I am thrilled to share with you the cover and a sneak peak of my debut middle grade novel, Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle, which will be published by Lee & Low’s Tu Books in October 2018.
Here is the official synopsis:
The Penderwicks meets In the Heights in this sparkling middle-grade debut!
Her last name may mean "kings," but Ana María Reyes REALLY does not live in a castle. Rather, she's stuck in a tiny apartment with two parents (way too lovey-dovey), three sisters (way too dramatic), everyone's friends (way too often), and a piano (which she never gets to practice). And when her parents announce a new baby is coming, that means they'll have even less time for Ana María.
Then she hears about the Eleanor School, New York City's best private academy. If Ana María can win a scholarship, she'll be able to get out of her Washington Heights neighborhood school and achieve the education she's longed for. To stand out, she'll need to nail her piano piece at the upcoming city showcase, which means she has to practice through her sisters' hijinks, the neighbors' visits, a family trip to the Dominican Republic . . . right up until the baby's birth! But some new friends and honest conversations help her figure out what truly matters, and know that she can succeed no matter what. Ana María Reyes may not be royal, but she's certain to come out on top.
This book started out as a short story where three sisters worried about the possibility of getting a brother now that their mother was pregnant again. It was inspired by my experiences when I was six years old and my younger sister was born. Like Ana María, I have three sisters, my parents are from the Dominican Republic, and I grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. I also loved reading and school, but I never read any books about kids who were like me: bilingual, living in a small apartment with a large family, with many extended family members in another country. So I decided to write one of those books myself. Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle features a feisty girl who struggles to open her heart and her mind to what’s really important in life: family, friendships, and beautiful music. Illustrator Lissy Marlin did a fantastic job capturing Ana María’s essence and neighborhood in this dynamic cover, which I am happy to share with you now . . .
And here is an exclusive excerpt:
I walked down the hallway to the living room. Doña Dulce was not alone. As I came into the room, three people dressed in business suits stood up from the plastic-covered sofa where they had been cramped together. One young woman and two gray-haired men. My teacher shuffled toward me and took my arm. “This is Ana María, one of my best students,” she said.
“Hola, Ana María,” the woman said. “Do you speak English?”
“Of course,” I said. I squinted at her, then remembered that Gracie always said that was my are-you-an-idiot look, so I quickly opened my eyes wide.
“Oh, wonderful!” one of the men said. “My name is Alan Flynn, and these are my colleagues Ms. Alonzo and Mr. Smith. We’re from the Piano Teachers’ Association.”
This was weird. Every year Doña Dulce took her students downtown to be tested by the Piano Teachers’ Association. We each brought a list of about ten pieces we had memorized, and the association judge picked a few for us to play. Doña Dulce said this was how we knew we were really learning, and not just enough to satisfy her. This past year I scored a 92, and Sarita got a 99, even though she probably deserved a 100.
“The testers have been so impressed with the quality of Mrs. Sánchez’s students that we have invited her to bring two performers to our Winter Showcase. Are you familiar with the Winter Showcase?” I shook my head, and Mr. Flynn continued. “We cosponsor it with the Eleanor School, and top piano students from all over the city perform at Lincoln Center.”
The Eleanor School! Would the scholarship people come to the showcase? Could this help me get a full ride?
“So,” Mr. Flynn said, “we will observe your lesson today and later select the two students who will perform.”
“Okay,” I said. I just stood there, not sure what to do next. I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of that scholarship.
“Come, come, sit down.” Doña Dulce ushered me onto the piano bench. She took her usual seat in the chair beside me. The plastic on the couch grunted when the three visitors sat back down. “Let’s start with Schumann. ‘The Happy Farmer.’”
I was relieved to hear that. When I first learned to play “The Happy Farmer,” I struggled with some of the chords, but not anymore. I started loudly with my left hand, softly with the right. My fingers bounced on the keys, hitting the right notes on tempo, switching the dynamics at the correct moments, ending with a soft, slow chord. By the time I finished, I had forgotten all about the Piano Teachers’ Association people. But then I heard papers rustling and whispered voices, and, right away, I remembered. “Very well executed staccato,” one man murmured. “Great rhythm,” the woman said. I looked at Doña Dulce without turning my head. She was looking at me too. We both smiled.
The rest of the lesson went by quickly. Every time I stopped playing I heard positive comments from the association people. Then I would sit up a little taller and play a little louder for the next piece. Not to brag, but by the time I played my last piece, I probably sounded like Sarita. Doña Dulce also had me play a few scales and arpeggios to show that I had the basics down.
When my hour was over, I stood up. I wondered if I should just leave or turn around and say goodbye.
“It was very nice to meet you, Ann Marie,” Mr. Flynn said. He held his arm out and shook my hand just like a grown-up.
“Ana María,” I said.
He looked puzzled.
“My name. It’s Ana María, not Ann Marie.”
Mr. Flynn lifted his chin, frowned, and said, “Ohhh.” He looked a little annoyed.
Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, I thought. Maybe I won’t get picked now.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt, and I look forward to sharing the whole book with you in October!
Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle is available now for preorder at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.