Luis was a high school freshman who hadn’t read a novel independently for so long he couldn’t remember the title or year it happened. During the first semester of high school Reading, Luis read We Were Here by Matt de la Peña in anticipation of an author visit. After the visit, Luis asked for “another book like this one,” which was his way of saying, “a book written recently that doesn’t bore me and has characters who look, talk, and act like me.”
With the help of enthusiastic teachers and librarians, Luis read more books “like that one.” It took just one story that spoke to his identity as a Hispanic male to begin his engagement with literature.
Luis’s story is borne out by research. When youths “see” themselves in terms of race, culture, and lived experiences in the literature they read, they benefit academically, personally, and socially (Bishop, 1992; Diamond & Moore, 1995; Mason & Au, 1991). More broadly, culturally responsive teaching or “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to them” (Gay, 2000, p. 29) results in increased student engagement and positive gains in achievement (Chapman, 1994; Foster, 1995; Hollins, 1996; Krater, Zeni, & Cason, 1994; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995a, 1995b; Sheets, 1995).
Luis, and others like him, stand to gain a great deal from reading books that speak to their cultural identities. Sometimes a love for reading is kick-started by a single book with a main character who faces the same issues the reader does or lives in a place like the reader’s own neighborhood. This is true for all of us. We connect with stories for varied reasons, including the simple one that something in the narrative is familiar.
The statistics in publishing, however, have been against teens and children like Luis, who specifically want to read books that feature ethnic or racial minorities. Recent news stories have highlighted the fact that minority children in the United States don’t often see themselves reflected in books. Also, a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reported the number of children’s books with multicultural content has not increased in 18 years. (See also this post by Lee & Low Books about the study.)
So, why focus on Latin@ Lit? Because 53 million Hispanics live in the U.S. according to the 2012 census. Hispanics are the second largest race or ethnic group (behind non-Hispanic whites), representing about 17 percent of the total population. Everyone–not just Latin@s–should be able to read books with characters that represent our diverse population.
While several excellent resources for Latin@ Literature exist online, we had yet to find a site that was dedicated to Latin@ children’s literature and created by Kid Lit writers.
So, here we are! Welcome to Latin@s in Kid Lit!
We’re launching our site at the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month to underscore our mission to provide a closer, more sustained sense of what’s happening in Latin@ children’s literature.
Our vision is to:
engage with works about, for, and/or by Latin@s;
offer a broad forum on Latin@ children’s, MG, and YA books;
promote literacy and the love of books within the Latin@ community;
examine the historical and contemporary state of Latin@ characters;
encourage interest in Latin@ children’s, MG, and YA literature among non-Latin@ readers;
share perspectives and resources that can be of use to writers, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents, teachers, scholars, and other stakeholders in literacy and publishing.
On this site, you’ll find:
posts about Latin@s in children’s literature;
book lists. This is a work in progress. Please send us titles that should be included. We are looking for books by Latin@ writers in any genre and books by non-Latin@ writers with Latin@ characters, settings, etc.;
book talks, where we’ll highlight books we’re reading and explain why you should be reading them, too;
interviews with writers and illustrators about their creative journeys;
interviews with agents and editors about the publishing process;
articles and news links aimed at writers and others involved in literacy and publishing;
guest posts. Please write to us if you have an idea for a post.
Like you, we’re passionate about serving a burgeoning community of young readers. That’s why we want to offer this as a welcoming space where you can share your ideas, too. We believe that Latin@ children’s literature is for everybody. We hope you’ll follow us and explore the ways it can enrich young people’s lives.
We don’t want to overwhelm you with research, but if you’re interested in learning more about the ways multicultural literature benefits young readers, the following books and studies are a good place to start.
Brozo, W. (2002). To be a boy, to be a reader: Engaging teen and preteen boys in active literacy. Newark, DE: International Reading Association
Deci, E., Vallerand, R., Pelletier, L., & Ryan, R. (1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26(34), 325-346.
Diamond, B.J., & Moore, M.A. (1995). Multicultural literacy: Mirroring the reality of the classroom. New York: Longman.
Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Research, theory and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Guerra, S. (2012). Using Urban Fiction to Engage At-Risk and Incarcerated Youth in Literacy Instruction, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (55)5, p 385-394.
Hill, M.L., Pérez, B., & Irby, D.J. (2008). Street fiction: What is it and what does it mean for English teachers? English Journal, 97(3), 76–82.
Hughes-Hassel, S., & Pradnya, R. (2007). The leisure reading habits of urban adolescents. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(1), 22
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory Into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995b). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.
Morris, V., Hughes-Hassell, S., Agosto, D., & Cottman, D. (2006). Street lit: Emptying teen fiction bookshelves in Philadelphia public libraries. YALS: Young Adult Library Services, 5(1), 16-23.