age range: 3-7 years
format: picture book
themes / topics: resiliency, hope, and community; earthquakes
Cynthia Harmony’s website
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Please tell us about your book.
Mi Ciudad Sings is the story about a girl and her dog, Pancho, on her daily walks to her mom’s flower shop. They skip to the beat of familiar sounds of the city until they hear something unexpected. . . the rumble of an earthquake. The sounds of the city change as they witness their neighbors coming together. Inspired by their strong and brave community, the little girl and Pancho find a way to help too and discover a new kind of hope that binds everyone together.
What inspired you to write this story?
When I was very young I experienced one of the biggest earthquakes that devastated my hometown, Mexico City. I still remember the confusion and sadness that came after. In a very strange coincidence, the same day three decades later in September 2017, another very strong earthquake struck. This time, I was living in Arizona and experienced the aftermath through my family and friends.
Because Mexico City is used to earthquakes and our generation had been through a very hard rebuilding experience, there was an overwhelming outpouring of generosity. It was so moving, I knew it deserved recognition and celebration. Marginalized communities are often portrayed through stereotypes. I wanted to go beyond the hardship of experiencing a natural disaster and focus on the moment where our humanity shined bright, inspiring people from all around the world.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I kept a folder of digital articles, references, videos, and pictures of the event. My main personal references were my mom and my sister who lived through this experience in the most affected areas of the city. My sister’s organization was in charge of distributing relief efforts to different communities in the city and other states that were also affected. I witnessed my psychologist college friends offering free crisis-intervention sessions and was able to put other friends in touch with each other to volunteer or donate resources.
I was also lucky to chat with a friend I met while working in museums who currently works for the Geophysics Institute researching earthquakes. This information was helpful to write the Author’s Note at the end of the book.
And because an earlier version of this story included the rescuing and rehoming of pets that were lost during the earthquake, I contacted people that organized these social media posts to find the pet owners. This tool was so useful, it actually became an ongoing effort where people could post lost and found pets in the city.
What are some special challenges associated with fictionalizing a true story?
Writing a fiction story based on a real event can be challenging, particularly if it includes a difficult subject like a natural disaster. I knew I needed to create a safe space for my main character and keep a sense of hope throughout the story. The secondary character Pancho, based on my own dog, was key in crafting this journey for very young readers.
Another challenge was choosing and sticking to my theme from all the information available. My early drafts had too many threads that needed to be narrowed down to make the main story cohesive and work for this format and age group. The feedback I received from attending conferences, my critique partners, and eventually my agent and editor was essential in defining the main aspects of the heart of this story: the bonds between mother and daughter, child and pet, and their neighbors coming together.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
Mi Ciudad Sings focuses on a little girl and her dog as their community comes together to face a challenge that affects the whole city. The theme is timely, as we are still facing a pandemic and searching for ways to support each other to return to normalcy. This story can help educators discuss how every person at any age can contribute something to make things better. And how taking action is one of the most helpful ways to find purpose during difficult times and overcome fear and sadness. Kids particularly are truly amazing at finding and sharing hope.
This book can be a conversation starter for Civics and Social Studies units on topics such as kindness, generosity, empathy, emotional intelligence (courage, fear, resilience), natural disasters, local and global challenges, emergency aid, real life heroes and helping (including rescue dogs), problem solving, community, culture, and Latin America.
And this book releases with a simultaneous Spanish edition, which will be a great addition to Spanish Immersion or bilingual programs in schools, libraries or homeschooling.
Thanks, Caroline, for letting me share more on this book that’s so close to my heart!
Thank you for sharing your book with my readers! I can’t wait to read it.