representation for Latino kids, writers

Luna’s Press Books is so small that it’s easy to overlook when traveling south on Mission Street. The 184-square-foot bilingual children’s bookstore is nestled between a corner store and a playground on Richland Avenue, where many Central American restaurants and bakeries line the street.

But on a recent Sunday afternoon, the bookstore was hard to miss.

A mix of cumbia, salsa and Latin jazz roared as people descended to browse through books and colorful art prints while children made bookmarks and colored drawings of a quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, set on tables outside. The bookstore organized a launch party for the coloring book “Guatemala, from A to Z” by Susana Sanchez-Young of Lafayette.

“It’s nice to see Guatemala represented,” said Susie Orozco Franco, a Salvadoran American who attended the event with her 6-year-old daughter Sofia. “Especially here in San Francisco, where a lot of Central Americans are.”

Sunday’s event was not a premiere for Holly Ayala and Jorge Argueta, the owners of Luna’s wife and husband. Since opening the store in 2013, they have hosted and sold children’s books focused on Central American culture, specifically Salvadoran, written by Central American authors.

In 2015, the duo published their first children’s book, “Olita y Manyula: El gran cumpleanos,” which was written by Argueta, a poet, and illustrated by El Aleph Sánchez, who were both born in El Salvador.

“Olita y Manyula” is about a Salvadoran American girl, Olita, who visits family in El Salvador and is invited to a birthday party for Manyula, a beloved elephant who lived in the El Salvador National Zoo for 55 years until her death in 2010.

Mina Rodriguez, 2, colors the Guatemalan national bird, the quetzal, at a community event celebrating Central American culture outside of Luna's Press Books in San Francisco.

Mina Rodriguez, 2, colors the Guatemalan national bird, the quetzal, at a community event celebrating Central American culture outside of Luna’s Press Books in San Francisco.

Brontë Wittpenn / The Chronicle

In August of this year, Ayala wrote and published her first bilingual book, “ABC El Salvador,” illustrated by Elizabeth Gomez. The alphabet book uses Salvadoran terms for each letter, e.g. cipotes, or children, and parrot, an edible flower used as an ingredient for pupusas.

Argueta and Ayala aim to make Latino children feel represented in books and proud of their culture, and to serve as a space for Latino authors to promote their books to children, parents and educators in the Bay Area.

While Latino, Black, Native, and Asian American children have been underrepresented in children’s books for decades, data show that racial representation has steadily improved over the past six years, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center. statistics in books for children and young people since 1985. They track books they receive from large trade publishers and medium-sized to smaller publishers.

“Before that, in the last 10 or 20 years, it was also increasing, but at a much slower rate,” said Madeline Tyner, a librarian with the university’s book center. “That said, there are far fewer books by and about blacks, natives and people of color than there are by and about white people and white characters.”

Tyner said the improvement is largely due to the rise of nonprofits that advocate for diversity in children’s literature, such as We Need Diverse Books, in addition to individual editors at some publishers, even self-published authors and small, independent publishers.

According to the center’s latest data analysis, 42.7% of the 3,682 books it received from US publishers in 2018 were about color communities – meaning that at least one primary character as a major secondary character was Black / African, Indian. , Asian, Latinx, Pacific Islander was or Arabic. Meanwhile, 21.4% of the 3,682 books were written or illustrated by at least one person of color.

“Although 42.7% may not seem so bad, if you break it [it] down in racial identity the numbers become much smaller. For example, in 2018, 11.6% of the books we received were about Blacks / Africans, “Tyner added.

A coloring book at Luna's Press Books.

A coloring book at Luna’s Press Books.

Brontë Wittpenn / The Chronicle

In 2002, only 13% of the 3,150 books received went to color communities. At that time, the center only followed books by and about Black / Africans, Indians, Asian Pacific and Latinx.

“It’s so important to see yourself in a book, because it means there’s someone who sees you, who recognizes your importance, who confirms your experiences, and who sees authors who writing books about someone like you is so powerful for kids, “Tyner said.

One reason there are not so many books on colored children written by authors of color is because the publishing sector is not racistly diverse and consists mainly of white editors, said María de la Luz Reyes, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Colorado-Boulder and former elementary school teacher.

“Until we can get Latino editors in book publishing, not much will change,” she said.

“The great difficulty [independent publishers and self-publishers] have is marketing because we have no money for it, ”added de la Luz Reyes, who now writes award-winning bilingual children’s books.

Social media has played a major role in increasing representation, as more independent publishers use it to promote their work and connect with educators, writers, and parents. Still, researchers said, there is a long way to go before children’s books fully reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in the United States and around the world.

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