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Book Cover Reveal: Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

Caldecott Honor winner Juana Martinez-Neal has a new book on the way – Zonia’s Rain Forest. Publishing in March 2021.

Today we get a first look at the cover, but first, I had a few questions for Juana:

Travis: What was the spark that led to Zonia’s Rain Forest?

Juana Martinez-Neal: Hi, Travis! Thank you for having me! Here we are talking about my second picture book as an author and illustrator. Did you know that by the time Zonia is released, it will be three years since Alma and How She Got Her Name (and Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre) was published? Time flies!

This is my first time talking about Zonia’s Rain Forest and La selva de Zonia. I am SO excited to be sharing the news here with you and the world! 

Books materialize to me slowly. I find myself chasing an idea that I can’t quite recognize until I can understand that I’m making a book and what that book is about. That was the case with Zonia, which is about the Amazon rain forest, specifically about the Peruvian Amazon. As a Peruvian who now lives in the US, I wanted to share a lesser known area of Peru. Zonia is also about the resolve and determination of the indigenous people and the love for their lands.

In the middle of working on Zonia, I decided to spend a few weeks visiting different indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon. I was there when I received the call from the Caldecott committee about Alma!

Just like Alma, Zonia will be simultaneously released in English and Spanish. Both editions will include the Asháninka translation of the manuscript. Zonia is Asháninka, and as this is her language I felt it needed to be included in the picture book. 

Travis: How did you illustrate the book?

Juana: I had fallen in love with printmaking during my art school days, yet hadn’t had a chance to use my carving tools, wood blocks, and rollers for twenty-five years ever since I left Peru and moved to the US. As the idea of Zonia was slowly shaping up in my head, I could see how this book was the perfect project to include printmaking techniques to show the lushness of the greenery of the rain forest. The woodcuts and linocuts created patterns and details while the imperfections of the transfers gave the perfect organic feel of the Amazon. The characters are painted with my mixed media technique using acrylics, colored pencils, and gesso. All pieces were painted on paper handmade by a group of indigenous women from the Peruvian Amazon. It is made out of the bark of banana trees, which makes it uneven, rough, and full of texture. I brought the paper back with me from my trip, as I wanted every detail of the book to reflect the Peruvian rain forest.

Travis: What was the biggest challenge in creating Zonia’s Rain Forest?

Juana: I can easily answer this question. The biggest challenge was finding the right ending for the story. It was very important for me to be honest about the current situation in the Peruvian Amazon. I look forward to hearing what the young readers think of the book. 

Travis: An Important Question: What snack puts you in peak creativity mode?

Juana: This is funny, Travis. Until you asked, I hadn’t realized that I stopped bringing snacks to the (working) table. I used to love mini carrots dipped in red bell pepper–flavored hummus. Sometimes almonds. But now . . . now I’m running on pure adrenaline from pandemic fears and political chaos. The book at my table, the one I wake up trying to solve every morning, is my constant. My work helps me stay focused and balanced and puts me in peak creativity mode. 

And now, I am curious to know, what is your creativity-inducing snack, Travis?

Travis: Definitely trail mix!

And now, for the first time, the covers for the English and Spanish versions of Zonia’s Rain Forest:

From the publisher:

A heartfelt, visually stunning picture book from the Caldecott Honor and Sibert Medal Winner illuminates a young girl’s day of play and adventure in the lush rain forest of Peru.

Zonia’s home is the Amazon rain forest, where it is always green and full of life. Every morning, the rain forest calls to Zonia, and every morning she answers. She visits the sloth family, greets the giant anteater, and runs with the speedy jaguar. But one morning, the rain forest calls to her in a troubled voice. How will Zonia answer?

Acclaimed author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal explores the wonders of the rain forest with Zonia, an Asháninka girl, in her joyful outdoor adventures. The engaging text emphasizes Zonia’s empowering bond with her home, while the illustrations-created on paper made from banana bark-burst with luxuriant greens and delicate details. Illuminating back matter includes a translation of the story in Asháninka, information on the Asháninka community, as well as resources on the Amazon rain forest and its wildlife. 

Juana-Martinez Neal is the Peruvian-born daughter and granddaughter of painters. Her debut as an author-illustrator, Alma and How She Got Her Name, was awarded a Caldecott Honor and was published in Spanish as Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre. She has also illustrated La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, for which she won a Pura Belpré Illustrator Award, Babymoon by Hayley Barrett, and Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, which won the Robert F. Sibert Medal. Juana lives in Arizona with her family. Visit her online at www.juanamartinezneal.com

Thank you, Laura Rivas and Juana Martinez-Neal!

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.