I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, where the only place I heard Spanish was within the walls of my high school. And what’s more, I took French! Eventually, I learned Spanish in college and then as a student in Venezuela and Cuba.
While my first job out of college didn’t require Spanish at all, my second did. I worked at a nonprofit that partnered with public schools to provide literacy programs to elementary-aged kids. My students were almost all children of immigrants from Latin America. I saw firsthand how so many of our students were operating in bilingual, bicultural worlds. Kids translated for their parents, for one another, and their teachers. They did it with such ease, navigating between cultures and languages.
We were a literacy program, so naturally, I wanted to find books that resonated with my students’ experiences. I researched and came up with the usual suspects (“Too Many Tamales” anyone?) or nothing at all. Certainly not enough to fill afternoons every day. Over time, I started discovering new books here and there — but never had a great way to find them.
Fast forward to a little over a year ago. I was eight months pregnant and searching for a book to show my son what life would be like as a sibling. In this case, I wanted a book that showed a multiracial child, to reflect our own family. We couldn’t find the right book, until months later, when it was too late. It was out there, but incredibly hard to find.
When I searched on the typical sites, the substance was lacking, but there was no shortage of ads for hair care products. And while I do love Kinky Curly for my daughter’s hair, it wasn’t going to help explain big brotherhood to my son! So, my husband and I decided to solve our own problem and create Zoobean, a site that handpicks remarkable kids’ books and catalogs them in a way that makes sense to parents.
When we created our sets of tags, we did this with all kinds of kids in mind. Our own kids and their experience growing up in a multicultural family (and world). And also the other children we know and love, like the kids I worked closely with in my earlier career. How did that work? We made tags like “English and Spanish,” “multicultural,” “multiethnic backgrounds,” “Latino or Hispanic,” and many more. We are just getting started, and trying to make it possible for parents to find books about a wide variety of topics that also reflect their kids and families.
Geena Davis says about girls in media, “If you see it, you can be it.” I believe this completely, for all kids. That’s why it’s critical that we make it easy to find the books that reflect our own families and children. If they see it, they can be it. There is the problem of there not being enough representation of Latino kids in children’s books, which we hope to help improve longer term. Now, we have to make it easy to find the books that are out there and get them into the hands of families that want them most!
What are your favorite bilingual books? If we don’t have them in the catalog already, please recommend today!