Wanted: Latino book characters

TUCSON- Christina Cuevas and Emma Peterson are two eighth-grade students who love to read.

“I like imagining the stuff that happens in the books, it’s fun to go to a new world,” Cuevas says.

But it’s a world they’ve noticed is sometimes hard to relate to. “There aren’t any specific Latino characters in any of the books I read,” Peterson says.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latino students now make up nearly a quarter of public school students across the country.

Yet, Kathy Short of the UA’s “Worlds of Words,” says less than three-percent of books published in 2011 featured a Latino as its main character. “The kids are right,” Short says.

The mission of “Worlds of Words” is to bring diversity to books read by children and young adults. “It’s not that kids only want to read books about themselves,” Short says. “They want to read books about many other topics, cultures and points of view. But if you never see yourself in a book, it really does start to send strong messages.”

Short says it’s a trend that is also seen among African Americans, Native Americans and Asians. “From across those four cultural groups, they represent only 10 percent of what’s being published,” Short says.

However, she says the stories are on shelves, you just have to search for them. Short has taken part in efforts to compile a list of culturally-diverse books. “But I also think if parents, school libraries and teachers really seek out those books and use them with children, purchase them and make them a part of kids lives, the market will produce more of those books,” Short says.

Until that happens, Cuevas and Peterson are sticking to Shakespeare. “Currently we’re reading Romeo and Juliet,” Peterson says.

It’s a story they enjoy; they just hope the publishing world will turn a page soon.

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