Just Right Reads is a series hosted by Kamilla Benko, children’s book editor and author of the forthcoming The Unicorn Quest, featuring newly released middle grade books and Q&As with your favorite authors!
In Anna Meriano’s debut novel Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, eleven-year old Leonora Logroño discovers that her family has been keeping a secret from her: they are all actually brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry— who can bake magic into their sugar-filled treats. Leo knows she should wait to be properly trained, but when a friend needs help, she takes matters into her own hands…and mixing bowl!
A fantasy fan since the sixth grade, Anna chats with author Kamilla Benko about her relationship with Spanish, her favorite magical treats, and that one time she baked a poundcake while her dog drew near…
Your main character, Leo Logroño, is the youngest of five sisters, hates secrets, and loves to bake. In what ways are you similar to Leo, and how are you different?
Thanks so much for having me! I had a good time writing Leo because we are quite different, especially in surface-level ways. I have no sisters, no baking skills, and nowhere near as much rebellious spirit as Leo—I actually had to rewrite scenes when I remembered that Leo wouldn’t necessarily be worrying as much as I would about what her teachers and parents thought of her (she does worry about getting in trouble, but that’s a different attitude). Still, some parts of Leo are very close to my heart, like her insecurity about speaking Spanish, her fluffy hair, and her hatred of secrets. I’m also extremely nosy, so while I would usually never be brave enough to sneak around and spy on my family, it was a lot of fun to write Leo doing it!
Leo’s relationship with Spanish is very interesting—she knows words, but she is less fluent than the rest of her family as a byproduct of being the youngest. Why did you choose to show this particular experience on the page?
This year I had a student who wrote in her first assignment, “My parents are Mexican, but I’m English.” I feel like for so many Latinx Americans, Spanish and English fluency are a huge part of how we place ourselves in the world and where we see ourselves belonging. Growing up speaking English offers huge amounts of privilege in this country, but can be such a point of shame when you feel excluded from some conversations and relationships. There are so many families with mixed Spanish and English fluency, so it made sense to show that in the Logroño family.
Both of my parents speak Spanish as a second language, but neither spoke fluently enough to raise me with it. As a child I didn’t recognize this nuance; I would see them speaking Spanish in professional settings and I’d be mad at them for not teaching me. Now I have a bit more perspective and knowledge to understand the situation, but I still relate to Leo’s frustration when confronted with the language barrier.
Baking is a family affair in the Logroño family. Was it the same for you growing up?
I’m always so sad that I don’t get to say yes to this question. Unfortunately, almost all the baking in the books is based on research, not experience. But my family has always come together over food, and that feeling of being warm and fed and surrounded by people who love you is something I did try to capture in the book.
That said, I do have one solid family baking story! When I was about eleven or twelve, my cousin and I discovered an old box of index card recipes that belonged to our grandma on my mom’s Irish side of the family. We made a pound cake from scratch, including the icing, following super old cursive handwritten recipes. Then we left it on the counter to cool, and my dog jumped up and ate a huge chunk off the side. We were pretty disappointed, but it turned out to be for the best—the part that we salvaged ended up tasting not so great, anyway.
Did you create the delicious-looking recipes in the back of the book? If not, where did they come from?
I didn’t! Those came from one of my amazing and supportive bosses at Cake Literary, Dhonielle Clayton. We did talk a lot about which recipes to include—like a gluten free option since I have a cousin with Celiac Disease—and about the titles for the treats, but the baking expertise is all her!
If you were a Logroño bruja, what magical power would you most want to be able to bake?
Ooh, this is such a good one! I have the advantage of knowing a lot of spells that didn’t make it into the book (yet…), so I’m going to have to say that I’d want the ability to bake magical orejas. In part because they improve my listening skills, but also because they’re absolutely delicious!
And as the second-born in my family, I would be pretty happy with my birth order power, though I probably wouldn’t use it to paint my nails.
And finally, what was your favorite book at Leo’s age?
Sixth grade was a pretty magical year for me: I started attending a larger public school, discovered the library, and immersed myself in a fantasy binge that lasted about six years until I rediscovered contemporary. I devoured Patricia C. Wrede, Diana Wynn Jones, and lots and lots of books about dragons. The down side to this was that I had previously been all about historical fiction (especially the Dear America series), and at the time, switching to fantasy meant that it was harder for me to find diverse casts of characters. I’m really excited by all the diverse fantasy and diverse authors I see on the shelves now or coming soon!
Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble is on B&N bookshelves now!