By: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.
Every year my co-founder Monica Olivera awaits The New York Times Notable Children’s Literature List with a mixture of hopefulness and trepidation. While excited to learn about exemplary new titles in children’s lit by mainstream authors, she also hopes to see titles in a genre to which she and her children can relate: Latino children’s literature. Wearing two hats as homeschooling educator and Mami, she culls this list for book recommendations. But this year, once again, she was disappointed as it did not include a single book by a Latino children’s author, illustrator, or featuring an Hispanic character. Her disappointment soon turned to action. Deeming this unacceptable, Monica first compiled her own list of Remarkable Latino Children’s Literature of 2013, and then publicly pointed out that in the last 10 years, only one book by a Hispanic has made the cut in the NYT list, as she writes in her NBC Latino Op-ed.
Why are these writers overlooked? They have been publishing for decades, supported by small, independent publishers since at least the 1980s. These authors and illustrators have received numerous recognitions such as the Pura Belpré Award supported by the American Library Association or the Texas State University’s Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book award. As I note in L4LL Read for the Holidays: Two Writers on Why Latino Authors Should Top New York Times Lists which includes a Google Hangout on Air with writers Duncan Tonatiuh and Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, Hispanic authors’ work received the stamp of approval from the Library of Congress in the form of an invitation to present at the 2013 National Book Festival.
This exclusion is due to out of touch mainstream editors, book reviewers, and publishers who rarely venture outside their comfort zone to the world outside their front door into a more diverse and mixed America which includes 52 million Latinos.
The continued blinders on these gatekeepers have serious trickle-down repercussions: first, publishers have little incentives to take chances on “Unusual Suspects” and market to new audiences. Second, most bookstores, libraries, and schools don’t stock bookshelves and curricula with these new voices because they can’t find them in these go-to resources lists.
Third, this list’s exclusion of 17% of our population is not just a disservice to the fastest growing segment of our population, but to the teachers who are trying to make learning accessible to these students. Fourth, it hurts children from all backgrounds, including those who go to school with Hispanic kids. Seeing experiences and stories different from theirs opens up vistas and creates empathy and compassion for the world–not exclusively as they live it, but as it exists around them.
We raise our voices to school the New York Times Book Reviews and others on the richness and quality of an existing body of literature. But we also insist that readers of Latino children’s literature turn their demographic numbers into the economic might necessary to demand more representative “lists”– support our authors and their small, independent presses with purchases, leaving reviews, and placing orders at the library. Even a fraction of Hispanics “voting” with their pocketbooks and tweets numbers millions.
Numbers talk. And the mainstream media and publishers are sure to listen, resulting in a more representative view of our country and literature.
We discuss this topic on NPR’s Tell Me More with Michel Martin with guest host Celeste Headlee leading the discussion on December 9, 2013. Click below to listen: