This week, the Puerto Rican author Andrea Beatriz Arango released her debut book, “Iveliz Explains It All,” a children’s book that focuses on breaking the stigma of mental health issues. The publication was released on September 13, 2022.
Coming from a background of working as an ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, Arango has worked with many immigrant children scholars struggling with traumas and mental health issues. To show that there’s nothing wrong with these feelings, Arango wrote a children’s book to help those in need.
Pero, that’s not all. To get a better insight into the book, BELatina News talked to Arango about the new project.
Tell us a bit about yourself as well as how your Puerto Rican background influenced the writing of ‘IVELIZ EXPLAINS IT ALL.’
Much like Iveliz’s mom, I grew up in Puerto Rico, and despite loving to read and write, I was often perplexed by the lack of Puerto Ricans I saw in literature. Even in school (which was in Spanish) we mostly used books published in Spain! I moved to the U.S. at age 26, and after my many years teaching in Virginia public schools, I wanted Iveliz’s experiences in the book to reflect a mixture of life as Latinx kids here experience it, while also feeling decidedly Puerto Rican in voice.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I started writing it during the pandemic lockdown in early 2020 and then sought agent representation in the late fall of that year. That being said, revisions with my agent and later with my editor took some time as well!
What was the most difficult part of the writing process of your book?
Balancing teaching, the pandemic, and writing all at the same time. My brain was constantly tired, especially because it was a pretty emotional book to write.
Why did you set your character in middle school?
Middle school is my favorite age to teach! I also think it’s a really important time, developmentally, and so it’s crucial that kids that age be able to find books that help them navigate the hard things they or their friends might be experiencing.
How does the book help shine a light on mental health issues and ways to get help?
It can be really hard for kids to reach out to adults when they need help. Inversely, it can also be tough for adults to notice (be it at home or in school) when kids are struggling. I’m hoping, more than anything, that my book will help model what those conversations can look like so that both kids and adults feel more comfortable talking to each other about the things going on in their lives.
Will someone who is not an immigrant be able to use the messaging of the book for authentic allyship?
Of course! Reading builds empathy, and a book can just as easily be a window as it can be a mirror. It is my hope that reading this book will help children be better friends with each other because I guarantee that whether they realize it or not, they 100 percent have an Iveliz in their classroom.
For what reading level is this book aimed at?
The main character is 12 (7th grade), but because the novel is written in verse, it is a little more accessible to kids who might be reading below grade level. At the end of the day, every parent knows their kid best, especially because the book does deal with grief and mental health, but I would recommend it for 5th grade and above.
What is your favorite part of the book?
I loved getting to show Iveliz’s relationship with her grandma. Sometimes the people who love us can still hurt us unintentionally, and while Iveliz’s grandmother struggles to understand Iveliz’s need to go to therapy, I also loved being able to show their good times too, be it gardening or cooking together.
Anything else you’d like to share with the BELatina News audience?
While publishing has come a long way, Latina main characters like Iveliz only make up about five percent of the published children’s books. I am elated to now be part of this percentage and am hopeful that as demand increases, children will get to see more and more books representing the wide variety and complexity of their cultures.