Family Legacies and Luchadores: An Interview with Celia C. Pérez
Come on over here. I want you to look at something:
Is that not one of the most gorgeous book jackets you’ve ever seen? Created by artist Steph C it has to go down as one of the most eye-catching of the year.
Storytime now. Long ago when I worked as a children’s librarian at NYPL, we hosted a lot of groups of kids at the Children’s Room at 42nd Street. One day a big old group of kids came in and so I did my usual schtick of telling them how a library works, booktalking three books, etc. After that they were allowed to come to my Reference Desk to ask for whatever topic they wanted. So I finish up, go to the desk, and the kids are already there and waiting for me. And, as one, they tell me precisely the books they wanted.
I have told this story multiple times for years. Partly because whenever someone asks me what gaps there are in the marketplace my mind instantly goes blank. But also because that incident happened more than a decade ago and there are STILL zip, zero, zilch large nonfiction collections of famous Mexican Wrestlers in English for kids. Go on. Tell me I’m wrong.
What we do have instead are a couple picture books (Nino by Yuyi Morales is a joy and a wonder to this day) and some middle grade fiction. No complaints there, but it still feels like there was a gap to be filled. Now the marvelous Celia C. Pérez (author of The First Rule of Punk as well as Strange Birds) comes to us with a book that Kirkus calls heartwarming and PW describes as layered. It’s called Tumble, and as the publisher says…:
“Twelve-year-old Adela “Addie” Ramírez has a big decision to make when her stepfather proposes adoption. Addie loves Alex, the only father figure she’s ever known, but with a new half brother due in a few months and a big school theater performance on her mind, everything suddenly feels like it’s moving too fast. She has a million questions, and the first is about the young man in the photo she found hidden away in her mother’s things.
Addie’s sleuthing takes her to a New Mexico ranch, and her world expands to include the legendary Bravos: Rosie and Pancho, her paternal grandparents and former professional wrestlers; Eva and Maggie, her older identical twin cousins who love to spar in and out of the ring; Uncle Mateo, whose lucha couture and advice are unmatched; and Manny, her biological father, who’s in the midst of a career comeback. As luchadores, the Bravos’s legacy is strong. But being part of a family is so much harder—it’s about showing up, taking off your mask, and working through challenges together.”
And now, a bit of a treat. Let’s talk to Ms. Perez herself about the book in full:
Betsy Bird: Celia! Thank you so much for joining me on my blog. I was a big time fan of The First Rule of Punk and always look forward to more middle grade novels from you.Tumble is coming out in August and is already raking in the starred reviews. What inspired you to write Tumble?
Celia Pérez: Thank you, Betsy! I’m happy to be here. Tumble was inspired by my middle school obsession with professional wrestling. I say middle school, but it carried into my early years of high school as well. I think my story ideas sometimes come from a desire to honor the goofy kid I was and the things that captured my imagination. Pro wrestling was a huge part of my life. I knew early on that I wanted to write about someone searching for their father. There’s likely a deep-seated reason somewhere in my brain. I mean, there definitely is, but I won’t get into that. This missing father was always a wrestler, even when initially I envisioned the story in a completely different setting than the one where Tumble takes place.
There are a lot of families in the world of wrestling, and my favorite wrestler came from a family of wrestlers that included his father and his brothers (some of their children are in the business now too). When I was a kid, I remember thinking it was so cool that this thing they did followed them through generations and was rooted so deeply to the point that you couldn’t imagine one without the other. I’ve said before that I have this fascination with traditions. In this case, it was not just the tradition of wrestling but, I guess, the tradition of family. Writing about wrestling through the lens of adulthood, there were things that stood out that I didn’t notice as a kid. There was a lot of tragedy. As a kid, I remember thinking there was something romantic about the idea that something could be so much a part of a family that they sacrificed themselves and others for it. As an adult, I can see how problematic this was.
I was intrigued by the concept of family legacies. What happens when family history and the pressure to conform to familial expectations hurts you? When is it okay to let go of age-old notions of what a family is? How does trauma seep into the blood line, moving from grandparent to parent to child and so on. These questions were all coming up as I wrote a story about a kid in search of her own roots.
I guess I was also thinking about how Latinx families are typically portrayed, not just in children’s books but in other media. We are often depicted (or depict ourselves) as big and tightknit, this extended group of people with whom we are biologically connected, family first and always. Speaking as someone whose experience doesn’t match that, it’s hard not to be bothered by the unspoken–that if you don’t fit that generalization there’s something different about you, that your experience is not quite right. Looking back at my other books, I can see that I often write small families and families that don’t fit the nuclear family mold. When I’m writing, there’s never a clear path from idea to fully formed story, so it’s always interesting to reflect when it’s all done and see the patterns. That said, Tumble is also a book about the goodness of family, biological or not—the people who love and protect and speak truth in an effort to break cycles.
BB: Are you yourself a fan of the luchadores? And I have to assume you must have done some research for the book. Where did you go and what did you look for?
CP: I haven’t watched wrestling since I was in high school in the 1980s, so I am a fan of that era of wrestling. I couldn’t tell you much about what goes on these days. I also grew up watching the Mil Máscaras movies. He is one of the most famous Mexican luchadores who also had a movie career. But yes, I always do research, even when I’m writing about a topic I feel pretty familiar with. I wanted to make Addie’s experience as authentic as possible, and I hope that if wrestling fans read the book, they come away feeling like those parts of the story rang true. I read a few books about wrestling and watched old matches online to inform writing the wrestling scenes. I also read my diaries from the mid-to-late 1980s when I was deeply entrenched in my fandom. These were funny and painful little time machines.
BB: Like a lot of Chicago-area librarians I’m constantly on the lookout for book for kids set in or around The Windy City. I remember very well when you set The First Rule of Punk in the area. Does Chicago make a cameo in the latest at all?
CP: It doesn’t. This one is set in the Southwest in the two adjoining fictional towns of Thorne and Esperanza, New Mexico. Here’s a fun fact about the naming of Thorne. The title of the book is both a reference to wrestling and to tumbleweeds which play a part in Addie’s story. In a conversation with her abuela, they talk about an episode of an old television show. I don’t name the show, but I was referring to The Outer Limits, a sci-fi TV series from the 1960s, and the episode is “Cry of Silence”. It’s about a couple that gets lost and ends up trapped inside a cabin, held captive by tumbleweeds. Look it up—it’s great! It’s like The Birds but with tumbleweeds. The last name of the couple is Thorne. But while Tumble isn’t set in Chicago, the next thing I’m planning to work on is!
BB: Excellent! Now can we praise your cover for a moment here? It is absolutely gorgeous! What were some of your initial thoughts when you first saw it?
CP: Thank you! It really is beautiful! When I learned that Steph C was going to illustrate the cover I was stoked. I’d seen her work and thought it was incredibly sophisticated. It has an edginess and darkness that I love, and I was excited to see her see her adapt her style to illustrate the cover of a children’s book. I knew she would create something unique for Tumble, and she didn’t disappoint. Kelley Brady was the cover designer. She pitched and hired Steph C, and she did an amazing job with colors and fonts and backgrounds, all the other elements that make the cover. They really did an outstanding job on the whole thing. I also have to give credit to Kristin Boyle, who supported the art direction, and Jasmin Rubero, the art director at Kokila, and Asiya Ahmed for their work on the interior and case cover design. And not related to the gorgeous art, but I would like to toot my own horn and let everyone know that I came up with the title and the tag line. Thank you! Thank you very much!
BB: Any chance of a Tumble sequel? For that matter, any chance of a First Rule of Punk or Strange Birds sequel?
CP: I sometimes fancy the idea of continuing a story so that we all find out what happens after the first book ends. A while back I was toying with the idea of YA sequel to The First Rule of Punk since those characters would be in high school now. I also think prequels for the characters in Strange Birds would be fun to write. I guess none of it is out of the realm of possibility.
BB: Finally, the most difficult question of them all: Who is your favorite luchador?
CP: Ha! Okay, so again, my references go back to the time in my life when I was a fan of wrestling. My favorite was Kevin Von Erich. He was the oldest brother of the family I mentioned earlier. I loved that he wrestled barefoot. I had a Kevin Von Erich T-shirt and was a member of the Von Erich Fan Club. In writing Tumble, I learned about a Mexican luchadora named Irma González. She was a pioneer in women’s wrestling. Her career spanned decades, and at one point she even wrestled as a tag team with her daughter. I watched some of her matches while working on the book. She’s amazing and is a new (old) favorite.
Thank you, Celia, for taking so much time to talk to us today! Tumble is out August 16th so be sure to reserve your copy today! Thanks too to Kaitlin Kneafsey and the folks at Penguin Young Readers for bringing Celia to us today.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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