Friday, February 5, 2010

A Poetry Friday Interview - Alma Fullerton

Everyone in my little circle is talking about Alma Fullerton’s verse novel, Libertad. This award-winning book has made the top ten list for the Silver Birch ® Awards category (intended for readers in Grades 3-6) of the Forest of Reading Program. Please see yesterday’s blog post below for more information on the Forest of Reading Program.

The novel begins at the site of the Guatemala City Dump where Libertad and his younger brother, Julio, search through garbage for items that can be traded in for money. After the accidental death of their mother, the brothers and their new puppy, Guerrero, set out on a journey to find their Papi living in the United States.

I was immediately taken by the voice of Libertad, the emotional pull of the poems, and the expression of devotion between Libertad, Julio and their dog. As Libertad carried the heavy responsibility of protecting Julio throughout the novel, I found myself naturally caring deeply for Libertad’s own safety and innocence. I have read Libertad twice in the month of January and I am drawn to read it again to revisit the sense of hope and perseverance the brothers express toward each other.

After being so moved by this verse novel, I contacted Alma Fullerton asking if she would answer some questions for a blog interview. She kindly agreed.

Interview with Alma Fullerton

Sheri Doyle: What was the inspiration behind Libertad? From inspiration to publication, how long did this process take?

Alma Fullerton: Every once in a while you come across a story that won't let you go. You know that before you can move on you have to write that story. Libertad was like that. I came across a story of a boy who walked from Guatemala to Texas to be with his cousin. I tried to put it away but couldn't, so even though I was working on another book at the time I started to research - and I found a lot of other stories as well as finding out about Safe Passage during that research. There were about 2 years of research before I wrote a thing on that book - I did work on other things while I was researching. When those things were done and I started writing Libertad it took about 3- 6 months to write - that was in summer - winter 07. I signed the contract with F&W March 08 and there were finished copies by June 08. Not all stories go from signed contract to finish novels that fast - in fact most don't.

Sheri: From your poems, we get a pretty clear picture of life in the Guatemala City Dump. What was the research process that lead to such a believable setting and voice for your novel.

Alma: A lot of research for the setting - voice - just listen to people talk.

Sheri: I fell in love not only with Libertad and his younger brother Julio, but also their dog, Guerrero. What inspired you to develop the character of Guerrero?

Alma: While researching I saw some photos of children in the dump holding puppies. Puppies are universal - Not everyone loves dogs (I do) but everyone can relate to kids and dogs. Having Guerrero and having the children play and act like children gives North American children who are not living in the same conditions some kind of a connection to the children in my book - if that makes sense. I think you need something the readers can connect with - as well as feelings - feelings are also universal.

Sheri: I really enjoyed the way music was a source of joy and empowerment for the boys. While researching this book, did you get a chance to listen to Guatemalan marimba music?

Alma: I listened to a lot of marimba music and Hispanic music while writing.

Sheri: Libertad has been listed as an official selection for the Silver Birch Awards, Forest of Reading Program. How do you feel about middle graders facing some of the difficult subject matter of your book?

Alma: People fear what they don't know. The more children who learn about the world around them now the more likely they'll change things in the future.

Sheri: One of my favourite poems is the villanelle titled, "Bad Day." Are there any other poetic forms in the book? Why did you choose to work with this form in particular?

Alma: There's a haiku poem in the very beginning of the book as well but mostly its free verse. I chose the villanelle here because I needed to slow down - almost stop time and villanelles do that well.

Sheri: What are the advantages to telling a story (or this story, in particular) in verse, rather than prose?

Alma: I didn't choose to tell the story in verse - the story chose verse. I tried writing it in prose but it only worked in verse for me. I needed the power of verse to get the feelings across the way they needed to come across.

Sheri: Do you have any advice for kids interested in writing?

Alma: Just keep writing. Keep journals if you can - you'll love having them later. Expect to revise - a lot.

Here's a little taste of Libertad - an excerpt from the villanelle mentioned above in the interview.

From Libertad
by Alma Fullerton
Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008

Bad Day

This is a good garbage day of cardboard and plastic bags.
Julio and Mami search rubbish heaps. As I stand guard,
The sun beats hot upon our backs through shirts of
     tattered rags.

Julio, small and spindly, trips on cardboard that he drags.
He rises tall with an unfazed grin. We’re working so hard,
This is a good garbage day of cardboard and plastic bags.

To find out more about Libertad, Alma Fullerton and her books, visit .

Thank you, Alma, for taking the time to answer some questions about your beautiful book.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Great Kid Books.


  1. Thanks Sheri for this book recommendation. It looks fascinating. I am inspired to read books that the authors just 'had to write'. The interview with the author is a great addition and provided valuable insight into the process of this book's creation. Do you know if there are interior illustrations or just the cover? Any idea who the illustrator was?

  2. Thanks, Stephen.
    Great question!
    Cover image by Pascal Milelli
    Design by Kong

    There is a map that shows the journey from Guatemala City to the U.S.A.. I enjoyed referring to this map as I read through the novel.
    No other illustrations.

  3. Sheri,
    Another book for my To Be Read list! Thanks for posting this interview.

  4. Sheri, I hadn't heard about this book yet - thanks for the heads up. I'll definitely be reading it - an important story, told in what sounds like an intriguing way.

  5. I'll be on the lookout for this one -- thanks for the great review and interview!

  6. Great interview--looks like a good read.

  7. I've read this book too and loved it, so it was great to hear from the author. As I'm struggling to adequately tell a story I want to get out and have settled on the VN format as best, it was so validating to read her comment that "the story chose verse." Thanks for posting this!