Angela Cervantes celebrates diversity through her writing

As a child, Angela Cervantes rarely encountered books with Mexican-American characters. Her father, however, would bring home biographies of Mexican artists or mythologies of the Mayans and Aztecs.

“I remember opening a book by Frida Kahlo and I immediately connected with her,” Cervantes said. “She kind of looked like me. She had beautiful flowers in her hair. She looked very interesting, so I always connected to her. I thought she was very strong and brave, that sort of spoke to me.”

From that discovery of the iconic Mexican artist, Cervantes bought her diary and has visited Kahlo’s child-hood home at least four times in an effort to get to know the artist.

Her latest children’s book, “Me, Frida and the Secret of the Peacock Ring,” pays homage to Kahlo. The book’s main character Paloma Marquez is a Kansas girl — just like Cervantes — accompanying her mom on a four-day trip to Coyoacán, Mexico, where Kahlo’s home, La Casa Azul, is located. During the trip, Paloma attempts to solve the mystery of the missing piece of jewelry that once belonged to the artist.

“I thought it would be really fun to write a mystery novel that somehow involved art,” Cervantes said. “I couldn’t think of anyone better than Frida Kahlo’s art to focus the book around.”

The book was published in March of this year and was recently named to the Texas Library Association’s Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List. Cervantes, who lived in Brownsville for two years in the mid-1990s when she was a part of AmeriCorps, will be one of the featured authors at the 2018 South Texas Book Festival on Saturday in McAllen.

The award–winning author’s other books include “Gaby, Lost and Found,” “Allie, First at Last” and a junior novelization of Disney Pixar’s smash animated film, “Coco.” All have strong Latino leads.

Events such as Saturday’s allow Cervantes to speak about diversity in literature. She said she tries to write the books she wanted to read when she was a 10-year-old girl.

“Those are books that include Latinx characters with names like mine, like Cervantes, Garcia, Zuñiga and Lopez, and characters that come from my cultural background,” Cervantes said. “I want to celebrate that cultural background.”

One of the reasons she enjoyed being a part of the “Coco” book was because she knew many families would relate to the Dia de los Muertos. The story, Cervantes pointed out, includes a “beautiful, important holiday” for Mexico with a strong, young male Latino lead.

The author made a visit to an Edinburg school earlier this week in which students shared how they related to “Coco.”

“It was just a really beautiful moment,” Cervantes said. “The kids were talking about the altars they put together for their grandpa who passed away and why ‘Coco’ meant so much to them. (The story) kind of helped them deal with the passing away of their own family members.”

The book festival begins at 10 a.m. and is a free event held at the McAllen Public Library’s main branch and includes readings, panel discussions and book signings. For more information, visit southtexasbookfestival.com.

SOUTH TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL

WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday

WHERE: McAllen Public Library Main Branch, 4001 N. 23rd St.

COST: Free