Teacher-Author Diana Lee Santamaria On Promoting Literacy & Self-Publishing

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By Diana Lee Santamaria

Hi, everyone! I am so honored to be a guest writer on Latin@s in Kid Lit. My name is Diana Lee Santamaria and I am a newly self-published children’s author of DLee’s World Books. DLee’s World is a series of learning books that I created for children ages three to five. Since I struggled with issues of illiteracy growing up, I designed my books with bright colors, playful rhyme schemes, and diverse characters to promote literacy, diversity, and most importantly, fun.

Literacy is extremely important to me considering that more and more children
seem to display a lack of interest in literacy education. As a result, according to the most recent statistics
on literacy provided by the National Center of Educational Statistics, about 50% of adults in the United States read at or below basic proficiency level. Therefore, issues of literacy are still a huge factor in our society today. Who knows where I would have been, had my father not taught me? If he never realized my problem and wasn’t so determined for me not to follow in his educational struggles, I may not have graduated from college, become a teacher, or even a children’s writer.  Therefore, I created my books with the intent to help increase children’s interest in literacy at an early age. Literacy is all around us, from reading a sign while driving to ordering take-out. We are constantly put in positions where we have to read and show that we comprehend what we read. It is vital, therefore, that we promote reading and learning in children while they are young to aid in chances of future success.

The first four DLee’s World books are entitled DLee’s Color Hunt, DLee’s Outdoor Countdown, DLee’s First Day of School, and DLee’s Nighttime Scare. These books touch upon learning objectives, such as primary and secondary colors, counting and numeral recognition, dealing with new experiences, and fears of the dark. As an educator for seven years with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, I used my professional experiences, educational background, along with my own childhood experiences to bring each and every story to life. Currently I have written eleven other DLee stories, which I will hopefully be publishing within the next few years. In my mind the story possibilities with DLee’s World are endless. Since I have taught preschool for many years now, I know first-hand what objectives and relevant topics are typical and important to learn for that age group. As a result, I have a journal dedicated to those ideas, which I am consistently referring back to.

I officially self-published and began marketing in August of 2014. I chose to self-publish after doing lots of research and speaking to fellow educators and professionals who had also published literary works of art. The articles that I was finding shared a lot of negative aspects on attempting to publish through a large publishing company. I kept reading about the difficulty in getting a company to publish children’s literature even if your book is worthwhile. But that was not the only downside. From what I read and found to be true through my own research, most publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts; therefore I would have had to find an agent. Now although I found a list of agents through the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCWBI), which I became a member of, everything takes time and everything costs money. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wait for a response considering that I may never get one or be waiting months on months. Additionally, I read about publishing through a larger company and the issue of not having full rights to your work. So I definitely considered the option of publishing the traditional route. But after all things considered, I decided to self-publish. My thoughts were that I would self-publish and market myself enough to build a following of parents and children that would eventually lead me to traditional publishing routes. My thinking was and still is that if I build enough of a fan base maybe a publishing company will come find me. Who knows how far fetched that is, but I figure I have nothing to lose. Hence, why I decided to give self-publishing a shot. Even still, I did send my work out to some publishing companies in hopes of a response. I have yet to receive one, but I remain positive!

latina, author, teacher, latina, authorIt’s ironic because if you would have asked me what I would be doing when I got out of college, I would have never imagined I would be a teacher, let alone a children’s writer. As an undergrad, I studied Speech Communications and always had a passion for all areas of the arts. I loved writing poetry, drawing, painting, singing, and acting. My dream, however, was to become a famous singer and later an actress! But I thought it would be more realistic to get a career in public relations relating to entertainment. Then, while I was doing an internship at a small entertainment company, I came across a woman who mentioned teaching and that idea sewed a seed that led me to pursue a pre-kindergarten to third grade teaching certification. From there, I began teaching and decided to earn a master’s degree in children's book series, latina, authorearly childhood education. While teaching, I was always reading to my students and at times was lacking the literary resources that not only hit the topic I wanted to teach but also relevancy to increase connection and overall understanding for my students. So one day, I decided to write a silly story about shapes. I wrote the story and then just left it there until one day, I read it to a friend. She really enjoyed the story and encouraged me to keep writing. I never really considered myself a writer, but that night I went home and the words began to pour out of me! I started analyzing the children in my classroom, the books they enjoyed along with the standards required for preschoolers to learn. And that is how DLee’s World came to be.

teacher, latina, author, From the use of my childhood nickname (given to me by my mother), to the use of my childhood image along with images of those who have impacted in my life, DLee’s World is very much a part of me. I have dedicated much time and effort to perfect DLee’s World books so that they are not only educational and fun for children but also useful for parents and educators. Subsequently, I have devised lesson plans that coincide with each learning book, available for free download on my website.

Recently, I have been doing free readings at libraries, schools, and bookstores throughout the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas. It’s been such a fun experience, and I’ve been receiving many positive reviews from both parents and kids! I absolutely love what I am doing and hope to continue to share my efforts with children, parents, and teachers worldwide. My books can be found on www.dleesworld.com and Amazon.

Welcome to Latinos/as in Kid Lit

We Were HereLuis was a high school freshman who hadn’t read a novel independently for so long he couldn’t remember the title or year it happened. During the first semester of high school Reading, Luis read We Were Here by Matt de la Peña in anticipation of an author visit. After the visit, Luis asked for “another book like this one,” which was his way of saying, “a book written recently that doesn’t bore me and has characters who look, talk, and act like me.”

With the help of enthusiastic teachers and librarians, Luis read more books “like that one.” It took just one story that spoke to his identity as a Hispanic male to begin his engagement with literature.

Luis’s story is borne out by research. When youths “see” themselves in terms of race, culture, and lived experiences in the literature they read, they benefit academically, personally, and socially (Bishop, 1992; Diamond & Moore, 1995; Mason & Au, 1991). More broadly, culturally responsive teaching or “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to them” (Gay, 2000, p. 29) results in increased student engagement and positive gains in achievement (Chapman, 1994; Foster, 1995; Hollins, 1996; Krater, Zeni, & Cason, 1994; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995a, 1995b; Sheets, 1995).

Luis, and others like him, stand to gain a great deal from reading books that speak to their cultural identities. Sometimes a love for reading is kick-started by a single book with a main character who faces the same issues the reader does or lives in a place like the reader’s own neighborhood. This is true for all of us. We connect with stories for varied reasons, including the simple one that something in the narrative is familiar.

The statistics in publishing, however, have been against teens and children like Luis, who specifically want to read books that feature ethnic or racial minorities. Recent news stories have highlighted the fact that minority children in the United States don’t often see themselves reflected in books. Also, a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reported the number of children’s books with multicultural content has not increased in 18 years. (See also this post by Lee & Low Books about the study.)

So, why focus on Latin@ Lit? Because 53 million Hispanics live in the U.S. according to the 2012 census. Hispanics are the second largest race or ethnic group (behind non-Hispanic whites), representing about 17 percent of the total population. Everyone–not just Latin@s–should be able to read books with characters that represent our diverse population.

While several excellent resources for Latin@ Literature exist online, we had yet to find a site that was dedicated to Latin@ children’s literature and created by Kid Lit writers.

So, here we are!  Welcome to Latin@s in Kid Lit!

We’re launching our site at the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month to underscore our mission to provide a closer, more sustained sense of what’s happening in Latin@ children’s literature.

Our vision is to:

  • engage with works about, for, and/or by Latin@s;

  • offer a broad forum on Latin@ children’s, MG, and YA books;

  • promote literacy and the love of books within the Latin@ community;

  • examine the historical and contemporary state of Latin@ characters;

  • encourage interest in Latin@ children’s, MG, and YA literature among non-Latin@ readers;

  • share perspectives and resources that can be of use to writers, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents, teachers, scholars, and other stakeholders in literacy and publishing.

On this site, you’ll find:

  • posts about Latin@s in children’s literature;

  • book lists. This is a work in progress. Please send us titles that should be included. We are looking for books by Latin@ writers in any genre and books by non-Latin@ writers with Latin@ characters, settings, etc.;

  • book talks, where we’ll highlight books we’re reading and explain why you should be reading them, too;

  • interviews with writers and illustrators about their creative journeys;

  • interviews with agents and editors about the publishing process;

  • teaching ideas;

  • articles and news links aimed at writers and others involved in literacy and publishing;

  • guest posts. Please write to us if you have an idea for a post.

Like you, we’re passionate about serving a burgeoning community of young readers. That’s why we want to offer this as a welcoming space where you can share your ideas, too. We believe that Latin@ children’s literature is for everybody. We hope you’ll follow us and explore the ways it can enrich young people’s lives.



We don’t want to overwhelm you with research, but if you’re interested in learning more about the ways multicultural literature benefits young readers, the following books and studies are a good place to start.

Brozo, W. (2002). To be a boy, to be a reader: Engaging teen and preteen boys in active literacy. Newark, DE: International Reading Association

Deci, E., Vallerand, R., Pelletier, L., & Ryan, R. (1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26(34), 325-346.

Diamond, B.J., & Moore, M.A. (1995). Multicultural literacy: Mirroring the reality of the classroom. New York: Longman.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Research, theory and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Guerra, S. (2012). Using Urban Fiction to Engage At-Risk and Incarcerated Youth in Literacy Instruction, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (55)5, p 385-394.

Hill, M.L., Pérez, B., & Irby, D.J. (2008). Street fiction: What is it and what does it mean for English teachers? English Journal, 97(3), 76–82.

Hughes-Hassel, S., & Pradnya, R. (2007). The leisure reading habits of urban adolescents. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(1), 22

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory Into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995b). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

Morris, V., Hughes-Hassell, S., Agosto, D., & Cottman, D. (2006). Street lit: Emptying teen fiction bookshelves in Philadelphia public libraries. YALS: Young Adult Library Services, 5(1), 16-23.