Hey there, Tanya! Welcome to the MG Book Village! We’re thrilled to be hosting your cover reveal, and are grateful you chose us to host it! Before we get to all of that, though, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, everyone! I’m Tanya Guerrero, an MG author based in the Philippines. In my free time, I love to bake sourdough bread, grow my own fruits and veggies, and of course read. I also volunteer for an animal welfare organization, and have my own mini-rescue at home. Don’t ask me how many cats and dogs I have—though, I’m sure my 9-year old daughter would love to tell each and every one of you!
The book whose cover you’re here to reveal – HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA – is your debut, right? Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?
Yes, it is my debut. Though, I have shelved a couple of YA books before it. Initially, I wanted to write stories for teens, but after an editor commented that my voice seemed more suited for a younger audience, I got to thinking. Why not MG?
Growing up, books were a huge part of my childhood, particularly MG books like Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A Wrinkle in Time, and pretty much anything by Judy Blume. These stories were of solace to me, something I could escape to when times were tough. I was pretty much THAT kid who read way past her bedtime with a flashlight under the covers.
Reminiscing about those anxiety-filled middle school years, and how much I relied on those books for comfort, convinced me to shift my storytelling to focus on the upper-MG market. After all, I seemed to have a younger voice, anyway. So, that’s how I came to write, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, which thankfully, was acquired by FSG BYR/Macmillan very early into submissions.
Thank you for sharing all that. It’s great for others to hear about the road to publication — it’s almost never a quick or easy one! Now, let’s get to the book itself. What is HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA all about?
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA is about a 12-year old boy named Pablo who finds himself moving from country to country with his single mom after his parents go through a messy divorce. With each move, his anxiety—more specifically, his aversion to dirt and germs, his obsessive behaviors, and his fear of the sea—are exacerbated.
When they move to the Philippines, where his mom is hired as a zoologist for a local wildlife refuge, things get way worse. His mom is too busy saving animals to notice that maybe Pablo needs saving, too. Then, unexpectedly, Chiqui, an orphaned Filipino girl with a cleft lip comes to live with them. At first, Pablo’s life is turned upside down. But as he gets to know Chiqui, he realizes that through being strong for her, maybe his own fears don’t seem quite as scary.
He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.
Is there anything about your own childhood that inspired HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?
Definitely! In many ways, what Pablo goes through reflects a lot of the emotions I had as a child. When my parents separated, my sister and me moved to Spain to live with our grandparents. Although I’d been to Spain before on family vacations, it was a completely different story living and going to school there. I barely knew any Spanish, and had to learn quickly. And then there was all the anxiety related to missing my parents and my extended family and friends. After a few years in Spain, it was decided that we’d move to New York City. We had to start all over again. New place, new schools, new friends. Although I knew how to speak English, the American culture was quite new to me, other than what I’d already seen on TV. Even after I managed to assimilate, that feeling of being an outsider—an immigrant—never really disappeared. Then, several years later, when I was twelve going on thirteen, I moved back to the Philippines. A new start. Again. It was a strange time for me. I had been away for so long that I felt completely removed from my own culture—like a foreigner even though I’m half-Filipino.
All these experiences inspired what Pablo goes through. I made his character half-Spanish and half-American to reflect my mom’s side of the family and the many years I lived in the US. The fact that he feels disconnected to his life in the Philippines mirrors the same feelings I had when I moved back. Through his character, I show what it was like to learn, to discover, to appreciate the Filipino culture, especially the Filipino people.
I felt it necessary to write about the experience of being an immigrant, and a third culture kid, because I’d never really seen any children’s books that reflected my own experience. And although not all kids will see themselves in Pablo’s story, I’m quite sure that there are many who will.
Though some of my childhood experiences were difficult, at the end, I think all the moving around definitely made me into a better person. That’s the kind of ending I want for Pablo, too. And I think, ultimately, readers will feel a lot of hope for Pablo’s future after they finish the book.
Were there any challenges associated with writing a story set in another country for a book primarily aimed at American readers?
Sure, there were some challenges, namely making sure that the foreign words and phrases (Tagalog and Spanish) would somehow not get lost in translation (or rather in non-translation). There were several instances where I didn’t want to offer many hints as to what was being said, because that’s a big part of being a foreigner in a foreign land. Not understanding the language can create a lot of anxiety and barriers for a child trying to fit in. Although, as an educational reference, we did decide to include a glossary of Tagalog words and phrases at the back of the book.
The other challenge was making sure that the place—the Philippines—would also be a character of its own. I felt it was important to describe everything as vividly as possible, to infuse as much of the culture as I could, through a variety of settings, food references, and especially Filipino humor, which is such an important part of everyday life in the Philippines.
Besides those challenges, I found it relatively easy to make my characters and story appealing to American readers. Having lived in the US for a large chunk of my childhood and adult years, I knew how to make certain aspects more relatable. I found the key was really in presenting universal themes that anyone could understand no matter where they came from.
What do you hope your readers—particularly the young ones—will take away from HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?
For me what’s most important is that children, especially American children, open up their eyes to the world outside of their own country. I think now, more than ever, is the time for us, as humans, to try and connect, to find those universal themes of love, family, friendship, and home in one another, despite the borders and seas that separate us. It’s only then that we’ll realize that perhaps our similarities outweigh our differences.
Beautifully put. Now, let’s get to what you’re here to do – reveal your cover! Were you involved in the process at all?
Yay! To be honest, I wasn’t too involved in creating the artwork. I have a lot of faith in my editors Joy Peskin and Trisha de Guzman, especially since Trisha was born in the Philippines and only moved to the US when she was seven—so culturally, we had that connection. When they hired a talented artist, Christine Almeda, who is also Filipino-American, I knew that I had nothing to worry about. So I just let the professionals do their jobs and did my best to trust the process!
What did you think when you first saw the art?
What struck me the most at first glance were the colors! It was so spot on, because so much of the scenery in the Philippines is full of color, from the verdant foliage, to the bright tropical flowers, to the blues of the sea and the sky. I also loved how Christine made the plants so lush and distinctly tropical. It’s really obvious that it’s not a beach scene in the US.
I also thought that the body language was just right. Pablo holding his knees against his chest, his face without a smile, looking off into the distance, shows his fear and anxiety perfectly. His back is facing Chiqui, which says a lot about how he first feels when she enters his life.
I think the cover will really appeal to both girls and boys—a definite plus in my opinion, since I’m a huge advocate of gender neutral media for children.
I couldn’t be happier with the artwork and stellar book design by Aram Kim.
Okay – let’s see it!
Tanya! It’s FANTASTIC! Not that I’m surprised, with Christine and Aram behind it — but WOW. I can’t imagine anyone walking by this book and not picking it up to learn more.
Speaking of which — when can readers get their hands on HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, and where can they learn more about you and your work?
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Book Depository and other outlets, but will release on March 31st, 2020.
Please make sure to add it up on Goodreads here:
I can also be reached through my website:
Tanya Guerrero is Filipino and Spanish by birth, but spent her childhood living in three continents—Asia, Europe and North America. Upon graduating from high school, she moved to Boston and attended Boston University, where she studied screenwriting. Over the course of eleven years, she’s worked as photo editor in children’s educational publishing, operated her own photo studio and freelanced as a writer.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, her debut middle-grade novel will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers/Macmillan on March 31st, 2020. Currently, she lives in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila with her husband, her daughter, and a menagerie of rescued cats and dogs. In her free time, she grows her own food, bakes sourdough bread and reads lots of books.