My career in children’s writing has been long in coming. I’ve spent my life as an educator. As a former K-12 teacher, I taught mostly language arts and social studies at the elementary and secondary levels. It was in teaching elementary school, that I first noticed the scarcity of culturally relevant books for children of color and culturally diverse children. This shortage of culturally relevant books has remained static, even as I pursued a doctorate in educational psychology years later. In my Ph.d. program, I specialized in language, literacy, and culture. As a university professor, I taught courses in those areas for students in master’s and Ph.d. programs. Not much has changed in traditional children’s book publishing. The breakthrough in this area is coming from Indy authors and independent publishers, like myself, who understand the need for more diverse themes in children’s books. After I retired as Professor Emerita of Education from the University of Colorado-Boulder, I turned my attention to addressing this issue.
Data shows that less than 3% of all children’s books published in the US are written by Latinos or Latinas, or feature Latino children’s experiences and culture. When this is examined in light of current student demographics in schools, especially in California and the Southwest, the high demand for culturally diverse children’s books and the low supply becomes even more apparent.
I write children’s books because I love books. More importantly, I write because Latino children’s eyes light up when they see characters that look like them in the pages of my books. Their mouths break into smiles and laughter when they hear familiar topics that are deemed worthy enough to be part of the norm in children’s literature. And, when they meet me, they often ask: “Are you a real, live, author? “ (pause) “But, you speak Spanish like me!” Demonstrating the possibility that they, too, could become authors is priceless.
María de la Luz Reyes is the 8th of nine children in her family. She grew up in a close-knit family where personal toys were rare. As a child, she enjoyed outdoor play with her brothers, sisters, and friends. She played marbles, jump rope, hid ‘n seek, jacks, card games, and loteria, a Mexican bingo game where all the family could play together. María also loved school, books, coloring, and even homework! (Yuk, you say?)