Saturday, March 15, 2014

Celebrating Cuentos: Lessons from the National Latino Children's Literature Conference

Well, I'm back from the National Latin@ Children's Literature Conference at the University of Alabama, and HOLY COW IT WAS GREAT.  I was dazzled by the campus, the Gorgas Library (where the conference was held), and -- most of all -- the connections I made with talented, gracious authors, illustrators, librarians, publishers, teachers, and scholars.

Not bad.

Really not bad.

Unfortunately, I had to miss the first day of the conference, but I was there alllll daaaay yesterday, and I have plenty to share!  In this post, though, I'm going to stick to the highlights, and I'll discuss other issues in more detail later.  Get ready for a bulleted list:

  • During her keynote address, author Margarita Engle introduced her new book, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, and talked about her difficulties getting her works translated into Spanish (although they've been published in Korean and Japanese -- go figure).  Can you imagine being a bilingual/bicultural author wanting to share stories of Cuba and the Caribbean and having a publisher limit you to one language?  Margarita described her two languages and cultures as two wings that bring her balance and allow her to fly, so only being allowed to express herself in one language must be so stifling.

  • Lila Quintero Weaver discussed Darkroom (go read it now!) and described growing up as a child of Argentinian immigrants in Alabama when the Latin@ population was "the minute minority."  Hearing her story of losing Spanish made me ache, but I appreciated her humor.  ("I barely speak English now," she admitted.  "I speak Southern.")  I also treasure her book because it provides us with a different perspective about the Civil Rights Movement.  Over the years, we've heard stories from African Americans, whites, Southerners, Northerners, Civil Rights leaders, segregationists, and ordinary Americans; but I've never encountered the perspective of a young immigrant girl, an "outsider" who arrived in Alabama at age five and recoiled from the foreign practice of segregation.  Darkroom is honest, refreshing, and wonderfully different.

  • During her talk, publisher Teresa Mlawer brought up the statistic that only 3% of children's books reviewed were by or about Latin@s, which prompted author Meg Medina asked a great question: What can we do to change that statistic?  Teresa suggested that we -- authors, scholars, readers -- write more reviews of Latin@ children's books so that librarians and teachers are more aware of their presence.  (Additionally, she admitted that publishers need to do more to publicize these books and promote Latin@ authors.)  Meg then responded that librarians could create attractive displays for award-winning books so that library patrons can see winners of multicultural awards (like the Pura Belpré and Coretta Scott King honors) side-by-side with better-known awards like the Caldecott and Newbery; and another conference attendee mentioned that we can attend conferences in other education disciplines -- science, social studies, foreign language, etc. -- and spread the word about Latin@ books by discussing how teachers in all subject areas can incorporate children's literature into their lessons.  Some great, practical ideas!

(Meg also has some blog posts about taking steps toward greater diversity in children's lit, so go take a look.  I'm super miffed that I wasn't able to attend her keynote on Thursday.)

So there you have (some of) it -- more later!  I would highly recommend attending next year if you can, and I'll leave you with a picture of Neil, my random little alpaca mascot, showing off books by some of the authors & illustrators I met.

And a gratuitous picture of Vilano Beach near St. Augustine, FL (because I did that last week too).

This Texas girl was happy to see an attractive beach for once :)


  1. Thanks for this! Awareness is the first step. Now I want to look into conferences in my area!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Conferences are such a great resource -- I'm sure you'll find something great close to home.