In response to the New York Times article about the lack of Latin@ authors and books for children, Latina bloggers are launching a coordinated response identifying the problem and providing solutions. As aspiring authors, and many of us parents, plenty of us have been neglected by the powerful editors of publishing houses. Some editors can’t figure out our “niche”. Some can’t find Hispanic authors. Some believe there’s no audience for Latino literature. They’re wrong. In a series of posts, we’re demanding more Latinos be mentored, published, and for publishing houses to become more diverse. To help publishing houses and readers, we’re providing our top picks of Latino writers. And we’re not done. Look out for forthcoming Google hangouts, twitter parties, and follow up posts as this coordinated effort continues work towards providing quality books for a new crop of readers.
As a mom, I’ve made a commitment to raise my daughters bilingual. To that end, I believe one of the most important things I’ve done is fill our home with a wonderful collection of bilingual books. I curated our collection primarily through our local big box bookstores (Barnes & Noble and the now defunct Borders), however, after three short years I have bought all of their Spanish or bilingual books. They have done little to refresh their selection since then. I’m relatively certain many of the books there are the same ones whose spines I’ve been skimming since 2007 when I had my first daughter.
It’s frustrating. It makes my job as a mom raising bilingual daughters more difficult. Now I understand my frustration is a privileged one because I have the means to walk into a bookstore and walk out with a handful of books. Imagine then how much more difficult it is for the population of children addressed in the New York Times article who may not be able to drive to a bookstore and may not have the money to buy the books they want.
These children must depend on their school and local literacy advocates to supply them with a vast selection of literature. Some will argue a love of reading isn’t born of reading about that which we know. They’ll say our children benefit from reading about a wide variety of experiences. Part of me agrees; it is after all how I fell in love with reading. There was no big push to include books with characters that looked like me or lived like me in the late 80s, early 90s. However, I think neglecting to diversify the books our children are reading to include Latino authors and protagonists is a disservice to their journey to self-discovery. It’s a failure on our part not just to Latino children but to all children.
I believe the overarching issue is a lack of enthusiasm by young readers, of Latino and non-Latino descent, for the literature that’s out there by and about Latinos. If books are the only window some children have into other cultures and experiences, then we’re failing them by not providing more diversity in literature. Our Latino youth should feel their experience is given just as much value as the experience of their Anglo counterparts whose literature we’ve been reading for decades. Non-Latino youth should also have the opportunity to explore and examine the experience of growing up Latino considering their future is one where Latinos will no longer be a minority.
As a consumer and parent, I believe the issue is two-fold.
First, I don’t believe enough books by and about Latinos are being published. I imagine it’s rooted in a lack of understanding on the publishers part on how to best market these books. Like the field of public relations and marketing, I believe publishers are overwhelmed by the many different Latino populations. It’s not like the science fiction genre where you can carve out your ideal reader. To properly target the Latino market, they’d have to take into consideration generational and geographical demographics amongst other things. It is no easy task, especially in the children’s market where authors are writing for children but publishers are marketing to parents. It’s tricky but easily remedied by having publishing houses commit to greater diversity amongst it’s leadership and throughout all its ranks, as well. With more diversity, the manuscripts of aspiring authors are more likely to come across the hands of someone who can identify with the stories Latino authors are writing. I should also mention, I don’t believe there’s any lack of Latino authors. I personally know plenty of writers with manuscripts they’ve attempted to shop around with little success. So, publishing houses? Time to step up to the plate.
Second, I don’t believe there’s enough diversity in the books being published. Like the New York Times article states, some children will just not identify with the stories of migrant workers. I’m not saying they won’t enjoy them or that these aren’t valid stories, but I believe our youth should be given a wider selection of Latino experiences to learn about. I know personally from someone who is Cuban-American and who identifies as someone “living on the hyphen”, meaning I feel neither Cuban nor American but some juggling hybrid of the two, I’m eager to see more stories which mirror the marrying of both cultures as I’ve experienced and as my daughters are experiencing. My remedy is writing my own story.
And while these are the primary issues I see, I believe there are a lot of ways to combat the problem. First and foremost, as author Esmeralda Santiago states in a 2007 blog post, “While writing is primarily an art for writers, it is primarily a business for publishers. …In the case of Latina writers, they look at how other Latina writers have done in the marketplace. This determination is done by number of books sold. Not number of books read, books sold…You could be the most gifted writer out there, but if the numbers don’t support an interest in the kind of literature you produce, it is unlikely a publisher will take a chance. So it is up to us to make publishers take Latina writers seriously by voting with our wallets.” Bottom line – go buy books. Money speaks louder than words to publishers. In a similar vein of showing our numbers, remember there’s value in providing an Amazon review of books you’ve read. You’ll be showing publishers how many people have read the book and give potential readers incentive to purchase the book. So get to reviewing!
Another way to impact the books in our youth’s hands is working with a local literacy organization. Most literacy organizations provide low income students with books for their classroom and home. Contact your local agency and find out if they have a book wishlist and you can focus on purchasing them the books written by and for Latinos. Some organization may even provide an opportunity for volunteers to read at a story time. You can volunteer to read either a bilingual book or an English book by a Latino author. If your local organization does not have a diverse selection of books, use resources such as the Pura Belpre Awards to provide them award winning Latino literature they should add to their wishlist.
Finally, I’m taking matters into my own hands. I’m currently penning two children’s books with Latinas as protagonists. I’ve never written a children’s book but my passion for bringing today’s youth relevant and engaging literature is mighty. I’m told the best route is going through a traditional publisher but I’m considering Kickstarter as well. I urge you to do the same. There are plenty of resources out there on writing children’s books and, like I’ve stated, the market needs our stories! Our Latino youth need more stories.
This holiday season I encourage you to shop through the Latin Baby Book Club Amazon shop. Send the link to relatives and friends looking for something to get your little one. Shop on it yourself to find gifts to give. Monica, who runs the LBBC, does an incredible job of finding amazing children’s books and provides insightful reviews of them. And now, a few of my family’s favorite children’s books by and about Latinos.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina
By Monica Brown, Illustrated by Sara Palacios
Lola En La Biblioteca
By Anna McQuinn, Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Ten Little Puppies/Diez Perriots
By Alma Flor Ada & F. Isabel Campoy, Illustrated by Ulises Wensell
La Aventura Del Dia Mundial De La Escuela
Below you’ll find links to similar posts by Latina bloggers responding to the void in Latino children’s literature. Stop by their sites and see what they’ve got to say about it. The books above are some of my favorites I’ve discovered with my own daughters. I’d love for you tell me in the comments which Latino author or piece of Latino literature has most influenced you.