..." /> Aya de Leon is TALKING TO HERSELF...about her new chapter book EQUALITY GIRLS - Mutha Magazine


Published on June 9th, 2020 | by Aya de Leon


Aya de Leon is TALKING TO HERSELF…about her new chapter book EQUALITY GIRLS

Here in the pandemic, we find ourselves having to be much more self-sufficient than ever before. In that DIY spirit, I decided to publish a children’s chapter book. Now, more than ever, books are our kids’ only access to worlds outside of our shelter-in-place homes. And I wanted kids to have access to one of the stories I had been sitting on for years, the story of a girl who gets in a freak accident and develops the superpower to shoot laser rays out of her eyes when she gets angry about sexism.

As a contributor to MUTHA Magazine, I wanted to do an interview for the site about the book, but I didn’t want to bug an overworked activist or writer or mom (or activist/writer/mom) to do the interview. So in that DIY spirit (and actually a longstanding tradition in publishing), I was going to interview myself, but play it off like it was someone else. Mutha editor Meg Lemke suggested that we just be out about it, as everyone is out here just talking to themselves in self-quarantine. So I am officially interviewing myself here…Moms getting it done!


Fourth grader Daniela Santiago gets knocked out in a freak accident involving her dog, a laser and a wad of grape gum. She wakes up with a strange superpower! Now, when she sees girls being excluded or put down, she gets so mad that things get out of hand. Purple laser rays shoot from her eyes and mean boys get a taste of their own medicine. She gets mad once again hearing news reports that the president refused to sign the Gender Equality Bill. Can Daniela and her friends find a way to use her power for good? When the president comes to judge a tween beauty contest, they might just get their chance!

Aya the Interviewer: So, how did you come up with the idea for EQUALITY GIRLS? 

Aya the Author: We got the book SUPER DIAPER BABY a few years ago, and it was really funny. We were literally laughing out loud. They did a great job of finding a level of humor that was adult enough to engage me, but not so adult that it was inappropriate for kids. There are a whole slew of books in this genre. But most of them are written by men and have boys as protagonists. I thought to myself, what would be the version of this for girls? But then that led to the question of what the joke would be about. Most of those books are all about potty humor. And I’m all for it, but I wanted us to be able to laugh at something else.

Aya Interviewer: And that something else was sexism?

Aya Author: yes, I was recently at the Science Fiction Writers Association conference—the Nebulas–attending a zoom panel on science fiction/fantasy Middle Grade fiction. Carlos Hernandez author of SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE. “A lot of the time, we think humor equals light, but humor is just wrongness we agree to laugh at together.” I love this. Because I see this as the place that we can laugh together at sexism as a form of resistance.

Interviewer: that was what you were aiming for?

Author: And I hope I achieved it. At least, when I read the final version to my kid, we were both laughing so hard I had to stop reading. So either it was funny or I was so exhausted at the end of the day in the middle of a goddamn pandemic that we just needed the laugh. Either way, I stand by my work here.

Interviewer: So not only did you write the book, you also illustrated it?

Author: Yes, and thank goodness I got that part done before the pandemic hit. I must have gone to the local art supply ten times to get different materials, because I am not usually an illustrator. But I have drawn a few things in the past, and this seemed like my big chance to do visual art again.

Interviewer: Did you draw it on the computer or just do it freehand?

Author: I drew the outline in bold black ink, but then I’d white out the mistakes and photocopy the outline and correct them until I got it right. I didn’t want to have to draw the whole outline over again any more than I had to. By the time I finished, I had copied it like 20 times. Working moms gotta cut corners!

Interviewer: So you let go of perfectionism?

Author: Perfectionism? I used my universal motherhood decree: “LOWER THE BAR!” I mean, I’d like to see the society up the bar for what we want for our children, but as a mom, you gotta constantly cut yourself the slack. I try to push myself to really show up and prioritize my child’s emotional well-being, and pretty much everything else can go to hell. The state of the house, homework, and certainly the design for this book. If you look closely at the cover, you can even see some of the copy spots in the background from all the generations of copies, when there was dust or something on the glass of the copier I was using. I was just like, it’s self-published and I don’t have time to white out these damn little dots.

Interviewer: Self-publishing has historically been frowned upon, although it’s getting more respect now. And you have a publisher for your adult books. Why did you decide to go self-pub?

Author: I have sent chapter book manuscripts to my agent and she has been lukewarm. She handles mostly adult books and complains that the characters in my chapter books aren’t very developed. But that’s part of the genre. They’re short, don’t use very long words, and are just not that deep. Also, they have really low price points, so they don’t make much money. Instead of paying writers to develop new concepts, many publishers source their chapter books with protagonists from TV shows, movies, comic books, or other pre-existing character franchises. They are more about licensing than actual development. And this is something every mom knows from going to bookstores to look for something interesting and just finding twenty books about the latest Disney movie and another twenty about existing characters in TV that are problematic. Picture books are more diverse, and middle grade novels become more interesting, but chapter books are kind of a swamp of mediocrity.

I love my chapter book concept, though. And I felt some sense of urgency. I wanted to publish it while my kid was still in elementary school—young enough to be part of the experience. I decided to take the path of least resistance and to self-publish.

Interviewer: And the book is also about the president?

Author: No, not at all. In the front of the book, it says that “The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.”

Interviewer: But the book contains a sexist president with a combover who judges beauty contests.

Author: Yeah, and if there’s a president like that out there somewhere, then it’s a coincidence. But ultimately, I decided to publish the book this year, because the unnamed president is inspired by our current times. I deeply hope that in 2021, the book will be dated, because we will have a different president. I am deeply disappointed with the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, and how much he appears to be a misogynist. But I am still prepared to reframe him as a harm reduction strategy against fascism. The thought that we would have the same president next year is unthinkable. But beyond that, I wanted this book to be part of the resistance to sexist male authority, to be part of the wave of female rage that has been rising since 2016. A cute and funny book that will be even cuter and funnier next year after we have a regime change.



Thursday, June 11th

4pm PDT/7pm EDT

Click here for launch info!

 Buy the book from an indie bookstore owned by a Latinx mom!

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About the Author

Aya de León teaches creative writing at U.C. Berkeley. Kensington Books publishes her adult novels, her award-winning “Justice Hustlers” feminist heist series (which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico), A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about a young Black woman FBI agent who infiltrates an African American political organization fighting for climate justice and Black Lives (out now), and QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECY about women in hip hop, police violence and the climate crisis (out now). In October 2021, Aya published a young adult thriller about a pair of undocumented Dominican teen girls who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop the Green New Deal called THE MYSTERY WOMAN IN ROOM THREE. Given the climate emergency, this novel was too politically urgent for traditional publishing, so it was serialized in in six installments on Orion Magazine, and is available free of charge. In October 2022, her next young adult novel comes out from Candlewick Books, UNDERCOVER LATINA—about a 14-year-old spy who passes for white to stop a white nationalist terrorist—the first in a Black/Latina spy girl series. In spring 2022, Aya is producing a free online conference called Black Literature vs. The Climate Emergency at UC Berkeley African American Studies. Aya is also working on a memoir of her body that explores the intersection of food, body image, race, and the environment. Finally, her Justice Hustlers series has been optioned for television, and she is currently working on the pilot. Find her at ayadeleon.com

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