Bilingual books connect Latino families
While dropout rates and poverty levels for Latinos have decreased in recent years, they are still more than double the rates of whites in the U.S. Katherine Del Monte wants to change that by tackling illiteracy, starting with children’s books that are written with more than kids in mind.
Del Monte is the founder of Lectura Books, a bilingual publisher based out of the Los Angeles area that provides resources to teach and engage bilingual families in a country where one in five people speak a language other than English at home.
When Del Monte began her work in education, she quickly learned what was missing in schools, especially for children of Spanish-speaking parents — parents themselves.
“For those of us in education, we know that a parent is their child’s first teacher,” Del Monte said. Parental engagement is critical to a child’s academic success in the United States, where schools often ignore the needs of low-income students and English Language Learners, leaving parents to fill in the gaps in their child’s education. However, immigrant parents face language and cultural barriers when it comes to finding resources and connecting with their child’s school experience. What's more, untrained educators struggle to reach parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
“The good news is that we know that it is possible, with the right materials, framework, and training, for teachers to work with parents from different walks of life,” Del Monte said.
Del Monte’s graduate work in bicultural development and biliteracy at Pacific Oaks College prompted her to launch the Latino Family Literacy Project, an initiative to provide schools with resources to coach parents on learning and reading with their children.
In Los Angeles classrooms with Latino parents, Del Monte said that she struggled to make curriculum engaging. She couldn’t even find the right bilingual books, as publishers were routinely running out and declining to reprint the materials that the curriculum required. When Del Monte couldn’t find the books that parents needed, the cultural training that teachers needed, and the effective, meaningful curricula that the classroom needed, she set to work filling in the gaps.
“Really, we had no choice but to publish our own books,” Del Monte said. Two years after the Latino Family Literacy Project launched in 1999, Lectura Books was born.
Lectura’s bilingual books are designed to interest both parents and their children, incorporating relatable characters and meaningful stories with illustrations. In an industry that often fails to publish stories told by individuals from marginalized groups, including immigrants and people of color, Lectura aims to publish books written and illustrated by Latino authors and artists. They are sold to individuals online as well as institutions like schools and libraries. Some of the stories are submitted by authors while others are developed based on the curriculum at the Latino Family Literacy Project and reviewed by parent focus groups.
The books vary by age and theme. One bilingual illustrated series by Adam Del Rio follows the adventures of Teo, a six-year-old boy who lives in a work camp with his family, while a chapter book called Graciela’s Dream by Del Monte and Lectura Communications Director, Max Benavídez, tells the story of a 12-year-old girl’s struggle to open her family's eyes to the idea of going to college. Lectura’s latest book, Boy Zorro and the Bully, even includes a free downloadable school play that takes on the issue of school bullying.
“Every adult, no matter which language, needs to be part of the discussion, and having a bilingual book to address this issue is a way for Spanish-speaking parents to be on board with a respectful learning environment and a healthy intervention,” Del Monte said.
But the books aren’t only for learning and entertainment. They also provide stories to connect parents to children, and children to their own history.
“The books often inspire parents to recall and tell their own stories from childhood,” Del Monte said. For first or second-generation immigrant children, their parent’s story is the “missing link to their own backgrounds and histories.”
The Latino Family Literacy project has so far trained more than 10,000 teachers, staff and administrators around the country on its mission to educate parents and bringing families closer together.