Paletero Man is a bilingual children’s book by Lucky Diaz, a multi-Latin Grammy-winning and six-time Emmy-nominated musician. This book celebrates the strength of community and inclusivity and it was published by HarperCollins Kids earlier this month (June 2021). The story was inspired by the diverse Los Angeles neighborhood and Latinx culture that Lucky is surrounded by.
The story is simple: What’s the best way to cool off on a hot summer day? Run quick and find Paletero José! Follow along with our narrator as he passes through his busy neighborhood in search of the paletero man. But when he finally catches up with him, our narrator’s pockets are empty. Oh no! What happened to his dinero? It will take the help of the entire community to get the tasty treat now.
The book is filled with musicality, generosity, kindness, and ice pops. As a Mexican American who grew up in California, Lucky feels a special affinity towards the paletero man who is a beloved fixture on the streets, purveying all kinds of flavors under the warm sun. The new picture book includes Spanish words and phrases throughout, an author’s note, and a link to an exclusive new single that will inspire dance fiestas everywhere. In addition to the new book, the band will release an album of original songs on June 25th called Crayon Kids.
Lucky Diaz recently discussed his new book and forthcoming album via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and songwriting and did you always gravitate towards the children’s genre?
Lucky Diaz (LD): When I was about 12 my mother came home with an acoustic guitar that she had purchased at a flea market. A few days later I was at a neighbor’s house and his older brother gave me a cassette tape to play and told me it would blow my mind. It was Jimi Hendrix. The guitar (or rather several guitars) has been by my side ever since.
MM: How did you get into writing children’s books?
LD: My wife and business partner Alisha Gaddis is already a successful writer. She really encouraged me to write my personal story and experience of taking our daughter to the park and to get paletas on Saturday afternoons in our Koreatown neighborhood in Los Angeles. Writing children’s books is very different from writing songs. They can live in the same fruit bowl, but it’s like comparing apples to platanos!
MM: How much did growing up in L.A. influence you creatively?
LD: I grew up near the Bay Area and moved to Los Angeles as an adult. I didn’t realize how influenced I was by California and Los Angeles until I arrived in Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. I walked around wondering where all the tacos trucks and street food vendors were. The permeating sounds of Mexican radio, colors and sunshine were missing from my daily life. The California dream exists in my work. The reverb sounds of surf guitars, the Chicanx Spanglish I sing — it’s all part of the LA and California experience.
MM: How did you find an illustrator and a publisher for Paletero Man?
LD: Micah Player illustrated my book. Micah and I have had a collaboration lasting more than a decade with him creating many of our videos and all the art for Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band albums, including our 2019 Latin GRAMMY nominated Paseo Lunar and our new album Crayon Kids.
MM: What’s your favorite thing about this book?
LD: I have so many favorite things about this project. That said, I feel the opportunity to showcase the beauty of Los Angeles and our immigrant community is my favorite part.
MM: You also have a new album coming out called Crayon Kids, so what inspired that name?
LD: Yes! I co-wrote these bilingual songs with my writing partner Michael Farkas who is known for his work with a band called The Wiyos. The album was produced by Kenny Siegal and mixed by Matthew Cullen. It’s really something special. The name is inspired by my upbringing in a diverse community. America is a great crayon box of colors. I felt the need to get back to that idea. All of the songs were written and produced collaboratively during the pandemic months, and you can hear references to challenging times in the lyrics.
MM: How many songs are on the album and do you have any personal favorites? If so, which ones and why?
LD: There are nine songs on this project, and I’m proud of each one. Michael and I started writing in 2019, and then the pandemic hit. We would make time each week to meet via Zoom to collaborate. I think my favorite song is “Dedos.” It’s got a real Rampart Sound to it. I wanted it to sound like a track pulled out of a dusty 45 record from a 1965 Los Angeles Chicano band. It is an homage to the east side sound of LA.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
LD: I think if I can just keep making art inspired by my Latinx heritage for kids and families I’d be pretty thrilled. I would love to bring more books and music to an audience that still hasn’t been exposed to this version of the California dream.
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To learn more about Lucky Diaz, visit his official website. Lucky’s first children’s book is available at bookstores now. Stream Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band’s bilingual radio hit “Sábado” on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Spotify and YouTube. A “retail link” for “Crayon Kids” is here: https://onerpm.link/9821489275