successes with your writing family.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’m often thoughtful and quiet, a shy introvert, but I can be downright silly when I begin feeling comfortable. My son often claims I never grew up.
Where can people find you online?
Alexandra Alessandri is the award-winning author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! (Albert Whitman), Isabel and Her Colores go to School (Sleeping Bear Press), and the forthcoming middle grade fantasy The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía. The daughter of Colombian immigrants, she is also a former Associate Professor of English, a writer for Curriculum Associates, and a poet, with some of her work appearing in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, Atlanta Review, and Young Adult Review Network. Alexandra lives in Florida with her husband and son.
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