I never set out to write a book or, even more so, an award-winning children’s book series. This is how it happened: every Thanksgiving Day, my mom would ask and then tell us what Sunday we would meet to make tamales before Christmas. I always thought making tamales was like my mother telling us what to do when we were kids—clean your room, sweep the floor, water the plants, make tamales, etcetera. Later in life, I realized how important this event was for my mother, who took pride in making and sharing tamales with family and friends.
One tamale-making Sunday, my brother was doing his best to perfect the right mixture for the spreading of the masa. It was at that moment I realized that this was not our mother telling us what to do but it was our family tradition. Can you imagine, after decades of making tamales, I suddenly realized this was our family tradition? My mother was walking by and, in paying tribute to her, I said, “Mom, I am going to write a children’s book about our tradition of making tamales.” She looked at me and smiled.
I thought it would be easy to write a children’s book but it wasn’t, I had a lot to learn. I won’t get into the process, the challenges, mistakes, illustrations, and the number of times I wrote and rewrote, but it was a learning experience indeed. The end result was a true feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. I learned the two most important things about being a new author: one, write the book, and two, promote your book, because nobody knows about your book. The title of my book is Sofia’s Awesome Tamale Day and yes, my mother’s name is Sofia. Sofia is a young girl who lives with her grandmother Margarita and her funny, intelligent, and colorful parrot Pepe.
I was so excited about being an author. I told everyone, especially my friends in education, and asked if I could read in their classes. For the next month-and-a-half, I read to hundreds of students, at classrooms, assemblies, and libraries. One day I read my book twelve different times and to two or three classes at a time. After each reading, I would ask the students if they had any questions and, when time permitted, I would share process of writing, illustrating, and publishing a book. I was wondering about writing another book, so I asked the students their ideas for a story. My formula for writing a story was: there must be a purpose, a message, and I wanted my readers to learn from Sofia’s experiences. What I learned after reading to the students was that Pepe the Parrot kept students engaged with the story. Pepe is funny, entertaining, and full of surprises. In future stories, Pepe shared top billing with Sofia. Eventually I was able to locate a Pepe the Parrot puppet. As I'm reading, the students take turns being Pepe the Parrot and repeating his funny remarks. The class is engaged, and they find the new puppeteer to be comical.
Sofia’s Awesome Tamale Day received an International Latino Book Award. It was translated into Spanish and received another ILBA Award. The illustrator, Susan Klecka, received an award for her illustrations. I have received many words of encouragement to keep on writing and inspiring students to learn about their culture, traditions, and being proud of their heritage. Sofia’s Awesome Tamale Day is becoming the classic children’s Christmas story in Arizona and the Southwest.
I continued writing with this formula, with the following books in the series: In Search of the Lost Art of Making Tortillas, Isabela’s Treasure, and Sofia’s Summer Adventures. There are more stories to come!
Albert Monreal Quihuis is a Multi-Award Winning Author of “Sofia and Pepe the Parrot Adventure Series.” He writes multicultural books to inspire children to learn more about their culture, traditions, and being proud of their heritage. In 2018, he published an inspirational historical memoir, Better Than Me, Three Generations of Inner Strength, it has received several International Latino Book Award, “Most Inspirational for Young Adults” and “Best Story with a Latina Theme.” It has been approved to be taught in the classrooms. Albert’s most recent book is a self-help guide, The Legacy Journal, The Treasure Map to Life and Heritage. It has received the ILBA award “Best Gift Book.” Albert gives presentations, workshops and readings to writers, students and educators. He is a native and historian of Arizona, served in the United States Air Force and graduated from Arizona State University. Albert is always promoting his books, writing the next and outlining and research for thereafter.