Marisol Paramo hummed quietly to herself throughout much of our interview. Consider it practice, the 10-year-old already knows that she wants to be a singer and a scientist when she grows up. Though Marisol, clear headed and outgoing, already has great conviction in who she will become, she understands that many children don't. So, at the age of 7, she wrote a book about it. “I know that most kids are very scared about what they want to be,” Marisol explained as she sipped lemonade at a corner table of Slice Parlor where we were stationed with her father, Community Publishing Co-founder and an author himself, Alex Paramo, and musician extraordinaire Christian Orellana of Concepto Tambor. In a few weeks, Marisol will see that book, Bella the Caterpillar, published. But this isn't your typical children's book, nor is any other title you will find in Community Publishing's catalog. Each of these books is designed to be immersive, with an audio component, wherein the story is narrated in English and Spanish (the text is bilingual, too) and each page is accompanied by an original score. For Bella the Caterpillar, Orellana was the architect behind the diverse sounds as the music director. When the book is officially released on April 8, Marisol will join the ranks of notable New Mexican authors, with the distinction of being one of the youngest among them.
“It's about a caterpillar who doesn't know who she's going to be when she grows up,” Marisol explained of her literary debut. “And so she goes to all her friends and asks them … 'Do you know what I'm going to be when I grow up?' and all of them give her hints.” Her friends include the likes of ants, bees and dragonflies who offer the young insect cryptic guidance. Bella slowly begins to trust her evolution, and by the end (spoiler alert!) she turns into a butterfly. “There is an inclusivity of spirit that is assumed of an adult who makes an intentional decision to craft a children's book,” local poet and author Hakim Bellamy writes in the forward to Bella the Caterpillar. “Even more impressive is when that children's book author is not yet an adult. When they are more than simply a children's book author, but a child author. … [when it is] the actual exploration and experience out of the mouths of babes.” Certainly, Marisol's work serves as an inspiration. Yet, the fourth grader, who points out that her favorite novel is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, wouldn't have such an impressive first byline without the help of her father. Alex co-founded Community Publishing along with Yvette Sandoval in 2013 after writing his own book, Princess Marisol & the Moon Thieves. Now the publishing house is hard at work printing its fifth book, Bella the Caterpillar. “During [the time I was writing my book] my dad had just finished writing Princess Marisol,” Marisol, who lends her name to the book, explained. “That motivated me to write my book.”
Community Publishing was established in the aftermath of a trip to New York, wherein Alex met with representatives from Scholastic to talk about his vision for Princess Marisol & the Moon Thieves. He wanted to produce children's books that were inclusive, bilingual and included multimedia, so that more and more young readers—regardless of language or ability—could access the experience of reading. Returning to New Mexico disheartened by the meeting, Alex began to turn over an idea in his mind. “I thought, you know, we have enough people in Albuquerque to pull this off … So we came back and did it ourselves,” he recalled. Since then, Community Publishing has released four books, with Marisol's slated to be the fifth, and each has further fleshed out their goals of inclusivity. “The last study I read was from 2012,” Alex continued, “and out of over 5,000 children's books that were published, less than 250 were by authors of color, illustrators of color … or [featured] protagonists of color … It's really important to have our faces in these books,” he concluded.
That ideal extends even to the music, all of which was composed by Orellana and incorporates different styles, culled from many parts of the world, including Orellana's homeland of Peru. “We figured it will give dimension to the story if we use variety,” he said. He described his process of composition for Bella the Caterpillar, which involved listening carefully to the story, and then “visualizing what each character might sound like.” As an example, Orellana pointed to Bella's friend the spider, deciding on “some kind of reggae for her to express herself” or for the ants, “they're super busy, so the music is a little bit faster.” For Orellana, this translation of the visual world into the aural realm is something he has been practicing for years. “I see a lot of things and then relate them to music,” he summarized. Orellana also had the responsibility of engineering the narration that went with the story and directing Marisol's many friends and classmates, who took on the roles of the various insects who lend advice to Bella. “Working with children, it invited me to have more fun with it a lot of times,” he said. And that joy in creation is visible in the whole of the book, from its text, to its music, to its illustrations done by local artist Acey May.
As she looks to the release of her first book, Marisol reflected on her simple hopes for the story. “I hope that [kids] will learn what they want to be when they grow up and that they get the spark of imagination to do something,” she said. That spark of imagination certainly seems to be irrepressible in this young author. When I asked her if she thinks she will write another book one day (even though surely her plans to be a scientist and a singer will keep her busy) she answered matter-of-factly, “I'm writing one now.” The official release and celebration for Marisol's book will take place on Saturday, April 8, at The Cell Theatre Campus' Fusion Forum on First Street, where both Orellana and Marisol will perform music, too. Copies of the book will be available at the release and always online at Community Publishing's website (communitypublishing.org). As you turn the pages of Bella the Caterpillar, taking in Marisol's words, Orellana's music and May's illustrations, it’s hard to imagine that you wouldn't find a bit of the spark of imagination kindled in you, too.