Author captures children’s hearts

BGSU alumna Ana Crespo wins International Latino Book Award for 'The Sock Thief'

By Bonnie Blankinship

Children’s play is a universal language. So it’s only fitting that a book by BGSU alumna Ana Crespo about a Brazilian boy who finds a clever way to make his own soccer ball has earned Crespo an international award. She received the 2016 International Latino Book Award in the “Best Latino-Focused Children’s Picture Books, Bilingual” category for her charming tale of “The Sock Thief: A Soccer Story.” 

A 2002 graduate of the BGSU graduate program now called Learning Design who came to the United States from Brazil, Crespo said she only found her calling as a children’s author when she became a mother. Admittedly not much of a reader when she was younger, she began reading children’s books and books in English to her daughter, who was born in Bowling Green, and later when her son came along.

The books struck a chord with Crespo. She had worked as a translator and in corporate internal communications and as in academic advising at a university, and although she liked the communication aspect of them all, she felt that they lacked creativity. 

“I’m a creative person and I began to think, ‘I’d like to write books for children,’” she said. “And I found that it gave me a better sense of accomplishment and satisfaction than my other work had.”

Along with the creative aspect, another very satisfying part of writing children’s books is getting to visit schools and meet the young students, especially those in less-advantaged areas. Crespo, who now lives in Colorado, often visits schools with high numbers of Latino students. 

“I remember one day I was checking into a school and I saw a little girl who asked me who I was,” Crespo said. “When I said that I was the visiting author, her eyes lit up and she said, ‘You’re the author?’ For children whose parents have accents like mine, it’s very exciting to see someone like me, and I tell them, ‘Yes, and you can be an author, too!’ I find I can give hope to people in those communities and encourage them to dream bigger.”

She also provides some hands-on fun. One of the activities she does with the schoolchildren is teach them to make their own balls out of socks, showing them how to twist and roll the socks until they form a big, soft ball.

Rewarding as being an author is, though, Crespo did not expect to win any awards for it. However, her recent win came as no surprise to Dr. Donna Trautman, chair of the Department of Visual Communications and Technology Education in the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering, with whom she has kept in close touch over the years.

“Ana is a bright, endearing and passionate type of person. I smile every time I think of her,” Trautman said. “Once she decided to go into writing, I had no doubt in my mind that I would see it come to fruition. Even when she was here as a student, once Ana started something, she finished it. There was no stopping her.

“She has the integrity, the dedication to learning and the motivation for accomplishing things. So not only did she succeed in getting published, she did it in high style and won an award.”

Crespo’s persistence and willingness to learn new things has stood her in good stead, Trautman added. Even though her English is quite good, it was still a challenge for her to write “The Sock Thief,” her first book in English. A native speaker of Portuguese, from Rio de Janeiro, her first books were written in Portuguese. Eventually, though, reading to her two children, she began to realize that there weren’t books by Brazilian writers or about Brazilian kids in English.

And so she decided to write one herself, and “The Sock Thief” was born. Crespo drew on childhood memories from Brazil and her father telling her about doing it when he was a kid. 

In “The Sock Thief,” Felipe loves soccer and it’s his turn to take a soccer ball to school, but he doesn’t have one. The book, published by Albert Whitman and Co., uses simple words combined with colorful illustrations to show how socks can be made into ball, a practice common in Brazil and also other places, as Crespo discovered in writing the book, making it relatable to children from different cultures, even the United States — whether soccer or baseballs. 

Writing children’s books is not as easy as it might seem, she said. “It’s like people who go to a museum and see an abstract painting and think, ‘Oh, I could do that.’ But it’s much harder than that. It’s really about coming up with a story and finding the best way to tell it.

“And when you’re working with an illustrator, it’s not just the text that tells the story. I have to ask myself “What do I not have to say?’ because the pictures can provide lots of details. For example, in ‘J.P. and the Giant Octopus,’ I never say what the giant octopus is (a carwash), the illustrations tell us,” she said.

She was very happy with the illustrations for “The Sock Thief” done by Nana Gonzalez, she said. “Producing a children’s book is really a group work and it can be nerve-wracking because there’s no communication between the author and the illustrator. But if you have a really great editor as I do, Kelly Barrales-Saylor, he or she will choose the right illustrator and give them feedback. I’m very pleased with the illustrations for all my books.”

Authors also have to think carefully about the age group their books are geared to, she said. Her “J.P.” series, about another little boy and illustrated by Erica Sirotich, uses only 125 words each. The process of eliminating words, condensing the text and letting the pictures tell the story takes effort and concentration and editorial assistance.

Crespo and her husband, Pedro, lived in Bowling Green for two years while both earned their master’s degrees, and then moved to Columbus, Ind., and now Colorado, where he teaches college. (Pedro had actually lived here when he was an adolescent and his mother was attending BGSU, and had good memories of his time here.)

“Bowling Green is home to us,” Crespo said. “We love it. We come back every summer, and we visit with Donna (Trautman), Kim Strickland (senior fiscal coordinator for the college), Marcia Salazar-Valentine (executive director of International Programs and Partnerships), Eileen Bosch (coordinator of library instruction in University Libraries) and our other dear friends outside the University.

“I cried when I read about Myles pizza closing. I would have eaten there every day when we were here in July if I had known they were going to close!” she said, only half-joking.

“I think that time of their lives was really special to them,” Trautman said. “They were newlyweds, it was Ana’s first time actually living in the United States, and she was open to coming to the U.S. and learning as much as she could about it, all the social, economic, political and cultural aspects of it and being enriched by the experience. As a student and as a graduate assistant in our office, she was just a joy to work with. 

“She and her husband have worked as a team to be successful in both their careers and now are determined to give that experience to their own children. And Ana with her books is bringing joy and learning to other children.”