By Margarita Engle
A few months ago, I received a set of wonderful letters from a grandmother and her 10-year-old granddaughter. They were reading Enchanted Air together, discussing it, and using it as a way for the grandma to share her own childhood experiences during the Cold War.
It occurred to me that many Latino families can’t do this, simply because most books by U.S. Latino authors are not available in Spanish. With a few wonderful exceptions such as the works of Pam Muñoz Ryan and Alma Flor Ada, in general only bestsellers by non-Latinos, and a few specialized small press books by Latinos, ever get translated.
Soon after those heartwarming grandma-granddaughter letters arrived, I visited a Washington, D.C. eighth-grade class where Latino students asked me for books in Spanish. All I had to offer was one of my oldest books, The Surrender Tree/El Arbol de la Rendición, a dual language paperback that resulted from this title’s status as a Newbery Honor winner.
My next school visit was to a rural sixth-grade class in California’s agricultural Central Valley. The students were all Latino, and most spoke English, but teachers informed me that many of the parents and grandparents were not bilingual. The only way those families could participate in their children’s education was in Spanish. Fortunately, the school had a grant to provide a signed copy of The Surrender Tree/El Arbol de la Rendición to each student. Those books will go home and be available to the whole family. That’s no guarantee that parents will read and discuss them, but at least it is a possibility.
The need for bilingual books for older children has been on my mind so much that when I served on a diversity panel at a national teachers’ conference, I answered the question, “What are your wishes for the publishing industry?” with the statement, “I wish for translations.”
I pointed out that fifty million people in the U.S. speak Spanish, and that just because the publishing industry has never figured out how to reach this vast “market,” that doesn’t mean it will never be reached. We can’t give up. Until there are more translations, family literacy in this country will never be complete.
Fortunately, I will soon have another bilingual book. A new and innovative small press called HBE Publishing has set a fall 2016 release date for a middle grade historical verse novel that I wrote in the style of magic realism. There will be both English-only and bilingual options, so that schools or individuals can order their preferred format. I won’t receive any advance, but the royalty will be much higher than the usual 10%, a trade-off I’m happy to make, in exchange for a beautiful bilingual edition that children can share with their abuelitos. Perhaps innovation is what it will take to resolve the problem of too few translations.
Margarita Engle is a prolific author of books for young readers, most recently of Enchanted Air and Drum Dream Girl. She has won countless awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and the Newbery Honor. Her guest posts on this blog are favorites with readers. Check out her essay on researching and writing the stories of historical heroes. For more information on Margarita’s writing, please visit her official author website.
The same day that this guest post published, Margarita received the 2016 Pura Belpré Author Award for Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings. Congratulations, Margarita!
Margarita’s experiences point to the shortage of Latin@-authored Spanish editions for middle-grade readers. When we researched available titles, we came up with the following modest sampler. Help us expand it! In the comments, please tell us about good bilingual MGs or fully Spanish editions that you’ve run across. Remember, we’re not looking for translations of mega bestsellers like the Harry Potter or Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We’d like to identify books that center on Latin@ characters and themes. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
Note: Some of the bilingual book covers shown below don’t include their Spanish title.