As the Spanish-speaking population of the United States grows and the attendant need for Spanish language books increases, it is timely to look at the diversity of Spanish-speaking publishing, especially the work of small presses. Through these publishers, U.S. readers can experience the experimental, intriguing, playful new voices and artistic styles coming out of Latin America and Spain. Here, two librarians share compelling work from Hispanic independent presses, literacy organizations, and governmental programs.
Iamique has done wonders with designing engaging nonfiction. From books about climate change and household chemistry, to the painful history surrounding Argentina’s Dirty War (1974–1983) and the activism of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in helping to find missing children in Abuelas con Identidad (2012), their titles are inquiry-based and their series arise from the authentic questions of children and contain both photography and illustration.
Comunicarte has developed a catalog of some of the greats of Argentinian children’s literature like María Teresa Andruetto, Isol, Perla Suez, and poet Jorge Luján, and have spearheaded the non-profit organization Centro de Difusión e Investigación de la Literatura Infantil y Juvenil, with the mission of encouraging the development of quality children’s literature as a vehicle to promote literacy and create readers.
Pequeño Editor was the winner of the 2015 Bologna Book Fair Prize for the Best Children’s Publisher in Central and South America. Cocorococó (2014), from their series Panzadas de Letras, is a cumulative song-story about farm animals. Given the company’s strong editorial eye, it comes as no surprise that some of their illustrators, such as Gusti, have become international figures.
Tragaluz editores, which translates literally as “swallowing light” – and is the Spanish word for clerestory – has an exquisite sense of bookmaking. Johnny y el Mar, an illustrated middle grade chapter books that brings the tradition of magical realism to children’s literature, was honored with a White Ravens recognition for excellence in international youth literature in 2014.
El Rey Naranjo combines an underappreciated tradition in poetry and visual art to produce graphic novels like the wildly successful Gabo (2014), about the childhood of Gabriel García Márquez. Two of its latest graphic novels include La Mano de Dios (2015) about Maradona and his legacy in Naples as a saint, and Tanta Sangre Vista (2015) about the little-known Thousand Days’ War that constitutes the historical background to García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and No One Writes to the Colonel (1961).
Amanuta combines formats and genres to offer a diverse publishing output organized in 13 heterogeneous collections where readers can find books from nonfiction comics to folktales from Chilean indigenous communities. In 2012, as part of its illustrated poetry collection, Amanuta published for the first time as standalone books four adapted classic fairy tales in verse by Nobel winner Chilean author Gabriela Mistral, illustrated by four artists: Paloma Valdivia, Carles Ballesteros, Carmen Cardemil, and Bernardita Ojeda.
In a country where the level of illiteracy has decreased from 40% (1994) to 15% (2014), the work of Amanuense goes beyond just publishing: it sponsors its own children and young adult literature award and creates guides aligning their books to Guatemalan national curriculum standards. They have recently expanded their catalog to nonfiction books. One of them, Punto y Reímos (2014), showcases the originality and playfulness that this publisher seeks to achieve. Written by a Venezuelan and illustrated by a Spaniard, the simple, short poems introduce punctuation symbols to children.
Ideazapato is a new small press founded by award-winning writer José Manuel Mateo whose mission is unique. The focus is on oral literature and the repurposing of popular and marginal tales of the 16th–20th century. One of the list’s first books was El Viaje del Cordero, la Cabra, y el Perro (2015), a Rwandan oral pourquoi tale of a sheep, a goat, and a dog. They all want to vacation, but each has a different way of paying the bus fare (or not) as they get off, and those behaviors become the “that’s why” they either chase, wait for, or run from the bus! Readers will recall the editor, José Manuel Mateo, as the author of Migrar (Kalandraka/Faktoría de Libros, 2011).
El Naranjo has a strong collection of middle grade and young adult fiction, including award-winning writer María García Esperón’s Copo de Algodón (2010), which is set in the Fifth Sun of the Aztec calendar and recounts through the eyes of a girl the death of Moctezuma and the cosmic formation of modern Mexico. Their other titles include writers from across Latin America. El Naranjo is one of the most established small Mexican publishers, and maintains an online reading club.
Tecolote is another well-established small press from Mexico, founded in 1993, which has covered important ground in children’s publishing by offering inexpensive and beautifully illustrated histories of the nation. They have wide range of picture books, and also publish collaborative projects funded in part by Mexico’s National Council for Culture and Arts, including the new title Luis Barragán: Arquitecto de la Luz y el Silencio (2015), a photographic picture book about the work of Mexico’s premier modern architect.
Since 2004, Thule’s main focus is to create picture books and illustrated books that are visually intriguing and stimulating. A good introduction to this publisher is Por qué nos preguntamos cosas (2013), a title built around poetic answers to child-like questions written by Victoria Pérez Escrivá, illustrated by Javier Zabala. The collection Isla Flotante enriches the slowly growing Spanish market of comics for children. Trampantojo is a collection that showcases well-known Spanish and international picture book creators. Interestingly, some of the award-winning creators who are included (Nesquens, Gustavo Roldán orAND? Riki Blanco) are also frequent names on A Buen Paso’s lists, a small publisher guided by a curiosity to experiment and discover the possibilities of the picture book format.
Imaginative national programs help many of these presses foster reading that materialize the link between creating readers and sustaining a diverse publishing market. Exemplary programs by Fundalectura in Colombia include the campaign “Paraderos Paralibros Paraparques.” The company has created 51 free libraries in parks, maintained by Colombia’s national parks department. In Uruguay, authors donated stories to the program “Cuenta conmigo” which organized 5,000 volunteers to read aloud to children and older adults, focusing on the deep connections forged by reading together.
Smaller countries like Uruguay have also created relevant and unique titles. Más Pimienta! publishes titles like Regreso a Casa (2013), which addresses domestic violence and the ensuing confusion of emotions told from the point of view of a child.
Partnering with these government and NGOs, the foundational work of larger publishing houses such as Ekaré, Kalandraka, Castillo, and Fondo de Cultura Económica have all contributed to the rich publishing terrain in Latin America. All of the presses mentioned have been recognized for outstanding books in children’s publishing by the following institutions: White Ravens (Germany), Libro Kirico (Spain), Premio Fundación Cuatro Gatos (USA), Fundalectura (Colombia), Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Los Mejores del Banco del Libro (Venezuela), and the national IBBY sections such as the Argentinian ALIJA. Viva libros en Español!
Sara Lissa Paulson received her teaching certificate in Spanish bilingual education at San Francisco State University and has been a NYC public school librarian since 1998. She is currently librarian at City-As-School and adjunct professor at Queens College.
Dr. Lucia Cedeira Serantes works as an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Queens College. Her research interests are teens, reading, and public libraries, with an emphasis on reading practices related to comics.