Nonfiction Monday: Interview with Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

Friday, September 17 is Constitution Day. Carmen T. Bernier-Grand has just published a book on Sonia Soto Mayor: Supreme Court Justice.  It’s a great tie-in to talking with K5 students about the Constitution and one  branch of government.  She has other  biographies for kids; Cesar:Si se puede!, Yes, We Can, Frida:!Viva La vida! Long Live Life!, and Diego Bigger Than Life  After I stopped by her house to pick up her latest book, I sent here questions to answer for this interview.

 JRM:  Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice was just published. When did you decide that you wanted to do a book on Sonia Sotomayor?

CTG: When the media began to talk about Sotomayor as a possible justice, author Eric Kimmel told me to write about her. As soon as the rumors became reality, I approached my editor.  

JRM:  How did you go about researching for the book?

CTG: All I had was Internet and newspapers. 

JRM: Were you able to interview Justice Sotomayor? What was that like?

CTG: By the time I’d learned enough to know what to ask, the government had closed all doors to reach her or reach her family. But I interviewed her cousin in Puerto Rico, and Justice Sotomayor read the manuscript.

JRM: There is so much about Sotomayor’s life.  How did you determine what to use?

CTG: I always look for story arc. Justice Sotomayor’s life has had enough ups and downs with a main goal: To succeed.

JRM: Was there an aspect in her life you wished that you could have put in but didn’t?

CTG:  She put her ex-husband through college, and then they divorced. They remained friends, so I didn’t say anything about her sacrificing for him.  

JRM: What unexpected outcomes did you have writing this biography?

CTG: I was going to be in Washington DC, so I tried to meet her. They  finally said no because the end of the Supreme Court term is busy time.  But the CIA investigated me! 

JRM: You write in free verse (which I love).  Is the first draft in free verse or does that come with revision?

CTG:  Let’s get the record straight. I don’t consider myself a poet. The biographies are coming to me that way. It’s hard to control the brain of a writer.

JRM: You were a math major.   How did a math major end up as a writer?

CTGI was always a writer but didn’t know it. I stared (still do) at strangers to find out their point-of-view. I was always making up stories. I looked at the pictures in the comics and made up my own stories and dialogue before reading the bubbles.

JRM:   What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult? Any particular genre stand out?

CTG: I grew up without a library or bookstore. The first story I remember reading was Caps for Sale. It was in a school anthology, in English or Spanish? I grew up among storytellers. It’s part of the TVless culture. As a teen, I read classics in Spanish such as Don Quijote.  As an adult, I read mostly children and young adult books. Realistic and historical fiction stand out.   

JRM:  What books are on your nightstand?

CTG: You saw my house. We have books everywhere! Right now I am reading Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins.

JRM: Oh, I loved Bamboo People.  I read it in one sitting.  Where do you find inspiration?

CTG: Everywhere! I have too many stories to tell and too little time to write them. Reading poetry always inspires me.  

JRM: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

CTG: Revising. Putting down the story down is painful.

JRM:  Favorite time of the day to work?

CTG: All day, every day.

JRM: Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?

CTG: Dark. I am lactose intolerant.

JRM:   Dance: funky chicken or the tango?

CTG: Funky chicken. I am a Puerto Rican who doesn’t know how to dance salsa.

JRM: When you aren’t writing, what might we find you doing?

CTG: Reading. I also give presentations in schools, and work for Writers in the Schools and the Whidbey Island MFA program.

JRM:  What is up next for you?

CTG: Raúl Colón is illustrating Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina (Fall 2011) and Tonya Entrin is illustrating Virgen de Guadalupe (2012).Thanks to a fellowship from Portland Literary Arts, I’ll be going to France and Spain to research Picasso.

JRM: Lucky you to be traveling for research in France and Spain. Thank you, Carmen.

Carmen has a terrific website HERE. She is very active in the local Portland  area SCBWI happenings.  Last spring, I participated in her workshop at the annual SCBWI-Oregon conference.  Next week I will review her book on Sonia Sotomayor.

Carol from Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is hosting Nonfiction Monday. Thanks, Carol.

Happy Reading.



4 thoughts on “Nonfiction Monday: Interview with Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

  1. Congratulations on the new book, Carmen!

    My girls were so impressed by Sonia Sotomayor, when she was in the news. I’m thrilled to see a book that will be an inspiration to kids for decades to come. I love the idea of a kid reading your book and thinking well if Sonia can do it, so can I, and then dreaming big and making it to college and beyond.

  2. Pingback: Rasco From RIF » NONFICTION MONDAY, yes, right here!

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