Stories

Lil’ Libros Bring Reading to Latino Children

April 5, 2017

By Geneva Gámez-Vallejo

As a latino parent, one of my greatest fears was that my children would grow up only speaking English and forgetting about their native tongue: Spanish. All of our surroundings are in English, street signs, food labels, books, TV, school, and even our very own conversations.

It became my mission to make sure everything I said was in Spanish, that movies and cartoons had the option to be dubbed in Spanish and that the books I introduced to them were also in Spanish. I was terrified that if I didn’t do it that way, we would slowly begin to stray away from making the extra effort of translating words, phrases, sentences or only speaking Spanish at home and lose the language altogether.

To my surprise, finding children’s books in Spanish wasn’t as easy as walking into the book store and choosing from one of the hundreds of books on the racks. The selection was limited, sometimes with more than one poorly translated option or a different Spanish than the one I was teaching my kids. Some books catered a Peruvian or Colombian Spanish, others to Spaniards and Argentinians but not very many represented the Mexican culture or its language.

Then I ran into the “how will they communicate at school, if all they learn is Spanish?” dilemma. I couldn’t leave English out completely. It turned out my dilemma is a shared one and thank goodness it was the case for Patty Rodríguez and Ariana Stein, creators of Lil’ Libros publishing house.

Their line of chunky charismatic books are found in nearly every big outlet that sells books across the nation. Both Patty and Ariana are Los Angeles natives who sought out to offer children an option of learning both English and Spanish from early on. And, even though, there may be a misconstrued stigma that latinos don’t like to read or much less read to their children, the popularity and success of their books targeting little readers from newborns to four-year-olds is clear proof of just the opposite.

“The idea was born while I was pregnant with my first son” said Rodríguez “I was looking for beautiful children board books that represented our culture and traditions. At the time, I was only able to find translated versions of the classics, but nothing that I felt celebrated who we are. I started sending the idea to publishers across the country, many of them said no. Then one of them actually said “Latinos don’t read to their children.” This is when she and Stein decided to launch the publishing house on their own. Without publishing experience and their savings at risk, their love and passion for the latino community and its children is what drove them.

“Patty and I always shared the same entrepreneurial spirit. We knew we wanted to do something that was both important to us, as well as inspiring to others. After we had our children, we realized the importance of bilingualism. When Patty asked me to partner with her, I didn’t see it as an option but more as a necessity” recalls Stein. She and Rodríguez have known each other since they were 12 years old, when they met in middle school. They make the perfect partnership, while they both create the books’ content, Stein’s role is to ensure their vision’s goals are executed effectively while Rodríguez drives the creative side of the company’s mission.

Rodríguez’s entrepreneurial drive goes a long way, she is also the creator of Mala Jewelry, a line of jewelry that uplifts the latino lifestyle in words and phrases that are wearable and fashionable in Hollywood. Celebrities like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus have graced her necklaces. She is also the Senior Producer of “On-Air with Ryan” [Seacrest]. Needless to say, she is a busy woman and with nine book titles available, she and Stein keep busy coming up with ideas to continue entertaining while teaching their young audience about the latino culture.

While we can finally feel satisfied about finding these book options for our kids, Stein and Rodríguez are currently working on their next project, which I’m sure will also overload them with success.

“This year, we are releasing some magical stuff. A book inspired by La Catrina and our very first children’s bilingual board game!” exclaimed Rodríguez. Stein explained the board game is an actual extension of their first “Loteria First Words/ Primeras Palabras” book.

In the meantime, you and your kids can learn about colors through “Zapata”, counting with “Frida”, shapes through Cuauhtémoc, body parts through an action filled “Lucha Libre” spectacle or First Words through a beautifully illustrated book of “Guadalupe”, and their newest “Celia” based on the life of Celia Cruz. Whichever you choose for your baby or toddler, you’re sure to engage them in a colorful and cultural experience while we keep working against the stigma.

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