Interview with Jeaninne Escallier Kato, Author of Manuel’s Murals

Jeaninne Escallier Kato is a 33 year veteran California public school teacher with a master’s degree in education.  She grew up in a multi-cultural, blended family in Southern California, and is married to a Japanese American.  Because of her mother’s Hispanic roots and her father’s French and California Indian blood, diverse cultures have always fascinated her.  Manuel, the protagonist, in her book, Manuel’s Murals, was born out of her love for Mexico, a culture that has impacted her life deeply.  Jeaninne speaks Spanish and teaches 4th grade in a predominantly Latino school in Northern California, where she also runs a Latino mentoring program.  Her passion for the artists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, inspired this book.  Jeaninne spent a whole day sitting in front of Rivera’s “History of Mexico” murals at the National Palace in Mexico City, absorbing his message, when she heard Diego whisper, “Teach the children about their past.”  Manuel’s Murals is an homage to all children who dare to dream. Visit:  http://manuelsmurals.tumblr.com

Thank you for joining us today, Jeaninne. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

Wow, where do I begin…Okay, I’ll start off by saying that I have always been identified as a person with an immense amount of energy and an unabashed thirst for living her life out loud.  Coming from a working class family, I have always had big dreams for my life.  Those dreams included a life centered around education and helping others.  School was where I shone; my teachers were my role-models and the people who encouraged me to reach for the stars.  Travelling the world always factored into my childhood fantasies, as well.  I can honestly say, I have fulfilled all the dreams I imagined as a young child when my family life was often in turmoil.  I knew I had to work hard to realize the life I wanted because my parents and step-parents could not afford to hand them to me.  I have been blessed with a strong drive, a deep work ethic, and limitless energy.  I am ultimately blessed to be given the best job in the world:  helping children to learn, grow and realize their own dreams.

When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

I truly believe good writers are born with the predisposition to write well.  That strength comes to fruition when we are put in environments that encourage our writing talents.  Again, my teachers, all through school, complimented me on how well I wrote, whether it was poetry, short stories, essays or reports.  I also believe that all good writers are insatiable readers.  The moment my mother began to read to me as a toddler, I was captivated by books and the places I could go in my head when I read.  Words, in many forms, excite my creativity and allow me to live many lives.  My broad background in the dramatic arts has gone hand and hand with my writing muse.  Acting is just another outlet for using words.  I suppose sometime in the not too distant future, I may even dabble in script writing and screen plays.

Why did you decide to write stories for children?

As soon as I started my student teaching, I was introduced to a plethora of children’s books.  I was smitten by all genres of children’s books; and, I thoroughly enjoyed reading some of these books out loud to my prospective, and eventually, my actual students.  Three books that still stand out as my seminal favorites are The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White;  and, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  Throughout my 33 year teaching career, I often visualized the kind of children’s book I would write.  But like life often has a habit of doing, other factors interceded and put that dream on hold.  (I might add, teaching full-time and attending night school for many, many years, made it difficult to devote the few hours I had left at the end of a week for anything but sleep.)  Life also has a wonderful sense of whimsy.  Manuel’s Murals was not a planned project.  It came to me as I sat on the cold, hard steps of the National Palace in Mexico City for six hours.  I simply couldn’t tear myself away from the massive murals painted by Diego Rivera.  Only through my tears of sadness for the history of the ancient Mexican peoples, did this book appear to me in a whisper by El Maestro himself, Diego Rivera.  He simply said, “Teach the children about their past.”

Do you believe it is harder to write books for a younger audience?

Since I have devoted my life to children and teens (I taught in a continuation high school for seven years and had my own radio talk show on KVMR community radio in Nevada City, Ca. called, “Teen Scene With Jeaninne” from 1987 to 1990), writing for a younger audience is extremely natural for me.  It is easy for me to see the world through a younger perspective since I live it every day in my work as a fourth grade teacher lucky enough to be given that role.

What is your favorite part of writing for young people?

My favorite part is writing about making a dream turn into reality.  Think back to your own childhood and all the things you wanted to be and become.  The sky was the limit, verdad?  All good children’s lit is filled with dream-like fantasy worlds.  It doesn’t get any better than concocting your own worlds in living color, without the parameters of day-to-day reality.

Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?

I will give you my synopsis off of the back of the book, which says it in the style in which I wrote the book:  “Manuel Jesus Ramirez Rodriguez, a passionate nine year-old boy from Mexico City, loves to paint murals like his hero, the legendary 20th century Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera.  He dreams of the day he will become as famous as Diego Rivera so he can take care of his family and never have to watch his father clean other people’s building ever again.  However, because of this single-minded quest, Manuel learns how his actions can affect the lives of others in ways he never imagined.  Manuel takes a solo journey to learn more about Diego Rivera’s art, but what he finds is a greater understanding of his own culture.  The theme of this picture book revolves around family; however, an appreciation of who we are emerges as colorful as the soul that is Mexico.”

What inspired you to write it?

The theme of the book was inspired by my love of Mexican muralists, especially Diego Rivera.  However, Manuel is an amalgamation of all of the joyful, loving, feisty, and uniquely wonderful nine year-old boys I have taught for the past eleven years.

Where can readers purchase a copy?

Readers can purchase the book via my publisher at:  www.3Lpublishing.com

Also, directly from my website:  http://manuelsmurals.tumblr.com

And, from www.amazon.com

Soon, it will be available at a major bookstore near you.

What is up next for you?

I am working on a second book about Manuel’s journey to find himself; I started a young teen novel about the life of a California mission Indian and her journey to become a teacher (based on my great grandmother, Dominga Ayala, a Pechanga mission Indian), even before Indian women could achieve such a career; and, I will continue to journey into Mexico to find my own roots.

Do you have anything else to add?

Yes, I would like to share with your readers that there is a common theme to actualizing your dreams.  If you live your passions, they will take you to places and people unimagined…

Thank you for spending time with us today, Jeaninne Escallier Kato. We wish you much success.

No, thank you for giving me this time and space to introduce Manuel to your readers.

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2 thoughts on “Interview with Jeaninne Escallier Kato, Author of Manuel’s Murals

  1. Jeaninne, your story, both personal and your book, sound just incredible and so worthwhile. Congratulations on your book, and thank you for enriching us with your worldview and talent. Jo

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