According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Latinx children account for 27% of students enrolled in U.S. public schools, yet only 7% of children’s books feature Latinx characters. Only 11% of children’s books are written by Latinx authors.
It’s a gap that must be addressed. Books are critical for child development. Books are the key to the literacy, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills that are directly linked to success in school and life. Books expand a child’s awareness of the world, and help build empathy and understanding. And books allow young people to see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, to validate their own experiences and identities.
Yet books today do not reflect our vibrant, multicultural society. This underrepresentation is exacerbated by the rising tide of book bans, which, according to PEN America, disproportionately target works written by and featuring people of color. It is no exaggeration to say that these titles are under attack.
The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, a nonprofit organization created in 2020 by a group of Latinx authors in response to the pandemic, aims to address this problem of underrepresentation in children’s books—because diverse books are important for all kids, not just those who identify with the author or the characters in the story. Reading about different cultures provides students everywhere with windows onto the rich and varied traditions and histories that come from across Latin America. These stories dispel stereotypes, foster connection, and acknowledge that humans share similar experiences of pain, joy, and hope, irrespective of family origin and identity.
These themes of inclusion, community, and connection are supported throughout the programming created by the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival. Content is geared toward all schools, educators, students, and book lovers, not just those identifying as Latinx.
The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival started as a two-day virtual book fair but evolved over the years, and it now consists of four days of programming airing live during National Hispanic Heritage Month. In the evenings, the festival streams professional development sessions geared toward educators and writers in partnership with organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English, the Authors Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival seeks to support educators in everything that they do.
The festival also aims to support emerging voices. More and more, publishing houses rely on authors and illustrators to market their own books. This is challenging for the vast majority of authors, who are not celebrities with a large social media following or lucky enough to be selected by Reese or Jenna for feature on a national book club platform. It is even more difficult for those who have traditionally been marginalized.
By featuring debut authors and illustrators alongside beloved bestselling authors including Elizabeth Acevedo, Margarita Engle, Donna Barba Higuera, Meg Medina, and Adam Silvera, the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival seeks to uplift new and diverse voices and to share their important stories with children, parents, and educators everywhere.
Of course, schools and libraries are where most kids access books. Educators play a crucial role in bringing diverse literary representation into the classroom. Knowing this, the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival has created tools to help librarians and teachers find and incorporate these books into the curriculum. The festival’s book database catalogs children’s books created by Latinx authors and illustrators and is searchable by genre, theme, and representation. Guides for educators are freely available for download on the website. The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival also gives away free books, more than 6,000 to date, in addition to supporting free author and illustrator school visits. The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival also maintains a database of book creators, including instructions on how to connect with the Latinx author or illustrator to set up school visits.
The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival firmly believes that the world is a better place when young people have access to an endless bookshelf of stories featuring a multitude of identities and experiences. As every parent and educator knows, no book will speak to every reader—which is why we need more books, not fewer. We need more voices to be heard and more stories to be read.
Ismée Williams is the cofounder of the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival.