Latinx Communities



The Current State of Latino Children’s Literature in the US

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.)

ccbc data

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.

We recently attend 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,”

-Erica Prosper Nirenberg

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.


Connecting With Latino Children:

Bridging Cultural Gaps with Children’s Literature

By Kathy Escamilla & Sally Nathenson-Mejía

In the Bilingual Research Journal Volume 27 No. 1,pg 101-116

The Journal of the National Association for Bilingual Education

Recent reports put the teaching population at 90% White, female, and middle class. If only 10% of teachers are linguistic and ethnic minorities and almost 40% of students are linguistic and ethnic minorities, it is clear that many thousands of students are being taught by teachers who have little or no background in the children’s culture, language, traditions, and history.

“According to the U.S. Department of Education (2000), over 37% of K–12 students are culturally, linguistically, and ethnically different from the dominant U.S. culture.

Whatever ethnicity they come from, teachers are finding themselves in schools where their own experiential background differs from that of their students (Grant & Gomez, 2001; Taylor, 2000; Nieto, 2000). Teachers who are born in the United States and grow up in some strata of the middle class may have little in common with students of the same ethnicity who are immigrants or who grow up in lower socioeconomic status situations (Zeichner, 1993, in Taylor, 2000; Chávez Chávez, 1996). In discussing the use of multicultural literature in teaching, Taylor (2000) suggests, “Considering the current mismatch between students’ and teachers’ diversity, teachers may want to sensitize and expose their students and themselves to multiple perspectives and cultures of U.S. society” (p. 25).

“We know that students must connect with teachers and the school culture if they are going to connect with school at all (Garcia, 1994). We have also seen that one characteristic of successful teachers is that they tend to know a great deal about their students’ lives (Davis, Clarke, & Rhodes, 1994). However, it is difficult for teachers to tap into children’s extensive funds of knowledge (Moll, 1993) if they don’t have any idea that those funds exist or how to access them. We believe strongly that educators can learn about the myriad cultures that make up our country’s population and that it is imperative that all students and teachers, no matter their own ethnicity and culture, learn about as many other cultures, traditions, and histories as possible over the course of their education and professional careers. This can best begin by learning about the cultures and traditions of the children in their classrooms.

We have found that most teachers come out of teacher education programs with very little background in multicultural issues and instructional techniques (Garcia & Pugh, 1992; Villegas, 1996). For several years we have used Latino children’s literature in various methods courses with our teacher candidates to help them gain background knowledge of the cultures, traditions, language, and issues surrounding the various Latino people in the United States. In turn, the teacher candidates use the same literature in elementary classrooms, encouraging the children to respond in a personal way. The experience enriches the teacher candidates’ work with children and begins to broaden their perspective and understanding of cultures different from their own. This particular project was a part of seminars conducted within partner schools. The idea was to go beyond children’s literature and language arts courses and bring the learning experience into the field experience itself.”


“The cultural, linguistic, and ethnic mismatch has led education researchers and practitioners to conclude that teacher education programs must address diversity and equity when preparing teachers for the 21st century (Banks, 2001; Dana & Lynch-Brown, 1993; Grant & Secada, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1994). Banks goes beyond the idea of mere acceptance of diversity; he challenges teacher education institutions to prepare teachers as “cultural mediators who interpret the mainstream and marginalized cultures to students from diverse groups and help students understand the desirability of and possibility for social change’’ (p. 240).”

First Criterion:

Country of origin, for selecting the literature was important because most of the Latino student population in our area comes from families who have immigrated throughout the past 15 years from Mexico or who have been in the southwestern United States for several generations. Therefore, we looked for books written by Mexican and Mexican American authors and those coming from Mexican and Mexican American traditions. We also chose books with origins from other Latino countries, such as El sancocho de sábado/Saturday Sancocho (Torres, 1995) from Colombia and El tapiz de Abuela/Abuela’s Weave (Castañeda, 1993) from Guatemala. We felt these books reflected experiences and values similar to the Mexican and Mexican American children’s lives and literature. The concepts included in these books, such as extended family, going to the mercado [market], working to support family, and humor are reflective of the lives of the Mexican and Mexican American children with whom our preservice teachers work.

Second Criterion:

language (i.e., Spanish or English), was important because about half of the teacher candidates were becoming bilingual teachers. Their school experiences were in bilingual classrooms. We wanted to provide opportunities for them to read in Spanish and to be able to use literature in Spanish with the children. We looked for books that had both Spanish and English versions or had both languages within one book since many of the teachers were not fluent in Spanish or did not speak Spanish at all. We were fairly successful; in the first year we found 14 books that were available in both languages, such as the “Carlos” books mentioned above. In the second year we added 6 more titles that came in both languages. We found that the teacher candidates with Spanish-speaking abilities were eager to read the books in Spanish and use them with their students in the schools. Those teacher candidates working only in English were also happy to have access to the Spanish books because many of their students, though learning in English, were also Spanish speakers.


However, we learned that there is a difference between books that are published with each language in its own edition and those in which the two languages are in the same book. When each language is in a different book, everything else remains the same: illustrations, format, and fonts. However, when both languages are in the same book, subtle differences make it difficult for some readers, usually those reading in Spanish. In most of the dual-language books, the Spanish is underneath the English, in a font (such as italics) that is more difficult for children to read and sometimes in a color (such as blue) that is more difficult to see. These differences, though they may appear to be insignificant, hinder the reading experience of the child reading in Spanish. The placement of Spanish below the English (as it was in most of the bilingual books) reinforces the lower status that Spanish occupies in the dominant U.S. culture (Shannon, 1995; Escamilla, 1994; Shannon & Escamilla, 1999).

Third criterion:

“Contemporary literature versus folk tales, is important because multicultural education has a long tradition of using folk tales to teach about various countries and cultures. We agree that folk tales are an essential component of culture, and we chose various folk tales to include in our selection. However, we feel strongly that contemporary literature based on people’s lives (whether fiction or nonfiction) brings the teacher candidates closer to the real lives of the children they teach. It also brings them face to face with challenging issues we believe they must address. Many of the realistic fiction books deal with situations children must confront when they live in two cultural worlds: “It is important that our teacher candidates also understand that cultural conflict and negotiation are components of becoming bicultural” (Escamilla & Nathenson-Mejía, in press). These issues include not having a permanent home (migrants), being an undocumented resident, being sick, having your name changed, feeling devalued by institutions such as school, moving from one country to another, serving as a translator between home and school, and growing up.”

Fourth Criterion:

“High-quality text and illustrations, is important because research on children’s literature stresses that we must demand high quality in the books we provide for children. Characteristics we looked for included: a) strong, believable story lines, well crafted, not contrived or condescending; b) believable, well-written language; and c) quality illustrations that matched and supported the story. We also looked for translations (whether from Spanish to English or English to Spanish) that represented conceptual equivalents (Barrera, 1992; Escamilla, Andrade, Basurto, & Ruiz, 1996). We rejected books that we felt were stereotyping, condescending, or inaccurate.”

We wanted teacher candidates to use the books to create lessons that would achieve the following:

1. Create cultural connections between teacher candidates and their students.

2. Create connections between the books and children’s lives (personal connections).

3. Enhance the verbal skills and abilities of their students in both Spanish and English.

4. Utilize literature to teach skills and strategies in reading and writing.

Preparing Culturally Responsive Teachers:

Using Latino Children’s Literature in Teacher Education

By Kathy Escamilla & Sally Nathenson-Mejía

Equity and Excellence in Education, Vol. 36, pg 238-248

The color-blind perspective, although safe and comfortable for professors and practitioners, will not likely encourage prospective teachers to learn to see the world from different perspectives. We, the authors, as teacher education professors, are not arguing against the need for teachers to understand common human characteristics; however, we feel strongly that they must also understand that groups have unique cultural heritages and backgrounds. Rather than ignore these differences in schools under the guise of emphasizing our similarities, it is important for prospective teachers to recognize, understand, and respect differences. That our differences make us unique and valuable must be a theme running through teacher education programs and into our schools. Villegas and Lucas (2002) define “culturally responsive teachers’’ as those with “a high degree of sociocultural consciousness [and who] see themselves as agents of change’’ (p. 9) in the schools and educational systems.

Six Characteristics of Culturally Responsive Teachers

“Such a teacher:

(a) is socioculturally conscious, that is, recognizes that there are multiple ways of perceiving reality and that these ways are influenced by one’s location in the social order

(b) has affirming views of students from diverse backgrounds, seeing resources for learning in all students rather than viewing differences as problems to be overcome

(c) sees himself or herself as both responsible for and capable of bringing about educational change that will make schools more responsive to all students

(d) understands how learners construct knowledge and is capable of promoting learners’ knowledge construction

(e) knows about the lives of his or her students

(f) uses his or her knowledge about students’ lives to design instruction that builds on what they already know while stretching them beyond the familiar (p. 2).”

“Three general research questions guided our study and informed the discussion of issues.

  • Does reading Latino children’s literature help teacher candidates develop or expand their knowledge base about Mexicans and Mexican Americans and other Latino groups?
  • Are teacher candidates able to relate Latino literature to their own life experiences?
  • Are teacher candidates willing to utilize Latino children’s books when teaching?”

“While we recognize the importance of connecting with the literature and the children on a universal or hu- man level, we also recognize that this is not sufficient. To only identify with the students in a way that confirms“we are all alike’’ encourages teacher candidates’ tenden- cies to want to use the educational system to make the children more like themselves. As their professors, we must provide the opportunity to explore and understand the value in how we are all different. If teacher candidates do not learn to recognize and value these differences, they will not be convinced that there is a real need to make sure the educational system values and addresses these differences. It is our obligation as teacher educators to help them see that in recognizing the differences, we can celebrate and share the wonderful variations human cultures produce, thus placing value on all cultures.”

Amigos del Otro Lado/ Friends from the Other Side

“It also is important, for example, for teachers to understand the place that la migra has in the lives of the Mexican and Mexican American community. It is näıve on the part of Teacher Candidates (TC’s) to think that if books such as Amigos del otro lado / Friends from the Other Side (Anzaldúa,1993) are not included in the school curriculum, the issues will not be a part of the children’s lives. Here again, ignoring the reality of students’ lives promotes an education system that is not culturally responsive to its community.

Most difficult for TCs were the portrayals of the border patrol and la migra, the act of harboring “illegal aliens,’’and how the community members relied on a curandera for health care and advice. It is important for us as professors to help TCs see the world in its varied colors, rather than only in black and white. We need to help TCs begin to understand and accept the realities and traditions of the Latino community, and not judge these children or their families by the middle-class values with which the majority of TCs were raised.

The book, Amigos del otro lado (Anzaldúa,1993), helped us to bring to light very real issues that TCs need to un- derstand to value their students’ culture and social reality. In this way, they can learn to respond in a manner which is supportive and comprehending rather than negative and dismissive.”

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