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One Hundred Percent Loving Who We Are As Humans with NoNieqa Ramos

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Nonieqa Ramos shares Beauty Woke, a powerful story of pride and community, told with bold lyricism and the heart of a fairy tale, and readers looking for a next-generation Sleeping Beauty will fall in love with the vivid art and lyrical text.

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[3:10] Introduction


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. Today, we are seeing the world as it is, and picturing how we’d like it to be in the future. There are things to celebrate, but also things to change. There are places of wonder, but spaces seen but not seen. There is connection, but there’s also conflict.


Our guest today is NoNieqa Ramos.


NoNieqa Ramos is an educator and writer of picture books and young adult literature.

Their debut picture book, Your Mama, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, earned starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, and Kirkus, as well as lots and lots of other accolades. Her latest picture book, Beauty Woke, is illustrated by Paola Escobar and earned starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus, and was a Kirkus Best Book of 2022, and Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library Best Book of 2022. NoNieqa is a proud member of Las Musas Books collective and the Soaring 20s PB debut group. They live with their familia in Virginia in a plantopia of books and Legos.



[5:19] Book Summary


Matthew: Beauty Woke by Nonieqa Ramos; illustrated by Paola Escobar


Beauty Woke is a powerful story of pride and community, told with bold lyricism and the heart of a fairy tale, and readers looking for a next-generation Sleeping Beauty will fall in love with the vivid art and lyrical text.


Beauty is a Puerto Rican girl loved and admired by her family and community. At first, she's awake to their beauty, and her own--a proud Boricua of Taíno and African descent.

But as she grows older, she sees how people who look like her are treated badly, and she forgets what makes her special. So her community bands together to help remind her of her beautiful heritage.



[4:30] Meet Our Guest: NoNieqa Ramos


NoNieqa: Hi, my name is NoNieqa Ramos and I am the author of several picture books. I wrote a book called Your Mama, which is all about showing love for our caregivers and our moms. And I wrote a book called Beauty Woke, which is all about celebrating and saying yay about who we are and where



[5:42] Inspired by Sleeping Beauty


Matthew: Beauty Woke is a story inspired by Sleeping Beauty. Jonah, what do you remember about that fairy tale?


Jonah: I remember in Sleeping Beauty, Sleep Beauty got pricked. She fell asleep. Then there was a witch that turned into a dragon. And then, that was the end… (inaudible)


Matthew: Sounds like it’s been a little while since you’ve seen the movie. No worries! All you have to remember is that there’s a princess who is blessed by three fairies, but the evil Malificent feels threatened by her and puts a curse on her.


Keeping that story in mind, let’s hear how Sleeping Beauty influenced NoNieqa’s story, Beauty Woke.


NoNieqa: Is Beauty Woke a retelling or is it just inspired by? I can tell you I owe so much credit to that story.


And so, you know, why Sleeping Beauty? Because one of the most important things that happens in the beginning of my book is we see how the main character, Beauty, the little girl, is loved by her family. They adore her. She is so special. Just like every child who is listening to this podcast is so special. You are loved. You are adored. There are teachers who love and adore you. There are so many people out there who think you matter. You're special. And you do.


And so I started the book that way. Just like in the classic fairytale when the story starts, the king and the queen are so sad because they can't have a baby. And when they finally can, they're celebrating and the whole kingdom is partying. And I wanted to kind of show that when beautiful people, beautiful Black and brown people, beautiful LGBTQIA children… We celebrate. We jump up and down. We say, “You are so important to the story of the world.”


And so that's where I started with… I get asked often, “Why did you start with the family?” That's why.


And so, you know, where does…? Where do the other elements come from?

In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, the evil witch, isn't invited to the party, right? And so she levies a curse. And no matter how much the king and queen love this baby, and the godmothers, the madrinas, they can't fully protect her. They can protect her somewhat.

Beauty's supposed to get hurt and fall into a deep sleep when she pricks her finger on the spinning wheel when she's 16. So what does the family do? They throw out every single spinning wheel they can. They're banned in the kingdom.


And so this made me think of racism and how when we, as, you know, parents who are BIPOC parents, LGBTQIA parents, we, we have our kids. We're a little bit terrified. Every parent's a little bit terrified. But there's a certain special fear when we're sending kids out into the world who we know are going to be at some point discriminated against. Somebody's going to say something hurtful or do something hurtful because of where they're from or what language, you know, they speak.


And so we try to protect them, right? We do everything we can, just like the king and queen, throwing out all the spinning wheels. But racism's still gonna happen. And so for me, Beauty, Sleeping Beauty fit perfectly cuz I thought, “That's it.” You, you, I, you can try.

So what do we do when we know that Beauty's gonna prick her hand in this spinning wheel? And what do we do when we know that the child is going to experience hurtful things? We prepare them. We say to them that, “No matter what you hear, if anybody says something mean about your skin color or that you're from, you know, from Puerto Rico or Cuba or wherever it is, or that's your LGBT, that's all false. That's not true. That's all lies. The truth is your beauty.”



[9:20] What is “Woke”?


Matthew: Have you ever heard someone describe themselves or describe someone else as “woke”? What does “being woke” mean or look like?


Turn to a neighbor, a friend, a sibling, or a grownup, whomever may be listening with you, and share what prior knowledge you have about the term “woke”.


And if you’re listening to this podcast by yourself, you can think your response, or you can share it aloud to me. No judgment. I’m here and I’m always listening, even if I might not be able to hear what you're saying. I’m here.


Jonah, do you know what it means to be “woke”?


Jonah: I’ve actually never heard the term “woke:. What does it mean?


Matthew: That’s not a problem.


The word “woke” is most often used to describe someone who is seeing the world differently for the first time. They are “awake” to the ways the world, our communities, and our structures do not treat everyone equally or fairly. Someone who is described as “woke” might notice that there are privileges or opportunities that come more easily to them than they do to others. Or vice versa.


But the term has also been picked up and used by some to be a criticism, or to be a label to put on people or groups of people to say that they are wrong. In that way, they’ve turned the word “woke” into a weapon.


NoNieqa adds these thoughts:


NoNieqa: And so when we talk about, well, “What does wokes wokeness mean?” And I know what you were saying is so correct, it's so weaponized. What does it mean?

It means to appreciate the beauty of where you come from, your history, the beauty of who you can become. All of the parts of you. All of the parts of you, no matter what it is that is out there or that's going to confuse you and try to make you think otherwise.

So that's where I was coming from with, with being inspired by Sleeping Beauty.



[11:12] Inspired by the Response to Hurricane Maria


Matthew: NoNieqa used the story framework of Sleeping Beauty to build out the basic story beats of Beauty Woke. But it was a natural disaster that upended Puerto Rico that served as a catalyst and as Nonieqa’s “why” in telling this story.


NoNieqa: I think, you know, the first place this came from was a place of sadness. Sometimes things make us sad. And when I witnessed, you know, on the news and, and through friends and family's experience, what was going on with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which was in 2017, it made me feel sad for the people who were suffering, who were losing their homes. And it made me feel a little bit like, “What can I possibly do to be helpful to make this better?”


And then when. I heard people from Puerto Rico being criticized for not being able to take care of themselves, which is an impossible thing to do after they lost homes, lost electricity, you know, by some people in this country, it made me very frustrated.


And part of that's because at the same time that Hurricane Maria was going on, there were some big weather events on the mainland in the States. And I witnessed people raising money and being very excited about helping and sending supplies. And I saw a very big difference between the way we were treating people on the mainland and the States and the way we were treating and reacting to, and showing empathy for people in Puerto Rico.


So all of that was swirling in my mind. And I think sometimes when sad things or difficult things happen, we feel overwhelmed, we feel so many things are coming at us, what can I do? And so for me, one of the answers was to write. Sometimes, when we create something, we can change something that's sad or that makes us feel helpless into something good.


And so I thought, “Well, if I write this book, I can talk to all of the kids who are connected to what's going on in Puerto Rico. I can talk to any kid who has ever gone through something hard, where they've been, hurt by words that have been said about, um, who they are, where they're from. And so that, that's why I started with the book.



[13:44] BREAK



[13:54] A Story Shared As An Opportunity


Matthew: One of the qualities I love about Beauty Woke is how beautifully balanced the story is. NoNieqa had this fairy tale in mind, yes, but she also had representation of cultural pride and heritage on her mind. And where we turn our attention in times of trauma. And how we celebrate beauty. And who do we see and celebrate as beautiful.


NoNieqa: There are two places that I go to.


The first place is, you know, every adult. I know that sounds strange. This is a picture book. But every adult and the inner children inside them. There are so many adults who have never, ever, ever gotten to experience a picture book that not only represented, you know, what they look like, what they sounded like, which is absolutely vital. But also, you know, what they were going through. And validating them and saying, “Yes, that's real. What you went through is real.And,” for example, “if you're hearing hurtful words, that I'm sorry that happened.” And “This is a process of healing for you.”


So, you know, when I wrote it, I always picture it, I've said this before and it still holds true. the child on the lap and the caregiver holding them. I picture them both, and I think both of them can be nurtured by this story. What healing can I provide for both of them?


So there's that big component and, and yes, there's a part of that that's my, you know, sort of inner child too. Or I can say, “Well, I wish, when I was hearing all these hurtful words, comments, behaviors, growing up, that it wasn't just about fighting or being defiant or standing tall and proud. We need all those things.


But it was also about, just sort of saying, “Ouch.” You know,? That requires that hurt. That's a wound that needs healing. It's not always about the fight. And so there's that.

And then the other part of that is something that you revel in, that I revel in, which is the kids in the classroom.


I got to do a Beauty Woke library tour with the New York Public Library just recently over the summer and traveled to schools all over the Bronx and just being able to be sort of an ambassador of, “Where are you from? Let's talk about that!” You know? Let's talk about what you're proud of, you know, was the, the light and joy of my life. And so, you know, this is that opportunity for me.


So I always also think of the book as the opportunity. What do I open the door to talk about with the kids when I get there? Yeah.



[16:36] NoNieqa Shining Through the Pages


Matthew: Speaking of opportunity, I knew that NoNieqa put a lot of herself onto the pages of Beauty Woke, and so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for us all to celebrate all of those bits and moments of NoNieqa and so many others shining back at readers throughout these pages.


NoNieqa: I love that you just said that, that that just makes my day.


Yeah. So, my family, originally came from Vega Baja in Puerto Rico, and then they moved to Santurce. And then from there we all together migrated to the Bronx . So this book is filled with, you know, my own cultural roots. So, you know, this is definitely coming from my heart and soul when I was writing this book. And so, you know, that's why you see, you know, so many celebratory Puerto Rican flags. You know, that's why you see LGBTQIA flags.


I really had the gift to work with the brilliant illustrator, Palo Escobar. First of all, she was a dream to work with. I had the gift and the opportunity to work with her closely because Paula is from Columbia. And as you know, Latinidad is not, as we've said many times, monolithic. It's, you know, I wouldn't know the first thing about how to approach a story on Columbia. So we had to collaborate on what would the Bronx look like? What, what kinds of things need to be, would you like to be depicted? And that is, um, one of the reasons why you see the Taíno, the Indigenous symbols, on the book.


So, to kind of connect it all, you know, to be Puerto Rican means that you're going to have Taíno or Taíno, depending on, we're still working on how to pronounce that because of the so much the of the genocidal colonialism of the Spanish, there's no other way to put it. So in all that reclamation of roots, those are the Indigenous First people who were on Puerto Rico, on the, on the island. And then we had colonizers come. And with them, they brought enslaved Africans.


And so our blood, you know, our heritage is Taíno. Our heritage is African. And our heritage is also Spanish because of that. So that's why the roots of the book that connects to what you see in the pictures and that connects to, you know, who I am and what my connection is.


Matthew: And connecting to Abuela saying, “Did you know your blood runs onyx, gold”. Love that.


NoNieqa: I really love that you're bringing that up. When I talk to the kids, you know, I always take the story and put them in it. So I always tell them, “Yes, this story is about Beauty and her connections and her culture in Puerto Rico, but this is also about you. You put yourself on the front page. Where are you from? What colors run in your blood? You know, what are we?


Cause when it's Beauty, the gold is her Indigenous roots and the onyx are her African roots, you know? And, and that makes her who she is and what makes you who you are. And they'll tell me, they'll say, “You know, my roots are from the Dominican Republic.” Or they'll say, “Well, mine are just Queens.” And they, that's, they strongly identify with that.

And then we say, “Okay, then this is gonna be about celebrating Queens.” And we talk about them as the protagonist, because that's also how I see it. Just like when you said, you know, you saw bits of, of yourself, like, I want the kids to say, ”I'm Beauty. That's me.”

And, that's also why, when I often visit kids, we make flags. I say, “Okay, but what's your flag?” If it's Puerto Rico flag, great. And there are lots of those we've made. But you know, “Tell me about your flag.” And if we don't know, because that happens, we say, we bring books in and we say, let's look up your flag. Oftentimes they know though.


Kids will ask about the LGBTQIA flags. I've had many kids say, what is that? And we'll talk about that and we'll say, you know, “It's honoring the LGBTQIA community and it looks like this.” And a lot of the kids, “Oh, I, I wanna draw that!” You know?


So it's a great opportunity to just really be a hundred percent loving who we are as humans.




[20:48] In a Safe Space to Share


Matthew: “A great opportunity to just be a hundred percent loving who we are as humans.” Wow. I needed that. Loving myself is something I try to work on a little more each day. And it’s not easy. I think I love others a lot more easily than I love myself.


NoNieqa is about to share a page from Beauty Woke, but first she asks me about my own roots.


NoNieqa: Well, let me also ask you, Matthew, if, if I were, if you were a student in my, in my class and I were sitting down with you, I would share with you my Puerto Rican roots.

I would share with you my Bronx roots, which are super strong. You know, I would, there would be so many things and I might ask you and say, “Can you tell me where you or your family is from, somewhere where you're proud of it?” And I would say to you before I ask that I'm asking in a respectful way. I'm asking you the way we're, we're in community, I may, that may not be something appropriate to ask you when we're passing, but if we're sitting down in community and we're all in a safe space and we're talking, then it's okay for me to ask you something like that.


So if I asked you, Matthew, what would that be? So for example, another teacher would say, oh, well actually my roots are in Ireland. You know, that's where my family comes from. If there's no right answer. So if I were to ask you that, what would say?


Matthew: I would tell you that my roots are in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of the Little League World Series.


NoNieqa: Yeah, that is awesome. Yes, that would be the thing I want you to keep in mind. And if the language that you speak, right, wherever you're from, is English or Spanish or whatever that language is, we would tell you to be proud of that. So the language that you speak, right, the words that you choose, especially on a podcast, right, are special and they're magic because you're communicating with kids, students, and teachers, right?


So when I'm going to read this passage, I'm gonna write some things that are special and important to me and lots of other kids, but you can put in whatever words work for you. And I'll just give you an example.


So I'm gonna start reading. On this page I'm reading, there is a grandmother. Behind her is a beautiful rainbow, and around her is a circle of grandmother, Abuelita. And there's mom, Mommy, and Poppy and there are aunts, tias and tios, and the whole community. There are neighbors and they're surrounding Beauty, and they're trying to remind her to give her all their power to reminder that she is beautiful.


The great-grandmother stands up and she says,


“Escuchen! Listen to me. Ain't nobody gonna school us on beauty.”


“Word!” La familia nodded their heads.


“Spanish is magic,” la bisabuela said.


“Word!” la familia said, “AMEN!”


And anyone listening, whatever language you speak, you substitute that in. If it's “Korean is magic.” Whatever that is.


Bisabuela says, “Black is beauty-ful.”


And if you're there, repeat it with me. “Black is beautiful.”


And she says, “Black is a power. Say it.” They said it. Say it again. Bisabuela says. They said it louder.


And after this page is where Beauty transforms.


Matthew: That's one of my favorite spreads. It's between that and the beginning, just that closeness. The page turn of “Finally water breaks, beauty wakes.”


That page turn between the two, between the blessing, the caring, the making, the safe space, securing that safe space to welcoming.


That's another connection cuz it's a scary thing to bring a kid into this world and to not know: Is it going to happen? Is it gonna be safe? Is the child gonna be okay? And then, and then suddenly they're here.


NoNieqa: And we're here. And we're here for all the kids coming into these classrooms and saying, “We are here. We love you. We know that you're beautiful.”



[24:52] A Message from NoNieqa Ramos


Matthew: Oh! My heart is full. Listeners, I hope that your heart is full after our time together today. I know that NoNieqa was thinking of each you so much, not only when she wrote Beauty Woke, but also when she sat down for this conversation.


As I prepare to head back to my library full of children, I hope that you will remember this special message from NoNieqa Ramos.


NoNieqa: I would like to ask, have you hugged yourself today? Have you talked to yourself today and said something kind to you? How are you going to take care of your mind and your body and your heart today? That's what I want you to ask.



[25:44] Closing


Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.


Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.


NoNieqa? Where can listeners find you?


NoNieqa: Oh, well one of the easiest places is my website, which is nonieqaramos.com, which is N-O-N-I-E-Q-A R-A-M-O-S. And that same name will help you find me on Instagram and Twitter if you would like.


Matthew: Visit matthewcwinner.com for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.


You can also reach out and let me know what are your roots? What do you want me to know about you and to celebrate about you? Because I am here and I am ready to love on and celebrate you.


Write to me or send me a message at matthewmakespods@gmail.com. That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.


Want a copy of Beauty Woke? Jonah, where should our listeners look?


Jonah: Check your school or public library, your classroom, or, if you want to support independent bookstores, you can purchase a copy at Bookshop.org.


Matthew: I’ll have a link in the show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/).


Our music is by Podington Bear.


Podcast hosting by Libsyn.


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at kidslisten.org.


Fellow teachers and librarians, want a way to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities? In The Reading Culture podcast, Beanstack co-founder Jordan Bookey hosts conversations that dive into beloved authors' personal journeys and insights into motivating young people to read. And I am a big fan! Check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack. Available wherever podcasts are found.


Anything else you want to share, Jonah?


Jonah: Don’t forget to be yourself!


Matthew: Always good advice.


Be well. And read on.




End Of Episode



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