Local author wins highest honor in children’s literature

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Donna Barba Higuera has fulfilled a childhood dream.

“I remember being a kid and seeing the books lined up on the shelf with the gold sticker on them,” Higuera, from Taft, said. “I knew there was something a little more magical or interesting about them.”

Now his own novel sits among them. Higuera’s book The Last Waiter received the 2022 Newbery Medal. It is considered America’s highest honor for children’s literature and graces the cover of classics like The Graveyard Book, Desperaux’s Taleand Holes.

The Last Waiter follows Petra, a young girl on a journey through the universe. Waking up from hundreds of years of slumber, Petra finds that only she remembers Earth and must work to keep the stories of the house alive.

“The word ‘cuentista’ means storyteller,” Higuera said. “But there is a connotation in the word that means the storyteller might just be twisting the truth.”

It’s a practice Higuera herself is familiar with. Raised in Taft, Higuera’s childhood is full of stories, embellishments, magical tricks on the world around her.

“Growing up in Taft, we were always like, ‘OK, not much going on, so we have to enjoy ourselves,'” Higuera said.

Many of these stories, and the people who told them, influenced the writing of The Last Cuentist.

“Most of my family and friends still live in Taft and Bakersfield,” Higuera said. “It’s a big part of who I am, and I love being able to take my community into these books.”

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