Margarita Engle: Books in Spanish Enhance Latino Family Literacy

Margarita

By Margarita Engle

A few months ago, I received a set of wonderful letters from a grandmother and her 10-year-old granddaughter. They were reading Enchanted Air together, discussing it, and using it as a way for the grandma to share her own childhood experiences during the Cold War.

It occurred to me that many Latino families can’t do this, simply because most books by U.S. Latino authors are not available in Spanish. With a few wonderful exceptions such as the works of Pam Muñoz Ryan and Alma Flor Ada, in general only bestsellers by non-Latinos, and a few specialized small press books by Latinos, ever get translated.

Soon after those heartwarming grandma-granddaughter letters arrived, I visited a Washington, D.C. eighth-grade class where Latino students asked me for books in Spanish. All I had to offer was one of my oldest books, The Surrender Tree/El Arbol de la Rendición, a dual language paperback that resulted from this title’s status as a Newbery Honor winner.

Surrende Tree NotableMy next school visit was to a rural sixth-grade class in California’s agricultural Central Valley. The students were all Latino, and most spoke English, but teachers informed me that many of the parents and grandparents were not bilingual. The only way those families could participate in their children’s education was in Spanish. Fortunately, the school had a grant to provide a signed copy of The Surrender Tree/El Arbol de la Rendición to each student. Those books will go home and be available to the whole family. That’s no guarantee that parents will read and discuss them, but at least it is a possibility.

The need for bilingual books for older children has been on my mind so much that when I served on a diversity panel at a national teachers’ conference, I answered the question, “What are your wishes for the publishing industry?” with the statement, “I wish for translations.”

I pointed out that fifty million people in the U.S. speak Spanish, and that just because the publishing industry has never figured out how to reach this vast “market,” that doesn’t mean it will never be reached. We can’t give up. Until there are more translations, family literacy in this country will never be complete.

Fortunately, I will soon have another bilingual book. A new and innovative small press called HBE Publishing has set a fall 2016 release date for a middle grade historical verse novel that I wrote in the style of magic realism. There will be both English-only and bilingual options, so that schools or individuals can order their preferred format. I won’t receive any advance, but the royalty will be much higher than the usual 10%, a trade-off I’m happy to make, in exchange for a beautiful bilingual edition that children can share with their abuelitos. Perhaps innovation is what it will take to resolve the problem of too few translations.

 

Margarita Engle is a prolific author of books for young readers, most recently of Enchanted Air and Drum Dream Girl. She has won countless awards for her work, including the Pura Belpré and the Newbery Honor. Her guest posts on this blog are favorites with readers. Check out her essay on researching and writing the stories of historical heroes. For more information on Margarita’s writing, please visit her official author website.

The same day that this guest post published, Margarita received the 2016 Pura Belpré Author Award for Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings. Congratulations, Margarita! 

 

Margarita’s experiences point to the shortage of Latin@-authored Spanish editions for middle-grade readers. When we researched available titles, we came up with the following modest sampler. Help us expand it! In the comments, please tell us about good bilingual MGs or fully Spanish editions that you’ve run across. Remember, we’re not looking for translations of mega bestsellers like the Harry Potter or Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We’d like to identify books that center on Latin@ characters and themes. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

Note: Some of the bilingual book covers shown below don’t include their Spanish title. 

Si, Somos LatinosEsperanza Renace  Antes de ser libres  Beisbol en abril  Yo Naomi Leon  La travesia de Enrique La Casa en Mango Street  El Color de mis palabras   Cajas de carton  Cool Salsa    Alla Donde Florecen  Upside-Down-and-Backwards-350x550  Una momia en su mochila  Tomando partido  Tia Lola Terminó  Nacer bailando  Lemon-Tree-Caper-The-350x550  Gabi Esta Aqui  El Monstruo  El Caso de la Pluma Perdida  Cuentos Sazon  con-carino-amalia-love-amalia  Cartas del cielo  Cuentos para chicos y grandes  Cuentos de Apolo

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

Childrens book, school, teach, kids, learning, DLee's World, DLee, Diana Santamaria Childrens book, buy now, learn colors, teach, DLee's World, DLee, by Diana Santamaria Childrens book, teach counting, lesson plans, DLee's World, DLee, by Diana Santamaria Childrens book, teach counting, lesson plans, DLee's World, DLee, by Diana Santamaria

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.

Through Reading, Anything Is Possible

 

For our first set of posts, each of us will respond to the question: “Why Latin@ Kid Lit?” to address why we created a site dedicated to celebrating books by, for, or about Latin@s.

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Our house was an oasis in the Chicago neighborhood crumbling around us. The house on the left was torn down after Old Man Louie died. The building on the right was bulldozed after some kids set it on fire. Inside our little haven, my parents encouraged me to read. Through books, I left that neighborhood to meet interesting characters in beautiful places who were struggling with life, love, and purpose, and who were trying to become free mentally, physically, or spiritually.

Dr. Seuss3My parents moved us into better neighborhoods. Books moved me into a broader world of ideas and possibilities. A love for literature has made all the difference in my life. Now, I teach and write because I want children from all kinds of backgrounds to realize that, through literacy, anything is possible.

This may sound naïve, simplistic, or overly optimistic, but I honestly believe it.

I understand the challenges young people face because I’ve worked with middle and high school students for thirteen years. I’ve met the tattooed freshman girl whose education was interrupted because her mom had to move from place to place. At age fourteen, she had the reading level of a sixth grader. But guess what? She earned all As and Bs, joined a sport, and quickly became a leader in our school.

I’ve met the sixteen-year-old freshman boy who earned an in-school suspension for verbally and physically confronting a female teacher during the first week of school. He continued to struggle, earning Ds and Fs in his classes. But guess what? He read a book independently for the first time ever. He said he knew the teachers cared about him, and once he came to talk to me, tears streaming down his face after his girlfriend broke up with him via text message. He had made a collage with movie tickets and other mementos for their one-year anniversary that would never happen.

I’ve also met the jaded seventh-grade boy who asked me straight-out one day, “Why are you the only minority teacher in our school?”

All of these students are young Latin@s. They need safe places, trusted people to talk to, and answers to their questions. As a teacher who sees them for forty-five minutes a day, I do my best, and one of the most significant things I can do is encourage them to read. I can’t solve their problems at home or with their friends, but I can pass along my belief—given to me by my parents—that literacy is important and life-changing.

I want my students to develop the skills needed for academic and professional success. I also want them to enjoy a lifetime of beautiful places and interesting characters. I want them to have access to lots and lots of books with characters who look, speak, and act like them. Previous posts have outlined why it’s crucial for readers to “see themselves” in literature. But I also want them to see beyond their current selves. I want them to see realistic and fantastical futures.  I want them to realize anything is possible.

Yes, you can be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Here, read a picture book about Sonia Sotomayor.

Yes, you can “escape” for a while and travel through the depths of the afterlife to save your best friend’s soul. Here, read Sanctum by Sarah Fine.

Yes, you can be a civil rights activist. Here, read biographies about César Chávez and Delores Huerta.

In the very distant future, if you discover you are a clone created to keep someone else alive, remember this: you will still have an identity and choices. For now, though, question whether science fiction will someday become nonfiction. Here, read The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.

Yes, you will survive your teen years. More than that, you will thrive. You’ll learn about love and family and friendship and acceptance and perseverance and integrity. Here, read Margarita Engle, Alex Sanchez, René Saldaña, Jr., Gary Soto, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall.

I’m involved with Latin@s In Kid Lit because I believe all children should have books in their hands, even when they’re too young to turn the pages, and they should all be told again and again, “Oh, the places you’ll go.”

Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice    Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers    The House of the Scorpion (Matteo Alacran, #1)    Sanctum (Guards of the Shadowlands, #1)    Buried Onions   Bait