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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

A Mexican Conundrum

The other day I sat down with one Karen Coeman to discuss the state of Mexican children’s books today.  Working as she does in Mexico with the hope of bringing more Mexican titles to American shores, she filled me in on a lot of the difficulties facing Mexican books for kids.  Between the difficulty of distribution (there aren’t as many bookstores in Mexico as there are in the States), problems with purchasing materials for libraries, and the fact that few publishers in America have taken it upon themselves to seek out Mexican fare for our kids on this side of the border, the pickings are slim.

It seems to me that a strong push to acquire and capitalize on Mexican children’s literature could only be a good thing at this point in time.  The bulk of Spanish language imports we see in the States on a regular basis comes from Spain.  All well and good, but considering the number of Spanish-speaking Americans from Spain versus Mexico, it would be quite lovely if we had more materials representing our neighbor to the south.

Then comes the question of reaching kids here.  There’s a general feeling out there that when immigrants come from countries where English is not the first language, the parents will push their kids to learn the language of their new country and eschew the old.  That may well be, but given subsequent generations, often the kids and grandkids will want to reconnect to their parents’ and grandparents’ homeland. None of this is to say that we don’t still need new ways of reaching out to Latino readers.  However, there are ways to find them and ways to find them.

Add into all of this the rise of interest in the Latino population.  Between the most recent presidential election and the recent New York Times article about the dearth of Latino characters in children’s literature, the subject is hot and yet the answers not exactly forthcoming.

I’m not saying I have any answers.  I just raise the issue and wonder if an increase in imports from Mexican authors and illustrators above and beyond the delightful Yuyi Morales and Francisco X. Stork (there are many others you could name here, if you like) couldn’t be a step in the right direction.

Thoughts?  Corrections?  Fancies?

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Shoshana says:

    Agreed! I get customer requests fairly regularly for children’s books in Spanish, usually from native Spanish-speaking parents but sometimes from native English speakers wanting to share Spanish with their kids for one reason or another. Customers often seem pleasantly surprised that our Boston-area bookstore does have a small section of foreign language kids’ books (mostly Spanish and French). Most of what we have, though, is Spanish translations of popular American books, and I’d love to see, for instance, a collection of Mexican nursery rhymes.

  2. Judy Goldman says:

    Hi, yes, this is a hot topic right now and I agree that it’s essential that books written by writers from Mexico and other Latin American countries should be available in the US because they speak to the heart of readers either from those countries or because their parents and grandparents are from there. Having US books translated into Spanish is okay, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the translations aren’t well done or stilted. Also, books and stories published in Mexico, where I live and have published many books, are about Mexican characters who, for instance, have fantastic adventures, solve mysteries, etc., just like any kid. Many of the books published in the US have to do with the immigrant experience and/or our Mexican holidays, which is perfectly okay, but there so much more out there. Yes, these are important subjects but kids also have to find themselves represented in books that any kid can and will want to read. I think I could take up much more of your time writing about this, because there’s lots to discuss, but I have an appointment in a while. However, I’ll be at ALA in Chicago and will be talking just about this in two panels: one organized by Charlesbridge (who is publishing my book Whisker’s, Tails and Wings, a book with five Mexican folktales and information about each of the native groups that tell them) with Teresa Mlawer, Alma Flor Ada, and F. Isabel Campoy; and the other by Pam Fochtman, of Lorito Books, a distributor of children’s books from Mexico, where René Saldaña and Tim Wadham will also talk about their experiences. I want to let librarians know who the Mexican writers are so that our books can be in many libraries and that kids, especially those who can read in Spanish or are learning the language, can have many more options. Spanish is a lovely language and I think many parents are now aware that having bilingual kids is very important, just like it’s been very important in my life. Thanks for listening!

  3. Maureen Milton says:

    I agree with your assessment and as a school librarian, I am always on the lookout for additions from Mexico to our Spanish language collection. Also, I’ve found that the Mexican section of IBBY has a great website (http://www.ibbymexico.org.mx/) with a guide (http://www.ibbymexico.org.mx/images/GuiaIBBY2013.pdf). While it’s not in English, we are nimble librarians and can solve the translation issue. Moreover, the IBBY Congress will be held in Mexico City in September of 2014 (http://www.ibbycongress2014.org/) and it promises to be fabulous! Hasta luego a Mexico!

  4. Eliza says:

    Betsy – Thank you for keeping this issue (lack of diversity in published books) an open discussion point. I love that you don’t mention it once and then let the status quo rest. It will be nice when reach a point you don’t have to do so but I fear we’re a long way from that point.

    I was going to comment on your May 10th post that even rarer than black boy characters in middle school books are any Hispanic characters – male or female. Having grown up in Arizona (on the Mexican border until high school) and living in California, I’m used to being around a wonderfully diverse population. However, that all but disappears when I read and, for the most part, am plunged into a completely white world. It becomes a bit drab and colorless (double-meaning intended).

    While books in Spanish would be nice, I would like to see more Hispanic characters in books – and not just as immigrants, maids, gardeners, or gang members. I guess it requires that us buyers create a demand for these book by both requesting them and, more importantly, buying them and promoting them.

    I can come up with only 2 non-YA books with main Hispanic characters in the past year and only one published in 2013:
    Picture Book: The wonderful, beautiful The Quiet Place by Sarah Steward, illus. by David Small (2012 – Farrar Straus Giroux)
    Middle Grade: Hide and Seek by Kate Messner (2013 – Scholastic Press) – also one of the few books published this year to feature a black boy.

    YA novelists: I know that you don’t cover YA here but since it’s nice to share any recent Hispanic authors/books we’ve found:
    Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by the fabulous Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2012 – Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) – Yes, this has received lots of recognition but it is a beautiful story and features successful, professional Mexican-Americans in loving families.
    The Knife and the Butterfly (2012) and What Can(t) Wait(2011) by Ashley Hope Pérez (Carolrhoda Lab published both books)
    After listing them, I realized that both Sáenz and Pérez are poets You can tell in their precise use of words – no more and no less than needed. The exact right word.

    Any other books?

  5. Cecilia says:

    Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy were two names I was going to mention as well. For YA with Hispanic protagonists, Meg Medina is fantastic.

    I would love to see more Latin American picture books being translated and published here. In DC, we have a Spanish bookstore called Portico Books with a great children’s section that has imports from all over Latin America, including picture books written in both Spanish and indigenous Mexican languages such as Zapotec.

  6. Yuyi Morales says:

    Betsy, just this weekend I was in Tucson having a conversation with Kathy Short,–who, among many other things is the director of Worlds of Words, http://wowlit.org, and president of the U.S. national section of IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People, http://www.usbby.org–and one of the things we were discussing was the difficulty of even knowing which Latinos books are available every year. I look for them, I comb the bookstores, the libraries, and the internet regularly trying to find what is available, and more often than not the search is difficult and yields very few results. Now, the truth is that there is a great production of Latino books, and their quality keeps rising; just look at some of the most recent works of authors and illustrators such as Duncan Tonatiuh, Rafael Lopez, John Parra, Rene Colato Lainez, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and what many others are creating!

    I grew up in Mexico and my experience was that we did not have a children’s literature at the time–instead I had my share of comic magazines, adult graphic novels, coloring books, and Disney translations. Things keep changing in Mexico and in the last few years I have been finding more and more written works for children, but I understand the industry is still growing and facing many difficulties (much more than the industry here in the USA).

    And so we Mexicans and Latinos come to the USA, and the dream to create and publish our books becomes a reality. I know there are many, many of us working with passion; and I also know that the quality of many of our stories and our art is among the best not only among Latino creators, but among the overall publishing industry. I also know that children starve for our stories, that they welcome our books with fervor; I have seen it with my own eyes. And so, I am very optimistic that the Mexican, the Latino, and the multicultural literature has a bright future ahead; but for now we need to work in the present. I am convinced that we need advocates; we need publishers that believe in our work, reviewers and award committees that understand the cultural complexities of our stories, booksellers that champion our books, teachers who share them and center knowledge around our themes, libraries and communities who celebrate diversity and put these books in the hands of children of all ethnicity and not only in the hands of the Latino kids, because our books, as specific as they can be, they are overall human and universal. I also believe that we need a way to let readers know of the Latino books books that are being produced every season. Actually, you know? A good blogger would do!

    Here just a few links to sites with excellent book list:
    http://www.latinbabybookclub.com
    http://www4.uwm.edu/clacs/aa
    http://riverabookaward.org

  7. David Unger says:

    Hi all,
    As for getting the best Spanish-language books for libraries and bookstores, you must consider attending the Guadalajara Intl. Book Fair http://www.fil.com.mx which has a support program for ALA- and/or Reforma-member librarians, distributors , booksellers and translators (Judy Goldman!). This is the place you should be. Please contact me if you wish to attend.
    Further, some of you may know me as a Guatemalan novelist who writes in English. In November CIDCLI published La Casita (see http://www.amazon.com/casita-Spanish-David-Unger/dp/6077749788/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370361134&sr=1-9&keywords=La+Casita ), which is a translation of a story I wrote in English about coming to the U.S. from Guatemala and encountering both cultural and linguistic dislocation. The book is selling well in Mexico, Guatemala and at LEA-LA (50 copies sold), but has distribution here for the library market but is not available in bookstores. The story could be published in English (there has been some interest), but for U.S. publishers the story is too long for a picture book and too short for a chapter book–and they are adverse to risk taking and breaking their self-established lengths for books. Having visited five classrooms in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and having the kids respond enthusiastically to both the text and illustrations of my book, I do wonder what U.S. editors interested in the Latino market are looking for.
    Gracias por su tiempo. David

  8. John Coy says:

    Betsy, thanks for bring this issue up. We need a lot more books that reflect the reality of life in the United States today. I think one factor in this is the slashing of librarians and library budgets that’s occurred in the past decade. We have a lot fewer librarians to champion books that reflect the lives of the students and patrons they see.

    One of my picture books, STRONG TO THE HOOP, has been translated into Spanish as DIRECTO AL ARO by Lee and Low, and Spanish speaking kids are pleased to see it. Also, one of the main characters in the 4 for 4 series is Diego Jimenez, an American kid who speaks Spanish at home with his folks who came from Mexico. This reflects what I see when i go into schools. It’s rare for me to go into a school these days and not have some kids who speak Spanish at home.

  9. Judy Goldman says:

    Hello, this is very interesting and I’ve enjoyed reading all the opinions. Mexico will be hosting the 2014 IBBY conference in Mexico City. The call for papers is open until August 15 and you can find all the information at http://www.ibbymexico.org.mx. Also, like David Unger said, the Guadalajara Book Fair (FIL, http://www.fil.com.mx) is an excellent place to find everything that is being published by Mexican publishers and, besides, it’s a lovely city to visit. Also, the Feria Internacional del Libro Infantil y Juvenil (FILIJ) is held every year (going on 33 this year!) in Mexico City in November. It’s a major event for us since there are presentations, signings, conferences, and workshops. Among the publishers present at both fairs are Ediciones SM, CONACULTA, Artes de México, Editorial Norma, Editorial Progreso, Editorial Porrúa, CIDCLI, El Naranjo, Nostra, Petra, Tecolote, Alfaguara, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 3 Abejas (a new one publishing for the preschool set!), Yo Sí Leó, Libros para Imaginar, and Castillo. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Among the authors are Jaime Alfonso Sandoval, Juana Inés Dehesa, María Baranda, Javier Malpica, Antonio (Toño) Malpica, Ana Romero, M.B. Brozon, Juan Carlos Quezadas, Becky Rubinstein, Óscar Martínez Veles, Norma Muñoz Ledo, Alejandro Sandoval, Monique Zepeda, Marcos Almada, Elena Dreser, Alma Velasco, Gabriela Peyron, Guadalupe Alemán, Francisco HInojosa, Elena Climent, Karen Chacek, Elman Trevizo, Andrés Acosta, and yours truly. Like Yuyi mentioned, we also have excellent illustrators such as Fabricio Vanden Broeck, Irma Bastida, Juan Gedovius, Rosario Valderrama, Gerardo Suzán, Julián Cícero, Evelyn Alarcón, Chío Padilla, Ixchel Estrada, Felipe Ugalde, Felipe Dávalos, Rosi Aragón Okamura, Natalia Gurovich and a lot more. You can also access the digital catalogs of the Programa Nacional de Lectura (lectura.dgme.sep.gob.mx), the Mexican government’s reading program, to see what books have been selected. This program publishes books for every public school classroom in the country, from k-8th grade, both books from Mexican authors and illustrators as well as translations of books published all over the world. The idea is that each classroom will have it’s own library of books in Spanish and, in some communities, in the native tongues, and books are also chosen for the school libraries. There have been some problems with this program because, eventually, you hear that, in some schools, the kids can’t get their hands on the books because the principal is afraid that they’ll damage them (long, long story) o that some teachers, who are not readers, don’t do anything with the books. Even so, I feel that, if the books are there, some kids will read them because most of them are atractive. The print runs are huge and some smaller publishers survive on the money coming in from this program.
    If anyone needs anymore information, please feel free to ask. And if you do go to the Guadalajara Book Fair or come to Mexico City, let me know. Both fairs take place within a week from each other.

  10. Judy Goldman says:

    Here is a link to an article you might find interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/opinion/the-country-that-stopped-reading.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&ref=opinion&adxnnlx=1362588674-4hoOLz%2FtTYUfcNMnGd3Uqw&
    It’s about how bad the public school system tends to be in Mexico and how generations of kids go through school (sometimes even private school!) without learning how to read. Yes, it’s true of many schools and it’s sad. Perhaps keeping people ignorant is easier than, like it says in the article, having them not accept so many things. I think this tends to be true of many third world countries.

  11. Jesse Gainer says:

    I think it is great that you are having this conversation—and thank you Yuyi for mentioning the Tomás Rivera Book Award. The Rivera Award Committees work hard to review and select outstanding examples of Mexican American/Chicano children’s literature each year. We are constantly searching for books for each of our categories (“Works for Younger Children” and “Works for Older Children”).

    Every October we have the winning authors and illustrators come to Texas State University and give presentations. In addition, we have a presence at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. We have been working on outreach and in the past few years we have had audiences of up to 1,500 people, mostly children, coming to see the award winning authors and illustrators. We are also working to expand our audience beyond our local community. So please do visit our webpage—www.riverabookaward.org and please “like” us on Facebook.

    Searching for submissions for the award is a constant challenge. It includes searching the web, reaching out to publishers, and asking help of colleagues and other friends. If you have recommendations for current titles that may relate to our focus, Mexican American experiences, please contact us with submissions.

    In addition, we are happy to provide you with suggestions of authors/illustrators and recently published books that we have located.

    It would be a great resource to have a published list of Latino books for each year. We would love to be a part of this effort.

    • Judy Goldman says:

      Jesse, do you consider books in Spanish? Perhaps not for the award but in case librarians or teachers want to know what is being published in Mexico.

      • Jesse Gainer says:

        We look at books that relate to Mexican American/Chicano experience. The books can be in Spanish, English, or both. What we have to offer relates more to the question of finding quality Mexican American/Chicano books and not really to the one about finding books published in Mexico–though that is a great one and I would like to learn more about that too.

  12. Judy Goldman says:

    Jesse, if you need information about Mexican books you can get in touch with me at judy.goldman.s@gmail.com.

  13. kim baker says:

    I second Meg Medina, and Matt de la Peña does a great job with YA as well. Even with writers like Gary Soto and Pam Muñoz Ryan, I think there’s definitely more of a void in middle grade, especially in recent years. Sometimes with picture books it can veer into tokenism, but I think that’s changing, thanks to people like Yuyi.

    I made the protagonist in PICKLE Mexican-American because I remember not being able to find Chicano characters as a kid. My grandparents emigrated from Mexico, and I was raised with that side of my family. The idea of a reader culturally identifying with a character is so strong to me. I think I’ll always have Latino characters, because it’s how I identify myself, and there’s such a need.

    We can find and encourage Latino writers and artists, support publishers and booksellers that feature diverse books, and help spread the word. It would be great if more books were brought in from Mexico, and I love the idea of finding ways to get more attention for new titles. If there’s any way I can help, just say the word!

  14. Pam Munoz Ryan says:

    I agree with Yuyi. The backlist is rich. Many titles exist and continue to be written by American authors with a Mexican heritage. I only recently had this converstation with colleagues and our discussion went in a giant circle trying to answer the question as to why the titles weren’t more prevalent, accessible, and purchased. There are so many factors: degree of promotion by the publishers, the print run (many go out of print very quickly,) what will sell in today’s market, the enthusiasm for the book once it arrives in a bookstore and whether or not it is relegated or recommended only to a niche consumer or to all consumers, accessibility in public and school libraries and whether or not the titles are only featured in September for Hispanic Heritage Month or represented throughout the year – also an issure for other multicultural titles. I am grateful to have a supportive publisher (Scholastic) who has never flinched at my book proposals for twenty years. I, too, am hopeful that things are changing, not only for titles related to Mexico but for titles from other countires as well. (See IBBY lists) and grateful this is being discussed on an SLJ blog. Some years ago, it might not have even been a topic of interest. Thanks to Betsy for keeping the converstaion alive. (See llists for Tomas Rivera Award, Pura Belpre Award, Americas Award.)