Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library: Interviews with Fellow Librarians: Maria F. Estrella

 

The Latinxs in Kid Lit at the Library series features interviews with children’s librarians, youth services librarians, and school librarians, where they share knowledge, experiences, and the challenges they encounter in using Latino children’s literature in their libraries. In this entry we interview fellow REFORMA member Maria F. Estrella.

Maria F. Estrella

Maria F. Estrella

Assistant Manager, Cleveland Public Library, South Brooklyn Branch, Cleveland, Ohio

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your identity, and your library.

I am originally from Colombia and currently reside in Cleveland, Ohio. I came to the United States approximately thirty years ago, and grew up in a working-class community on the east side of Cleveland. During the 1980s, a small pocket of Latino families lived in my neighborhood, so maintaining our customs and culture was a priority.

I work for the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) as an Assistant Manager. Better known as the People’s University, CPL is a five-star library, recognized by the 2016 Library Journal Index of Public Library Service. Throughout my seventeen years of library experience, I have worked in various capacities. While obtaining my Bachelor’s of Arts and Sciences in Social Work and Spanish, I worked as a Youth Services Department Library Page and in Library Assistant-Computer Emphasis. I then obtained a Master’s of Communication and Information in Library and Information Science from Kent State University, and was promoted to Children’s Librarian, and then to Youth Services Subject Department Librarian. I currently work at the South Brooklyn Branch, one of twenty-seven branches within the Greater Cleveland, where there is a vast Latino population.

What process does your library take to select and acquire Latino children’s books for the collection? Do you have any input in this process?

There are several ways the Cleveland Public Library selects and acquires Latino children’s books for all of our twenty-seven branches and our main library. Our International Languages Department is responsible for the collection development of all Spanish materials, the Youth Services Department purchases diverse juvenile/teen titles, and our Children’s Librarians who serve the Latino community purchase Spanish or Latino children’s books for their collection.  

As an Assistant Manager, I no longer select or acquire juvenile/teen books for a collection. However, while working in the Youth Services Department, I created a Pura Belpré Award Book section, where all Pura Belpré award winners and honors are displayed. Additionally, I was one of two librarians responsible for ordering diverse titles for the department on a weekly basis.  

What type of children and youth programming does your library offer that promotes Latino children’s literature? How frequently?

Throughout the years, the Cleveland Public Library has conducted storytimes during Hispanic Heritage Month and Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros. I have recently partnered with the Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center to conduct a monthly bilingual storytime for families. The purpose of the storytime is to spark the love of language and literature in all forms (both English and Spanish) in early readers.

In terms of promoting events and community outreach, what does your library do?

The Cleveland Public Library promotes library events through various social media platforms and printed announcements, such as our monthly Up Next brochure. Our library staff members conduct numerous community outreaches throughout our urban neighborhoods, and we have an Outreach and Programming Services Department. Our library system also has the On the Road to Reading program, which delivers library materials and services to caregivers of young children, birth to 5 years of age. The project is conducted at selected childcare settings, pediatric clinics, and community events.

One cool thing the library acquired two years ago is the Cleveland Public Library People’s University Express Book Bike. The Book Bike’s overall mission is to celebrate both literacy and healthy living, while implementing creative ways to educate, provide library services, and instill pride in our urban communities. The traveling library displays informational services and materials, serves as a library checkout station, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and acts as a welcoming library hub at any outreach event. During the summer, I have the great privilege to ride the bike!

What is the reaction of kids, teens, and families regarding Latino children’s books and programming? And the reaction of your co-workers and library staff?

As a result of Cleveland, Ohio, being very diverse in population, it’s common for our children, teens, and families to experience diverse books and programming. What I love to do the most is introduce children and families to a small piece of our culture by doing simple things like reading a Latino-inspired tale or conducting a Día de los Muertos program. The library staff and co-workers love it, have provided a helping hand, and some have invited me to their branches to conduct a storytime.

Any challenges regarding the acquisition of Latino children’s books or in getting your programming approved? What would you like to do in terms of programming that you haven’t be able to?

I have never had any challenges regarding the acquisition of Latino juvenile books or programming. Sometimes, I am in shock that my past and present supervisors and our Outreach and Programming Department liked my program ideas, because at times they are a little outside the box! A program that I would love to have is a children/teen Latino writer/ illustrator series during the month of the Día celebration. I would love to illustrate to our Latino youth and their families that all dreams are possible, and demonstrating to them that diverse characters and displaying the Latino culture in books are worth creating!

Do you address issues of prejudice and oppression in your library through and in children’s books? 

As a result of being an almost 150-year-old institution, we don’t censor any material, and we do come across children’s books that portray certain prejudices. As an academic/public library system, we preserve those literary works for scholars to utilize in their research. However, we have marvelous youth-services staff members, who constantly inform themselves on the need for great diverse books for children. Currently, our institution has librarians on various ALA/ALSC book award committees. I had the honor of serving on the 2016 ALSC/REFORMA Pura Belpré Committee, which annually selects a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

Any advice for other librarians/educators who would like to use and incorporate Latino children’s literature into their programming?

Please do your research, read, and truly be an advocate for Latino children/teen literature, especially since, at times, you may be the only one doing it.

Which are the most popular Latino children’s books at your library?

Anything by Yuyi Morales, Duncan Tonatiuh, Meg Medina, Matt de la Peña, and Margarita Engle.

And finally, which Latino children’s books do you recommend?

There are many books that I love and utilize during storytime and with my children! I love that there is a Colombian character in the children’s book Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina. I also adore Matt de la Peña’s book Last Stop on Market Street. Although the young character in the award winning picture book is of African-American descent, my biracial children and I could totally relate to CJ and his Nana. In years to come, it will be amazing to see how book publishing companies will display the Latino culture to all children.

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Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 5: Alyssa Bermudez, Elisa Chavarri and Zara Gonzalez Hoang

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fifth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out soon. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Alyssa Bermudez

Photo by Mark Cowles

Photo by Mark Cowles

Alyssa Bermudez is a New Yorker who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and now lives and works in Tasmania. She illustrated Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, which was published in 2017 by Pow! Kids Books.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A:  I have always wanted to be someone who makes things. Whether it was designing shoes or learning to sew, I have always felt most like my true self when I’m making something. Growing up in New York, I had access to incredible artistic resources, and being exposed to that from a young age also made it feel totally natural. I don’t actually remember a time that I didn’t want to become an artist.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A:  Watercolor and Photoshop are my current absolute favorites. Watercolor has a mind of its own and sometimes that spontaneity shows up on the page. I love the confidence of its presence and combining it with digital techniques where I can control it afterwards.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: Picture books are important because it allows children to visualize and understand their own stories as they grow up. They can see their lives reflected in this way. The world is an exciting and colorful place full of adventure, and picture books highlight this to kids and adults.

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Elisa Chavarri

Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, baby girl, cat, and dog. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  Books she has illustrated include Rainbow Weaver/Tejadora del arco iris from Lee & Low Books, Maybe Mother Goose and Fairly Fairy Tales from Aladdin Books and various titles for American Girl.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist? 

A: For me, it was my love of the old classic Disney movies and cartoons, once I discovered that people actually created these characters and worlds by doing countless drawings and concept art, I was hooked. In addition I’ve liked drawing and coloring as long as I can remember.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: This is a tough one for me because I like different mediums for different reasons. My top favorites are pencil/paper, acrylics, watercolors, and digital. The one I use the most is digital, and it’s the one I learned last, but for completing work on time and revisions, it is the most versatile and efficient medium. To play around with on my own time and for personal projects I really enjoy acrylics and watercolors for their ease of use. I’ve been using these and oil paints since I was a kid thanks to my mom encouraging my artistic leanings and putting me in various classes. Digital painting I began learning in college, but mostly am self-taught.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to stories/reading and the arts which are among the most life enriching things in the world!

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Zara Gonzalez Hoang

Zara Gonzalez HoangZara Gonzalez Hoang is an illustrator originally from Minneapolis, now living near Washington, D.C. She studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will illustrate the upcoming picture book Thread of Love by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal for the Simon and Schuster imprint Beach Lane.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: I was lucky enough to be born into a family of teachers, so paper and art supplies were always around. I think at the heart of it all was the feeling of connection I got as a child drawing with my dad. I remember him lying on the floor with me, a sketchbook between us, drawing horses (my favorite) and boats (his favorite). My dad had a creative soul that wasn’t often expressed, so to be able to share a piece of it was always something special.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I work primarily digitally. I’ve always been drawn to computers (I was actually a computer science major in college for a little while), so I think the idea of merging art and technology appeals to me on different levels. I like working digitally because it’s so easy to change things if you’re not satisfied. I have a tendency to change my mind a lot so being able to change colors with ease or move elements around is really appealing. I draw so much digitally that when I’m drawing traditionally and make a mistake my mind tells me I need to hit the undo button (even though that is obviously not possible!)

Also, being a mom of young son, it’s a lot easier to turn on my tablet and get some “painting” done without having to worry about my paint drying on my brushes or making a giant mess that I don’t have time to clean up when my guy needs me. There are so many great brushes being created for Photoshop these days (Kyle’s Brushes are my favorite) that emulate different traditional media that it’s become a lot harder to tell the difference if you know what you are doing.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: They help children make sense of the world around them. There is a quote that I read recently that really resonates with me and gets to the heart of why I think picture books are important so I will just put that here because I don’t think I can say it any better than Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirror in books.”

I got into picture books because as a mixed-race Latina Jew married to a Vietnamese refugee with a Vietnamese/Puerto Rican/Jewish Buddhist child I want to help create mirrors for children who don’t have them. There are so many stories that are not represented, I feel like part of my purpose is to help bring them to life.

Book Reviews: Luis Paints the World, A Surprise for Teresita, and Maybe Something Beautiful

 

Reviews by Dora Guzman

The following books are a wonderful addition to any classroom library, as well as reading about how art inspires young artists and the beauty of waiting. One teaching tip is to use Luis Paints the World and A Surprise for Teresita to compare and contrast the main characters and their response to the act of waiting. Teachers can also use Maybe Something Beautiful and Luis Paints the World to compare and contrast how the main characters use art to express their current feelings to themselves and the community. Also, teachers can use all three books to compare and contrast characters and other story elements, but most of all for young readers to experience inspirational and impacting characters and stories.

 

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

Maybe Something Beautiful CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What good can a splash of color do in a community of gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation—and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration!

MY TWO CENTS: A realistic fiction picture book in lyrical writing based on a true story, this book paints a picture of a diverse community coming together as artists to liven up the town, and their interpersonal relationships. Mira, a little girl, is an artist who decides to share her paintings with her neighbors. Soon after, the color fulfills the community’s craving for life. Neighbors begin to also contribute their ideas to the town through murals and other creative expressions like dancing, Suddenly, a gray old town turns into a warm, colorful community.

I absolutely loved this book, especially the main character, Mira. She is young, but she contributed a transformative gift to her town by sharing her paintings. Great contrast in the illustrations while Mira literally brings color and life to a gray world. This picture book depicts an essential component of a community, which is to share our joys and contributions to further enhance our lives and surroundings.

TEACHING TIPS: A great read aloud for all ages, especially those in elementary schools (K-5). When reading, teachers can:

  • focus on retelling
  • model similes and metaphors
  • use it as a writing mentor text for descriptive words and language
  • analyze the use of onomatopoeia
  • describe how the illustrations support the text

The possibilities are endless!

isabel-campoyABOUT THE AUTHORS (from the book)Isabel Campoy is an author, anthologist, translator, and bilingual educator who has won many awards for her professional contributions. Her many accolades include ALA Notables, the San Francisco Library Award, the Reading the World Award from the University of San Francisco, the NABE Ramón Santiago Award, the International Latino Children’s Book Award, and nine Junior Library Guild selections. She is a member of the North American Academy of Spanish Language. She lives in Northern California.

 

THERESA HOWELLTheresa Howell is a children’s book author and editor with many bilingual books to her credit. Mutually inspired by Rafael Lopez’s efforts to transform communities through art, they combined their talents in the lyrical text of Maybe Something Beautiful. She lives in Colorado.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rafael López is both the illustrator of this book and the inspiration for the character of the muralist. He was born and raised in Mexico, a place that has always influenced the vivid colors and shapes in his artwork. He now creates community-based mural projects around the world and illustrates award-winning children’s books. Rafael López divides his time between Mexico and San Diego, California.

 

 

 

A SURPRISE FOR TERESITA / UNA SORPRESA PARA TERESITA

A Surprise for Teresita CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this bilingual picture book for young children, seven-year-old Teresita anxiously awaits her Tio Ramon, who has promised her a special surprise for her birthday.

MY TWO CENTS: This realistic fiction picture book in a bilingual English/Spanish text format is about a girl, Teresita, anticipating her uncle, Tio Ramon, and her birthday gift. As Teresita goes about her day, she meets other neighbors who are also anticipating her uncle’s famous snow cones. Soon after, her Tio Ramon arrives and not only shares his refreshing snow cones, but did not forget about Teresita’s unique birthday gift!

The main character, Teresita, is every child on their birthday, experiencing the anticipation of a birthday gift, but more importantly anticipating the visit of a loved one. The book also focuses on the joy that her uncle brings to the community, so the anticipation is shared between Teresita and the community. It reminds me of numerous memories of waiting for the raspados, paletas, and elotes. The moment when Tio Ramon arrives is an endearing moment for the reader and Teresita. Great character description throughout the story!

TEACHING TIPS: A great book to use for a read aloud at any age, especially elementary aged students. Reading and writing focuses can also include retelling, predicting, analyzing character feelings and/or traits, modeling narrative structure and writing.

Virginia Sánchez KorrolABOUT THE AUTHOR: Virginia Sánchez-Korrol is a Professor Emerita at Brooklyn College, CUNY. She is co-editor of the three volume Latinas in the United States and when she is not working on history brooks, she writes a blog for the Huffington Post.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Carolyn Dee Flores is a computer analyst turned rock musician turned children’s illustrator who loves experimenting with unconventional art equipment and art mediums. She has won numerous awards. She is currently serving as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Southwest Texas Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and mentor for the We Need Diverse Books movement.

For more information about Carolyn, check out this post, one in a series that highlights Latina illustrators.

 

LUIS PAINTS THE WORLD

Luis Paints the World CoverDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Luis wishes Nico wasn’t leaving for the Army. To show Nico he doesn’t need to go, Luis begins a mural on the alleyway wall. Their house, the river, the Parque de las Ardillas—it’s the world, all right there. Won’t Nico miss Mami’s sweet flan? What about their baseball games in the street? But as Luis awaits his brother’s return from duty, his own world expands as well, through swooping paint and the help of their bustling Dominican neighborhood.

MY TWO CENTS: A sweet story between Luis and his brother, Nico, who is deploying to another country through the Army. The reader can sense the sadness and helplessness in Luis convincing his older brother, Nico, to stay home. Luis is then inspired to paint a mural in order to show the world to his brother. While Nico’s departure is inevitable, Luis continues to paint and add to the mural, which then also inspires his mom and neighbors to add to the mural. The descriptive language changes throughout the seasons and is reminiscent of the unknown arrival of a loved one in the armed forces. Loved the story format and the thinking process behind Luis’s mural additions. Art truly was Luis’s form of therapy and measure of time of when his brother will come back home.

TEACHING TIPS: A great book to read aloud to any aged students, especially in the elementary grades. Readers can also focus on certain reading skills like retelling, questioning, and predicting throughout the story. Writers can focus on writing skills like narrative writing and adding descriptive language and adding dialogue.

Image result for terry farishABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terry Farish’s picture books, novels, and nonfiction works often focus on immigrant and refugee populations, informed by her early work for the Red Cross in Vietnam and continual research. Terry presents literacy programs for the New Hampshire Humanities Council, and she received the New England Reading Association 2016 Special Recognition Award for Outstanding Contributions to Literacy. She lives in Kittery, Maine.

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Oliver Rodriguez was born and raised in Miami, where his family settled after leaving Columbia. As a child, Oliver loved the way illustrations could bring a story to life. He received his BFA in Illustration from the Ringling College of Art and Design in 2008 and has illustrated multiple picture books. He lives in Florida with his wife, two dogs, and a collection of unique hats.

 

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-3 and also teaches an undergraduate college course in Children’s Literature. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile!

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out this year. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

Q: Please finish this sentence. Picture books are important because…”

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Creating a Diverse Book Legacy: Interview with Culture Chest Founder

The climate in our country at present makes it increasingly urgent for us to bring diverse portrayals of diverse peoples to young readers. In addition to the resources we promote through schools, libraries, and other communities, there’s a new kid on the block, a subscription service called Culture Chest, which provides books that highlight diverse experiences geared toward readers aged 3-8. Several subscription options are available.

Here are some highlights of my chat with Rose Espiritu, founder of Culture Chest.

LKL: Tell us the mission behind Culture Chest. What does it bring to the work of diversifying children’s literature?

Rose: Two years before beginning Culture Chest, I was working on a documentary about parenting someone of a different race. I interviewed over one hundred interracial families as well as those brought together through transracial adoption. Many families explained the difficulties of finding books with characters that looked like their children. While filming, I interviewed a young Latina girl who was adopted by a Caucasian family when she was born. She told me about a book that described the adoption process and compared it to a “birthing video.”  It was the only explanation she had for how she came to be. Through her, I realized the importance of children’s literature.

culturechestboxRose: As a second generation immigrant of Nigerian and Filipino descent, I struggled with finding literature about my heritage when I was growing up. I created Culture Chest to help people learn about themselves and other cultures. I wanted to provide a resource for parents to teach their children about the world within the comfort of their own homes.

I think of Culture Chest as a social venture, and I want to support the diversification of children’s books. The goal is to show publishing companies that folks want diverse stories with cultural relevance which will hopefully prompt them to invest more resources towards supporting authors from diverse backgrounds.

LKL: How do you select the books?culturechest1

Rose: I consult with children’s book reviews and testimonials as well as books that I personally enjoy. I look for books written by diverse and emerging authors who have a personal connection to their work. At Culture Chest, we do not look for books where characters “happen” to be a person of color. We want stories with cultural relevance that encourage children to love other cultures.

LKL: What are some of your favorite books by or about Latinxs? 

In children’s books, one favorite is The Gullywasher by Joyce Rossi. The book is a
grandfather telling a tall tale about how he got older. I was super close to my lolo (grandfather) and it reminded me of that special bond.

 

Tito Puente, Mambo King by Monica Brown is a fun vibrant story of about Tito Puente banging on pots and pans as a child. I’ve seen many children light up after reading it to them! We featured this title in our September box.

garciagirlsFor older readers, I love How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Álvarez. I immediately related to this book and its themes of pressure to assimilate, racial identity, and the immigrant experience. I love the fact that it is told from the perspective of four girls. It felt like snapshots of the past. I was introduced to the time of Trujillo and the political unrest in the Dominican government that led to their family fleeing to America. This book had adventure, laughter, and stories everyone with strict Catholic roots can relate to.

LKL: What else should readers know about Culture Chest?

We are a humble startup with big dreams of promoting culture through books, toys, and other avenues. Traveling to other countries and reconnecting with my heritage as an adult has helped me become a much more self-assured, confident person. My parents immigrated to this country, so their goal was to be American. As an American, I feel I have to work twice as hard to hold onto my heritage. I know others share this desire. Our goal is to help make it easier for parents and children to engage with their culture.

LKL: How can folks learn more about what you do? 

Please join to our email list and connect with us on Twitter at @CultureChest. You can also find us on Facebook and at our website. Learn more and subscribe at culturechest.com, and use the promo code WELCOME to get 10% off as a new subscriber.

 

Viva Smart, Bold Girls, and Viva Lola!: A Guest Post by Author Monica Brown

 


Lola Levine Is Not Mean! CoverBy Monica Brown

Why write a chapter book series?

I love this age of reader and I love this age. It really is an honor and a delight to write an #ownvoice chapter book series because my books might be the very first “novels” a child will be read, and the first read on their own! There are plots, subplots, world creation, and all those things that go into any novel. It’s a challenging genre to write in, but it’s an important one, because chapter books can establish a true love of reading. It is also one that has had a paucity of diverse main characters, and even fewer authors of color. While most librarians will know exactly who Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody are, we just don’t have multicultural chapter books with that reach and readership, and we desperately need them.

I’m very proud of the books my amazing illustrator Angela Dominguez and I created with this series! Picture books, middle-grade, and YA get a lot of literary attention–chapter books much less so. When I Lola Levine Coverdecided to write a chapter books series, my agent told me it would be a challenge to publish because there are fewer houses that publish them and a series is a big investment. Against all odds, Angela and I did it, and our books are among the first, if not the first, Latina-authored and illustrated chapter book series.

When I was in second grade, I would have loved to meet a rough and tumble girl like Lola Levine. You see, I spent a fair bit of time on the bench at recess! Apparently I talked a lot in class, played tag a little too competitively, and jumped in puddles on purpose. I do remember that my mother was called more than once to bring me dry shoes. In fiction, as in life, rascals and rebels might have more fun, but I learned to channel that mischievousness into creative outlets and team sports, not to mention a great deal of humor. Like Lola, I was also a child of two cultures, and I know first hand that mixed-race children, like myself and my daughters, are sometimes described as “half” this or “half” that, instead of beautifully whole. Lola Levine isn’t a fraction; she is made up of multitudes! As a Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme Covermother, a teacher, and a writer who meets thousands of children each year, I’ve also observed the way girls (and boys) who don’t quite “fit in” can experience social exclusion, teasing, and even bullying.

These are some of the reasons I created the chapter book series focusing on this irrepressible character of Lola Levine, who is boldly, fiercely, herself. Lola teaches us that girls can be competitive and loud and funny, but sensitive and nurturing, too. This series is also covering new territory. For example, in the upcoming Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream (Book 5), Lola goes to Peru with her family and visits her beloved Tia Lola. She stays in the house her mother grew up in and learns about her own complex history and Peru’s. This may be the first chapter book that addresses themes of indigenous identity and colonization in Peru.

As a writer, I’ve been inspired by director Guillermo del Toro, famous for the film Pan’s Labyrinth, who in relationship to art, imagination, and childhood once noted that there is “a particular moment that we all go through when we are asked to stop believing and stop choosing who we are and become who Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean Covereverybody else tells us to be.” He goes on to say, “we should not obey . . . imagination should not comply.” There is such a freedom in being oneself, and that is a gift I bestow on my character Lola.  It was a dream and a pleasure to create a smart, diverse, multicultural character who each day chooses to be herself, and whose imagination certainly does not comply! Viva smart, bold girls, and viva Lola!

Interested in more Chapter Books featuring Latina Characters?  In her recent blog on “Latina Girl Power! Chapter Books with Latina Characters,” librarian Mary Ann Schuer highlights Lola and other chapter books featuring Latina characters.

 

 

To the left is Monica Brown as a young soccer player; to the right is her daughter, JuJu, the original “Lola.”

monicasoccer  julessoccers

 

monica6Monica Brown, Ph.D. is the author of many award-winning books for children, including Waiting for the BiblioburroMarisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/ Marisol McDonald no combina The Lola Levine series including: Lola Levine is Not Mean!Lola Levine, Drama Queen; Lola Levine and the Ballet Scheme, and Lola Levine Meets Jelly and Bean. Find Monica on Facebook at Monica Brown, Children’s Author, on twitter @monicabrownbks, or online at www.monicabrown.net.