Last week, The New York Times released their list of Notable Children’s Books of 2013. And once again, they failed to include a single title written by or about Latinos. In fact, in the last 10 years only one book featuring a Latino protagonist and written by a Latino author – Marcelo in the Real World written by Francisco X. Stork in 2009 – has been included in the annual list.
Over 52 million Latinos live in the United States. Isn’t it odd that not even one title that might reflect a portion of this growing demographic is included? This exclusion certainly isn’t for a lack of books. This year, dozens of children’s books reflecting the diversity of the Latino culture have been published.
In response to The New York Times’ exclusive list, Latinas for Latino Lit (L4LL) – of which I am a co-founder – published our own Remarkable Latino Children’s Literature of 2013. It features some of the best books released this year by Latino children’s authors and/or illustrators. And even this list, they admit, is just a sampling of some of the rich stories published by Latino writers over the past 12 months.
“It is extremely hard to choose only seven titles as we did,” says L4LL co-founder Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D., “when in fact, there are dozens of beautifully written stories that were recently published and that reflect the faces and experiences of our dynamic culture.”
REFORMA, or The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, strongly advocates for culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate books and other materials to help meet the cultural needs of the Latino community. Each year, REFORMA selects outstanding Latino children’s literature for the Pura Belpré Award. It is one of the ways in which the organization celebrates literature related to the Latino experience in the United States, advocating not only for an increase in publication but also in quality.
Alicia K. Long, REFORMA’s Public Relations Chair says, “By highlighting the best literature by Latino authors and illustrators, we encourage teachers, librarians, and families, to read these books and share them.”
Graciela Tiscareño-Sato,, a US Air Force veteran and author of Good Night Captain Mama, Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá, thinks The New York Times’ oversight is a common obstacle Latino books face in the literary world. She believes the problem lies in a process that reviews books from “established” publishers who frequently do not publish many Latino children’s books.
“In so doing,” Tiscareño-Sato says, “The New York Times has chosen to ignore the literary innovation being produced in great abundance by smaller publishers around the nation.”
These high-quality books are being recognized by other, smaller organizations like REFORMA and the International Latino Book Awards. But their success can also be documented on mega bookseller websites like Amazon. When Tiscareño-Sato’s book was released in July, it climbed three different Amazon Bestseller category lists to #11 on the Children’s Hispanic & Latino books, #20 on the Children’s Military Fiction list and also made it onto the Children’s “Things That Go” bestseller list. In addition, it debuted on the Amazon #1 spot in both “Hot New Releases” list for Children’s Hispanic & Latino books AND Children’s Military Fiction categories.
At a time when Hispanic students’ literacy rates are the worst of any racial or ethnic group – in 2011, only 18 percent of Hispanic fourth graders were proficient in reading – informing parents and educators about books to which Hispanic students and their families can relate is crucial.
Long says, “Several studies have proven the need for materials in which children can meet characters that look like them, feel like them, and experience the same life challenges and joys of being raised in families from Latino origins or with multicultural roots.”
Ironically, The New York Times wrote about this very topic exactly one year ago today, in an article by Motoko Rich titled, “For Young Latino Readers, an Image Is Missing.”
So, qué pasa, New York Times? Why is there not a single Latino children’s title included in your list?
“The fact that the NYT reading list for this year does not include any books for a Latino audience,” Long says, “proves that measures like implementing the Belpré Medal are still needed in order to educate the general population and the Latino population about the existence of this great quality literature for all children.”
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.