Four years ago, Topeka native Angela Cervantes wrote the junior novel published to accompany the Disney/Pixar blockbuster film “Coco.”
Now Cervantes has been chosen to write the junior novel for the upcoming Disney movie, “Encanto.”
Disney is planning a Nov. 24 release of that film, a computer-animated musical comedy set in the South American country of Colombia.
The junior novel is set to come out Oct. 12, Cervantes said.
She said she feels honored to be part of a story that celebrates the rich culture of Colombia.
Cervantes lives at Shawnee in Johnson County and writes children’s fiction full-time, often visiting classrooms to connect with her middle school-aged readers.
Her latest assignment continues her history of writing books that feature strong Hispanic characters.
Cervantes said Mexican culture “swirled around me all the time” as she grew up in northeast Topeka’s Oakland community and attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Elementary School.
When she was in the fifth grade, Cervantes said, she realized Mexican-Americans weren’t mentioned in the books she was getting from the school library.
Cervantes brought that up to her teacher, a Catholic nun, who suggested she start writing about the experiences of people who are Hispanic.
So she did, creating short stories about characters who went to low-rider shows and took part in fiestas and quinceañeras, which celebrate a girl’s passage into womanhood at 15 years.
“Teachers would read my work to the whole class,” Cervantes said. “It was very scary, but it was also super cool to see the reactions from my classmates.”
She subsequently held jobs that included teaching English in Mexico and serving as grants officer for Children International, a nonprofit child sponsorship organization in Kansas City, Mo.
Meanwhile, Cervantes stayed connected to the writing world, attending conferences and workshops and securing an agent.
Her first book, “Gaby, Lost and Found,” was published in 2013 by Scholastic, a global children’s publishing, education and media company. It won the International Latino Book Award for Best Youth Chapter Fiction Novel.
Scholastic has since published three other books by Cervantes — “Lety Out Loud,” “Allie, First At Last” and “Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring.”
“Encanto” tells the story of an ordinary 15-year-old girl who struggles to find her place in a family where every other child has a super power, according to the Disney website.
“Encanto” will be published by Disney Worldwide Publishing, which also put out the junior novel Cervantes wrote for “Coco,” which was released in 2017.
Cervantes said she found it “super exciting” to attend the premiere for Coco in Hollywood and walk on the red carpet.
At the time, she said, teachers in the classrooms she visited told her some students from Mexico were afraid to come to school because they thought they would be bullied or deported.
Cervantes said she was pleased to see Hollywood focus positively on Mexican culture in “Coco,” including highlighting a Mexican holiday known as “the Day of the Dead.”
That, she said, made a statement about how the Mexican heritage shared by many Americans has meaning and “adds to our American journey.”
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