‘Family Is Everything’

Author and comedian Jesús Trejo on his children’s books based on his parents

January 20, 2024

Jesús Trejo
Jesús Trejo reads an excerpt from his debut children's picture book, Papá's Magical Water-Jug Clock, at the 2024 LibLearnX conference in Baltimore on January 20. Photo: EPNAC

Writer and comedian Jesús Trejo remembers showing his parents a copy of his debut children’s picture book, Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock, for the first time. He read it to them in English, then his fiancée read it to them in Spanish. Afterward, he remembered how his father clutched the book against his chest, looking proud. His parents—alongside Jesús himself—were the main characters, after all.

“I’m very grateful that I was able to speak and tell the story of our family,” Trejo said. “This book, with every page, with every word, with every picture, just illustrates how family’s everything. If you have that—everything else could not be lined up correctly in life—but if you have that, you’re winning.”

Trejo discussed the book, how writing children’s books compares to writing stand-up comedy, and how libraries have had an impact on him during his January 20 featured speaker session at the American Library Association’s 2024 LibLearnX conference in Baltimore. He also spoke about his upcoming September release, Mamá’s Magnificent Dancing Plantitas (Minerva, 2024)

Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock recounts a childhood Saturday when Trejo accompanied his dad at work as a landscaper. Initially, he worried that his readers wouldn’t connect to him.  But through his writing process, he discovered how “commonality is found in the specificity,” he said. He has found that his story resonated with people who have experienced being a first-generation immigrant child, or even those who had responsibilities that they may not be aware of. 

“It’s a slice of life through the eyes of a little kid that doesn’t know that he’s first generation,” Trejo said. “He only knows that it’s Saturday and it’s time to go help Dad, and that it’s a fun thing, helping Dad.”

Trejo was surprised by the similarities between writing stand-up comedy and children’s books. “You want to hold suspense, you want to build anticipation. You want to make the kid turn the page and not close the book,” he said. “To me it felt like what it feels like to put together a five-minute set.”

As a child, if Trejo wasn’t helping his dad on the job or at home, he was at the library. He recalled how important it was for him to have that third space to go to, which opened up a world of books and ideas to him. “I feel like the original algorithm was a librarian,” he said. “The original Google, the original tastemakers, the original influencers.”

Trejo continued: “Sometimes I felt like librarians knew me better than my parents. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I would show up [at the library] and there were six to 12 titles on the table because [the librarian] knew I was into dinosaurs.” 


Michele Norris (r) speaks with ALA President Emily Drabinski on stage at the 2024 LibLearnX Opening Session

Six Words, Countless Conversations

Journalist Michele Norris discusses project that gives people the opportunity to talk about race

Rebecca Stallworth, assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons University in Boston, co-presents “Beyond the Bachelor’s Degree: Supporting First-Generation Students Through Graduate School” January 20 at the 2024 LibLearnX Conference in Baltimore

Eliminating Barriers, Meeting Needs

How academic libraries can support first-generation graduate students