Mélina Mangal writes picture books, biographies, and short stories that focus on connections with nature and culture. She is also an elementary school library media teacher, and our 28 Days Later Day 12 honoree.
Mélina Mangal is the author of The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just, winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award, Jayden’s Impossible Garden, named One of the Best Children’s Books of the Year by Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature, and the sequel, Jayden’s Secret Ingredient. Her latest YA short story appears in Boundless: Twenty Voices Celebrating Multicultural and Multiracial Identities. Mélina works and writes in Minnesota and is represented by Miranda Paul of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Learn more about Mélina and her books on her website: https://www.melinamangal.com/
My writing began with letters: to my father in Vietnam, my grandmother in France, my pen pal in Jamaica. Around sixth grade, I discovered Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes and shifted my attention to poetry, autobiography, and diary writing. That’s when I first thought of becoming a writer.
But being a writer seemed out of reach. I got a business degree in college, as I was counseled, so that I could get a job. It wasn’t until after college that I began taking writing courses, reading about craft, and writing ‘serious’ poetry. Going to graduate school to become a librarian really opened up the world of children’s literature to me, which had really expanded since I was a kid.
I became a school librarian and began writing short stories, which were published in anthologies such as Milkweed’s Stories From Where We Live series. After a writing retreat with editor Patricia Gauch, and then a week with authors like Margery Facklam, Sarah Stewart, and Rita Williams-Garcia at the Highlights Writing Workshop at Chautauqua, I was inspired to expand my writing to nonfiction and to craft longer works.
I started writing biographies of the inspiring people lacking from my school library shelves, like the trailblazing author Virginia Hamilton, which became my first book. Rita Williams-Garcia and Classic Storytellers: Mildred Taylor came next. I wished their books had been available to me when I was younger.
After becoming a parent, I became even more engrossed in picture books, and in delving deeper into my stories. The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just was my first picture book and working on it was such an amazing process, I wanted to create more. Jayden’s Impossible Garden followed, winning a Blueberry Honor as “A Book that Inspires Love of Nature and Action for Planet Earth.” The sequel, Jayden’s Secret Ingredient, continues the adventures of Jayden and Mr. Curtis.
When I first wrote Jayden’s Impossible Garden, it was way too long. In fact, it contained the elements of several stories. The second Jayden book morphed out of that first long manuscript I’d written years earlier. Jayden kept appearing to me, wanting to do more!
In addition, several facts and images kept swirling through my mind. Fifty percent of kids in the U.S. do not eat vegetables on a daily basis, according to the CDC. Neighborhood kids excitedly harvested vegetables they’d cultivated in the local Children’s Peace Garden I volunteer in. Kids gobble up the snacks they get through the school’s Fresh Fruits and Veggies program. All of those elements converged into Jayden’s Secret Ingredient.
I wanted to follow the story of Jayden, Mr. Curtis, and the plants, and to help kids understand how some of their produce is grown, and how they can grow and prepare their own. Young readers will connect with Jayden’s vegetable resistance, and will hopefully enjoy the read as a fun treat!
Positive impact or benefit of being an Amplify Cohort member
Being in the company of stellar storytellers and learning from the wide range of community members in the children’s book world make Amplify an invaluable experience. The Amplify Black Stories program opened up new avenues and spotlighted community resources to help place our stories in the hearts and hands of young readers. The many creative ideas, validating affirmations, and enriching times spent together at our retreat continue to buoy me.
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