Tips, Resources, & Challenges: Selecting Children’s Picture Books in Spanish

cartoon of boy with glasses reading a book; hearts, musical notes, stars and other symbols float in the air around him

¡Saludos a todos!

When chatting with our awesome intern Liz about libros en español, it came up that I am currently selecting the Picture books in Spanish (E Fic and E Non Fic) for Jefferson County Public Library. She wondered if I could share a blog about my experience thus far. ¡Por supuesto! I have a lot to share and a lot to learn.

How did I get into this? Well, I am a bilingual Kids and Families Outreach Librarian and I have been selecting for our outreach collection designated solely for preschool and early learning outreach since I started my position in 2014. The past selectors from our Diversity and Inclusion team would come to me for picture book suggestions. ¿Por qué? I was a Spanish teacher at a Montessori school for 3 years and then a teacher for Head Start for 10 years, working with Spanish speaking families in Jeffco. The amazing (maybe she will blush if she reads this) Mary Kuehner or Miss Mary Liberry would visit my Head Start classrooms each month and expose us to new books in English and Spanish during her engaging bilingual storytimes. I learned a lot from her and a lot from the kids and families, purely based on what interested them. The advantage of being a bilingual outreach librarian is that I am constantly learning and seeing with my own eyes what interests Spanish speaking children and families. Most of my bilingual outreach is made up of monthly storytime visits to bilingual preschools, quarterly WIC (Women, Infants and Children) clinic visits and bilingual Summer Reading visits at local schools. I also learn a lot from library patron suggestions and from our incredible Spanish speaking staff (shout out to Virginia at Belmar Library and my co-selector, Paola!). My biggest limitation as a selector of materials in Spanish is, although I have a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish, I am Caucasian and I do not have any cultural background related to a Spanish speaking country. My heritage is primarily Scottish and German. When someone wonders how I speak Spanish so well or why I am so invested in the Spanish speaking community, I can only say ‘Español vive en mi corazón’ or Spanish lives in my heart. Maybe it’s a past life thing…

Here are some challenges I face as a selector of books in Spanish for children (And I know I am not alone in this. It was wonderful to hear from Denver Public Library’s struggles at DPL’s Best and Brightest 2018 breakout session about selecting quality materials in Spanish).

  • Authentic materials from own voice authors.
  • Spanish speaking cultures are vibrant and unique. It is hard to find a good amount of books that speak to individual cultural experiences.
  • Finding a variety of books and authors published in Mexico, Central and South America available from our vendors. Many available books are published in Spain, which leads to…
  • Vocabulary and other language differences that can be interesting to talk about, but might make a book less appealing to a child familiar with a Mexican dialect, for example.
  • Quality translations (you often cannot preview a book online before you select it or you can only see the first few pages). Being able to attend an International book fair, like Feria or LIBSA, would be ideal to be able to look through an entire book.
  • Limited book quantities. There are often only a finite number of books published or available in Spanish and they often go out of print quickly. I have lists upon lists of books I was unable to select due to them going out of print or they are just not available in the US- not even on Amazon J.
  • Holiday/Celebration books. Finding books about ‘Navidad’ or ‘Día de los Muertos’ is easier than finding a book about ‘El día de Reyes’ and so many other celebrations.
  • Related to Holiday/Celebration books- religious books in general for children. These books are commonly popular for Spanish speaking patrons. I used to be more accustomed to purchasing books for the public preschool outreach where religion is not usually talked about.
  • Humor! Books that may be funny to me might not be funny or appealing to a Spanish speaker.
  • LGBT books for children in Spanish. This can be a taboo topic in Spanish speaking countries.
  • Books that work in storytime or Cuentacuentos- basically books that have less words on the page can be more appealing to a wider audience. I try find a variety of books geared to storytime for our Cuentacuentos presenters.

What has helped me get better at selecting:

  • Search, search and keep on searching! Blogs like, Latinxs in KidsLit and Bilingual Kids blogspot. Book lists, like these from goodreads and Latino Literacy Now (link to download 2018 Int’l Latino Book Awards list from Amazon Drive). I even search other library systems catalogs, DPL and San Diego are a couple I use. Also, this was super helpful; my co-selector, Paola (JFIC, Teen & Adult Spanish Collections), was able to attend Feria in Guadalajara last year and she brought me tons of publisher catalogs. Links to a few websites below.
  • Outreach, staff and patron suggestions. Always reach out to the community and ask what they would like to see at the library. Since I do outreach, I rely on staff at the locations to share what they and the patrons would like to see.
  • This Brodart article helped me see that selecting challenges are quite common.
  • Posting recommendation lists on the website. I recently started doing this. I go through my lists after they have been published a couple weeks and I also do quick topic searches on the website periodically just to see what is circulating. As a selector, I also have access circ numbers.
  • Remembering that not only do Spanish speakers check out books in Spanish, but so do patrons who want to learn Spanish or to teach Spanish to their children. What appeals to each and all audiences? What books are windows and what books are mirrors?
  • Cuentacuentos. Paola and I co-train new staff who will be presenting Cuentacuentos or Storytime in Spanish at the library. I love learning what they are using in Cuentacuentos and hearing how the books are received by the audience.
  • Library Juice Academy courses: Bilingual Storytime @ your Biblioteca taught by Katie Scherrer. Katie also co-wrote a book with Jaime Campbell Naidoo called ‘Once Upon a Cuento’. And I recently completed this course as well: Using Intentional Planning to Choose Developmentally-Appropriate and Diverse Books for Storytime taught by Lynn R. Baker. Although most of the books we focused on in the course were in English, the same things applied to choosing books in Spanish. The course was very intensive and got me really thinking in even more depth about books I select. Gigi Pagliarulo (another shout out!) at Denver Public also has lead insightful talks about this at past Reforma conferences and at DPL’s Best and Brightest.

A short list of the many publisher/vendor websites to check out:

I hope sharing what I have learned will help others and that others can help me continue my learning. Please share any resources you like to use or if you have found ways to overcome challenges I have been facing with selecting. A phrase that has always stuck with me- No es sabio el que sabe sino el que no sabe y quiere aprender or it is not wise to know, rather to not know and want to learn. ¡Que tengan un buen dia!

Outreach Librarian | Kids and Families
Hablo español.