The Boy Made of Lightning

By Gaby Galindo


In conjunction with National Library Week, J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library celebrated an iBook, “The Boy made of Lightning,” in an April 14 program featuring the book’s author.

The writer, Barbara Renuad, illustrator Deborah Kuetzpalin Vasquez, and Dr. Joseph “Joey” Lopez, an associate professor of communication arts who served as producer/tech consultant, made up a panel in the Library Auditorium that discussed the book’s origin.

“The Boy Made of Lightning” is an interactive children’s book which tells the story of Willie Velasquez, a San Antonio native and voting rights activist.

In 1974, Velasquez founded the nation’s largest voter registration project aimed at the Hispanic community, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. The project was renamed the William C. Velasquez Institute in 1997 in honor of his legacy of working to ensure Latino voices were heard and accounted for in political decision-making processes. In 1995, President Bill Clinton Velasquez posthumously awarded Velasquez the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“(Velasquez) was this guy that was unrelenting,” Lopez said. “The reason that we had such a good story was because this guy was legit.”

“The Boy Made of Lightning,” now available for free on iTunes, includes narration by Congressman Joaquin Castro, which Lopez recorded in UIW’s audio lab, and contains a variety of convergent media, including original artwork by Deborah Kuetzpalin, music, pop-up video windows, and translations. The book even includes sound effects recorded by UIW students.

There were many people and organizations backing the project during its development, such as former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who wrote a letter of endorsement; a full endorsement from a former president of St. Mary’s University where Willie Velasquez earned a degree in economics; and some funding from District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, as well as many others.

Despite this outpour of support, “The Boy Made of Lightning” received negative criticism for its deviation from traditional book publication and its usage of Spanglish.

“We inherently decided from the get-go that we were going to use Spanglish,” Lopez said. “Throughout showing this book to many people, they would say ‘This is not a book you can publish. You cannot do this. This is not OK. This is teaching people bad habits.’ ”

Because the book was published on iTunes and has an array of technological features, many refuse to recognize “The Boy Made of Lightning” as an actual book.

“This book became something that, whether we meant to or not, ended up questioning a lot of things,” Lopez said. “When the Texas Book Festival accepted the book, it really kind of took a weight off our shoulders and gave us a renewed confidence about what we were doing and has changed the trajectory of how we even think about books.”

Renaud described a revelation she had upon visiting a library to get an idea of what children’s books were like since novels were forte. She had discovered dozens upon dozens of children’s books that delved into all aspects of the African American civil rights movement, and only three children’s books discussing Hispanic civil rights. It was then she found her inspiration and what she wanted to do for her next project.

“Stories have intrinsic power,” Renaud said. “To me, it’s more power than anything else. A children’s story has a great deal of power because it helps us understand. Whether you’re white, Asian, black, whatever you are, you benefit from knowing our story because it is who you are too. We all need the hero’s journey, which is what civil rights is all about. The heroic journey that we’re all searching for. Whether we all admit it or not.”

Vasquez showcased several of the original sketches and designs she made for the illustrations of the book, explaining the symbolism behind her images which often nodded to Hispanic culture and history.

“Making the art was a spiritual experience, and it was really beautiful,” Vasquez said. “The experience of doing this work is really important, and really helps you understand what you really want. It’s a large vision board of our people that’s been a long time coming.”

Lopez discussed the iBook program in great detail and how the digital features impacted the book publishing industry, yet acknowledged that the story, and the author and illustrator’s ability to convey it, contributed to the success of the project.

“We’ve got this person that was very impactful, but me telling children that he won 85 cases against Texas for gerrymandering is not what’s going to inspire and transcend a space,” Lopez said. “It was the work of this author and this illustrator that really brought to life this story in a way (that will connect) with kids.”

There are plans to have a print edition of “The Boy Made of Lightning,” Lopez said. “We’re also potentially working on a hardback, but we’ll see how that all comes out.”

Renaud has her eye on several other projects.

“It’s not going to end here,” she said. “This is not the one and the only. There will be many others. I am committed to telling a story, and I am committed to sharing it with the children throughout the country.”

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