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  • Jackie Azúa Kramer, interviewed by Jonah Kramer

How did MANOLO AND THE UNICORN come to be?

Ah, peeling the onion of inspiration isn’t always straightforward. I believe I was reading mentor texts about odd friendship stories and bouncing around ideas like what if a koala and a kangaroo met. When Jonah shared that as a young boy he was teased for coloring with a purple crayon. I never knew this. It upset me to think that at such a young age, he navigated questions of his identity. I remembered that Jonah, as a child loved mythology, especially unicorns. Keeping in mind the idea of the odd friendship, we started talking about a boy who loved unicorns but was teased about it. And what if, the boy actually encountered a unicorn. In that moment, we envisioned the whole story. Then the hard work began.

What was it like to collaborate for the first time with another writer?

Covid had just hit and Jonah, an actor, was now home from touring. So, our collaboration was a nice distraction from reality. It was an interesting time for imagination and allowing seeds of ideas to grow and bloom. I thought the mother-son relationship might affect our work together. But writing can be a lonely business, so it was fun having someone to help develop and discuss the story. I would write a section and email it to Jonah. Then Jonah would revise and send his revision back to me. And vice versa, he’d write a section, and I’d revise. Under one roof it was easy to work together. For example, I remember us working late into the night, and it felt perfectly normal sitting around in our pajamas.

MANOLO AND THE UNICORN touches upon a child’s sense of self and identity. Can you speak to that?

In the story, Manolo believes the world is a magical place. He loves exploring in the natural world and loves unicorns most of all. Manolo is truly and authentically himself until someone tells him otherwise. Jonah and I learned from our research that unicorns only appear to those pure of heart. That element strengthened and weaved well into our theme of identity. Identity encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that shape one’s sense of self. One’s identity is made up of big and small things – everything from one’s hair, who one prays to, who one loves, the food one eats, to the families and neighborhoods one grows  up in.

What do you hope will be the takeaway for young readers?

The more a child feels seen, the more they feel valued; the less a child feels seen, the less they feel that they matter. We hope the book lifts children up and supports their positive identity.

 

  • Jonah Kramer, interviewed by Jackie Azúa Kramer

What was it like to write a book for the first time? And what was it like to work with your mom?

Ever since I was a kid we would read children’s books together and we would each take turns giving the characters different voices. I never imagined that one day I would be writing a children’s book with my mom instead of just reading them. The challenge as a first time writer was finding a way to channel and refine my ideas into a story. Many times, one of us would have an idea and we would riff off each other talking about all the different ways we could take the story. Working with my mom I got to see the craftsmanship that goes into writing a children’s book. She knows how to take a concept and think about it both as a writer and through the eyes of a child, which I think is an invaluable skill.

 How did negative childhood experiences impact your identity?

For our yearbook, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without hesitation, I said, “a Disney princess.” When the yearbook came out it said “actor” and not “Disney princess”, which ironically set me on my path to becoming an actor. But it was not my honest answer and taught me that there are certain things that our culture was not willing to let me express about myself. As I was writing the story, it hit me how damaging it was to have that experience at such a formative age.

How has your work as an actor effected how you write?

When writing I would often imagine the text in my head as if someone was performing it. It would help me to act out parts of the book as in a script. For example, my mom and I, spent time going over the details of Manolo’s first sighting of the Unicorn and I remember acting out for her what that greeting might look like. My three act play depicting this interaction didn’t entirely make it into the final story, lol. I think part of the reason we worked well together is that we both have theatre backgrounds.

We decided to stick very closely to the mythology about unicorns. How did that become an important theme in the book and how did that shape the characters of both the Unicorn and Manolo?

I would lose myself for hours imagining that I had magical powers, that I had a team of Pokémon, or that I was exploring the distant planets in Star Wars and its creatures. I would even draw my own characters with names and their own magical mythology. So the magical thinking of children was important in the story. However, everything was still rooted in realism. Manolo is a boy with a family that goes to school and has all the experiences that come with that. The sadness and aloneness Manolo feels when he’s teased by classmates for liking and believing in unicorns. Unicorn mythology often describes them as creatures who only show themselves to those who are pure of heart. Manolo sees the magic in everything, and he can find the extraordinary in the ordinary, which makes for the perfect friendship between these two characters.

What do you hope the takeaway for young readers will be?

I wish that I had a book like Manolo and the Unicorn when I was a kid. It might have changed the way I thought about myself and given me reassurance that I can use that purple marker, that I can be a Disney princess if I wanted to. Still waiting for the offer from Disney. There aren’t enough books for kids like me to see themselves reflected in. I hope that all creators in all mediums continue to write more stories for kids that reinforce the idea that all parts of us are beautiful.


Jackie Azúa Kramer is an award-winning and internationally translated children’s book author. Her picture books include THE GREEN UMBRELLA, 2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year; IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP; a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, THE BOY AND THE GORILLA; I WISH YOU KNEW, Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books 2021 and 2021. Parents’ Magazine Raising the Future Book Club Pick; MILES WON’T SMILE and Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, DOROTHY AND HERBERT: AN ORDINARY COUPLE AND THEIR EXTRAORDINARY COLLECTION OF ART. Her upcoming picture books releasing in 2023 are WE ARE ONE, EMPANADAS FOR EVERYONE and BOOGIE IN THE BRONX. Visit her online at Jackieazuakramer.com, on Twitter @jackiekramer422 and Instagram @jackie_azua_kramer.

Jonah Kramer is a New York City-based actor, singer, dancer, and now children’s book author. He has traveled as a performer both nationally and internationally. He is delighted to coauthor his first book with his amazing mom. Find him online at JonahKramer.com and follow him on Instagram @jonahekramer.

 

Jackie and Jonah are giving away two copies of MANOLO AND THE UNICORN (when it releases on April 18), one copy each to two winners.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

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