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Maria Lentzou and "MarlaGran." Photo by Griffin Jones. Taken March 24, 2023

“Deep inside of us, we know we want to live a meaningful life,” says Maria Lentzou, author of bilingual children’s book “MarlaGran,” which launches Sunday at the Eric Quezada Center at 518 Valencia St. 

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Register for the event here.

Lentzou, originally from Greece, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in child development. She speaks easily of our most tucked away thoughts with a warm smile. She should be smiling — Sunday is Lentzou’s official “interactive” book release party, and several local families have already registered. 

The entire space at Eric Quezada will be decorated like the world of MarlaGran, the main character in Lentzou’s first children’s book. Doors open at 2:22 p.m., with an interactive reading for kids and families at 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and activities for children. In the evening, at 6 p.m., “it’s adult time.”

“MarlaGran” follows its namesake, MarlaGran, through a child’s journey of learning to “live life creatively,” a quest that ultimately is about learning to trust oneself. The young girl starts off “stuck,” a feeling that Lentzou describes as being disconnected from one’s heart.

Lentzou is trilingual, fluent in Greek, Spanish and English. She wrote “MarlaGran” in Spanish originally, and included English translations on every page. Most of the book encourages direct interaction, with sections where the reader can draw or write out their own thoughts and experiences. 

“In San Francisco, a lot of kids are bilingual,” says Lentzou. She emphasizes the need to create “resources that can help them connect. It’s for bilingual kids to feel proud.”

Spanish-English children’s books help all generations of a family, says Lentzou, especially grandparents and parents who don’t speak English. The book provides an opportunity to connect with their child’s process.

The illustrations, by artist Claudia Escobar, who worked at Mission Local and is now at the Oakland Museum of Art, are playful and impressionistic sketches of MarlaGran through life’s manifold adventures — dancing on some pages and laughing, crying or exploring on others. Each page is alive with surreal creatures and plants drawn in subdued, oceanic hues.

Much of Lentzou’s work has been with Latinx youth in Marin County, Richmond and Antioch. In her experience, a lot of them aren’t given the opportunity to get to know their creative selves. 

“Creativity is part of therapy,” says the author, describing her work with kids as “preventative.” With “MarlaGran,” Lentzou says, she is “providing a space for the child’s emotional world.”

“It’s like putting seeds in them that they can grow. And that’s what I’m trying to do with this book — it’s a resource.”

“MarlaGran” is not necessarily just for artists, or just for kids.

“Creativity is not confined to art, or drawing or dancing,” says Lentzou. “It’s for builders, athletes. It has a lot to do with connecting to your inner child. We need to connect with that curiosity, with that which lights us up.”

Lentzou was 24 when she moved to Argentina. At the time, she held deep-seated doubts about her creativity. After writing her first story at 6, Lentzou gave up on the craft. 

“I believed I was not creative at all,” says the author. “At one point, I was so judgmental of whatever I was doing, whatever I was creating.” But she pushed through.

While still in Argentina, in 2008, Lentzou’s daily practice of freewriting led her to create the character MarlaGran. In 2010, she teamed up with Escobar to put together the children’s book.

Lentzou has used “MarlaGran” with several kids in her practice, and was pleasantly surprised at the response of a 16-year-old patient. “After reading the story, she talked about feeling peaceful, hopeful and full of possibilities for the future,” says Lentzou.

Back in Greece, a teacher friend of Lentzou’s shows Greek translations of “MarlaGran” to her class via projector. “She tells me that the book speaks more to the kids in her class that have difficulties,” says Lentzou. “Every kid can benefit from that, but kids who have challenges absorb it even more. They have space to express themselves.”

Register here to attend the “MarlaGran” launch party Sunday, March 26, 2023, at 2:22 p.m. at the Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia St. The event is free and all are welcome. Preorder your book here to support the Kickstarter.

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Reporter/Intern. Griffin Jones is a writer born and raised in San Francisco.

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