It’s not just First Lady Michelle Obama who is making the eradication of childhood obesity a priority. Arte Público Press is marking its 30th anniversary and the 15th anniversary of its children’s imprint, Piñata Books, with the launch of Latino Children’s Wellness, a program dedicated to combating childhood obesity and the health problems associated with it, including diabetes. With a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and an additional $50,000 from the Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Houston, Tex.-based press, which showcases U.S. Hispanic literary creativity, arts, and culture, will publish and give away bilingual books aimed at teaching Hispanic children and their families about healthy eating.

“Obesity is a huge issue in the Latino community, and we want to give families books that model good eating and exercise habits,” says assistant director Marina Tristan. “Our goal is to distribute as many books as possible, at least 300,000 copies of each title.” Although Arte Público has previously donated books to targeted audiences, such as seeding schools and libraries with works from its Hispanic Civil Rights series, it has never done a project on this scale.

An interior image from I Kick the Ball.

Starting with the first Latino Children’s Wellness title, Gwendolyn Zepeda’s picture book I Kick the Ball (June), illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla, each book will be published in a paperback edition on magazine-quality stock and handed out for free at clinics and other locations frequented by low-income Latino families in urban and rural areas in 11 states. In 2011 Piñata will reissue Zepeda’s book in a hardcover edition printed on high-quality paper, which it will distribute to the trade. The press plans to publish two books in the series per year, and will give away copies of Diane Gonzales Bertrand’s Adelita and the Calabacita Cousins later in 2010.

To promote the books and childhood wellness, Arte Público is readying a series of public service announcements and launched ¡salud, familia!, a Latino Children’s Wellness Web site. It also named an advisory board of physicians and other health and nutrition experts. In spring 2011, two board members—Hugo Melgar-Quiñonez, M.D., an assistant professor and an extension state specialist in the department of Human Nutrition at Ohio State University, and Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, a professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, and director of the Office of Community Health at the Yale School of Public Health—will publish a collection of essays aimed at parents, which is tentatively titled Latino Children’s Wellness.

Even without the grants that enabled Arte Público to establish the new series, children’s and teen titles have taken on increasing importance since the imprint’s founding in 1994. “Piñata Books is very strong for us,” says Arte Público founder and director Nicolás Kanellos. The imprint has helped boost sales to schools, libraries, and other institutions, which make up close to 60% of the press’s sales. And the press has changed its mix of 30 new releases a year. Piñata now accounts for half of the Arte Público list: six to eight picture books, two middle grade readers, and four young adult novels. Among Piñata’s upcoming books is Puerto Rican poet Judith Ortiz Cofer’s first picture book, A Bailar (2011).