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Books as Mirrors, Windows, and Bridges

This post is written by author-illustrator  Duncan Tonatiuh who is a keynote speaker for Meet Your Elementary Section Representatives at the 2016 NCTE Annual Convention.

duncan_1I am the author-illustrator of six picture books. Some of my books are fiction and some are nonfiction. They are on a variety of themes, but they are all in some way about Mexican and Mexican American culture. I find it important to create these books because there is a very limited number of books in which Mexican American and Latinx children can see themselves and their culture even though they are one of the largest groups in the United States. You may be familiar with the study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center that found that in 2015 there were 3,400 children’s books published, but less than 3 percent of them were about Latinx or written by a Latinx.

panchorabbitandthecoyote I think that when Latinx children see themselves in books it helps them realize their voices are important. One of the most powerful experiences I have had as an author is when a group of fourth graders in Texas shared with me a video they made after reading my book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote. Pancho Rabbit is a fable, similar to Little Red Riding Hood, but it is also an allegory of the dangers that migrants from Central America and Mexico often face in their efforts to reach the United States. The students’ video was a multi-voice poem about their families and their own border crossing experiences. I was moved when I saw the video, but I was also happy that my book had encouraged these students to talk about their experiences, especially when immigration is such a politically charged subject and one they may be afraid to speak about.

separateisneverequalBooks about Latinx are also important for non-Latinx children. They can create empathy and build bridges. I have had the opportunity to share my book Separate Is Never Equal with students in different parts of the United States. The book is about a case in the 1940’s that desegregated schools in California seven years before the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. At the time, Mexican American and Latinx children in many parts of the Southwest were not allowed to go to school with white children.

Many people do not know this. I did not know this until fairly recently. When other minority children hear about this, especially African American children, they often make connections. They see that African Americans, Latinx, and other minorities have had to deal with some of the same prejudice. Rather than seeing someone who is different from and alien to them, they see someone who is like them.

Duncan Tonatiuh is an award-winning author-illustrator. He grew up in San Miguel Allende, Mexico and graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City. His aim is to create images and stories that honor the past, but that are relevant to people, specially Latino children, nowadays.