Q&A WITH SILVIA LOPEZ

Just Right Family: An Adoption Story by Silvia Lopez, illustrated by Ziyue Chen, tells the story of Meili, a six-year-old girl who was adopted from China, and her growing family. Meili is shocked to learn that her parents plan to adopt a baby from Haiti. She’s always liked her family just the way it is, why would they need another baby? Slowly, Meili learns the importance of being a big sister, and how truly expansive a family’s love can be.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Silvia Lopez to chat about superheroes, acceptance, and Just Right Family.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: Being an only child, I spent hours reading fairy tales and—yes, I admit it—superhero comics. I loved how Superman lectured the bad guys about changing their evil ways (in Spanish, since I didn’t learn to speak English until I was ten years old).

When I came to the U.S., I discovered public libraries. Joy, joy, joy! After reading an entire collection of fairy tales, I went on to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries. I think I liked them because they were so American. How the characters lived was so different from my own experience. It wasn’t until I became a librarian that I discovered the Newbery and Caldecott winners, and other great books I had missed out on. So, I made myself lists and plowed nonstop through them. I still do that. I like to read books on state lists, and I always browse through the ‘Just Arrived’ carts at the children’s section of the library. Picture books, mystery, historical fiction, and fantasy are my favorites!

Q: Why write children’s books?

A: Good children’s literature is like a good Kindergarten teacher: both can introduce us to wonderful things. Some people refer to children’s books as “kiddie lit” but I don’t like that term. I call a good children’s book a “microcosm of the human experience.” Those are big words! They only mean that everything we feel as human beings—grief, joy, jealousy, courage, the list is endless!—can be found in the simplest stories. Fairy tales and folk tales, for instance: the hard-working little pig, the greedy fisherman’s wife, the silly boy who raises a false alarm. I love that good children’s nonfiction presents facts simply and clearly. Just enough to make children (or grown-ups who read them, like me!) say “Wow! I didn’t know that!” I always say that all I ever needed to know, I learned in children’s books.

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Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A: In 2010, an earthquake shook the tiny country of Haiti. It destroyed thousands of buildings, including orphanages. Some of the orphans were brought to Florida, while the buildings were being repaired. I knew a Hispanic family that had adopted two little girls from China. I thought: “How would it be if a family like that was to adopt one of the Haitian children?” That would be a truly multiracial and multicultural family!

Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: I try to write a little every day. Sometimes I just jot down a few sentences from an idea buzzing around in my head (which probably popped in there at two in the morning!) Later, I sit down to expand on the idea and just write, write, write. I write more than I need, and eventually cut it back. Sometimes those “cuttings” even lead to another story.

Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: The easiest part is coming up with ideas. The world is so full of people, animals, places, and events worth writing about! Almost anything can be made interesting if it’s well-written. The hardest part of creating a book is writing a good middle. Details set up in the beginning have to remain interesting and lead to a good ending. Coming up with a great middle is like making a sandwich. The stuff in the center is the most important and takes the most thought.

Q: Do you have any writing quirks?

A: Well, my right eye is twitching right now just thinking about an answer (just kidding…!) Actually, I need silence. I can only focus when I’m not distracted by noise. Some may say that it comes from being a librarian for so many years, but my school libraries were like Grand Central Station: busy and bustling. When I write, I talk to myself in my head. So, I need to have quiet in order to listen to me!

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: Tons! I have several picture books written, ready to revisit and revise. I also have two middle grade books already begun, plus a picture book that I’m converting into a middle grade historical fiction novel. Yikes! There goes the eye…

Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?

A: Andrea Hall was a joy to work with. She had awesome ideas that made Just Right Family so much better! And she always listened to my point of view. If she disagreed, she did so gently and sweetly, which made for great communication. Working with Andrea was a terrific experience.

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Q: What makes your book stand out? 

A: I think Just Right Family goes beyond the typical adoption story. Its message is one of acceptance. The family members accept each other without regard to looks. The grown-ups in Meili’s life accept her natural feelings of sibling rivalry and nudge her in the right direction. When Meili accepts her role of big sister, she grows as a person. I think boys and girls will enjoy a gentle story about loving and being loved no matter who they are.

Thanks so much, Silvia! To find out more about Just Right Family, check out our website here.

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Q&A WITH SILVIA LOPEZ