An imaginative boy anticipating the weekly bookmobile visit to his underserved neighborhood features in the first release in Stories from Latin America, a new series from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint dedicated to publishing global and translated children’s literature. The series will focus on fiction and nonfiction set in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean because, as editorial director Kathleen Merz noted, “These are our neighbors.” She added that books written beyond our borders “can challenge the two-dimensional narratives that we have about people from other countries. Stories told in voices from these different places speak to real lived experience.”
Resilience, Warmth and Humanity
Launching Stories from Latin America on September 19 is Colorful Mondays: A Bookmobile Spreads Hope in Honduras, written by Nelson Rodríguez and Leonardo Agustín, illustrated by Rosana Faría and Carla Tabora, and translated by Lawrence Schimel; the story is based on a real bookmobile program in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Luis, an optimistic boy, strives “to fill the lives of his family and friends with joy and color through happy stories,” as he’s described in the book. Whether he’s getting water from the well or selling the tortillas his mother makes, recalling those experiences evokes “the same emotion he feels when he sees a rainbow” and he longs to share those feelings with others living in Villa Nueva. The bookmobile that comes on Mondays, a pickup truck, carries tents and a puppet theater in addition to books. The puppet show entertains children who are often hungry or have no shoes.
Merz said that Colorful Mondays “speaks to the creativity, the resilience, the warmth, and humanity of the characters—and the writers and illustrators who have brought them to life.”
Deep Roots and Universal Themes
Other books in the series will share themes of resilience and humanity despite challenges and hardships. Due on September 26, On the Edge of the World, written by Anna Desnitskaya and translated by Lena Traer, explores the similarities and differences between two children longing for friendship—Vera, who is living on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, and Lukas, on the coast of Chile—and reveals how imagination can cross even the widest oceans. Printed as a tête-bêche or head-to-tail story, the book has two front covers, one featuring Vera, the other Lukas.
In The Young Teacher and the Great Serpent, due out October 10, prose and illustration combine in a modern-day myth written by Irene Vasco, illustrated by Juan Palomino, and translated by Lawrence Schimel. A young urban woman arrives in an Indigenous village in the Amazon to teach in a straw-roofed structure with no walls. When the books she has carried from the city, “the only things that made her feel sure of herself,” are lost in a flood, she learns how words aren’t the only vehicles for storytelling.
A sense of place anchors all of the launch titles—each setting is distinctive and perhaps unfamiliar to most North American readers—yet the relationships between characters are recognizable and comforting, Merz said. “That’s one of the things the series is about. As an editor, I look for specificity, uniqueness—stories that are deeply rooted in a place, but have these universal themes that we can relate to no matter what country we’re from.”
Translator Lawrence Schimel said his philosophy is to recreate the reading experience of the original text. In Colorful Mondays, which he described as “a vivacious story, both in text and illustration,” a lighter tone prevails compared to the “more dreamlike quality” of The Young Teacher and the Serpent. “Those characteristics affect everything from vocabulary choices to sentence structure,” he explained, “so that even though both books are translated by me, they each read like themselves.”
The series includes six backlist titles from Eerdmans: 9 Kilometers by Claudio Aguilera, illustrated by Gabriela Lyon, translated by Lawrence Schimel; Building an Orchestra of Hope by Carmen Oliver, illustrated by Luisa Uribe; Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams and Linda Saport; 2023 Batchelder Honor winner Different: A Story of the Spanish Civil War by Mónica Montañés, illustrated by Eva Sánchez Gómez, translated by Lawrence Schimel; Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War by María José Ferrada, illustrated by Ana Penyas, translated by Elisa Amado; and Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile by María José Ferrada, illustrated by María Elena Valdez, translated by Schimel.
Niños, Merz acknowledged, handles subject matter that some might regard as unsettling for children. Yet she explained, “there’s so much beauty in these stories, even though they tackle difficult things.” Schimel noted that while the book does not gloss over the fate of those children who were murdered or disappeared during the Chilean dictatorship, by “imagining the childhoods they might have had,” Niños underscores “what happened by showing the beauty stolen from the world along with those young lives.”
While no set number of titles is planned annually for Stories from Latin America, Merz said, “One of the things we look for in books that we’re acquiring [for this series] is timelessness. These are books that I love.”