A New Spanish-Language Book, Volando cometas, Teaches Young Children About HIV
by Brent Calderwood
In the new Spanish-language picture book Volando cometas (Bellaterra), author, editor, and translator Lawrence Schimel tells the story of a young boy, Daniel, who learns about AIDS/sida while visiting his HIV-positive aunt during a family holiday.
Volando cometas (which means “Flying Kites”) succeeds where many education-oriented children’s stories founder, providing a wealth of factual information without sacrificing narrative. The text, which manages to be both refreshingly frank and lighthearted at the same time, is beautifully illustrated by Núria Fortuny Herrero, whose whimsical full-page images are painted in bright bold strokes that help to establish the book’s overall tone.
Volando cometas is not Schimel’s first foray into the world of juvenile literature. His picture book No hay nada como el original was selected by the International Youth Library for the 2005 White Ravens list of noteworthy books for children and young adults, and his picture books ¿Lees un libro conmigo? and Igual que ellos/Just Like Them were selected by IBBY for Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities in 2007 and 2013, respectively.
Schimel, who writes in both English and Spanish, has published over 100 books as an author or anthologist. A two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award, for First Person Queer and PoMoSEXUAL, he lives in Spain, where he works as an English–Spanish translator.
A&U recently spoke with Schimel about his newest book.
Brent Calderwood: What is Volando cometas about?
Lawrence Schimel: The book features a young boy whose family goes to visit his aunt at the beach for a holiday weekend; he knows something is wrong with the aunt because of a comment his mother makes when they get the invitation, but his parents change the subject, saying they’ll discuss the matter later, so he also knows they’re hiding something from him. But he doesn’t dare to break the silence, and imagines all sorts of catastrophic scenarios in the face of that lack of knowledge. When they get to the aunt’s, because of his fear a scene takes place, but the boy no longer trusts his own parents since they’ve been actively hiding information from him. In the end, it is the aunt’s new boyfriend, who’s seronegative, who he turns to for information, and once he has solid information as to what she has and how it is (and is not) transmitted, he loses his fear, and is able to enjoy the weekend, winding up flying kites on the beach with his aunt, a favorite pastime she and he both share.
How did you come up with this project?
Prejudices can manifest in both active and passive forms, and while it’s easy to recognize, say, active misogyny or homophobia, the passive manifestations of prejudice are often the more noxious because they present and represent a world that normalizes the absence of those
people. So a lot of my children’s books try to redress the imbalance and feature characters who are so often made actively absent. When I read the World Health Organization’s report at the end of 2009 that HIV/AIDS was the number one cause of morbidity for women of childbearing age throughout the world, I decided to try and redress that generalized invisibility of HIV and particularly HIV and women in books for kids, which is one of the main areas I write for these days.
Have you addressed HIV/AIDS in your previous work?
This is by no means the first book of mine to address HIV directly, although it is my first children’s title to do so. Many years ago, I published a cookbook of recipes by LGBT celebrities, Food for Life and Other Dish, where all royalties were donated to meals-on-wheels programs serving people with AIDS. And when my collection of gay erotic stories for adults, His Tongue, was first published in Brazil and in Spain, a lot of emphasis was made in reviews about the novelty of using erotica to educate about safer sex.
I know the book is currently available in Spanish. Will it also be translated into other languages?
The book was written in Spanish and is also available in Catalan and is forthcoming in Slovenian as well. I hope an English-language edition might be available someday.
What audience are you hoping to reach with this book?
In addition to the story, there is a nonfiction appendix at the back, with more information about what HIV is, how it is (and is not) transmitted, etc., that can be used by parents or educators to further talk about HIV. The book is intended for a general audience of young readers, and is meant to be accessible and understandable to all, whether or not they know that someone they know has HIV.
Volando cometas and other titles by Schimel are available at Amazon.com. Follow him on-line at www.twitter.com/lawrenceschimel.
Brent Calderwood is Literary Editor of A&U. His Web site is www.brentcalderwood.com.