Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Latinx Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where between September 15th and October 15th, Latinx authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Latinx and Latinx books. Find the introduction post for Latinx Heritage Month at The Quiet Pond here.
Late last year, I had the absolute delight of coming across Love, Sugar, Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano and thought it was such a delightful book! If you haven’t read it, Love, Sugar, Magic is a lovely middle grade series about a Leo, a young Mexican girl whose family owns a beloved bakery – and finds out that the women in her family are brujas! This book is filled with so much goodness, magic, and hijinks and I had so much fun reading it.
When I reached out to Anna Meriano and asked whether she would like to visit the Pond, I was delighted to hear that not only did she say ‘yes’ (yay!), she also proposed the coolest idea: rather than me interviewing her, Anna proposed that she would interview the Pond friends and recommend us some Latinx books based on the Pond friends’s answers! I mean, how fun is that?
Therefore, it is my pleasure to welcome Anna to the Pond today! She’s visiting us as a hummingbird – with a braid! – and I’m so happy to have her visiting us at the Pond to talk to the Pond friends.
But before I show you all the wonderful post Anna and I put together, I’d like to share with you all Anna’s upcoming YA book, This is How We Fly!
This is How We Fly by Anna Meriano
A loose retelling of Cinderella, about a high-school graduate who–after getting grounded for the whole summer–joins a local Quidditch league and finds her footing, perfect for fans of Dumplin’, Fangirl, and everyone who’s read and adored Harry Potter.
17-year-old vegan feminist Ellen Lopez-Rourke has one muggy Houston summer left before college. She plans to spend every last moment with her two best friends before they go off to the opposite ends of Texas for school. But when Ellen is grounded for the entire summer by her (sometimes) evil stepmother, all her plans are thrown out the window.
Determined to do something with her time, Ellen (with the help of BFF Melissa) convinces her parents to let her join the local muggle Quidditch team. An all-gender, full-contact game, Quidditch isn’t quite what Ellen expects. There’s no flying, no magic, just a bunch of scrappy players holding PVC pipe between their legs and throwing dodgeballs. Suddenly Ellen is thrown into the very different world of sports: her life is all practices, training, and running with a group of Harry Potter fans.
Even as Melissa pulls away to pursue new relationships and their other BFF Xiumiao seems more interested in moving on from high school (and from Ellen), Ellen is steadily finding a place among her teammates. Maybe Quidditch is where she belongs.
But with her home life and friend troubles quickly spinning out of control–Ellen must fight for the future that she wants, now she’s playing for keeps.
Listen, I love a good contemporary, but give me a retelling of a timeless classic – and in This is How We Fly, it’s a loose retelling of Cinderella! – then you can count me in. Rather than seeing this book as something Harry Potter-adjacent, I want to see This is How We Fly as a book about finding your people in fandom, friendship, and inclusion. I can’t wait to read this.
The Pond Friends are Interviewed by Anna Meriano!
Anna: Hi Pond friends! So excited to be visiting The Quiet Pond for Latinx Heritage month! I heard y’all read the Love Sugar Magic series (thanks for that!) and were looking for your next great Latinx read, so I thought I could recommend some of my favorite new and upcoming books!
But in order to give you the best recommendation possible, I’m going to need to know a little bit more about y’all. PREPARE TO BE INTERVIEWED!
Q1: The main character of Love Sugar Magic, Leo, is the youngest of five sisters. Isabel, the oldest sister, is responsible and detail-oriented and likes to be right about everything. Marisol, the second-oldest, is creative and friendly but has a mean sense of humor and can be grumpy. Alma and Belén are twin sisters who like costumes and anime and can talk to ghosts–sometimes it seems like they live in their own world! And of course, Leo is determined (some might even say stubborn) and acts boldly to help her friends and family, but she gets her feelings hurt easily and doesn’t always think things through.
Which sister are you most like? Or do you relate to another character in the series like Caroline or Brent or JP?
Xiaolong: From all of us here at the Pond, we just want to say a big welcome to the Pond, Anna! We are so excited to have you visit the Pond today, especially since we all love Love Sugar Magic. I think I am definitely like Leo – we both are determined to do our best and we’d do anything to help our loved ones! And, well, sometimes I get so excited that I definitely don’t things through. One time, the sun was really hot so I was worried that the sun was getting into Gen’s eyes when he was gardening… I didn’t aim my spell properly and instead of making his hat bigger, I made the bee sitting on his hat bigger! He got such a fright — oops!
Varian: Welcome, Anna! I have to say, I believe this is my first time ever being interviewed so I am honoured to be a part of this. My name is Gen, and I’m the resident Toadshifter at the Pond. They/them pronouns, please.
I remember when Xiaolong first read Love Sugar Magic – she spent the whole night excitedly talking about the Logroño sisters and all the sweets in the book. Of the five sisters, I’m a mix of Isabel and Marisol and the twins. I feel like I’m the parent of the Pond, so I feel like I have an obligation to be responsible and detail-orientated, just like Marisol. I express my creativity through sewing-magic and the costumes I make, but I have the tendency to be grumpy too – which, I suppose, comes with being the oldest at the Pond.
Gen: Oh, I don’t think you are grumpy at all, Varian!
Varian: Well, that’s sweet of you, Gen. Who do you think you’re most like? *whispers* Gen is a bit shy, so he needs some encouragement!
Gen: Oh… hello Anna! It’s very nice to meet you. My name is Gen, and Xiaolong calls me the Tortoise Apothecarist. When I told Xiaolong that I wanted to be just ‘Gen’, she said that it would be cool to have a fancy title. And uhm, I think I’m most like both Alma and Belén. When I’m in my garden, I feel like I am in my own world and I love talking to the forest spirits and the bees and the insects. Xiaolong always asks who I’m talking to, and I feel like Alma and Belén would probably get that question a lot.
Anna: Wow, thanks everyone for your thoughtful answers! One of my favorite things about reading is relating to new characters. And I’m so glad you mentioned gardening, Gen, because it leads perfectly into…
Q2: Leo spends most of the series improving her craft as a baking bruja–that means she practices baking, studies the magical properties of herbs and spices, and even tries out different magical techniques in each book. Sometimes she does this behind her family’s back, and sometimes she does it with their help, but she’s always striving toward her goal because she wants to follow in the footsteps of her ancestors and make her family proud. Do you have a special interest you work very hard on, or a goal you really want to achieve? Why is it important to you?
Xiaolong: Oh wow, Anna! You ask some hard questions! Let me think… Varian, Gen, you both go first!
Varian: Of course Xiaolong – it’s an easy one for me! Sewing and improving my sewing-magic is certainly my interest that I dedicate myself to. Sewing and creating beautiful garments is my way of expressing myself and the inspiration I feel when I come across something wonderful. Better yet, when people see my sewing, I hope they feel my love for what I do, which I hope inspires them. Sewing is important to me, because, well, all the toads in my family are good at everything and they don’t quite believe in being good at one thing. But I love sewing and I want spend my time doing one thing that I love, over many things I may not even like.
Gen: Oh, well, for me, it is definitely gardening! I love being out in the garden and looking after all the baby plants; it makes me happy and if I’m ever feeling anxious or worried, I stop thinking about it because I am focused on caring for something. But it’s not just caring for the plants… gardening is also my way of caring for everyone at home too because I also grow vegetables and fruits for us to eat! And also medicine in case any of us get the sniffles. And that’s why it’s important to me, I think — because gardening is my way for caring for others!
Xiaolong: Oh no, both Varian and Gen’s answers are so good! *breathes deeply* Okay. This sounds really corny but… making people happy is my interest. It’s kind of my life goal! And I do what I can to make people happy. One way is being friends with people and making sure that they feel happy. Another way is doing what I can to make sure that people are heard. And maybe another way is talking about something that makes me happy, so that someone can find that happiness too. Oh! And just reminding people that who they are is beautiful. And it’s important to me because… well, I know what it’s like to feel lonely. It’s not a nice feeling. So I want to be able to spread the magic of joy to everyone I meet so they feel less alone!
Anna: That doesn’t sound cheesy at all, Xiaolong! It sounds beautiful. Everyone had such great answers, and I’m starting to think of some good books for each of you, but I have one last important question…
Q3: As a writer and a reader, I love to notice how characters grow and change over a book and a series. Throughout the Love Sugar Magic series, Leo grows into her skills and into her place in the family. In my new book, which is partly based on my experiences playing quidditch as a real life sport, my main character Ellen grows to be an athlete and a more confident young adult. Can you tell me about a mistake you’ve made or a challenge you’ve faced that helped you grow?
Xiaolong: Oh, I make mistakes all the time! I’m not afraid to admit it. But I think something I always do is that I always act before I think and that sometimes means that other people have to look out for me. I mean, I don’t mean to make it difficult for people. Sometimes my feet move before I can think and suddenly – woah! I’m in a bad situation. So, sometimes I have to tell myself that I need to stop and think and know that I can help my friends with my friends.
Gen: Uhm, well, it’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I have a lot of days where I feel like all I do are mistakes. And those days are hard. When I have these sort of days, I have to remind myself that my friends are here for me and that they will help me if I tell them that I need help. But saying something can be so hard sometimes. What I’m trying to say is, is that a mistake I make often is not telling my friends when I am down. The other day, when I actually did tell my friends that I needed help – they helped me! And they took some time to do some gardening with me and it made me feel so much better and it taught me that they’ll always be there for me.
Varian: This is a good question, Anna! A thought-provoking one. I suppose a mistake I’ve made – and have made several times – is that I am too hard on myself. For instance, the barrier that we use at the Pond is a set of complex spells that interweave with each other; it’s like a delicate fabric. Awhile ago, I was under pressure and I wasn’t able to cast the barrier right… and it put everyone I loved in danger. It wasn’t my fault, I realise that now, but I know set very high standards for myself, so when I make mistakes, I figuratively beat myself up for it. But as my friends tell me, it’s okay to make mistakes and I don’t need to make it worse for myself.
Anna: Wow, thanks so much for sharing. I can really relate to being too hard on myself, and to not always knowing how to ask for help. Even though it can be tough to talk about our mistakes, this really helps me understand where you’re coming from!
Anna Recommends the Pond Friends Books!
Now that I’ve gotten to know everyone a little bit, I have some ideas for what book you might like to pick up next!
Xiaolong— your answers immediately made me think of a book I adore, MUSE SQUAD: THE CASSANDRA CURSE by Chantel Acevedo! Callie has a special power to inspire people around her to be their most heroic, but she sometimes acts rashly and ends up with some pretty epic consequences for her actions! Another book you might love (that isn’t out yet but will come out soon!) is CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS by Kaela Rivera. I think you’ll enjoy how the protagonist of this book, Cece, is fierce and powerful while staying positive and loving.
Varian–You were my toughest recommendation, but I think I’ve found some good ideas for someone who’s so passionate and perfectionistic. My first recommendation (maybe you’ve read it already?) is THE MOON WITHIN by Aida Salazar, one of my favorites. Celi is a character who has a passion for dance and a lot of love for her friends and family, even when she’s fighting with them. And bonus points for a genderqueer character! I also think you might like the recent release LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE by Donna Barba Higuera. I thought about it when you told me how you’d like to do one thing really well–Lupe starts the book out very proud of her baseball skills and extremely unexcited to learn square dancing in PE. She tries to come up with lots of ways to skip dancing (and ends up annoying some of her classmates and teachers) but she tries hard to fix things when she accidentally causes problems for the people closest to her.
Gen— I love (and relate to) how you talked about being in your own world but also caring deeply about the people around you and needing their support. It made me think of Danny from THE WAY TO RIO LUNA by Zoraida Córdova, who has a big imagination and who will do anything to find his big sister. I also wondered if you’ve had a chance to read DEFINITELY DAPHNE by Tami Charles, which is all about a character who feels shy starting at a new school but confident when she’s making videos online.
I hope these recommendations have been helpful, and I look forward to the rest of my visit here at the pond! (any chance I can try some of those snacks from the garden, Gen?) Thanks so much for having me!
About the Author
Anna Meriano is the author of the Love Sugar Magic series and the upcoming This Is How We Fly. She graduated from Rice University with a degree in English and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in writing for children from the New School in New York. She works as a writing teacher and tutor in her hometown of Houston. Anna likes reading, knitting, and playing full-contact quidditch.