In her first middle-grade novel, award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez tells a heartwarming story based on her own experiences growing up Mexican-American.
Stella Díaz loves marine animals, especially her betta fish, Pancho. But Stella Díaz is not a betta fish. Betta fish like to be alone, while Stella loves spending time with her mom and brother and her best friend Jenny. Trouble is, Jenny is in another class this year, and Stella feels very lonely.
When a new boy arrives in Stella's class, she really wants to be his friend, but sometimes Stella accidentally speaks Spanish instead of English and pronounces words wrong, which makes her turn roja. Plus, she has to speak in front of her whole class for a big presentation at school! But she better get over her fears soon, because Stella Díaz has something to say!
Stella Díaz Has Something to Say introduces an infectiously charming new character with relatable writing and adorable black-and-white art throughout. Simple Spanish vocabulary is also integrated within the text, providing a bilingual element.
2019 Sid Fleischman Award winner
A 2019 Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Notable Children's Book
A New York Public Library Best Book for Kids 2018
Top 10 Showstopper Favorite
One of Chicago Public Library's "Best of the Best Books 2018"
About the Author
Angela Dominguez was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and now resides on the east coast. She is the author and illustrator of several books for children including Maria Had a Little Llama, which received the American Library Association Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. Recently, she received her second Pura Belpré Honor for her illustrations in Mango, Abuela, and Me written by Meg Medina. When Angela is not in her studio, she teaches at the Academy of Art University, which honored her with their Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013. She also enjoys presenting at different schools and libraries to all sorts of ages. Angela is a proud member of SCBWI, PEN America, and represented by Wernick and Pratt Literary Agency. As a child, she loved reading books and making a mess creating pictures. She's delighted to still be doing both.
Read an Excerpt
The smell of albóndigas fills the house when my brother, Nick, and I come home.
"Time for our weekly appointment," says Nick, walking in the direction of the kitchen.
I nod. My mouth starts to water as I follow him toward the sound of sizzling food.
Around the corner, I see Mom performing her magic over a large pot on the stove. Her eyes are closed as she carefully tastes some tomato sauce with a wooden spoon. She's still wearing her work clothes except she has an apron on and slippers instead of high heels. Mom works every day in an office, which means she can't make dinner weeknights except for Fridays, better known as our "weekly appointment." It's also the night we play board games past our regular bedtime.
"¡Mis bebés!" Mom exclaims when she sees us. She spreads her arms wide to give us big hugs and kisses.
"Can I help, Mom?" I ask, wiping lipstick off my cheek.
"Of course, Stella! Do you want to boil the espaghetti while I go change mi ropa?" She tugs at her clothes and takes off her apron.
I say, "¡Sííííííííííííí!" but inside I giggle.
While Mom speaks both English and Spanish perfectly, strangers say she has an accent. To me, it's just the way she speaks. Although every once in a while I can hear that she says a word a little funny, like "e-spaghetti."
When Mom returns to the kitchen, she's wearing an oversized shirt and jeans instead of her business suit. She leans over the pot of simmering albóndigas, wiggles her nose, and takes a deep sniff. Mom says that you can always smell when the food is ready. She looks at me as she gives me the thumbs-up.
"Stella, grab the platos, por favor," says Mom.
I put the plates on the table while Nick helps Mom carry the food. She scoops some e-spaghetti and albóndigas onto my plate. While she passes it to me, she makes sure to pull off the bay leaf. Mom says the bay leaf gives the albóndigas their extra sabor, but we shouldn't eat it. Nick serves himself. Mom still likes to treat me like the baby even though I'm in third grade.
As soon as we start eating together, Mom asks, "So how was your week at school, niños?" Nick starts talking right away as he twirls his espaghetti on his fork. "Pretty good. I think I'm going to join the basketball team this year. Jason and Adam are joining, too." Nick is in eighth grade, and the middle school kids get to play sports.
Mom smiles. "You're going to get so strong!" Nick blushes. "Yeah. Plus it's going to make it even easier to beat Stella at arm wrestling."
"I'll just practice more," I say, and stick out my tongue at him.
Mom doesn't get mad. She rarely does. She only gets mad when there is hair pulling or name calling, which doesn't happen too often. She also won't take sides, as much as I want her to sometimes. Instead, she just laughs it off. "What about you, Stella? How was your week?"
"Amazing. Today Ms. Bell said we are going to start sustained reading in class. That means we just get to read quietly. I think I'm going to read about fishes because of Pancho," I say.
Mom says, "That sounds fun. I bet Pancho is going to appreciate it."
Pancho is my betta fish. That is a type of fish that likes to be alone. They can be as colorful as the rainbow, but Pancho is mostly blue, which is my favorite color. I like that Pancho likes to be alone and is okay being quiet.
Mom winks at me. "Anything else?"
"Oh, Ms. Bell also said we are going to have a new student next week. I hope it's a girl so she can play with Jenny and me. It's hard to play tag when it's only two people," I say while I slurp up a noodle.
"Well, I'm certain whoever it is, they will be nice. Just be sure to make them feel comfortable and be my sweet Stella," she says.
I nod my head. "Promise."
Mom has no idea how excited I am about the new student. School has been a little lonely without my best friend, Jenny, in my class. I've been trying hard to make more friends, but it's not so easy. The first day of class especially didn't go so well this year. I could barely talk because my stomach was in knots all day. Then when I did talk, I messed up. I had to read aloud a paragraph I wrote about my summer break, and I said some of the words wrong. That made some of the kids in my class, like Jessica Anderson, laugh.
I hope the new kid is a girl who's a lot like me. Maybe she loves to draw or has a fish, too, or can run fast like me. I'm sure she might be a little lonely or scared on her first day like I was. I'm sure she'll appreciate my help. I'll show her the tricks around the school, like which lunch lady gives extra French fries or which bathrooms aren't as nice.
I look over at Nick.
"Did you learn anything cool today?" It's one of my favorite things to ask him at dinner. Everything you get to learn in eighth grade just seems really interesting.
He thinks for a second. "Well, we studied tornadoes and all types of weather in science. The videos were pretty cool."
"Tornadoes?! They're scary! Wait ... can they happen in Chicago, Nick?"
He starts to snicker. Whenever he snickers, I know he is up to no good.
"Yes," he says. "Tomatoes can happen in Chicago."
I cross my arms. "Ugh, Nick! You know I said 'tornadoes,' not 'tomatoes.'"
"I heard 'tomatoes,' and you shouldn't be afraid of them." Then he gently elbows me.
"Now Brussels sprouts, those are scary."
"Guess I'm making Brussels sprouts next Friday," says Mom, winking at me.
Nick groans, "Eww. Okay. No more vegetable talk."
Nick is pretty stellar most of the time, but he can still be an annoying older brother sometimes. Nick knows it especially bothers me that he laughs when I mess up my words. I can't help it. Sometimes I mix up the way words or letters sound, and when I do I turn roja like a tomato. That's because the letters sound a little different in English and Spanish. I'm taking a class to help me, but I don't like that I have to take it, and I definitely don't like people making fun of me.
We eat until my stomach is as round as an albóndiga. Then we move to the living room to play cards. Mom puts on salsa music and we always end up dancing around the room. That's different from chips and salsa. It's a dance where you sometimes do a dip, but mostly you shake your hips and twirl around. It's really fun.
During one of Mom's favorite songs, she says, "¡Ayi, mi favorito!" and then pulls me out of my chair.
I wouldn't even dream of dancing at school, but with Mom it is so fun.
"Stella, we used to dance to this song when we lived in Mexico City," she says as she spins me around.
"How?!" My family is from Mexico, but we moved to Chicago when I was a baby. I can't picture a baby dancing. I don't even know any babies who dance. They can barely walk!
"Well, technically I rocked you in my arms, but I danced enough for the two of us."
Mom picks me up for a second like I'm a baby, and it makes me laugh. Then she tries to pick up Nick, but he groans, "Mom!" As he brushes his hair back, I notice the smallest smirk on his right cheek. Lately, Nick is acting like he is too old to play with us, but I know he secretly still likes being silly. The smirk always gives it away.
After many rounds of cards and salsa dancing, I head up to my room. Before bed, I feed my betta fish. "Next week, I'm going to learn everything about you and your relatives, Pancho," I say.
Then I crawl into bed and stare at him swimming. I love Pancho, but I'm really glad I'm not a betta fish. I couldn't be in a tank all by myself, without my family. I giggle. Nick would look funny as a talking fish. As I close my eyes, I start picturing the new student and my future friend. "I hope she speaks Spanish," I say as I drift off to sleep.
Monday morning, Nick walks me to my school before he heads over to Arlington Heights Middle School.
He is about to say his usual "Bye, sis," when Jenny runs over. She has a huge smile, and then she twists around. I see why she's so happy. She has a new backpack, and it has glitter, sparkles, and a cat. It's very Jenny.
"Like it?" she asks.
"Yes!" I say.
"Thanks! I wanted to get one that looks like Anna's."
"Who???" I ask.
"Anna. She's in my class. She has the best taste." Jenny grins.
Nick rolls his eyes. "Girls." He does not like sparkles. Then he rubs my head and takes off as Jenny and I walk into our school.
"I almost forgot," Jenny says. "I have lychee candy for you. My mom went to the Vietnamese market."
She opens her backpack to give me the candy. I lick my lips.
Jenny's family is from Vietnam, but, unlike me, Jenny was born here in Chicago.
"Yum!" I say, popping a piece in my mouth.
Jenny nods and looks into her classroom. "Oh, I see Anna. I have to show her my new backpack. See you at lunch, Stella!"
The backpack that looks like Anna's bounces as Jenny runs into the room. From where I am standing, I can see Jenny talking to Anna, but only the back of Anna's head.
Who is this Anna? I think to myself.
I sigh and look down at the best-friend bracelet Jenny gave me over the summer. It suddenly looks smaller than usual, especially compared to a backpack. I'm glad Jenny isn't lonely in her class, but she and I are the only ones who are supposed to match. If there was a rule book to being best friends, I'm sure rules on matching would be in the top ten, easily. It's just part of being best friends.
Luckily, I start feeling better as soon as I get to my room and see Ms. Bell standing in front of the whiteboard. She's wearing polka dots again.
"They're my favorite," she told us on the first day of class, which made me happy. Polka dots are my favorite, too.
I sit down in my assigned seat as Ms. Bell carefully starts to write our agenda for the day on the board. In perfect cursive handwriting, she squiggles:
1. Library Visit
2. Sustained Reading
I copy it down in my spiral notebook. Then I add a sixth item to my schedule and draw a smiley face: "Make a New Friend." Today is going to be a good day.
"Ms. Bell, are you going to read from Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library again today after lunch?" asks Chris Pollard. He's one of the loudest kids in our class and is best friends with Ben Shaw, the class clown.
"Seems only appropriate since we're visiting the library this morning, doesn't it?" she says as she pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose.
Hearing that makes me feel happy. Even though we can all read really well, Ms. Bell reads out loud to us a little bit every day during storytime. It's just one chapter, but it's like watching a play. I close my eyes, remembering how Ms. Bell does all these great voices for all the characters.
Suddenly the bell rings. I open my eyes. The classroom is full except for the one empty seat where the new kid (aka my new friend) will sit. I bet she will have the best taste. Even better than Anna's.
Ms. Morales is standing by the front door of the library to greet us one by one when we arrive for today's library visit. She is wearing her long pearls and a bright orange sweater, and on her left arm she's holding her stuffed goose named Lucy, which everyone gets to honk when they leave the library.
"Hola, Stella," Ms. Morales says.
"¡Buenos días, Ms. Morales!" I say quietly, but I squeal inside.
Ms. Morales has been our librarian since kindergarten. The best thing about Ms. Morales, apart from the fact that she speaks Spanish, is that she's so smart and loves sharing books with us. At the beginning of this year, when I started getting interested in fishes, she showed me all these books on Jacques Cousteau, a famous ocean explorer. Now I love reading about him.
"Welcome, Ms. Bell's class!" she announces as soon as all of us are sitting in front of a computer. Ms. Morales is full of spunk and a little different from your usual librarian. I think most librarians don't have purple streaks in their hair.
Instead of saying hello back, we wave our hands in the air. Ms. Morales says proper library etiquette calls for no loud voices.
Ms. Morales waves back and continues, "I hear you are all finding books for your sustained reading. Now, you remember how to use the catalog, right? Just find the Dewey decimal number, write it down, and look for the book on the shelf. If you have any questions, I am here!"
The Dewey decimal system is how the books are organized at the library. If it were up to me, I would just organize them by color like my colored pencils or by height like my books at home. Still, it really does help when searching for books. With the power of Dewey, I find the perfecto book.
I grab it and head over to a big table by myself. The pictures are so beautiful. I want to dog-ear the pages, but I only do that to my books at home. Ms. Bell comes up to me, crouches down, and says in a quiet voice, "What book are you reading, Stella?"
"What Lives in the Ocean? by Tonya Mickelson," I say quietly.
"Sounds positively fascinating!" she whispers.
"It is. Did you know that an octopus doesn't have any bones and has three hearts? I have to draw it later. It's just too cool-looking."
"I heard an octopus named Paul became famous for predicting many of the winners of the World Cup."
"Wow!" I exclaim.
Ms. Bell chuckles. She lifts her fingers to her mouth. When I get excited, I speak louder than I realize.
"I think there will be a little time for drawing after the library," she whispers before standing.
I smile and keep reading about octopuses. It turns out they are extraordinary escape artists. To escape from their enemies, they release a cloud of ink to help them disappear. Then, because they have no bones, they can maneuver through almost any nook or cranny. They can even escape through a hole only an inch wide! That would be a really helpful skill to have.
When it's time to go back to class, everyone says goodbye to Ms. Morales and Lucy.
"Adiós, Ms. Morales and Lucy," I say as I give the stuffed goose a squeeze. I have to admit, even though I'm in third grade and too old for this, it's still sort of fun.
Lucy honks, and Ms. Morales and I both smile. "Hasta luego, Stella."
When we get back to the room, everyone starts chatting about their books, except for me. I get started drawing my octopus. I'm about halfway finished, making sure I draw all eight arms the same size, when I hear a knock on the door. I look up and Ms. Green, who works in the office, is at the door. Ms. Bell meets her and whispers.
I hear Ben Shaw say to Chris Pollard, "It must be the new kid."
I drop my colored pencils. I got so carried away with the library and my drawing that I almost forgot. Then I see who is standing next to Ms. Green. It's a boy! And he has light brown hair. I frown a little. That's very different from what I imagined.
"Class," Ms. Bell says, "this is our new student. Do you want to introduce yourself to the class?" The new boy waves at everyone, and says, "Howdy! I'm Stanley Mason. I just moved here from Dallas, Texas, or Tejas en español."
Ms. Bell says, "Tejas! That's so far away from here. Has anyone been to Texas?"
A few kids raise their hands. I actually was in Texas last year on our family road trip. We went to see the Alamo and we even went to a cave where we took a picture with a dinosaur sculpture named Grendel. But I'm always too shy to speak up in class. Plus, the Alamo isn't in Dallas. Stanley probably hasn't even seen it. Still, even if I weren't shy, I wouldn't be able to talk right now. I'm a little speechless. I can't believe Stanley speaks español! He doesn't look like someone who would speak Spanish at all. The new kid I imagined had dark brown hair like me and not light hair. And she was a girl.
Ms. Bell says, "Now, class, let's have everyone quickly introduce yourself to Stanley."
One by one, people stand. There are about ten people in front of me, and I feel nervous and a little sweaty. I want to make a new friend so badly, even if he is a boy. So what if he is not at all the girl I had pictured in my head? He speaks Spanish like me, and, more important, he's new. He could use a friend as much as I could. I could be his first new friend here.
When it's my turn, I stand up. I feel myself turning roja. I freeze. I just read that some octopuses can paralyze their prey. Maybe Stanley is part octopus. Probably not. He looks like a normal boy with freckles, blue eyes, and a cool monkey shirt. I catch myself staring at him for a second.
"Hmm ... me llamo Stella," I say while looking away quickly. "Sorry, I mean I'm Stella." I say it even faster as I sit back down. I'm about to groan out of embarrassment when I feel my chair start to tilt backward. My eyes grow grande like an elephant, and everything slows down. I try to reach out to grab my desk, but it's too late.
Excerpted from "Stella Diaz Has Something to Say"
Copyright © 2018 Angela Dominguez.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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