Bilingual is Better

Duncan Tonatiuh

Editor’s note: SpanglishBaby is excited to participate in Latinas 4 Latino Literature Blog Hop in celebration of el Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros with a short interview with Duncan Tonatiuh, a Mexican author and illustrator (check out his cool illustration above). His latest children’s book “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale” will be released May 7.

SpanglishBaby: How would you describe your book “Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote”?

It’s a picture book. It’s 32 pages long and it has color illustrations on every page. The artwork, like in my previous books, is inspired by Pre-Columbian art. I draw by hand, but collage my illustrations digitally. I try to make images that look both ancient and modern.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote reads like a classic fable; a little bit like the Little Red Riding Hood. The story is about a Rabbit family. Papá Rabbit leaves to find work in el Norte because it has not rained in the Rancho where the Rabbit family lives. After a couple of harvests, he is supposed to return. The Rabbits are preparing a big fiesta for him, but Papá does not show up. Late at night Pancho Rabbit, his eldest son, decides to go look for him. Along the way, he meets a Coyote. The Coyote helps Pancho cross a river, cross the desert and overcome many obstacles, but every time he helps Pancho he asks for some of the food he is taking to his Papá. Eventually the food runs out and the Coyote decides he is still hungry… for Pancho!

The story is for kids and it’s meant to be entertaining and suspenseful. But the book is also an allegory for the dangerous journey that undocumented migrants go on to reach the U.S.

SB: Why did you decide to write about this topic?

Immigration is something that I have been aware of since I was a teenager. I grew up in Mexico in a city called San Miguel de Allende. A lot of the kids that I grew up with left San Miguel before they were 18 to buss tables and shingle roofs in Texas and other parts of the U.S. There weren’t many job opportunities for them in San Miguel. When they came back — or got deported — they would tell me stories about being beaten up by the border patrol, running out of food while crossing the desert and eating snakes to survive. One of my neighbors died of dehydration while trying to cross. When I moved to the U.S., I saw what it was like on the other side. I met a lot of people that had left their families out of necessity in order to find work in the U.S. Many of them had not seen their children or their parents for five or ten years.

SB: How important is it for kids to read about this topic?

I think it’s very important. We hear about immigration in the media, but it’s usually with sensationalist tones. Immigrants are often associated with terrorists and drug dealers, which is ridiculous because, in fact, immigrants are some the hardest working people. They work in grueling jobs like farming and construction. They earn much less than their American counterparts and they receive less benefits. There are many Pew Research Center studies that point these facts out.

Immigrants are also treated like a statistic. Seldom do we see the dangerous journey they embark on to reach the U.S. and the longing they feel for their families. I hope Pancho Rabbit captures some of that sentiment. I think children are extremely intelligent, and I think they can and should read about complicated issues. They just have to be presented with a format and language they can understand and relate to.

SB: For whom did you write this book? Who do you hope reads your book?

I wrote the book for children, and I think that all children will enjoy it regardless of whether immigration has been a part of their family’s life or not. It’s an entertaining story. I think the book will be especially appealing to Latinos, but I think the public in general can get something out of it.

I especially hope that Pancho Rabbit will be a book that can link generations. I hope immigrants parents will identify with the story and will want to read it to their U.S. born children. I think teacher and librarians will also appreciate and enjoy the book because it can be a powerful tool to create a discussion in classrooms.

SB: How important is it for Latino kids to see themselves portrayed in the books they read? Why?

I think it is extremely important. There used to be this idea that in order to be American you had to assimilate and lose your roots. It was wrong to speak Spanish or to eat the traditional food of your country of ancestry. Fortunately, I think that attitude is changing. People can be good Americans, good citizens and at the same time they can be proud and celebrate their Latino heritage and background.

When a kid sees himself reflected in the books he reads it opens a universe of possibilities to him. It lets him know that he can be a writer or an artist. More importantly, it lets him know that his story and the stories of people like him are important. It empowers him and lets him know that his voice counts and that he should let it be heard.

Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-tyou) is an award winning author and illustrator who was born in Mexico City but grew up in San Miguel de Allende. He graduated from Parsons The New School for Design and from Eugene Lang College in New York City in 2008. His book Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, published in 2011 by Abrams Books for Young Readers is the winner of the 2012 Pura Belpré illustration award for a work that best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children’s books. It is also the winner of a 2012 Tomás Rivera Mexican American children’s book award. Duncan’s work is inspired by Ancient Mexican art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex. He samples elements and motifs from them and overall resembles the codex’ aesthetic, particularly their flatness and geometry. But Duncan takes advantage of the tools of our digital age. He draws by hand but then collages his drawings in the computer. His aim is to create images that address contemporary issues that affect people of Mexican origin on both sides of the border.

The Giveaway

L4LL has put together a wonderful collection of Latino children’s literature to be given to a school or public library. Many of the books were donated by the authors and illustrators participating in this blog hop. You can read a complete list of titles on the L4LL website.

To enter your school library or local library in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 EST, Monday, April 29th, 2013. The winner will be chosen using and announced on the L4LL website on April 30th, Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, and will be contacted via email – so be sure to leave a valid email address in your comment! (If we have no way to contact you, we’ll have to choose someone else!)

By entering this giveaway, you agree to the Official Sweepstakes Rules. No purchase required. Void where prohibited.

¡Buena suerte!

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