First-time author finds passion, publisher

First-time author and Pitzer College graduate Nydia Armendia-Sánchez’s book, “Not Far From Here,” will be published in October by Candlewick Press. Courier photo/Matt Weinberger

by Lisa Butterworth

In her career, Nydia Armendia-Sánchez has lived a lot of lives. She has done visual merchandising and window dressing. She sold wedding dresses and corporate uniforms. For seven years she helmed her own handcrafted spice company (whose goods were sold at Rio de Ojas in the Village). With her debut children’s book being published in October, however, the Ontario native and Pitzer College grad has truly found her calling.

But in 2019, Armendia-Sánchez, who now lives in Fontana, was trying to figure it all out. “I was 39, and I had done all these different jobs,” she said. “With my 40th birthday looming, I was like, ‘What am I going to do? Am I going to have all this regret? I didn’t find my passion, that thing that brings me joy.’” Something else she hadn’t found: picture books for her two young children that reflected their heritage and familial experience.

Armendia-Sánchez is first-generation American — her mother is from Guatemala and her father immigrated from northern Spain. She and her husband have raised their kids in a bilingual household. “I was looking in Barnes and Noble or local bookstores, and I couldn’t find books that really talked about Latine culture, books that incorporated Spanish, books that were just about joy,” she said. “I started writing for fun, just writing little stories. And then I was like, ‘Let me see what more there is to this. Is this something that I could do?’”

Just before the COVID-19 lockdowns began, she took a picture book course at UCLA and fell in love with the medium. She wrote nonstop through the pandemic and threw herself into researching the children’s book publishing process. By the time she was ready to look for an agent, she had three polished manuscripts and very quickly landed a two-book deal with Candlewick Press.

The speed with which she achieved this dream is not lost on her. “In publishing it is typically a longer path. It kind of makes you feel like, ‘Oh, you don’t deserve it,’ or ‘You didn’t work as hard as other people.’ And you have to keep telling yourself, ‘No, I’ve worked. I’ve manifested this,’” she said. “I have three books. I have a fourth one that’s unannounced. So this is what I was meant to do — tell stories.”

First-time author and Pitzer College graduate Nydia Armendia-Sánchez’s book, “Not Far From Here,” will be published in October by Candlewick Press. Courier photo/Matt Weinberger

Her debut title, “Not Far From Here,” is the one Armendia-Sánchez calls “the book of my heart.” (Her sophomore book, “Frida Kahlo’s Crown,” will be published in 2025, and “My Huipil” in 2026.) Inspired by her own family, it’s written from the point of view of the “mamá,” telling her children the story of their “papá,” and how he came to the U.S. “But in doing so, she tells them a little bit about their ancestors — their grandfather, who was a blacksmith, and the grandmothers, who were the storytellers, the master chefs in the family,” she said. The underlying meaning is “you can find home wherever you are. And to always keep all those lessons from your ancestors and your heritage alive to keep you moving forward and pursuing your own dreams.”

The book’s illustrations, by Devon Holzwarth, are vibrant and immersive — just the added storytelling layer Armendia-Sánchez wanted. “I asked for someone who could add their magic, that was the word that I used,” she said. “I wanted someone who could really bring the story alive because it is considered a quiet book. It’s not like, ‘Michael fought the dragon; he had three challenges and he overcame them; climax and resolution.’ It’s not one of those books. So I knew that the illustrations needed to be over-the-top beautiful, lots of color, and have that person really put their artistic imagination into it. I love it.”

It was also important to Armendia-Sánchez that the book be bilingual, and “Not Far From Here” is written in both English and Spanish. Not side by side or line by line but rather woven together within each sentence. “It’s pretty much the way we speak at home. And it’s important because when I was young, there was a lot of stigma attached to weaving in English. Now I find that there’s a lot more encouragement towards just embracing each person’s language journey, whatever that looks like,” she said. “I wanted [my kids] to know, it’s okay if you express yourself this way. This is how you communicate. You’re choosing specific words in English because you want to convey a certain feeling or it’s more funny in Spanish, and that’s okay.”

These days Armendia-Sánchez’s kids, now 8 and 13, are often her test readers. “They’re totally biased, of course,” she said with a laugh. “They love everything. I’m like, ‘You need to be more critical!’” But even they haven’t yet read “Not Far From Here.” “That’s how special this book is. This manuscript is a surprise,” she said. “This is my gift to them, so I’m very excited for them to read it.”

It will also, no doubt, be a gift for the many other children who will read it, who haven’t found their experiences, their families, or their languages represented in their storybooks. “Sadly, like many BIPOC people,” meaning Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, “I never read a book when I was little that had a Latine family, someone who spoke Spanish in it, someone who came from another country. So I hope they see themselves. And I hope that it can be a moment to share with family because it is an intergenerational story. Kids start asking, ‘Hey, where did our grandparents come from and what did they do?’ And ‘Do you have any stories that you remember?’ I hope they can just enjoy that moment and perhaps spark questions about their own family’s history.”

“Not Far From Here” is available now for pre-order wherever books are sold. The author will be signing books in person at Rio de Ojas, 250 Harvard Ave., Claremont, on October 12 as part of the shop’s Día de los Muertos event.






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