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Lissette Norman on Adapting a Family's Deportation Story in 'Until Someone Listens'

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

By Amaris Castillo

“Dear Donald Trump, my name is Estela. I am 11 years old. My mom is my best friend.”


So began the letter Estela Juarez read aloud for a video played at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. The Florida girl's mother, Alejandra, was deported back to Mexico two years prior after living as an undocumented immigrant in the United States for years. Since her mother’s deportation, Estela and her father and sister had to adjust to a new norm.


The family’s story drew widespread attention, particularly because Estela’s father is a U.S. Marine veteran who voted for Trump.


Two years later, Estela teamed up with author Lissette Norman to adapt her story into a picture book titled Until Someone Listens (out now from Roaring Brook Press and also available in Spanish). Illustrated by Teresa Martínez, the autobiographical story follows the Juarez family’s case through Estela’s eyes.


From the first page we are introduced to a loving family and the beautiful bond Estela shares with her mom: “I had to go everywhere my mom went because I moved fast like a colibrí. A hummingbird. As soon as I woke up, I would take off, on a quest for answers. I knew I would find what I needed because, just like my mom, I carried hope in my wings.”


The book continues on to share details of a man from the government coming to the Juarez family home and telling Alejandra that she had to go back. Estela recalls never leaving her mom’s side after that. “I was scared to know a world without her in it.”


After her mother is deported years later, we’re taken on a heart-wrenching journey with Estela as she begins writing letters to newspapers and anyone who could listen. The core of Until Someone Listens is the story of a young girl who finds her voice in order to spur change. And it's a lesson for young readers that their voice can perhaps make a difference, too.


Norman -- the author of My Feet Are Laughing and other forthcoming books including Plátanos Go With Everything -- remembered being impressed when she watched the 2020 video of Estela reading her letter. The author added that she was very proud to be part of the team behind Until Someone Listens. “We worked really hard to try to put a really complex and difficult story in a way that children can understand it and relate to it – and connect to it,” Norman told DWA last fall. “I’m just happy it’s out in the world.”


In May 2021, Alejandra Juarez was allowed to temporarily stay with her family after being granted humanitarian parole.


To write a picture book that captures the complexities of the U.S. immigration system and aptly captures the pain of a torn-apart family is not easy. Between the fall of 2020 early 2021, Norman organized Zoom sessions and had many WhatsApp calls with both Estela and her mother. The goal was to get as many details about their family in order to piece together the most accurate and compelling story and, because Alejandra was still in Mexico, it required a lot of coordination. According to Norman, the process also entailed a lot of back-and-forth between herself and her co-writer, Estela, to ensure all were on the same page about any changes to the text.


The book takes the painful and politically-wrought subject of deportation and humanizes it. Norman said she worked to make the family's story sound more poetic and lyrical on the page. In addition to the emotional writing, illustrator Teresa Martínez's art lends a tenderness and warmth when needed.


“Ultimately what we wanted people to get is an inside look into how broken immigration policies can really harm families,” Norman said. “It gives you a close-up look at what it does to an immigrant family, and why we need to reform the immigration laws so that doesn’t happen.”


This title is also available in Spanish. You may purchase copies from our bookshop: https://bookshop.org/lists/2022-new-noteworthy


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About the Author:

Lissette Norman is a poet and author of the picture books My Feet Are Laughing and Plátanos Go with Everything. She is also co-author of the picture books, On the Line: The First African-American Rockette (w/ Jennifer Jones) and Until Someone Listens (w/ Estela Juarez). Lissette received her BA in English at SUNY- Binghamton and currently lives in New York City.

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Amaris Castillo is a Brooklyn-born journalist, writer, and the creator of Bodega Stories, a series featuring real stories from the corner store. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, the Lowell Sun, the Bradenton Herald, Remezcla, Latina Magazine, Parents Latina Magazine, and elsewhere. Her creative writing has appeared in La Galería Magazine, Spanglish Voces, PALABRITAS, Dominican Moms be Like..., and is forthcoming in Quislaona: A Dominican Fantasy Anthology and Sana Sana: Latinx Pain and Radical Visions for Healing and Justice. Her short story, "El Don," was a finalist for the 2022 Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writers’ Prize by the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival.


Amaris lives in Florida with her family. You can follow her work at amariscastillo.com and read her stories from the colmado at bodegastories.com.

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