Juventud Press, a New Indie Publisher, Will Focus on Latin@ MG & YA

cropped-fcoverAs a reader of this blog, you know what we’re up against. Nearly 5,000 children’s and YA books were published in 2012, but only 1.5% of those titles featured Latin@s. Given the historical inequities our community has faced—which have resulted in our kids’ educational struggles, low average reading level, and high drop-out rate—it is more important than ever that children of diverse cultural backgrounds have access to books in which they see themselves reflected.

Since 2011, the 501(c)(3) non-profit Valley Artist Outreach has worked to promote the artistic expression of disaffected youth in the colonias of South Texas and of artists whose work touches on issues of import to the community. As part of that work, VAO’s publishing wing has released several anthologies, notably ¡Juventud! Growing up  on the Border, a collection of YA stories and poems edited by René Saldaña, Jr. and Erika Garza-Johnson that features the work of David Rice, Xavier Garza, Jan Seale, Guadalupe García McCall, Diana Gonzales Bertrand and many others.

Stemming from the success of that book, VAO is proud to announce Juventud Press, an exciting new imprint seeking to bring diverse books to young readers often marginalized by traditional publishing. Juventud Press will release three to four middle-grade and young-adult titles a year, with an eye toward expanding into children’s literature in the near future. Written by and/or featuring Latin@ characters and settings, these books will help contribute to the recent surge in diversity in kid lit.

Heartbeat coverOur first title will be Heartbeat of the Soul of the World, a new short-story collection by René Saldaña, Jr., author of books such as The Jumping Tree and The Whole Sky Full of Stars. A vital book that explores the ins and outs of Latin@ adolescence along the border, Heartbeat is a flagship publication that encapsulates the values and mission of Juventud Press.

In addition, we seek to promote the voices of up-and-coming writers of diverse YA literature by establishing the Nueva Voz Award, which will select a winner each summer from among manuscripts submitted by unsigned, un-agented writers. The winner of the award will receive a $500 advance and standard publishing contract, and her/his book will be published in the fall of that same year.

To be competitive even in the field of independent small presses, we need the initial capital to produce high quality, visually engaging books.

We are asking for pledges through Kickstarter. Each one comes with a fantastic reward, so please take a look: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1780116159/juventud-press-launch

These start-up funds will secure the visual artists needed for covers, underwrite website design, cover the deployment of the Nueva Voz Award, and purchase initial publicity for the imprint.

Please consider backing this worthwhile project that will add to the flowering of diversity in publishing for our youth.

Thanks!

The Editorial Board of Juventud Press

José Mélendez, René Saldaña, Jr., and David Bowles

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

By René Saldaña, Jr.

I’ve avoided writing this piece long enough. Number one reason is that politically I’m a conservative, and the last thing I want to do is to appear as though I’m playing the race card. Which I’m not, though it might look like it. Doing so’s a cheap and underhanded thing to do. So I don’t. Second reason: what I’m tossing out there can be dangerous to my career as a writer, I’ve been told, because of who I’m aiming it at: the very folks who buy my books, or won’t due to my brazenness: librarians and fellow educators, my bread and butter. (I trust in the educator, though, enough to know that if we are about anything we are about growth through honest self-reflection; it’s my hope that this piece will serve as a catalyst for such). Third reason: during my own reflection over the last couple of years, mulling over whether I should or shouldn’t put this observation to paper, one of the cons was that maybe it’s just sour grapes I’m dishing. Ultimately, it’s not. Not even just a little.

My sincere desire is to talk from the heart, to share this heavy load I’ve been carrying, and to reciprocate. I’ll do my part to take on the equally heavy burden librarians and educators have been carrying for far too long. To, arm in arm, move in a direction upward when we’re talking about race, in particular race in children’s and YA publishing, a hot topic to be sure.

8334361Let me tell you a story: I’m attending a librarians’ convention. I’ve been asked to sit on a panel or two, and at this point in my story I’ve met those obligations. Like happens at these functions, as a writer with a new book under my belt (best I can remember it’s A Good Long Way published by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press), I’m also committed to sit for an hour at a table to sign copies of my latest. This is a very awkward thing for me to do. I really don’t like this part of my job. I mean, really, who am I? I’m not a top-tier author, and so I realize I won’t get the throngs of fans begging for my signature. (I found this out while sitting at another table, this one in D.C. at the National Book Festival in 2005, and I happened to be sitting next to Mary Pope Osborne, whose line was unimaginably long; I had to ask my wife, who was pushing our son in a stroller, and my sister-in-law to act as my line). Talk about eating humble pie. I get it. If a couple of teachers or librarians line up for my signature I count myself the most fortunate writer in the world. This time is no different from other times. I’m resolved to sit my time out, and if I get that librarian or two, I’ll make it a point to let them know how lucky I am to meet them.

I truly feel that way. My love for libraries and librarians goes back a long, long way. Back to when I was checking out the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Little House on the Prairie during my elementary school years, and later books on UFOs, lost treasures, and the book that kept me in the reading act, Piri Thomas’s Stories from El Barrio during middle school, and throughout high school and college, to this day even, visiting our public library with my children. Along with my parents and a small handful of teachers, I owe librarians the bulk of my reading life. This is why, in the end, I feel I need to write this essay: I owe librarians dearly.

So, back to the story: I’m sitting there with Arte Público’s representative, and I do get the one or two curious librarians who ask about my work. I could tell them that I’ve published three other books with Random House, that I’ve published several short stories in several anthologies edited by Gallo, Springer, and Scieszka, but I don’t. The only book that matters to me is the one I just published. It’s my favorite book. Not my favorite because it is my most recent. It’s really and truly my favorite of all the titles I’ve published to date. I love A Good Long Way for so many reasons, but that’s the stuff for another essay. These librarians are kind and buy a copy for their collections, are already thinking of which students will benefit from this book most (and it’s not just Latino kids they’re telling me about).

From the time I sat, I’ve taken notice of the author two tables down from me. I actually just presented with her. Undeniably a rock star in the field. The kind of author for whom I’d stand in line to get her autograph. I know her personally, too. She’s a genuinely awesome person. I’ve used her work in my graduate adolescent lit classes. My students love her. I understand why these librarians are in line to get her signature and for a chance at a word or two, maybe a picture if time allows.

What I don’t get, though, is that not a one of these librarians in this other author’s line chances to look up in my direction, not that I can tell from my time at the table, anyhow. Not a one notices that just two tables down is another writer, one of color, a conversation that has been pushed to the fore recently? The Myers’ father and son team each wrote brilliant editorials for the New York Times (in the middle of me writing and rewriting this piece, wouldn’t you know it? The world of children’s and YA writing is shaken to the foundation at the news of Walter Dean Myers’ death and among his last acts was to force us to have this difficult conversation, so thanks to him). Others like Monica Olivera have added to that conversation in a blogpost on NBC Latino, The folks over at Lee & Low have ably challenged us to consider the state of children’s and YA publishing regarding race. Lee & Low on Twitter, especially, has rocked that boat. But it was a discussion we were having back then, too. Albeit mostly amongst ourselves, we writers and publishers and teachers and librarians of color. So it’s been brewing a long enough time.

So, what I’ve heard librarians say over the last decade and a half on my visits is that there are so many Latino children, and how unfortunate that there are so few Latino authors publishing books for them. “Just look at how excited these kids get,” they tell me, “to find one of their own publishing books.” It’s true, they do get excited to meet writers of color; I’ve seen it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears. As a side note: I’ve also seen kids jump for joy at meeting white authors.

Can you tell I’m purposely going off on rabbit trails? I’m avoiding getting to the point again.

But whatever. There’s an urgency. We need to get beyond this hurdle. We need to courageously speak about race. Confront it head on. We’re told this also by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in one of his early speeches at the outset of his work for the Obama administration. We must face our shortcomings if we are to get to that place Dr. King dared us to dream about alongside him.

Anyway, these librarians have told me that there is so little of this material, and what there is of it is so hard to find.

Okay, I’m jumping in, confronting, being courageous, mostly trusting my readers to know I’m out for all our best interests, and especially for those we serve, our students: so,

NO! this material is not hard to find.

Simply look up and two tables down from where you’re standing, there I am. At that point in my career I’ve got some six books to my name. There. I. Am.

And if you think I’m an idiot, especially now that I’m telling you this, then do this other thing and you’ll know I’m right: walk up and down those aisles that usually are nowhere near the major publishers, the ones relegated to the edges of the main floor. They’re the small, independent presses. The outliers, in so many ways. You’ll know them because they’re the ones who don’t give out ARCs or free copies of books. Not because they don’t want to but because it’s not in their budgets to do so. Take 20 minutes per stall, look through their catalogues, their titles. For goodness’ sakes, talk to the reps, who are usually the publishers and editors themselves (when it’s not both of them, it’s either Bobby or Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press manning their booth), and these reps will explain clearly what they have for you and your readers. They’re eager, as eager as you and I, to help all children reach their reading potential. Next, buy from them directly. Come ready with cash, checks, or cards. They’ll take any method of payment.

I’m not saying that the Bigs don’t publish authors of color. They obviously do. Random House has me and several other Latinos on their list. So has Dial. Scholastic. Little, Brown. S&S. Etc. They publish Black writers, and Asian writers. The difference is, though, that the smaller presses focus all their attention on writers of color, so they are experts at it. Arte Público Press/Piñata Books is one. Another is Cinco Puntos Press out of El Paso (of Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood fame but before that a picture book titled The Story of Colors by Subcomandante Marcos with magnificent illustrations by Domitila Domínguez, a book I’ve yet to find shelved in the libraries I’ve visited, even in deep South Texas where the majority of the population is Latino, Mexican American, and Mexican to be exact). Lee & Low, that sometime ago acquired Children’s Book Press and that recently started Shen Books, a new imprint that “focuses on introducing young readers to the cultures of Asia,” is yet another. The list of them, admittedly short—nevertheless, these few presses publish nothing but books by and about people of color. For all readers, but in particular readers of color.

The books are there.

All you have to do is to look for them.

And when you think you’ve found them all, look again. Because we’re still writing the books, publishers big and small are still publishing them. All we need is for you to look and look and look again until you can’t look no more, which likely means you’ve retired and you’re no longer pushing books into kids hands formally. But a librarian is a librarian is a librarian. You’ll be giving books to kids any chance you get ’til the day you die.

This is why I know I can write a piece like this, harsh as it might seem: because you’re educators first and foremost. And you’ll forgive me my bluntness. But we are not the focal point of this conversation, our children are. So we are either proactive and talk and then do, or we stand in the way of the progress necessary. Let’s be the former.

Rene Saldana

René Saldaña, Jr., is the author of the bilingual picture book Dale, dale, dale: Una fiesta de números/Hit It, Hit It, Hit It: A Fiesta of Numbers. He’s an associate professor of Language and Literature in the College of Education at Texas Tech University in West Texas. He’s also the author of several books for young readers, among them The Jumping Tree, Finding Our Way: Stories, The Whole Sky Full of Stars, A Good Long Way, and the bilingual Mickey Rangel detective series. He can be reached at rene.saldana@sbcglobal.net.

Book Review: Dale, Dale, Dale: Una fiesta de números/Hit it, Hit it, Hit it: A fiesta of numbers by René Saldaña, Jr.

By Sujei Lugo

DaleDaleDaleCoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK (provided by publisher): In this bilingual counting picture book, a young boy counts to twelve in anticipation of his birthday party: one piñata filled with candy; two hours until the party; three tables set for all the guests, etc.

MY TWO CENTS: Using simple text interwoven with a birthday party theme, René Saldaña, Jr. creates a fun bilingual counting book that makes us want to join the party. Carolyn Dee Flores’s illustrations are filled with photorealism and vibrant colors, supporting Saldaña’s words, and they successfully capture the excitement of children’s birthday parties. In what is definitely a welcomed surprise, Dale, Dale, Dale/ Hit it, Hit it, Hit it not only illustrates an adequate counting story, but decides to tell a good tale about sharing and enjoying a special day with your loved ones.

Our young protagonist is Mateo, a boy who anxiously awaits his birthday party and who uses this opportunity to practice counting throughout his special day. From “one piñata filled with candy” to “twelve children ready to swing at the piñata,” readers can count along with Mateo in Spanish and English. The items that the boy chooses to count include party supplies, colorful toys, lucha libre masks, musical instruments, and his own cousins. The picture book doesn’t limit readers to count only Mateo’s choices, but places other elements that can be counted throughout each page.

This bilingual book provides simple sentences in Spanish and English, which early readers, whether in one language or both, can easily follow. Although the translation of some words is problematic for language learners, for example, niños/guests, it isn’t a limitation to learn and practice words in two different languages.

As a picture book, the photorealistic illustrations can be seen by some as a weakness at the moment to capture children’s attention. But Flores plays well with vibrant colors to encourage young readers to focus on the story and stimulate them, not only to count, but also to identify different colors displayed on every page. The educational content of the book will inspire children to count everything around them and will motivate them to be even more excited to have their own birthday party.

TEACHING TIPS: As early readers or as a read aloud, this bilingual picture book works well for children ages 4-6. Parents, caregivers, and librarians can read in Spanish, English, or both, while encouraging young ones to practice their counting skills and color identification. Children can also point out what they like about birthday parties and collaborate to plan their next one. A song is included in the story, which can be useful if you include a piñata in your party.

Teachers can plan learning activities to combine math and language arts. Students can learn new vocabulary words, numbers, colors, and Spanish-English language meaning. Activities that develop memory and concentration can be done with second graders, including sequence of events and pairing numbers with items mentioned in the book.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: René Saldaña, Jr. is a Latino young adult and children’s books writer and Language and Literacy professor at Texas Tech University. He holds a B.A. from Bob Jones University, a M.A. from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing from Georgia State University.

He is the author of several books, including his semi-autobiographical novel The Jumping Tree (2001), Finding Our Way: Stories (2003), the Junior Library Guild selection The Whole Sky Full of Stars (2007),  A Good Long Way (2010), the collection of short stories Dancing with the Devil and Other Tales from Beyond/Bailando con el Diablo y otros cuentos del más allá (2012), and the bilingual Mickey Rangel mystery series.

Carolyn Dee Flores, a former computer analyst, is a writer, illustrator, musician, and composer. She attended the International School of Bangkok, Thailand and Naha, Okinawa, Japan, and Trinity University, where she studied Engineering, Philosophy and Art. Flores began her painting career as a muralist and oil painter, before switching over to children’s books illustration.

She has illustrated several other children’s books, including Canta, Rana, Canta/Sing, Froggie, Sing (2013), Peggy Caravantes’s Daughter of Two Nations (2013).

For more information about Dale, Dale, Dale: Una fiesta de números/Hit it, Hit it, Hit it: A fiesta of numbers (2014), visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.org, goodreads.com, indiebound.org, and Arte Público Press.

 

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