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‘Rich Mexican culture’ — Shawnee author transforms Disney’s ‘Coco’ into junior novel

'Coco' (Official U.S. teaser trailer)

Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family's ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.
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Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family's ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Angela Cervantes, a children’s book author who lives in Shawnee, Kan., actually hated books for a period during her youth.

Cervantes said they made her feel invisible, as stories about Latino children weren’t available to her.

But with time, her resentment turned into a passion for writing, and for creating stories for today’s Latino children.

She hopes her recent project can keep some children from feeling invisible. At the request of Disney Worldwide Publishing, she transformed “Coco,” a portrayal of Mexican culture by Disney’s Pixar Studios, into a junior novel.

“I believe that if you can give kids amazing books where they see themselves in the pages, reading becomes a joy and a life-changer,” she said. “This is one of the reasons I signed on to write the junior novel for Coco. I understood immediately the impact and weight of what it meant for Disney Pixar to be making a film featuring a Latino main character and showcasing one of Mexico’s most beloved traditions of Día de los Muertos.”

ACervantes_Media (1)
Angela Cervantes

Her book was released in October, about a month-and-a-half before the film version hit theaters.

Cervantes told The Star about the challenges of writing the book, watching it come to life on screen and about the impact she hopes it has on young readers.

Describe the plot of ‘Coco’

Coco is the story of young Miguel who despite his family’s generations-old ban of music dreams of being a musician like his idol Ernesto De La Cruz. After a few mysterious turn of events, he is swooshed into the vibrant Land of the Dead where he meets all of his ancestors and tries to convince them to support him in his dream to pursue music. When they refuse, Miguel takes off on his own, risking everything, to make his dream come true. Coco is a classic hero’s journey story with a lot of rich Mexican culture and traditions mixed in.

What do you hope children take away from reading ‘Coco’?

I hope children take with them the idea that they can be brave and bold with their dreams. They can make their own path. Also, I hope they create their own altars for their loved ones for Day of the Dead.

What does the book offer that the movie doesn’t?

The book follows the movie exactly, but the nice thing about the book version is that if there was any part of the story that was confusing, the reader can go back and reread it for clarity. That’s what makes the junior novel so special.

Why is intercultural awareness so important in this era?

Today, children are growing up in a more diverse America and I’ve noticed a growing interest from teachers and parents to provide their children with more books featuring multicultural characters and stories that reflect the society we live in. As a children’s author, I have always been asked for book recommendations, but it’s definitely become more common lately. I get this sense that teachers and parents are seeking ways to provide their children stories that will help them gain a greater understanding of the world around them. This is an important role that children’s books can fill.

Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are often caricatured by politicians and in pop culture. Why is it important for young children to have access to books like ‘Coco’?

Coco delivers many wonderful messages about family, traditions, and following your dreams, but its greatest impact may be that it depicts Mexico, a Mexican family and Mexican culture in an authentic and respectful way that up until now hasn’t been portrayed in popular culture. To me, this is why Coco is so important right now.

As a children’s author, I’m always trying to create stories in which children, especially Latino children, can see themselves. When I was growing up, I didn’t have those books. I felt invisible. This invisibility made me resent books. Luckily, the resentment turned into a passion for writing my own stories. For other kids I knew, the invisibility made them hate books and reading was like punishment to them. I believe that if you can give kids amazing books where they see themselves in the pages, reading becomes a joy and a life-changer. Again, this is one of the reasons I signed on to write the junior novel for Coco. I understood immediately the impact and weight of what it meant for Disney Pixar to be making a film featuring a Latino main character and showcasing one of Mexico’s most beloved traditions of Día de los Muertos.

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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