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Rhode Montijo on The Gumazing Gum Girl! Series

In 2006 I published my very first children’s book, Cloud Boy, about a little boy that sculpts the shapes in the clouds that we see. Having that book published fulfilled a life-long dream. Visually, the book was mostly a blue and white color palette. Soon after Cloud Boy was published, my editor at Simon & Schuster asked if I had any ideas for a companion picture book- perhaps something in pink. It was simply a request for a book in another color, but a seed had been planted. I thought about it, what’s pink? I wondered about this and bubble gum kept popping up. It was then that I came up with The Gumazing Gum Girl- a sticky, stretchy superhero!

I felt that Gum Girl maybe was too big of a story to be contained in a picture book and imagined it more like a graphic novel. Growing up, I read a healthy dose of comic books, back when comic books weren’t considered real reading material. Thankfully my parents were happy that their son was reading and kept supporting my comic book interests. I loved the fantastic tales but clearly remember wishing there were Latinx superheroes in comics, but there weren’t any during my youth. Because of this, I came up with Gum Girl’s alter ego, Gabby Gomez- two G’s and playful alliteration inspired by Spiderman’s aliterate alter ego name, Peter Parker.

For years I had pitched stories to publishers that mirrored my culture, but most publishers at the time would ask if I had something like Harry Potter or Sponge Bob. I even recall one publisher suggesting that I consider changing a story with a Latinx family into a Caucasian family. Publishers would pass on my stories, but I didn’t give up. I knew that the demographics in books weren’t matching the demographics in the real world at the time, so I kept going. Years passed and I pitched Gum Girl as a graphic novel at Disney Hyperion. They were interested, but my editor wondered if I could turn it into a heavily illustrated chapter book for kids who would be graduating from picture books. I jumped at the opportunity.

Inspired by comic books, I had a blast depicting Gum Girl’s adventures. I tried to keep her design simple and consisting of shapes in hopes that kids could draw her without much struggle. When creating the first Gum Girl book I also sprinkled Spanish words throughout. I was surprised when the publisher asked me to put more Spanish words by the time the second book came around. The times were changing, I thought. Even though Spanish is present in the story, I try not alienating anyone. For example, if Gabby’s mom says, “Buenos dias Gabby.” Gabby answers “Good morning!” My heart swells when I hear parents say things like, “My child used to not enjoy reading books, until they came across Gum Girl.”

Gum Girl has stretched over to Little Brown where we are currently wrapping up book #5. It’s a big team-up issue, again, inspired by comic books. I used to geek out when superheroes would unite for a common cause!

Growing up, I didn’t have a superhero that looked or sounded like me, but maybe with Gum Girl, I can do that for kids that are hoping for a superhero that they can see themselves in.