Anika Aldamuy Denise is the author of the new children's picture book A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno: Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer!. Her other books include Planting Stories. She lives in Rhode Island.
Q: Why did you decide to write a picture book biography about Rita Moreno?
A: She has a great story. Her life and career has had highs and lows… tragedies and triumphs. She’s an inspiration to anyone working hard to reach their dreams. And I love writing about powerhouse Puertorriqueñas who break barriers.
Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?
A: I watched hours of archival footage, read Rita’s memoir, and pored over many interviews and articles. It was some of the most enjoyable research I’ve ever done, actually! I got to revisit many of her performances I knew and loved. And I discovered others as well.
I was surprised that Rita’s historic Oscar and other prestigious awards did not shield her more from prejudice and sexism in Hollywood. I probably shouldn’t have been; it’s a problem Latinx and other entertainers of color still face. But when an actor has an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony, you’d think casting directors would stop asking them to play stereotypes.
Rita eventually got fed up and quit doing films altogether for a time.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it "An inspiring account of a woman who followed her dreams." What do you hope kids take away from the book, especially when it comes to following your dreams?
A: That dreams alone won’t get you there. You have to put in the work. And that success isn’t a straight line. You will have setbacks. There will be people who tell you no and deny you a seat at the table. When that happens, you have to try again—or build your own house, put a table in it, and pull your chair up there.
Q: What do you think Leo Espinosa's illustrations add to the book?
A: Leo’s work is super kid-friendly yet also sophisticated in its stylization. He captured little Rosita and grown-up Rita beautifully. All the details, especially in the scenes of old Hollywood, are amazing. Usually I can pick a favorite spread in a book, but I can’t in this one because they are all so vibrant and lovely for different reasons.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a book about another trailblazing woman—but I can’t say who just yet because the book hasn’t been announced. Stay tuned!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Just that I’m grateful to those who are supporting authors and indie booksellers in these wildly stressful times. Thank you to the teachers, librarians, bloggers, booksellers, parents, and kids who read and share my books. And to you, Deborah, for having me!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anika Aldamuy Denise.