Hello friends and welcome to Color the Shelves!
Today I’m very happy to bring you a chat with Anika Fajardo, author of the newly released WHAT IF A FISH, a middle grade magical realism story about a little Colombian boy who’s never felt quite Colombian enough. It’s a story of identity, finding oneself, family and finding magic in the mundane. If you like middle grade and you like magic this is one I highly recommend you check out… right after reading this interview, of course!
Hello Anika, thank you so much for joining me today on Color the Shelves! To kick things off, give us five fun facts about your story that don’t show up in the synopsis.
- Eddie is obsessed with a set of encyclopedias that he inherited from his father. While writing, I became obsessed with writing imaginary encyclopedia entries.
- I actually don’t know how to fish, so I went to the Minnesota Fishing Museum to learn more.
- Eddie and his friends watch a fish eat an ice cream cone that drops in the lake. This is based on real experience: a fish once ate my ice cream cone!
- I learned about soldiers pouring hot oil on their enemies when I visited the fortress in Cartagena. It was too good a detail not to include!
- Colombia truly has the most delicious mangos.
What If a Fish is a middle grade book that explores identity and grief in a few different ways. Why were those themes important for you to explore in a book for kids?
While I was writing this book, my own grandmother died. Abuela was already loosely based on her, so I knew that I needed to both honor my grandmother and process her loss through Eddie. Loss and death isn’t something that only happens to adults and it shouldn’t be something forbidden to talk about. When my daughter was six, she had a red beta fish, and when the fish died (as they do), she was devastated–for about twenty minutes. It became an opportunity to talk about death in a very simple and concrete way, and it also showed me that we all react to loss differently. Luckily, most children’s first experience with death is from a pet, but many also experience the loss of loved ones. It was important to me to show the different ways people grieve and that there isn’t one way.
When writing this story, what were some elements you knew you wanted to include in it from the very start?
The book started as a short story in which a boy goes fishing with his much older brother and ends with the two boys catching a big fish. I had witnessed a similar scene in real life, and after watching a young man catch a humongous fish, I wanted to know more about what that would be like. That’s where the “what if’s” began.
In a non-spoilery fashion, what would Eddie be up to after the end of What if a Fish?
I like to imagine that Eddie and Cameron become great friends and that they help each other navigate their first year of middle school together.
And lastly, my favorite question to ask authors, what’s one thing you’d like to tell your readers or that you’d like them to take away from your book?
At first, Eddie really depends on his encyclopedias to inform him about the world. Later, he learns to let go of that need for certainty a little. I hope readers come away from the book with a little of that sense of magic and possibility, that not everything has be perfect or look the way others say it should, that we can have purple hair or talk to ghosts, whatever it takes to be more ourselves.
About the author
Anika Fajardo was born in Colombia and raised in Minnesota. She wrote a book about that experience, Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family (University of Minnesota Press), which was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in 2020. A writer, editor, and teacher, she lives in the very literary city of Minneapolis. What If a Fish is her first middle-grade novel.
Her love of books brought her a career in words. She has taught elementary and middle school kids, college students, and adults. Anika liked reading so much (especially once she discovered Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and Julia Alvarez), she eventually became a librarian for both adults and children. Some of her favorite books for children now are Raymie Nightingale, See You in the Cosmos, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire, and Moving Target.
About the book
Publication date : August 11th, 2020
Publisher : Simon & Schuster
Genre : Middle Grade | Magical realism
Page Count: 240
Synopsis : Half-Colombian Eddie Aguado has never really felt Colombian. Especially after Papa died. And since Mama keeps her memories of Papa locked up where Eddie can’t get to them, he only has Papa’s third-place fishing tournament medal to remember him by. He’ll have to figure out how to be more Colombian on his own.
As if by magic, the perfect opportunity arises. Eddie—who’s never left Minnesota—is invited to spend the summer in Colombia with his older half-brother. But as his adventure unfolds, he feels more and more like a fish out of water.
Figuring out how to be a true colombiano might be more difficult than he thought.
That’s it until next time.
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.