When I was a kid, my mom would often ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I’d describe what I’d like to do, and she’d then tell me what job I could pursue. For example, in the nineties, UFOs somehow were always on the news. I swear every Sunday there was a special on TV about how someone had sighted a flying saucer, or taken a grainy video or photo of mysterious lights in the sky, or some terrified person would describe encounters with ET roaming around their neighborhood streets.
“I want to find out if they’re real,” I told my mom.
“So you should go to NASA and become an astronaut,” she said.
I didn’t know what NASA was. I didn’t know what astronauts did exactly. But, for a while, I’d tell everyone that’s what I’d do.
When I started first grade, I joined a new school. I was anxious and felt lost in that big building with so many and corridors, but my teachers were kind and made everything less intimidating stairs. They encouraged me to tell stories and to express my opinions, and that’s how I began to explore storytelling. Every time I drew something, I imagined what those characters’ lives were like. Soon enough, I was starting to string sentences together down on paper. They were simple stories, but they made me laugh.
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During the first PTA meeting, my teachers projected on the wall for all the parents to see a story I’d written. My mom was surprised and proud, and my teachers told her I was a writer.
I remember I used to spend most of my free time after school coming up with stories for Turma da Mónica comics—although I didn’t know about fan fiction at the time—still, I wasn’t totally sure what being a writer meant.
But then something unexpected happened. All during a simple test day.
I was sitting in class waiting for my teacher to finish distributing our Portuguese tests. We weren’t allowed to turn the page until she said so. It was practice then for the teacher to read all the questions out loud, so we all could become familiar with them before attempting to answer.
Everything was going normally, until she reached the reading comprehension part of our test, and I realized all first grade students in my school were going to be tested on that story I’d written weeks ago. The one that popped up in a PTA meeting.
I was so surprised to see my words printed for the first time.
No one had told me in advance this would happen. My classmates all turned to me in awe. I felt like a different person. It felt like a spotlight had suddenly turned to me, although not in a bad way. I felt seen for the first time.
My teacher then read my story out loud, pausing for long seconds as forty or so kids laughed at my jokes and the unrequited love a bug named Silvia felt for a grasshopper. My writing came to life in my teacher’s voice, in my classmates’ reactions, and in the news that came after the test that every teacher down the hall had read my story to their students, too, and in each classroom my story had a big reception and the kids had rooted for my main character.
It was the first time I realized my creativity could impact people and it didn’t have to be something in the future. What do you want to be when you grow up? I didn’t have to wait. I could be a writer now.
My teachers saw something in my love for stories that made them want to show me what they’d meant when they told my mom that I was a writer. When they encourage her to help me hone this skill. I was starting to see it, too. My words were in print. I had readers.
That day in 1995, I guess I became a published author for the first time.
During recess, I sat eating with my friends, when a girl I didn’t know approached me. She vowed to take revenge. I’d somehow wronged her and didn’t know why. She said her name was Silvia, just like my main character.
“Do you know how embarrassing it was to hear all my friends laughing at me, because of your story?” she accused, as if I’d named the character after her on purpose. I tried to explain that I didn’t know her, but she didn’t care. All she cared about was writing a story of her own and naming her character after me. That’s when I knew writing had power. It made me want to write again. It made me want to write more.
That day, I think my teachers’ support for their students created not only one, but two writers.
I’m really thankful to all the teachers in my life who went above and beyond to support their students. It wasn’t just recognition what motivated us, but also feeling heard and seen at a time when kids are often shortened. When their dreams are seen as phases.
In my life, I’ve met many great educators who took time to read my messy first drafts, encouraged me to enter writing contests, and who celebrated my accomplishments. I recently got messages from my high school teachers who found out about SALT AND SUGAR, my debut YA rom-com, and they all congratulated me. It made me feel like I’m still their student, even though I’m no longer in their classroom.
SALT AND SUGAR is the story of Lari and Pedro, who live across the street from each other in rival bakeries in Olinda, Brazil. When a predatory supermarket moves into their neighborhood and threatens their bakeries, they team against it and in the process find out they have a lot more in common.
I wrote this story as a way of reconnecting with my own childhood, after my mom passed away in 2015, and many elements of my past permeate the story. One of them is the support network I found at school. That’s why I wrote Professora Pimentel in SALT AND SUGAR. She’s a high school teacher who’s the embodiment of all these amazing teachers in my past.
In SALT AND SUGAR, Lari and her classmates are in their senior year in high school and they’re deciding what to study in college. It’s a hard period for Lari, particularly because she’s in mourning and there’s so much at stake in her neighborhood, so I wanted the scenes with her favorite teacher to feel like a breath of fresh air, the same way my teachers were to me when I felt anxious about the future.
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Her teacher is the one who sets a lot in motion, bringing Lari and Pedro together at the school’s cooking club, despite the multi-generational family feud that’s kept their families apart for decades. She’s the one who encourages her students to really be honest with themselves and to think about the things they love and care about. Ultimately, she’s the one who nudges Lari and Pedro in the right direction toward breaking the vicious cycle of misconceptions about each other they were in. Thanks to her teacher, Lari is able to explore her own dream of cooking.
Thanks to my teachers, I’ve been writing ever since that day in 1995.
Meet the author
Rebecca Carvalho is a Recifense writer based in Berkeley, California. She loves crafting stories filled with close-knit neighborhoods, Brazilian food, and telenovela-esque settings. When she is not writing, you can find her with her camera, gaming with her husband, or watching Star Trek for the hundredth time. Rebecca has a bachelor’s degree in English from Lawrence University. Salt and Sugar is her debut novel, and it was inspired by her life in northeastern Brazil.
Buy Salt and Sugar: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/salt-and-sugar-rebecca-carvalho?variant=40128048594978
About Salt and Sugar
The grandchildren of two rival Brazilian bakeries fall in love despite their families’ feud in this delicious debut rom-com perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and Gloria Chao.
Trust neither thin-bottomed frying pans nor Molinas.
Lari Ramires has always known this to be true. In Olinda, Brazil, her family’s bakery, Salt, has been at war with the Molinas’ bakery across the street, Sugar, for generations. But Lari’s world turns upside down when her beloved grandmother passes away. On top of that, a big supermarket chain has moved into town, forcing many of the small businesses to close.
Determined to protect her home, Lari does the unthinkable—she works together with Pedro Molina to save both of their bakeries. Lari realizes she might not know Pedro as well as she thought—and she maybe even likes what she learns—but the question remains: Can a Ramires and a Molina truly trust one another?
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 11/01/2022
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post