The Story Behind the Story: Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! by Alexandra Alessandri
Sometimes, stories are hard, coming out in spurts and piecing together like an elaborate puzzle, requiring heaps of patience and determination. Sometimes, stories are easy. They pour out of you fully formed. Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!, illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda and releasing from Albert Whitman on October 1st, was one of the easy ones. When I sat down to write the first draft, I wrote it from beginning to end in one sitting. It was the first time that had happened to me and I didn’t know what to do with myself!
I realize now that the seeds for the story had been planted long before I sat down to write. They had been watered and nourished for several months. During January 2018, I participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm, and with Debbi Michiko Florence’s post, I remembered all those bits of my New Year’s Eve holidays with my family that I loved: the music and dancing, the food and sweets, the Año Viejo, our fun superstitions, like eating twelve grapes for good luck, having luggage ready for a well-traveled year ahead, cleaning the house to have a good start to the year. I just didn’t know what to do with these memories—yet.
Then, that New Year’s Eve, we were standing outside with friends and their shy little girl. She barely said a word and hid behind her parents. She reminded me so much of myself when I was little. When the fireworks started at midnight, though, she squealed and jumped and wouldn’t stop talking. I remember telling her, “You found your voice!” Just like that, the story for Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! burst into existence fully formed.
In many ways, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! is an ode to everything I loved about celebrating New Year’s Eve with my family. But, it’s also a validation for shy kids everywhere. Ava’s mamá tells her, “There’s nothing wrong with being shy. When you’re ready, your voice will come out and play.” That’s the message I hope will resonate with readers.