For #HispanicHeritageMonth, the author and artist dives into the importance of Latino visibility in literature with her latest kid's book Skeletina and the In-Between World.
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Storytelling, much like food, is an element that is deeply ingrained within the Latino community. As we commune around the table to sit down and share a nourishing meal, our hearts, minds and souls are nourished by the stories of our families and ancestors.

Understanding why this aspect of the Latino culture is so vital to her community, author and artist Susie Jaramillo has dedicated her career to creating stories that not only shine a light on the richness of Latinos but also empower our most impressionable members—our children.

She tells People Chica, "An investment in children is an investment in our future, and so I decided to dedicate my career to creating worlds where our Latin culture thrives. New worlds that build on our lore, our mythology, our sense of aesthetics and nostalgia but with fresh and modern characters that showcase our spirit, our humor and our hearts."

With this in mind, the Chica Boss put pen to paper and created the wonderful world of Skeletina in her latest children's book Skeletina and the In-Between World, a story that dives into topics like fear and anxiety in a safe way to help children properly learn how to cope with intense feelings.

In an exclusive interview for People Chica for Hispanic Heritage Month, Jaramillo discusses what she learned about herself while writing about Skeletina's magical world and why creating multi-lingual content is vital to the Latino community.

Susie Jaramillo, Encantos
Credit: Encantos

You have dedicated your career to creating literature that supports the growth and development of children everywhere. When did you first realize that this was the path your soul needed to embark on?

Life gives you a mixed bag of talents and I think it's our job to figure out how to best lean into those talents and find out how we can use them to serve and elevate humanity. I trained as an artist and didn't realize I was a storyteller until much later on.

I took my culture for granted. It wasn't until I was a woman in my 30s that I realized just how underserved Latinos were here in the USA; how misunderstood we were; how underrepresented we were, especially in the children's space.

An investment in children is an investment in our future, and so I decided to dedicate my career to creating worlds where our Latin culture thrives. New worlds that build on our lore, our mythology, our sense of aesthetics and nostalgia but with fresh and modern characters that showcase our spirit, our humor and our hearts.

You've gone on to create two immensely successful ventures: the award-winning entertainment-driven direct-to-leaner edtech company, Encantos, and the Emmy-nominated Latino-inspired bilingual nursery rhyme series, Canticos. As a woman, what has this journey taught you about yourself? How have you grown from this experience?

It might sound cliche, but I think the most important thing you can do as a woman is to listen to your calling; believe in yourself and have the guts to follow your path, even if you have to make it up as you go along. Validation is great, but don't wait for it. Remember that if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will.

I'm constantly growing and learning—from everyone around me, younger and older. Knowing what you don't know is just as important as knowing what you know. I think the success of Canticos is mostly based on the fact that it came from a really concrete vision centered around the idea of serving the community in a really beautiful way—and it worked.

A team of US-based Latinas built Canticos: Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico & DR all came together to make it happen. It's a very special project and it will always have a special place in my heart.

Skeletina and the In-Between World
Credit: Roaring Brook Press

Skeletina and the In-Between World is your most recent literary work to be released. What is your hope parents and children will take away from this story?

I want children to let go of their fears and harness the power of humor and imagination to unleash their potential. I want them to find a way to remember that nothing can hurt them in their dreams and that the things they think are scary, really can't touch them.

I want Skeletina to be a friend to them when their parents can't be there—poking fun and diffusing scary situations. I want her to be that best friend who can help them see beyond their fears into what is really causing them anxiety so that they can acknowledge it and deal with it in a healthy way.

A singular philosophy that all creatives understand is that each project we work on teaches us something new about ourselves. What did Skeletina teach you?

What a great question. I think most of the eclectic monsters that exist in Skeletina's world stem from my own nightmares, fears and anxieties. Fear of my mouth working against me; fear of showing up unprepared; fear of everyone looking at me for the wrong reason; fear of drowning—I've had all of these dreams and more!

Skeletina allowed me to dive into these old dreams and look at the "spirits behind the curtains" that are pulling the strings, making kids feel this way in their sleep. I do believe your dreams have a way of serving up your anxieties to you in a way that is incredibly intense and is worth examining. I also feel that they have a way of revealing the magic inside you.

In my dreams, I realized I was talented musically and could really sound out any melody. I'm able to connect with my relatives that have passed. I've had utterly realistic, out-of-body experiences that have been truly amazing. I do believe there is an "In-Between" world and I've enjoyed exploring it with my pencil, as well as my words.

True to your mission of creating and offering content that can be consumed by English and Spanish speakers alike, Skeletina and the In-Between World was also released in Spanish. Why do you think this is a necessity for family-driven content within the Latino community?

Some basic stats: one out of every three kids under 10 in the USA is Latino and yet we represent only 4% of the leading characters in children's media. We are the 2nd largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, and yet before Canticos, there were no tools available to parents who wanted to pass on their language and their culture to their kids.

Speaking of culture, we've been here for a long time. Spanish is the second language spoken continuously in the United States. Our contributions to this American fabric pre-date that of the pilgrims and yet you wouldn't know it. I want to create media that leverages our Latin culture to inspire all children. That showcases those beautiful, deep magical things that unify us despite our different countries of origin that contain universal truths others will feel drawn to.

I want Latino kids in this country to grow up proud of who they are, rooted and secure that they have the best of both worlds so that they can become their full potential.

The artwork for the book is fun and playful. What was the inspiration behind it? How do you feel it encapsulates the energy of Skeletina?

I love to draw and I've had this world in my head for a long time. I'm a huge admirer of the work of Jose Posada—and I wanted to marry his sensibility, with that of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey—both artists I loved growing up.

There's also quite a bit of MC Escher to Skeletina's world as space and time function in a completely different way. It's a vibrant place with lots of nostalgic details and hopefully, the humor and the energy of the place comes through.

Looking back on your journey and analyzing where you were at the beginning to where you are now, what is the thing you are proudest of as a woman?

Honestly, I'm most proud of the fact that I never let being a woman hold me back. I learned to walk into meetings that I wanted to be a part of. To not wait for someone to give me permission to pursue my dream, but to just start working on it and to make it happen.

I think when you are doing what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, the universe conspires to help you along. As women, we have a bit of a sixth sense in this fashion. I use mine every day.

As a Latina, what is your hope for your community moving forward as it refers to the different opportunities that are created for them and offered?

Our community, more than anything else, needs to be unified. We must accept that although we might have Mexican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican or other country roots, we are now American and we have a shared US Hispanic or Latino (or LantinX) identity.

We need to show our pride so that we set an example for our kids. Unify our voices so that we can drive investment in our communities. We need to tell our stories so that we can inspire our kids, continuously shape our culture in the United States and drive how we are perceived by the rest of the world.