The Current State of Latino Children’s Literature in the US
Every year the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) releases statistics on the number of children’s books by and about people of color. Essentially, this data serves as an indicator of the state of diversity and representation in the children’s book publishing industry. When we first saw these statistics a couple of years back, the data was startling, and not for a good reason. It just showed what we have always known to be true, and why we decided to pursue our own publishing endeavors; that Latinos are not sufficiently and adequately represented in children’s books in the US.
2017 was no better. CCBC received ~3,700 books last year, ~3500 of these were from U.S. publishers. According to CCBC, 215 books or 6% either had a Latino main character/subject or was featured significantly in the narrative. Of these 6%, only 73 books or 33.8% were actually written or illustrated by and about Latinos (#OwnVoices). This represents only 2% out of the total number of books CCBC received. (see CCBC February and June blog data.)
Moreover, according to the Pew Research Center, Hispanics continue to account for more of the US’s overall population growth than any other race or ethnicity and made up about 18% of the total population in 2017. Yet, its quite concerning that this demographic continues to be largely ignored by traditional publishers.
The CCBC has collected this data since 2002 and the percentage of books about Latinos has only slightly budged from 3% in 2002 to 6% in 2017. Books either written by or illustrated by Latinos continues to be dismally low and has not significantly risen in the past 15 years (between 1 and 3% over this time period). This is clearly not keeping up with current population growth trends.
Multicultural literature as a whole had percentage numbers rise only slightly (including Black, Latinx, Asian Pacific and Native authors in addition to Latino). Collectively, these authors and illustrators wrote just 14% of new children’s books (507 out of 3,700 books). (See CCBC data here.)
Additionally, the CCBC data does not further categorize the books written or illustrated by Latinos by language. We obtained the 2017 list of books written by and/or about Latinos from CCBC and found only 11 new bilingual books, including our own previous bilingual alphabet book, were published last year. There was an additional 3 books written in Spanish, which were translations of English original editions. Let that soak in, 14 total books, out of 3,700! This is eye opening and shows the gross lack of quality bilingual / and/or Spanish original work published in the US, which also speaks volumes about the work that is needed in developing U.S. biliterate authors. (See list here.) How can we increase the number of U.S. born bilingual/biliterate individuals (some of whom, will hopefully choose to become bilingual teachers for which there is a great shortage of) if we can’t even produce enough literary works? Many have sought out books written in foreign countries like Spain and South American countries for more resources, and while that is a step in the right direction, oftentimes, some of these books do not reflect the realities of U.S. born Hispanics living in this country.
WHY WE NEED MORE BILINGUAL & SPANISH BOOKS
We recently attended the National Latino Children’s Literature Conference in San Antonio. It was so refreshing to see so many bilingual education students, teachers, and professors. Much was discussed on this very subject. During the keynote address, a notable quote from Erika Prosper Nirenberg, first lady of San Antonio, TX and chairwoman of the SA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce resonated with us. “The stories that are out there, about communities matter. They shape identities. They shape self-esteem, they shape how much people invest in those communities,” Nirenberg said.
We at Del Alma, feel very strongly about promoting bilingualism and biliteracy within the Hispanic culture as there are numerous benefits including higher cognitive function, greater cultural appreciation and empathy towards others of different backgrounds, as well as greater marketability in the workplace.
There is a crisis brewing in this country. An excellent example is public education in Texas. Today, nearly 52% of public school students in Texas are categorized as Hispanic according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Additionally, Texas is facing an urgent educational challenge with 18% of Texas students facing a language barrier. This demographic is in dire need of educational opportunities in order to address the achievement gap. Bilingual books serve as a bridge between the home and school environment. Moreover, culturally relevant, authentic books help Hispanic students connect with and identify themselves with the content, which in turns leads to greater empowerment and academic achievement.
Moreover, a recent talk by Steven Wolfe Pereira, CMO of Quantcast at Hispanicize 2018 is perhaps one of the most well-versed and alarming presentations you can see about the state of Latinos in America. Among his key points is that Latinos are under-indexing in how they impact the vote, and how they are disproportionately under-represented in political office. Perhaps the scariest statistic is median household wealth, which is only $2,000 currently for Latinos, and which has trended down over time and is forecasted to continue to decrease. He speaks about the growing influence of artificial intelligence, which is expected to replace many blue collar jobs.
What implications does all this have for the future of our Hispanic kids? What are each of us doing to prepare for this new era? What about the future of our country?
WHAT CAN WE DO
There is a very big gap in culturally relevant, bilingual children’s literature in this country. Teachers and parents need more resources, but this is not possible without SUPPORT. Hispanics / Latinos must join forces and prop each other up. We must continue to buy more books written and/or illustrated by Latinos, and recommend them to your child’s school teachers and administrators as well. We must dispel the notion that Hispanics do not read, that there is not enough of a market for Spanish and bilingual books, as it has been said before by big publishers. Yes, we read, yes we are educating ourselves, yes we have buying power, and we deserve to have our literary needs met!
¡Juntos sí se puede!