#WeHaveDiverseBooks: 5 Questions is a spotlight on OOM dedicated to exploring Scholastic’s amazing distinct voices. We’ll take a deep dive into the backgrounds, inspiration and works of these authors and illustrators.
This week, we're talking with Peter Raymundo, the author/illustrator of the Third Grade Mermaid series.
In the spirit of the holidays, can you tell us about your favorite childhood holiday memory?
I am half Filipino. My dad was born on an island called Cebu. I say this because growing up, my absolutely favorite thing was our Christmas meals, made entirely of Filipino dishes. I say meals (plural) because we pretty much ate throughout the day. To Filipinos this may sound cliché, but my two favorite dishes by far were (and still are) siopao and pancit canton. We made everything from scratch. The preparation of the food with my family was almost as enjoyable as the meals themselves.
Tell us a little bit about your background and yourself as a child.
I'm originally from a small town in Ohio. From early on I loved to draw and read more than anything else. For a long time my favorite thing to read was comic books. You could say I was a "collector" even. I saved every dime I could and by high school I had over 20,000 comic books in those white collector boxes. Even though I never went into drawing comic books professionally, it was initially copying and then learning to draw my own comic book characters that helped push me in the overall direction of becoming an artist in the first place.
What is the earliest drawing or story you remember creating?
The first drawing I distinctly remember was of a Dalmatian dog. It was in first grade art class. We had to copy an existing drawing of the dog using a grid, kind of like a Tic-tac-toe grid. That was the first time I had that sensation of being totally engulfed in something, and being shocked when the bell rang an hour later.
Your latest series Third Grade Mermaid, an illustrated chapter book series perfect for readers ages 6-8, features a strong-willed young mermaid named Cora who is dealing with the struggles of being in the third grade – school, tests, managing friendships, etc. Tell us more about Cora and the world she lives in.
Overall, the Third Grade Mermaid series is about finding confidence in who you are despite being surrounded by an ocean of obstacles. One of the best things about the stories being set in the ocean is the potential of using an endless array of creatures for Cora to interact and learn from. From a giant, mutated shrimp to a gang of bully sharks, the potential for irony and visual humor is everywhere.
Book 2 in the series, Third Grade Mermaid and the Narwhals, comes out at the end of February. What can young readers take away from Cora’s adventures in Books 1 and 2?
Third Grade Mermaid (Book 1) is predominantly about being yourself. As Cora struggles to get back on to the overly glamorous “Singing Siren Swim Team”, she realizes that true beauty comes from who you are, not what you look like.
Third Grade Mermaid and the Narwhals (Book 2) is more about believing in yourself. Cora starts off doubting that she can write a story for the prestigious “Ocean Writes Contest,” but after journaling about her adventures to find a pod of mysterious narwhals, Cora learns that the ability to write a winning entry was in her the whole time.
Can you talk more about the theme of accepting yourself for who you are in the series?
I think that not only accepting who you are, but also accepting how remarkable you could be, is one of the biggest keys to success and happiness there is. Yet this struggle to merely accept your own potential is what holds most people back their entire lives. The Third Grade Mermaid stories are told in a way where Cora struggles with this very thing, and (similar to real life) is both the cause and solution to her own problems.