Luna’s Press Books is so tiny that it’s easy to overlook while traveling south on San Francisco’s Mission Street. The 184-square-foot bilingual children’s bookstore is sandwiched between a corner store and a preschool near Richland Avenue, where many Central American restaurants and bakeries line the street.
But on a recent Sunday afternoon, the bookshop was hard to miss.
A mix of cumbia, salsa and Latin jazz blared as people dropped by to flip through books and colorful art prints while children made bookmarks and colored drawings of a quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, on tables outside. The bookstore was hosting a launch party for the coloring book “Guatemala, from A to Z” by Susana Sanchez-Young of Lafayette.
“It’s nice to see that Guatemala is being represented,” said Susie Orozco Franco, who is Salvadoran American and attended the event with her 6-year-old daughter, Sofia. “Especially here in San Francisco where there are a lot of Central Americans.”
The event was not a first for Holly Ayala and Jorge Argueta, the wife-and-husband owners of Luna’s. Since opening the store in 2013, they have hosted and sold children’s books focused on Central American culture, specifically Salvadoran, that are written by Central American authors.
In 2015 the pair published their first children’s book, “Olita y Manyula: El gran cumpleanos,” which was written by Argueta, a poet, and illustrated by El Aleph Sánchez, both of whom were born in El Salvador.
“Olita y Manyula” is about a Salvadoran American girl, Olita, who visits family in El Salvador and is invited to a birthday party for Manyula, a beloved elephant who lived in El Salvador’s national zoo for 55 years until her death in 2010.
In August 2021, Ayala wrote and published her first bilingual book, “ABC El Salvador,” illustrated by Elizabeth Gomez. The alphabet book uses Salvadoran terms for each letter, such as cipotes, or kids, and loroco, an edible flower used as an ingredient for pupusas.
Argueta and Ayala seek to make Latino kids feel represented in books and proud about their culture, and to serve as a space for Latino authors to promote their books to children, parents and educators in the Bay Area.
While Latino, Black, Indigenous and Asian American children have been underrepresented in children’s books for decades, racial representation has slowly improved in the past six years, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which has been tracking diversity statistics in books for children and teens since 1985. They track books they receive from large trade publishers and midsize to smaller publishers.
“Prior to that in the last 10 or 20 years, it was also increasing but at a much slower rate,” said Madeline Tyner, a librarian with the university’s book center. “That said, there are still vastly fewer books by and about Black, Indigenous and people of color than there are by and about white people and white characters.”
Tyner said the improvement is largely because of the rise of nonprofits that advocate for diversity in children’s literature, such as We Need Diverse Books, in addition to individual editors at some publishing houses, self-published authors and small, independent publishers.
According to the center’s latest data analysis, 42.7% of the 3,682 books it received from U.S. publishers in 2018 were about communities of color — meaning at least one primary character or significant secondary character was Black/African, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, Pacific Islander or Arab. Meanwhile, 21.4% of the 3,682 books were written or illustrated by at least one person of color.
“Although 42.7% may not seem so bad, when you break (it) down into racial identity, the numbers get much smaller. For example, in 2018, 11.6% of the books we received were about Black/African people,” Tyner added.
In 2002, just 13% of the 3,150 books received were about communities of color. During that time, the center was tracking only books by and about Black/African, Indigenous, Asian Pacific and Latinx people.
“To see yourself in a book matters so much because it means there’s somebody out there who sees you, who recognizes your importance, who validates your experiences, and to see authors who are writing books about someone like you is so empowering for kids,” Tyner said.
One reason there aren’t as many books about children of color written by authors of color is that the publishing industry is not racially diverse and is made up of predominantly white editors, said María de la Luz Reyes, professor emeritus of education at the University of Colorado-Boulder and former elementary school teacher.
“Until we can get Latino editors in book publishing companies, not a lot will change,” she said.
“The big difficulty (independent publishers and self-publishers) have is marketing because we don’t have money for that,” added de la Luz Reyes, who now writes award-winning bilingual children’s books.
Social media has played a big role in the increase of representation as more independent publishers are using it to promote their work and to connect with educators, writers and parents. Still, researchers said, there’s a long way to go before children’s books fully reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in the United States and around the globe. source: sf chronicle.
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