Latinas for Latino Literature have teamed up with a few bloggers and writers for a blog hop and giveaway in honor of Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros (Children’s Day, Book’s Day). Amy Costales has written a post for us in honor of that day! Read this great article ahead and the giveaway that follows!
My daughter was my original inspiration to write children’s books. She was a toddler in my lap, watching a video she had just received for Christmas. It was her first encounter with T.V. There was a happy father on the screen pulling a toddler in a wagon. I was enjoying the scene, tapping my toe to the accompanying song of “Daddy’s Taking Me to The Zoo Today” with no deep thoughts. My daughter was the one doing the profound thinking. She tapped me on the knee, trying to comfort me, saying, “Don’t worry Mami, I have my Poppop”. I was stunned by all that must have gone through her two-year-old brain. She had looked at the screen, apparently thought how, unlike that child, she didn’t have a father around. She then thought of her grandpa, but also felt a need to console me. Híjole. That was a lot of thinking for one little girl. From that day on I was aware of the way the image of family in the media never reflected mine or my friends’. Where were the single moms? The dads working two jobs? The children sharing rooms? The families sharing houses? Where were the brown-skinned children? I always had enjoyed playing with words, but suddenly I had something compelling me to write. I wrote a book for my daughter about our family. When she got a little older, I wrote her another book. This time it was about skin color, because I noticed she was drawing herself as blond. She somehow came to the conclusion that chili peppers make your skin brown and she refused to eat salsa anymore, because, as she told me, she didn’t want to sit in the back of the pick-up truck with the lawn mowers when she grew up. She was three.
I became a teacher not long after that, and I noticed that my students also drew themselves with paler skin, lighter hair and blue eyes. I bought crayons and mirrors, and we drew ourselves in a celebration of color. Then one day I was reading a book to my class, when it suddenly struck me that it expressed a reality so far from that of my students. A little boy leaning against my leg while I read lived in a garage, and I was reading about middle class white boys and sleepover parties. At that point, I started trying to publish instead of just writing for my daughter.
What I write about doesn’t represent all Latino children, but it does add an important piece. Because my daughter, her cousins, and my students often lived in extended families, that is something I wrote about in Abuelita Full of Life, Grandpa Used to Live Alone and Sundays on Fourth Street. Because I was a single parent, and so many kids grow up in single family homes, two of these titles show a single mother, which is me. And because I know that in many families money is scarce, and I often think about how the child who has not must feel when bombarded with images of the child who has, Sundays on Fourth Street deliberately shows a family where three children share a bed. Lupe Vargas and Her Super Best Friend and Hello Night have universals themes, because I believe that Latino children should also get to simply be children, dealing with things like friendship and bedtime.
Are there a lack of books with Latino children as central characters? Certainly.
Nearly 1/4 of elementary students are Latino, and yet as mere 3% of picture books are about Latino children written by a Latino. However, that is not to say that there are not wonderful, exciting books being published by passionate authors and publishing companies that can fill a wall in any library. These books do not make it into all classrooms. It is problematic when schools order books using one distributor who may not carry the books that need to get into classrooms. And if you go into mainstream book stores, you are sometimes more likely to find books about a large red dog translated into Spanish. Nearly half of Latino kids do not graduate from high school. Seeing themselves in texts, both in stories and in history, would go a long way in remedying those numbers.
Almost twenty years after I stared teaching, I have learned something else. Latino kids do not need to read books about Latino kids. All kids need to read books about Latino kids. And Latino kids do not need to read books about Latino kids. They need to read books about all kind of kids. I have realized that I was right to read my students a book about a middle class white boy getting ready for sleep-over. I just needed to read it alongside a book like Sundays on Fourth Street where sleep-overs happen every night, in your own house, in the room you share with your cousins. The lives of all children need to be legitimized to all children.
Amy Costales is a bilingual children’s author and an instructor of Spanish for Heritage Speakers at the University of Oregon.
L4LL has put together a wonderful collection of Latino children’s literature to be given to a school or public library. Many of the books were donated by the authors and illustrators participating in this blog hop. You can read a complete list of titles (as well as the blog hop SCHEDULE) here on the L4LL website.
To enter your school library or local library in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below.
The deadline to enter is 11:59 EST, Monday, April 29th. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and announced on the L4LL website on April 30th, Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, and will be contacted via email – so be sure to leave a valid email address in your comment! (If we have no way to contact you, we’ll have to choose someone else!)
By entering this giveaway, you agree to the Official Sweepstakes Rules. No purchase required. Void where prohibited.