Latin@s in Kid Lit at the Library: Interview with Angie Manfredi

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 ManfrediAngie 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.

 

A Frank Remembrance of My ALA Midwinter Experience

 By Sujei Lugo

SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL by Duncan Tonatiuh, Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book & Sibert Informational Honor Book

SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL by Duncan Tonatiuh, Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book & Sibert Informational Honor Book

Several days ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits Conference (#alamw15), held in Chicago. My main reasons for attending the conference were to meet with my dissertation committee, attend REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking) meetings and discuss and collaborate with fellow Reformistas about ongoing projects and events. My presence in Chicago and #alamw15 also drove me to participate in and attend events and engage in conversations with fellow bloggers, librarians, educators, authors, publishers, and supporters of children’s and young-adult literature.

In this post I want to share with you about the sessions and events that I took part in and some reflections on my overall experience at the conference.

On Friday, January 30, 2015, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), along with the Children’s Book Council (CBC) hosted Day of Diversity: Dialogue and Action in Children’s Literature and Library Programming. I was not able to attend because this was an invitation-only event, but I followed the conversation through tweets, then afterward in blog posts reflecting on that day. The purpose of the event was to “discuss strategies for ensuring that all children have access to diverse literature and library programming.” Although great remarks were given by the keynote speaker, former ALA and REFORMA president Dr. Camila Alire; Día founder, author, and storyteller Pat Mora; former ALA Offices for Literacy & Outreach Services Director Satia Orange; and Native authors and authors of color, the overall impression was that it felt like a Diversity 101 event. Based on social media commentaries and subsequent talks, the event lacked real discussions about systemic problems, White privilege and anti-racist approaches to children’s literature. These conversations are long overdue in children’s librarianship and the publishing industry, and it is a pity that events where these conversations should happen do not embrace that challenge. Great recaps and reflections were posted by Debbie Reese, Edith Campbell, Zetta Elliott, Sarah Park, Don Tate, Maya Christina Gonzalez and Jason Low.

The REFORMA meetings and events were a great experience to get to know fellow Latino/a and Chicano/a librarians, educators and authors, immerse myself in committee work and projects, and finally meet people whose work I have admired for years. These gatherings were among the most welcoming spaces I’ve attended in my professional career in the United States. They also are dealing with serious issues regarding not only Latino populations in the United States, but Latin American immigrants as well.

Maya Christina Gonzalez reading MY COLORS, MY WORLD/MIS COLORES, MI MUNDO during Noche de Cuentos

Maya Christina Gonzalez reading MY COLORS, MY WORLD/MIS COLORES, MI MUNDO during Noche de Cuentos

A great example of this is the Children in Crisis Project. With this project, REFORMA delivers blankets, books, and backpacks to children held in detention centers near the border. The children, many as young as two years old, are unaccompanied refugee minors crossing the border, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Their journey crossing the border, many to reunite with family in the U.S. and to escape state and local violence, must be seen as a humanitarian crisis, and care needs to be given to focus on the social, emotional, informational, and legal needs of these children. As the co-chair of REFORMA’s Children in Crisis Task Force, Oralia Garza de Cortés said, “this project is like an underground railroad of books to our most vulnerable children.” REFORMA is currently partnering with nonprofits to continue to enhance efforts to help and support our children. (Here is a link that informs about ways to help, collaborate with, and donate to the Children in Crisis Project.)

On Saturday night, REFORMA celebrated its traditional Noche de Cuentos, an evening filled with stories, people, and warmth. The night was enlivened by author, storyteller, and librarian Lucía González, and Latino children’s literature and literacy consultant Oralia Garza de Cortés. Both women have been great supporters of Latino children’s literature for decades and contributed immensely to diversity in children’s librarianship. Lucía is also the author of the bilingual picture book The Storyteller’s Candle, about the life and impact of Pura Belpré’s work in New York, its Puerto Rican community in 1920’s-30s, and bilingual children’s librarianship. Oralia is the co-founder of the Pura Belpré Award, named after the Puerto Rican author, folklorist, and first Latina librarian of the New York Public Library. In “Noche de Cuentos” they both showcased their talent for sincere and engrossing storytelling. It was proof of how important preserving and telling our stories are. “That’s how stories get around, you tell them,” said Lucía, after finishing the tale of Blanquita and Her Wild Ducks, giving us a powerful reminder of how the voices that are constantly silenced, marginalized, and misrepresented will always find ways to amplify and give strength to their communities through storytelling. This was affirmed many times during the night: Pat Mora read poems and brought us charm and joy, and Maya Christina González read her picture books and told us that “kids need to know we are part of nature, and we belong here.” More emphasis on the power of our stories came when Jasmin Cardenas, a local storyteller, told us that “if we tell stories, this would be a better place.” Claudia Guadalupe Martinez shared the importance of community building, as portrayed in her YA novel, Pig Park. With its focus on stories, people, marginalized voices, powerful voices, and community support for each other, Noche de Cuentos was a much-needed intergenerational event.

While #alamw15 focused more on meetings, the exhibit hall, and the Youth Media Awards, several additional sessions were offered. I attended the Ignite Session on Saturday and was looking forward to seeing the presentations of two fellow librarians, tweeps, and overall great supporters of diversity in children’s literature–Angie Manfredi and Edith Campbell. In her presentation, “20 Kids/Teens Titles to Diversify Your Collection Today,” Angie gave fast book talks about diverse children’s and young-adult books that librarians can add to their collection. From the Latino holiday picture book T’was Nochebuena to the middle grade all-black cast book The Zero Degree Zombie Zone, she gave her audience a glimpse of diverse titles that reflect an intersection of different identities and backgrounds. Her energy and enthusiasm encouraged people to not only state that “We Need Diverse Books,” but that we need to buy them and promote them in our libraries and bookstores. (You can see the slides to her presentation here.)

Slide of Edith Campbell's The Kids Are Not All White presentation

Slide of Edith Campbell’s The Kids Are Not All White presentation

The closing presentation of the Ignite Session was Edith’s “The Kids Are Not All White.” She started out by giving numbers and percentages demonstrating how children’s literature is not representative of our children’s population. She leaned toward a reflection and call to action to truly make efforts to be inclusive in our libraries. She challenged the view that diverse books are only for kids of color, and the status quo in books that shows us “who we were, but not who we can be.” Edith addressed language diversity, too, calling on us to include titles written in other languages in our collections, and titles that intersect income, gender, and race. She also emphasized the need to rethink views about self-publishing and technology, and how they are fertile spaces for those who are traditionally marginalized. Both presentations fit well within the different conversations about diversity and children’s literature that were happening at #alamw15. Because it was an Ignite session with a broad audience, they were “preaching” outside the usual crowd, to an audience that included academic and adult services librarians that may not have otherwise been aware of the attention being given to White privilege and diversity in publishing around the #kidlit world.

As we all know, the most talked about event of #alamw15 was the Youth Media Awards. This was my first time attending the awards, which I usually watch on my computer through a livestream. Early that morning, attendees, overwhelmingly White, started gathering and lining up to enter the room. Although I was, like them, excited to see who the winners and honorees of such a widely followed event in the world of U.S. children’s literature would be, I used the opportunity to engage in conversations, view people’s reactions, and note the racial/ethnic background of those deciding the award-worthy books of the year. As awards were presented to books by/about people of color and people with disabilities, the crowd kept clapping joyfully as a sign of approval that diverse titles were being recognized. (For a full list of winners visit: ALA Youth Media Award Winners and for a list of Latino/a authors and illustrators winners and honorees, here is our recap.)

As people were applauding and celebrating the diversity of winning titles, I was thinking how great it was to see those book covers on that big screen, and how those that had overlooked them during the year were now finally going to at least read about them and maybe even bring them to their libraries and classrooms. You see, the fact is that we’ve always been publishing great award-worthy titles, but they are continually neglected by the children’s literature world. While people were applauding, I was thinking about recent comments I’d heard that Brown Girl Dreaming shouldn’t win the Newbery, since she had already won the National Book Award. I wondered if similar things were said when a White author’s book had won the National Book Award. This, along with other observations and conversations, led me to question the celebratory spirit around me. Was the applause like that scene from The Boondocks’ “Garden Party” episode, where everything Huey says White people around him seem obligated to applaud and praise?

Silvia Cisneros, REFORMA president, presenting the Pura Belpré Award in English and Spanish

Silvia Cisneros, REFORMA president, presenting the Pura Belpré Award in English and Spanish

As I sat in the room, I heard some audience members complaining about the use of Spanish during the Pura Belpré Awards, an award that celebrates Latino children’s literature and is co-sponsored by REFORMA. As the morning unfolded, I watched the almost all-White committee members stand up, some wearing “Trust the Process” t-shirts. Toward the end of the awards, someone said that apparently there were finally good diverse titles this year, since they won awards. The implication was that the lack of award-winning diverse titles in years past was an indication that Latinos, Asians, Native, and Black people had never published GREAT books throughout those years.

When I finally exited the room, I approached Pat Mora (walking away by herself) to congratulate her for her work and her Mary Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. While talking to her, I was surprised and angry that no other person approached her to congratulate her. This woman has been an influential force in children’s literature, and she had just won an award recognizing her marvelous work. That work includes being the founder of Día, an official annual celebration that has been sponsored and championed by ALA. I realized that most people there had no idea who she was. The same people that were applauding inside the room as her picture was displayed on the big screen, as soon as her award was announced? The same people that sometimes state their “concern” of how we need to bring more authors, illustrators, and librarians of color to these events and into our field?

I introduced myself to her (in Spanish), and as we started talking, the first thing she said to me was: “Nada ha cambiado” (Nothing has changed). Words that stayed in my mind as I reflected upon my experience walking through the exhibit halls.

Nada ha cambiado.

The exhibit hall is a place where publishers, authors, and library businesses display new products, highlight new titles, and give away promotional materials and advanced reader’s copies (ARCs). The layout of the exhibit hall speaks volumes about the power centers: the amount of floor space that the big publishing houses occupy tells us how much of the exhibit floor they own. This is obvious. Fees paid for space in the exhibit hall in any convention generate revenue for the organization that sets up the event. Simply put, the big publishers with their marketing budgets, will obviously have a higher visibility than small publishers, but it still feels uncomfortable that smaller publishers are marginalized on the floor of an event organized by/for librarians that work in libraries that serve a diverse society. As I walked through the exhibit hall, my approach was to find Latino children’s and young-adult books and children’s books in Spanish. Among the sea of book covers with bears, puppies, and White girls at the Scholastic booth, I saw, in the far back, one of my most anticipated YA books of 2015, Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older. I asked the publisher’s rep if she had a copy of it to give away. In the booth were stacks and stacks of other titles, prominently placed, evident that they were being heavily promoted by the publisher. As I strolled down those aisles I was surprised to see a large stack of ARCs of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo. They were going fast as librarians took copies. Minutes later, I approached a big publisher’s representative and asked her what Latino children’s books they had. She replied that they only carry “good” books. The look on my face and the two Latino books I had in my hands, no doubt, pushed her to follow her response with: “You already have those. Those are the good ones.”

DRUM DREAM GIRL: HOW ONE GIRL'S COURAGE CHANGED MUSIC, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López

DRUM DREAM GIRL: HOW ONE GIRL’S COURAGE CHANGED MUSIC, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López

Despite that conversation (and it was only one of many), I can say that I found several Latino children’s books, but in a low percentage compared to books by White people, about White people, and bears. Was I able to find a couple of Latino/a books, because I was looking for them? Because I recognize and know the titles, covers, authors and illustrators? Could people who had no idea Latino/a writers and illustrators exist, see their books? Were they displayed in a way such that people who don’t know about them could see, browse, and then buy them?

Another thing that caught my attention was that indie presses that publish stories by Native authors and authors of color were not packed with people. At their book signings, there were no lines of people waiting to meet the authors. This called to mind René Saldaña’s post: Forgive Me My Bluntness: I’m a Writer of Color and I’m Right Here In Front of You: I’m the One Sitting Alone at the Table. I was honored to meet Erika T. Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend (Debbie Reese’s review); Isabel Quintero, author of Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (our review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez); J.L. Powers, author of Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza; and Lee Byrd, co-founder of Cinco Puntos Press.

Wurth, Quintero, Powers, and Byrd are among the many people with whom I had great conversations. I am among a growing number of people who support their work. In my many interactions and conversations, we laid out common ground and talked about how White privilege and institutionalized racism in children’s literature and publishing have always been a systemic issue. Privilege and power go across the publishing industry, book reviewing, librarianship, education, and media. We need more than diverse books. We need opportunities at places like library conferences to create awareness about privilege and power. In our work as bloggers, we must review and promote books by writers who are of marginalized populations. We must point to their accurate reflections of those populations. But we must also call out stereotypical and racist content in children’s books overall, and we must name White privilege when we see it. Yep, there’s a hell of a lot to do.

Pan Dulce: Lee Byrd from Cinco Puntos Press interviews Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (author of PIG PARK) and Pat Mora (author of CANTA, CHICO BRAVO, CANTA) talking about their books, growing up in El Paso, Texas. Full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-yf9v_WTME&feature=youtu.be

Pan Dulce: Lee Byrd from Cinco Puntos Press interviews Claudia Guadalupe Martinez (author of PIG PARK) and Pat Mora (author of CANTA, CHICO BRAVO, CANTA) talking about their books, growing up in El Paso, Texas.

Full interview: Pan Dulce #4

 

*Note:
The upcoming major event for REFORMA and Latino children’s literature is the Pura Belpré Award 20th Anniversary Celebración that’s going to be held in Orlando, Florida at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference. I attended the Task Force meeting; there are great plans ahead to celebrate past award winners and honorees, and a wide selection of Latino children’s books as well. More information to come! Check out how you can help and support this gran celebración.

With Isabel Quintero, author of GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES, winner of the William C. Morris Award (Young Adult Debut Award)

With Isabel Quintero, author of GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES, winner of the William C. Morris Award (Young Adult Debut Award)

With Pat Mora. Such an honor to finally meet her.

With Pat Mora. Such an honor to finally meet her.

 

Latin@s in Kid Lit at the Library: Interview with Crystal Brunelle

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 second entry of this series, I interview Crystal Brunelle.

Crystal is a library media specialist from Wisconsin. In times when schools and their libraries are impacted by budget cuts, closings, and lack of institutional and government support, there are still school librarians and media specialists striving to support their students, teachers and community.

crystalinterview
Crystal Brunelle
Library Media Specialist, Northern Hills Elementary School, Onalaska, Wisconsin
Blogger for richincolor.com (co-founder) and readingtl.blogspot.com (personal blog)

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your identity, and your library.
I am a white mid-westerner with German ancestors. My family moved many times, so my childhood years were spent in various cities in both Texas and California. I was an elementary school teacher and a certified ESL teacher for eleven years before coming to live in the Midwest.

I started working in libraries when we moved to Wisconsin and have loved making that transition. When we came here, it was clear that some of my students had a rather limited view of the world and though our library had some diverse titles, there weren’t nearly enough. I want our students to have plenty of books available so they can see other ways of living, and I want to make sure that all of our students have books that are mirrors reflecting their lives. 12-15% of our student population is Hmong, so the first author visit was with a woman who had written a book featuring a Hmong family and was written in English but also had Hmong text alongside. As I prepared the classes for her visit, what surprised me was that the word bilingual was virtually unknown for most of my students. That’s when I also started acquiring more bilingual materials in a variety of languages. I shared about that experience in more detail at the Nerdybookclub blog.

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?
As the Library Media Specialist, I have the responsibility of choosing all of the materials in the collection. Before Latin@s in Kid Lit came on the scene, I relied on the Pura Belpré Award, The Tomás Rivera Award, and The Américas Award for titles. More recently, I’ve been participating in the Latin@s in Kid Lit Reading Challenge which has provided me with a lot of more book titles. I’ve also had the opportunity to review several books published by Piñata Books for Children, a division of Arte Público Press.

What type of children and youth programming does your library offer using Latino children’s literature? How frequently?
I focus on Latino children’s literature during Hispanic American Heritage Month and in the past two years, I have also added El Día de los Niños to our activities. Beyond these two major events, I have many lessons that center around Latino works. A few examples are our first grade author study of Yuyi Morales, our second grade biography lesson using the book Tito Puente, Mambo King/Rey Del Mambo by Monica Brown and Rafael López, and a poetry lesson in fifth grade that includes poetry from Francisco X. Alarcón. I generally try to infuse Latino lit throughout many lessons and activities, though, so we see it all year long. An example of this is when we have a lesson about giving thanks and I share Pat Mora’s Gracias/Thanks along with Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message and Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

In terms of promoting events and community outreach, what does your library do?
This is an area that I am working on and have begun to make some progress. I oversee the fifth grade students as they create video announcements for the school. They’re posted on our school YouTube channel for parents and the community to view. This past summer was exciting because I asked for and received funding to have the library open during the summer. I only had two hours every other week, but it meant that students in walking distance (we are a neighborhood school) could come get library materials all summer. It wasn’t as well attended as I had hoped, but it was a start and something that I will publicize more in the future.

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?
I have had very positive reactions to the inclusion of more Latino children’s materials. One of the families that came in during the summer library times (they speak Spanish at home) checked out a pile of books and were happy to even find a wonderful bilingual board book, Global Babies. The mother said she was happy to have that one (Global Babies) because that way the father could read to the baby in Spanish.

I know our English Language teacher has also been very happy to have the materials available. We don’t have many students with Spanish as their first language, but it helps so much with the few that are here and especially when we have a newcomer in the district. I love seeing the eyes of my Latino students light up when they hear or see Latino materials being featured in class. In addition, students who only know English enjoy experiencing other languages. They also seem to like seeing me working a little harder when I read aloud a book that includes Spanish text.

Any challenges regarding the acquisition of Latino children’s books or your programming? What would you like to do in terms of programming that you haven’t been able to?
There is nothing preventing me from buying more except budget limitations. I would like to expand our El Día de los Niños celebration beyond the school day with a family event. We’re going through a major building renovation so that isn’t a reasonable task for this coming spring due to space constraints, but it is something I will strive for in the future.

Do you address issues of prejudice and oppression in your library through and in children’s books?
Yes, this is something I address specifically in the fourth and fifth grade classes, but at a more subtle level in the younger grades. In line with the common core standards, I’m working to help students learn to read critically and to ask questions such as: who is telling the story, what is their perspective, is there a voice or perspective that is missing, and do we see evidence of bias or stereotypes? I could just tell them which books have issues, but I won’t always be with them and I want them to be able to spot problems on their own.

Any advice for other librarians/educators who would like to use and incorporate Latino children’s literature into their programming?
There is a lot of fantastic Latino children’s literature out there (see this SLJ post about that) and it isn’t just for Latino children. Even if your demographic doesn’t include many Latino patrons/students, these books can be a wonderful addition to your library. We have to move away from the idea that Latino literature is only created for Latinos. Latino literature can and should be present in book displays throughout the year and featured in story times or lessons across all kinds of topics. We have a small number of Latino students at our school, but I don’t just purchase Latino children’s materials for them – they’re beneficial to all staff and students.

Which are the most popular Latino children’s books at your library?
The most popular Latino books in my library are Niño Wrestles the World, Just a Minute, Gracias, Mi Familia Calaca, Dalia’s Wondrous Hair, Dora the Explorer books, Maximillian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel, and in non-fiction, the series Superstars of Soccer: Mexico.

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And finally, which Latino children’s books do you recommend?
To increase the amount of books I can recommend, I’m listing authors. If I only listed my recommendations from Yuyi Morales, the list would already be lengthy.

Picture Books by: Francisco X. Alarcón (poetry), George Ancona (non-fiction), Monica Brown, Laura Lacámara, Yuyi Morales, Pat Mora, Gary Soto, and Duncan Tonatiuh

Middle Grade by: Alma Flor Ada, Julia Álvarez, Margarita Engle, Jack Gantos, Xavier Garza, Meg Medina

Young Adult by: Patrick Flores-Scott, Sonia Manzano, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Meg Medina, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Alex Sánchez, and Francisco X. Stork.

Latin@s in Kid Lit at the Library: Interview with Patricia Toney

By Sujei Lugo

Long overdue is the need of a myriad of children’s books that embody the diversity of our communities and society. Children and adults of all backgrounds should have the opportunity to be exposed to historically untold and misrepresented stories in children’s literature. For years, educators, authors, librarians, illustrators, scholars, parents, and other community members have challenged and critiqued the gaps and invisibility of diverse populations, as well as stereotypes and inaccuracies present in children’s books. Although there have been several efforts to expand the availability of diverse children’s literature (The We Need Diverse Books campaign comes to mind as a recent example), the percentage of diverse titles still doesn’t reflect the world around us in terms of numbers and cultural experiences. But despite these problems, flourishing from this serious gap (and misrepresentation) inside the children’s literature world, we have encountered great titles that portray the Latino experience and Latinos/as in the United States.

Organizations like REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking) and initiatives like Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros and the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference are constantly advocating and promoting the incorporation of Latino children’s literature in library collections and programming. Several awards such as the Pura Belpré Award, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, International Latino Book Awards, and Américas Awards, also play a role in acknowledging Latino children’s literature. All these initiatives help in raising a much-needed awareness of the existence of Latino children’s books, but, in addition to celebrating and promoting them, an urgent need exists to incorporate and use  these books in our classrooms and libraries.

We need to keep in mind that two pivotal places where children constantly interact with books and stories are schools and libraries. How are librarians bringing Latino children’s books to children? How are they incorporating them into their collections, school curriculum, and programming? In a bid to try to answer these questions I decided to develop a series of interviews with children’s librarians, youth services librarians, and school librarians, where they can  share their experiences, knowledge, and challenges dealing with Latino children’s literature. Although there are great resources and literature that can serve as guides to Latino children’s librarianship (Celebrating cuentos: promoting Latino children’s literature and literacy in classrooms and libraries, 25 Latino craft projects, Programming with Latino children’s materials: a how-to-do-it manual for librarians, and Serving Latino communities: a how-to-do-it manual for librarians), the communities that libraries serve are different and constantly evolving. Librarians are met with the ongoing challenge to stay up-to-date and relevant to their needs.

In this first post of our Latin@s in Kid Lit at the Library series, I’m honored to interview Patricia Toney, a fellow librarian and REFORMA member and great advocate of diversity in children’s librarianship.

Pat Toney Librarian

Patricia Toney, Bilingual Children’s Services Librarian
San Francisco Public Library

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your identity, and your library.
As the offspring of parents who immigrated from Guyana and Costa Rica, I identify as Afribbean. I’m a native of Southern California who grew up in a working class Spanish speaking community, and who later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend University of California, Berkeley. I have a master’s in Counseling Psychology and a second master’s in Library Science. I started my professional career in International Student Services, then I worked in Student Counseling, and now I’m in my third career as a librarian.

I’ve been working at San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) for three years; moving up from temporary, to part-time, and finally, to full-time a year ago. SFPL serves a linguistically diverse community. I work at the Main Library and I’m in charge of providing Spanish language children’s services to families in Tenderloin, San Francisco, an economically challenged and densely populated part of the city.

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?
We have a dedicated Spanish language collection development committee and individual selectors for specific genres. My position as a Bilingual Children’s Services Librarian holds a provisional seat on the Spanish language selection committee, so my input on children’s material selection is welcomed.  Committee members regularly attend book fairs such as FIL (Guadalajara International Book Fair) and I annually attend the Bibliotecas Para La Gente Book Fair.

What type of children and youth programming does your library offer using Latino children’s literature?
I conduct a weekly bilingual family storytime and system wide we host five Spanish and Bilingual (English-Spanish) storytimes a week. We also have a ¡Viva! Latino Heritage Month Celebration, which includes music, dance, crafts, food, and films. This year, I hosted a Zumba program at my location and a Día de los Muertos altar. Also, at the end of our summer reading program, I hosted an afternoon of Lotería.

In terms of promoting events and community outreach, what does your library do?
In addition to word of mouth, social media, and printed announcements, we have four bookmobiles which traverse the city. The library recently took part in Sunday Streets-San Francisco (open street event), the Friday Night Market and Litquake (San Francisco Literary Festival). The San Francisco Public Library, Mission Branch (located in a historically Spanish speaking neighborhood) hosted a memorial reading in honor of Gabriel García Márquez during Litquake.

What is the reaction of kids, teens and families regarding Latino children’s books and programming? And the reaction of the library staff?
Children spark up when they hear or see something that is familiar to them. Parents appreciate the opportunity to share their home language with others in the community.  Colleagues and library staff are generally supportive of diversity in action. One of the library’s strategic priorities is to have “collections, services and programs that reflect diversity and inclusion.

What would you like to do in terms of programming that you haven’t been able to?
I would ideally like to hold monthly evening programs for Spanish speaking families. Tenderloin, San Francisco is a socially-oriented rich community, so there’s a lot of competition for evening programming. So not a lot of families come to the San Francisco urban civic center area for evening programs.

Do you address issues of prejudice and oppression in your library through and in Latino children’s books?
As a member of the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California, these issues are always addressed. SFPL has a commitment to diversity and the book selection committee takes racism and oppression into consideration before buying a book. With the population I serve, I tend to address sexism and ableism more than racism. I am always open to discussing these issues when children ask and point out opposing viewpoints and when I hear biased language. I like to give patrons the option to think for themselves.

Any advice for other librarians who would like to use and incorporate Latino children’s literature into their programming?
Latino children’s literature isn’t just for Latinos. One can incorporate Latino children’s books into book displays, class visits, and recommended reading lists.

Which are the most popular Latino children’s books at your library?
I have to say that most of our popular titles are the Spanish language translations.

And finally, which Latino children’s books do you recommend?
Anything written by Monica Brown, Yuyi Morales, or Gary Soto; Anything illustrated by Rafael López or Jose Ramírez; Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano and I’m currently reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.