The Inspiration behind ‘Mamá Graciela’s Secret’By Mayra Calvani
All my books have a special place in my heart, but my latest children’s picture book, Mamá Graciela’s Secret, has an even more special place. This is because it was inspired by my paternal grandmother, also named Graciela.
Mamá Graciela was a very sweet, generous, selfless person. And a passionate dog lover. She rescued many dogs not from shelters but right from the streets and at one point had like 30 dogs living under her roof. She just couldn’t stand the idea of an animal suffering the harsh life of the streets. When she saw a stray dog, she had to help. Her husband wasn’t as much a dog lover as she was but he never got in the way of her helping the dogs, which was nice.
My grandparents also had a small restaurant by the beach called La Bahía (just like in the book!) and my grandmother’s talent for making pollo frito (fried chicken) was kind of well-known in Ponce, the town in the southern coast of Puerto Rico where they lived. Initially my tale was about dogs and pollo frito, very close to the real story, but after I started the submission process, an agent told me the children’s market was saturated with dog books and she suggested I changed it to cats. So that’s what I did. This naturally led to bacalaítos fritos (codfish fritters) instead of pollo frito. It worked better because bacalaítos fritos are a traditional Puerto Rican snack, which added to the ethnic quality of the book.
Mamá Graciela also loved cats and, as I understand it, she fed them outside her home, but it was difficult and potentially dangerous to keep them indoors because of the dogs… So I knew I had to combine both critters at the end of the story. My grandmother died many years ago, but I could never forget her and her love for animals, so the idea simmered in my mind for over a decade before I was ready to put it down to paper. I’m very glad I did.
Oh wow! And now I know what bacalaítos fritos are! What a wonderful story, and I'm so glad you turned it into such a wonderful book. I guess I'm still wondering how there can be too many dog books, but I really love that you included cats and dogs on your final page. You cooked up something wonderful Mayra! Thank you for making my blog taste so nice.
Mamá Graciela’s Secret
Publication date: October 10, 2017
Written by Mayra Calvani
Illustrated by Sheila Fein
36 pages, 3-7 year olds
Reading guide at: www.MayrasSecretBookcase.com