I love featuring books on the blog, especially books written by my friends. And I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome to this space my friend and fellow Secret Gardener, the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to chat about her fabulous picture book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. It was published by Lee & Low Books on August 11 and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.
Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Let’s give it up for Sandra! (There will be a book giveaway at the end of the post, in case you wondered. 😁)
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
1. I adore writing picture books, absolutely adore it!
2. I grew up in a small town and still live in a small town—except the small town I live in now is in Switzerland.
3. I’ve been a colossal nacho fan since I was a kid.
4. I had the enormous honor of being taught how to make Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya’s original recipe in the birthplace of nachos, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.
El Space: What was your path to picture book writing? How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Sandra: My path to picture book writing was long and twisty. I’ve had all kinds of jobs, the penultimate of which was being a lawyer. The catalyst for change was my daughter, who asked for stories—made-up stories—whenever we were in the car. She was a ruthless muse, asking (read: demanding) that I revise on the spot. After this story-telling boot camp, I enrolled in the “Harvard of Children’s Literature,” the MFA program for writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like most in our class, I started off writing novels, but then I discovered picture books, and there was no turning back!
About the inspiration for Nacho’s Nachos, one day I was making nachos in my kitchen and wondered, Hmm, where did these come from? I hopped online and discovered that Ignacio Anaya [below] had invented them. It was unbelievable to me that I didn’t know my favorite snack was created by a generous, quick-thinking man, whose nickname was Nacho. When I realized this culinary hero had mostly been forgotten, I decided to do what I could to tell the world about his story.
El Space: As I read it, I craved nachos! What were the challenges of writing Nacho’s Nachos? How long did it take from writing to publication?
Sandra: It’s been six years since that day in the kitchen. When I discovered the stories on the internet didn’t agree about how nachos were invented, I travelled to Piedras Negras. The families of Ignacio Anaya, Mamie Finan—the woman for whom nachos were invented—and Rodolfo de los Santos—the owner of the restaurant where nachos were invented—still live in the area and very generously agreed to speak with me.
An original nacho in Piedras Negras
What I discovered was that even in Piedras Negras, folks have different versions of the story. It made me double down on research and look beyond the internet. I found two archived newspaper articles, where the reporters interviewed Nacho himself. When I read them, I felt that I was as close as I was ever going to get to the truth. With those articles and the details I gathered from photographs and interviews, I at last had my story! Lee and Low chose Oliver Dominguez to illustrate, and the book was released in celebration of 80 years of nachos!
El Space: What was the process of working with Oliver? How much input did you have?
Sandra: First of all, let me say that I am delighted beyond words that Oliver is the illustrator for Nacho’s Nachos! He’s immensely talented, conscientious about getting details right, and a fabulous human being.
About your question, the general rule of picture books is that the writer writes, the illustrator illustrates, and each is careful not to step on the creative toes of the other. With a nonfiction like Nacho’s Nachos, there is a bit more collaboration by necessity. The families of Nacho, Mamie and Rodolfo kindly shared photos of the protagonists and the Victory Club. I shared these with Oliver so that the details of the illustrations could be as accurate as possible. In addition, our editor, Louise May, acted as our go-between, passing on questions Oliver and I had for each other.
El Space: I’m curious: how much have nachos evolved since their creation?
Sandra: They have evolved! A lot! The original nachos weren’t the piles of tortilla chips we now see all loaded up with lots of toppings. Nacho’s original creation was pure and simple: a freshly fried tortilla quarter, with melted cheddar cheese, and a single strip of pickled jalapeno pepper.
The incredible thing about Nacho’s invention is that it has inspired others to create their own versions. I’ve seen recipes for reuben nachos, hotdog nachos, caviar nachos, kung pao chicken nachos, and s’mores nachos. And that’s just the beginning. The sky really is the limit when it comes to nachos!
El Space: You’re always so helpful to writers, Sandra. What advice do you have for picture book writers?
Sandra: The best trick I discovered for myself is to divide the story into fourteen spreads once I’ve done my brainstorming and initial draft. This way it’s pretty easy to see the narrative arc of the story. As with novels, the best picture books have a start, rising action, crisis, climax and resolution. With fourteen spreads I can basically graph out what needs to happen where and then revise. The spread divisions also help me keep an eye on the all-important page turn.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra: I have two picture books coming out in 2021—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson. I am doing all the things that go along with that. Brainstorming marketing ideas for The Stuff Between the Stars. Revising and fact checking for Breaking Through the Clouds.
As for writing, I have a picture book coming out in 2022 about a worrywart of a bear and an adorable fish. Those two have taken up residence in my mind, and they’ve been bugging me to write down another of their stories. They’ve gotten so loud I don’t have a choice anymore!
Thank you so much for this chance to talk with you. I always love spending time with you!
Thanks so much, Sandra, for coming to chat!
Here are some great reviews of Nacho’s Nachos:
★ “Nickel’s thorough research, including communications with the descendants of the principals, brings to life the man behind the world’s favorite cheesy bites. . . . Nickel’s homage to this congenial, hardworking man and his renowned snack is a celebration of ingenuity and kismet.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review
“This tale of the humble origins of nachos, bolstered by vivid and period-specific illustrations, will whisk young readers away to a different time and place.” —BOOKLIST
“VERDICT A unique biography read-aloud title for younger kids.” — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Or look in your mailbox, ’cause someone will receive a free copy. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on September 7.
Henry with a Yeti-size plate of nachos. He prefers his nachos with a touch of ground beef, a dab of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers.
Author photo, nacho photos, and book cover courtesy of the author. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio. Map showing Piedras Negras from somewhere on the internet. Picture book layout by Debbie Ohi. Henry photo by L. Marie.