Independent Publishers Feature Bilingual Books

by Ann Parker, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Last week I discussed how several small, independent presses are publishing bilingual children’s books, often at the request of teachers and librarians within their communities who want to provide books in the languages that their children speak. These smaller companies have found an important economic niche in publishing multicultural books, particularly bilingual books, since the audience for these books is too small for the large conglomerate publishing houses to make publishing these books economically feasible (although more of them are discovering the market for books in Spanish). The smaller companies also have the advantage of being able to work closely with authors and illustrators to ensure that a book is culturally authentic, since they often find authors and illustrators from within their own communities, and can utilize their local resources to ensure that the language and culture portrayed in their books is authentic. For this reason, teachers and librarians can be assured that books published by these smaller companies are culturally authentic. I’d like to look at some of these smaller companies located in the greater Southwest and at some of the outstanding books they are producing.

Probably one of the most well-known independent presses that publishes multicultural and bilingual children’s books is Children’s Book Press out of San Francisco. The company was founded in 1975 by Harriet Rohmer, a white woman who visited her son’s Head Start classroom and was surprised to find that, although most of the children in the class were Hispanic, none of the books reflected their lives. She decided to look for books that would speak to Hispanic children and that could be published in English and Spanish. What began as a quest to publish these books over 30 years ago has transformed into a non-profit publishing company that publishes books from African-American, Native American, Asian American, and Hispanic cultures.

The most recent catalogue from Children’s Book Press lists over 55 books from Latino, Asian American, African American, and Native American artists. Many of these books are bilingual, particularly in Latin American and Asian languages. Bilingual book titles include Birthday in the Barrio by Mayra Dole (English/Spanish), China’s Bravest Girl by Charlie Chin (English/Chinese), My Diary from Here to There by Amada Irma Perez (English/Spanish), Iguanas in the Snow and other Winter Poems by Franciso Alarcon (English/Spanish), and A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee Tai (English/Japanese).

Children’s Book Press books have won an impressive array of awards, including the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of Notable Books; the Américas Award for literature that contains Latin American, Caribbean, or Latino themes; the Coretta Scott King Award; the Independent Publisher Book Award; the ALA’s Pura Belpré Award for books that recognize the Latino cultural experience; the Skipping Stones Honor Award that recognizes outstanding books, teaching resources and educational videos; the Texas Bluebonnet Award from the Texas Library Association; the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award; the Parents’ Choice Award; and the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award. They published two new Spanish/English bilingual books this year: My Papá Diego and Me, written by Diego Rivera’s daughter, Dra. Guadalupe Rivera Marín, who recalls the stories and art of her famous father, and I Know the River Loves Me, written and illustrated by Maya Christine Gonzalez, which celebrates a child’s appreciation of nature.

Piñata Books is the children’s book imprint of Arte Público Press, which was founded in 1979 by Nicolás Kanellos, a professor at Indiana University Northwest, after he discovered that few mainstream presses were publishing the work of contemporary Hispanic authors. A year after he started the press, Kanellos moved to Houston and took the press with him. Soon, Arte Público recognized the need for more quality literature for children and young adults that authentically portrayed U.S. Hispanic culture. In 1994, with a grant from the Mellon Foundation, Arte Público started its children’s and young adult’s imprint, Piñata Books, which publishes all of its children’s books in Spanish and English.

Some of the books published by Piñata Books include Trino’s Choice by Diane Bertrand, Spirits of the High Mesa by Floyd Martinez, The Bakery Lady and The Desert is My Mother by Pat Mora, and Nilda by Nicholasa Mohr. Its books have won the Paterson Prize for Young Adult Literature, the Skipping Stones Award, the recommended reading lists of the ALA and the New York Public Library, and the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Cinco Puntos Press, located in El Paso, Texas, also specializes in Hispanic books for children. In 1987, Cinco Puntos published La Llorona by Joe Hayes, a noted Arizonan storyteller, in a bilingual version. The book sold 100,000 copies and has become a modern classic. Since then, Hayes has published numerous other Spanish/English books with the press. Other bilingual titles from Cinco Puntos include A Gift from Papa Diego and Grandma Fine and Her Wonderful Umbrellas, by Benjamin Saenz; Cada Niño/Every Child by Tish Hinojosa; Luche Libre by Xavier Garza (who was featured in November’s Currents); and The Story of Colors/La Histoire de los Colores, by Subcomandante Marcos.

Salina Bookshelf, located in Flagstaff, Arizona, was founded in 1994 by twin Navajo brothers Eric and Kenneth Lockard, who wanted to bring bilingual books in Navajo and English to the reservation. Salina Bookshelf’s books feature contemporary Navajo children as well as stories from Navajo history and oral traditions. Children’s books published by Salina Bookshelf include their most recent, The Stonecutter and the Navajo Maiden, by Vee Brown (nominated for Arizona’s One Book AZ for Kids for 2010); Red is Beautiful by Roberta John; Father’s Boots and Sunpainters: Eclipse of the Navajo Sun by Baje Whitethorne, Sr.; and a series of board books that feature a traditionally dressed Navajo girl as she learns about numbers, colors, and animals in both English and Navajo.

Luna Rising was an imprint of Northland Publishing Company in Flagstaff, Arizona that specialized in publishing bilingual books in English and Spanish, including three books by Monica Brown that highlight famous Latin American artists: My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia, about Celia Cruz, the Queen of salsa music; My Name is Gabito/Me Llamo Gabito, the story of famed author Gabriel García Marquez; and My Name is Gabriela/Me Llamo Gabriela, about Gabriela Mistrál, the Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize. Luna Rising also published Playing Lotería by Rene Colato Lainez, a charming story about a young boy who reconnects with his grandmother in Mexico and begins to learn Spanish by playing the popular lotería game with her. Luna Rising also published several board books in English and Spanish, including an alphabet books that features Spanish words. While Northland was closed in 2007, Luna Rising’s books can still be found through the National Book Network.

These five companies represent just a few of the smaller, independent publishing companies around the country that are publishing outstanding multicultural and bilingual children’s books. What are some of the companies you are familiar with? What are some outstanding bilingual books that you have have shared with your students?
In my next two posts I’d like to explore the concept of book branding and how it affects the book publishing industry.

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