5 Questions With ... Juan Rios Vega

Juan Rios Vega, who serves as an associate professor for the Department of Education, Counseling and Leadership, is the author of a new children’s book, “Carlos, The Fairy Boy.” He is also an avid puppeteer. Joining him is his friend and book namesake, Carlos.

1. What inspired you to become involved with puppeteering? How long did it/does it take you to make one?

Ever since I was younger, I wanted to do something for children. Since most of my students at Bradley are going to be elementary school teachers and I love to craft, I thought, “Why don’t I make some puppets that can talk about issues of social justice?” There was a lot of trial and error — Carlos probably took me a week and (another puppet) Lolita about four days — but I keep learning and making changes.

Carlos The Fairy Boy book cover

2. What is the message of “Carlos, The Fairy Boy” and why did you want to write it?

Carlos is a story of a Latino boy who doesn’t fit in within gender expectations. When he first experiences Carnaval in Panama, he wants to dress up as a fairy and ride on a float like his girl cousins, but he doesn’t understand why boys cannot do this. It’s a book that tells kids, “Boys don’t always have to do what boys are supposed to be doing. They can also do things that girls do and they’re fine.”

3. What’s the best thing about working with Bradley students?

Working with students who want to become teachers, it’s exciting. It’s empowering. Teaching is about caring and it’s about love. And that’s something I tell my students every semester. When I ask them, why they want to be a teacher, it’s beautiful to hear there was a teacher who impacted their lives.

Juan Vega Rios with puppet

4. What do Carlos and Lolita do in the classroom with you?

Last semester when I was teaching online, I brought Carlos online to the classroom, and he talked to the students. Some were laughing. Later, one of my students said he thought about me when he went to his practicum because the teacher was using puppets. And I said, “There you go. See, I’m not the crazy one. Teachers use puppets in the classroom.”

5. Will there be more books in the future?

Absolutely. I’m working on two manuscripts right now. One is about a birthday party and the character is a boy named Luis who has a best friend and talks about issues of class. The other book, which I wrote in Spanish, is called “Little Boy” and is about a boy who’s anxious about going to school. I created a transnational mariposa (butterfly) as an epistemology to unpack issues of social justice.

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