By Sujei Lugo
The Latin@s in Kid Lit at the Library series focuses on interviews with children’s librarians, youth services librarians, and school librarians, where they share their experiences, knowledge, and challenges using Latino children’s literature in their libraries. In this third installment of this series, I interview a great supporter of diverse books and an awesome booktalker, Angie Manfredi.
Angie Manfredi blogs at www.fatgirlreading.com and tweets constantly as @misskubelik. She is currently serving on the Stonewall Awards Committee. She has presented nationally on library issues from diversity to building teen services. She still can’t believe they pay her to be a librarian.
Talk a little bit about yourself and your library.
I am a born and raised New Mexican and proud of it. I am ethnically Italian, but my maternal great-mother was Latina and my maternal grandmother never let me forget it, “You’re not ALL Italian, after all.”
I’m Head of Youth Services at the Los Alamos County Library System in New Mexico. My library serves a large international population but, like most of New Mexico, also serves a Hispanic community. I work with ages 0-18 and can’t ever pick a favorite demographic.
What are your library’s selection and acquisition processes regarding Latino children’s books? Do you have any input in these processes?
Yes, as the Head of Youth Services, I am the final selector. I make sure to read widely from a variety of sources, both online and in print (For example, I love and use this blog). I ask my professional learning network on Twitter, publishers and small and regional publishers as well. University of New Mexico Press has some great regional titles like The Eyes of the Weaver/Los Ojos del Tejedor by Cristina Ortega, about the weaving tradition in the local Chimayó Valley and Amadito and the Hero Children/Amadito y los Niños Héroes by Enrique R. Lamadrid, about a flu epidemic and a pioneering New Mexican physician. These are local and bilingual titles a major publisher might never carry but are relevant to our region and our community. (I really recommend UNM Press. Check them out!)
What types of children and youth programming does your library offer using Latino children’s literature?
Nothing regularly, but we make an effort to include Latino children’s books in our storytimes, displays, and recommended book lists, so that they are a fully integrated part of our library services. We also create displays and booklists for National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Can you talk about community outreach and promoting library events?
I’ve been in this position almost eight years, so I’m lucky I’ve met lots of people! That’s a big part of what we do, I try to get my face out there. We have booths at community events, I contact school librarians with info about programs, and I’ve connected with our community educators group. If people know you’re willing to collaborate or help, even on a low level (making a booklist for an event even if you can’t attend), they are more likely to think of you or ask you.
What is the reaction of kids, teens, and families regarding Latino children’s books?
I’m lucky, everyone is receptive. That’s one of the best parts of living in New Mexico, though the Latino/a experience and the New Mexican experience are often so closely intertwined.
I love when parents and grandparents ask for books in Spanish or I get to show them our Spanish-language collection and they marvel at how many we have. Besides the books in English with Latino/a characters, we have everything from pictures to The Hunger Games in Spanish. They all circulate, which the entire staff takes pride in. We are always looking for more materials!
Any challenges regarding the acquisition of Latino children’s books or programming? What programs would you like to offer?
We’ve worked hard to refresh the Spanish-language collection with new materials. I found some motivated parent volunteers (that’s why we get out and mingle with patrons!) and they helped with the selection.
I’d love to have a Spanish-language storytime at least once a month. We had one when I first started, but our volunteer that was doing it got a full-time job. I’m definitely still interested in that. After our success participating in the African American Read-In, I also plan to expand our National Hispanic Heritage Month programming this year to have a read-in and a week full of themed storytimes. I’m excited about that.
Do you address issues of prejudice, oppression and inaccuracy in your library and in children’s books?
I hope I have weeded most of the books with inaccurate and outdated information. But I try, instead, to guide patrons to the books with positive and accurate portrayals. I say: “I really love this one!” or “This one really gets it right!” or “This one won an award, let me tell you about it!” That’s the kind of situation when patrons can really benefit from our guidance and enthusiasm, so it’s on us to be informed and proactive about the promotion.
Any advice for other librarians and educators who would like to use and incorporate Latino children’s literature into their programming?
Do it! If you feel unsure about where to start, dig into the Pura Belpré Award, the Tomás Rivera Award, and the Américas Award winners to give you a good start. Find one or two books you feel confident booktalking or reading in storytime and build from there, integrating those titles into your repertoire. There are families and kids in your community who will see themselves in these stories, and their cousins, and grandmothers, and friends.
Which are the most popular Latino children’s books in your library?
Our patrons love text where the Spanish is integrated through the text, so some favorite picture books are anything by Pat Mora and Yuyi Morales. Pam Muñoz Ryan is one of our most popular middle grade authors, Esperanza Rising is often assigned in schools and kids genuinely love it. The Tía Lola stories by Julia Alvarez are popular here too. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina was a very popular book here. And, of course, I can’t keep Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero on the shelf.
And finally, which Latino children’s books do you recommend?
I love everything by Duncan Tonatiuh. I can’t wait to see what Guadalupe García McCall writes next. I think every middle schooler should be required to read The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano. It’s an amazing book about finding who YOU are and what YOU will stand for. Similarly, Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velásquez made me cry the first time I read it and I think elementary school kids should all be taught it. It does a great job discussing how having someone support your dreams can change you and so can seeing someone who looks like you in art and media.
Oh, and Bless Me Última by Rudolfo Anaya. A required high school read for me and for thousands of other New Mexican students over the years. It helped me see that everyone has a story and it’s OUR job to listen.