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Chat with Tim Wadham

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Transcript of Live Chat
June 15, 2004

Tim Wadham, Youth Services Coordinator for the Maricopa Country Library District and member of the Pura Belpré Award Committee.


NYPL Hi Tim, Catherine here... how are you?

twadham Hi, Catherine. I'm fine.

NYPL Welcome to our online conversation with Tim Wadham, Youth Services Coordinator for the Maricopa Country Library District and member of the Pura Belpré Award Committee.

NYPL Today we'll be talking about the best new children's books that celebrate Latino life and culture. Be ready to learn about the latest award winners, and some hidden gems!

NYPL Tim, can you tell us a little bit about the Pura Belpre award?

twadham First of all, it's named after a latina librarian who worked at New York Public Library, Pura Belpre. She was from Puerto Rico, and wrote several wonderful books retelling Puerto Rican tales. The award itself is presented every two years to the Latino or Latina writer whose wore celebrates and affrims the Latino cultural experience in the US. Awards are given to both authors and illustrators. It's a fairly new award, having been given out only since 1996. It is cosponsored by the Association for LIbrary Service to Children and Reforma, which is an affiliate of the American Library Association, supporting library services to Spanish speakers.
Pura Belpre was the perfect person to honor with this award. If you haven't seen her books, particluarly her retelling of the folktale "Perez and Martina", you should look it up.

Ismael Which Hispanic groups do you find the greatest number of books about, are there some aspects of the Hispanic experience that are not represented?

twadham Interesting question. I think that that the most represented groups, though I hate to generalize, are the Latinos who are in a lower socio-economic strata, such as migrant farmworkers. In fact, a book I just reviewed for the Horn Book Magazine, "Arroro Mi Nino" by Lulu Delacre, features a migrant mom on the cover. Horn Book was concerned that this would signal that all Latinos were migrant farmworkers, which is far from the case.

Ismael Which Hispanic groups do you find the greatest number of books about, are there some aspects of the Hispanic experience that are not represented?

twadham The aspects of the Hispanic experience not as well represented are conversely, the folks at the higher end of the economic spectrum.

Ismael As a librarian do you find bilingual books very popular?

twadham Bilingual books are tremendously popular. Essentially, they provide two function. They not only allow a Spanish-speaking child to read a story in Spanish, but they also provide a way for children to learn Spanish. I see parents who want their children to learn Spanish asking for bilingual books all the time.

NYPL Where do you find out about new books?

twadham I find out about them from a lot of places. Like everyone, I read Criticas magazine. I also review for Criticas, which is nice, but it is the best source of English language information about books in Spanish. It has really been a boon for librarians.

My favorite Spanish language source is CLIJ--it is a journal from Spain and the letters stand for Cuadernos de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil. CLIJ reviews all the new books, and has a wonderful annual issue that lists all the awards given to Spanish language children's books.

Horace Where can I find a list of books that are bilingual or Spanish only that are in the "best of" category?

twadham I believe that Criticas magazine has or will be producing "best of" lists. I've produced a list of titles in that category that I presented at the Public Library Association conference, and that I hope to expand into a book soon. I think that whatever titles you see reviewed in Criticas, or School Library Journal, or other journals that do occasional reviews of Spanish language titles are recommended titles. I know for a fact that Criticas doesn't really want to review marginal titles. They don't have the space.

NYPL How important is it for children to see themselves reflected in books?

twadham I think this is extraordinarily important. Children do need to see themselves reflected in the literature they read. That's why I think that it is so exciting that so many Latino and Latina writers have published books that really reflect the Latino experience first hand.

awilson What can libraries do to promote literacy in Latino communities?

twadham Read Read Read!!!!!! Let me follow up on that.
I think the best thing that Librarians and others can do to promote literacy is to be enthusiastic about books, and to share them in settings where parents and children are present. Some of the most rewarding experiences I've had are the times when I've gone into situations with parents and children and shared stories. For the parents, you can model reading out loud. The children get the benefit of hearing the language and the story.

EmilyJ Is there a concern in libraries about the dialectical variants in Spanish-language titles for children? (i.e., Spanish as spoken in Spain vs Spanish as spoken in Mexico)?

twadham Yes there is a concern. American publishers who publish Spanish or bilingual editions are trying to alleviate that by having books translated into a neutural Spanish that can be understood by everyone. Titles coming from Spanish-speaking countries can have some local dialect that may be hard to understand. I just recently reviewed a title for Criticas from Spain that would be very difficult for children here to understand.

Brigida Can librarians who are not on the Pura Belpre committee submit books to be considered for the award?

twadham Yes, submit suggestions to the committee chair, Babara Scotto. Her e-mail is: barbara_scotto@brookline.mec.edu

NYPL Do you think Latino culture is well represented in children's book publishing?

twadham It is much better represented now than it has ever been. There has truly been an explosion in Latino books in the last 10 years, and I've been working at this for almost 20 now. But it is really a recent phenomenon.

awilson Are the Belpre award winners generally published in Spanish as well as English?

twadham Some are bilingual. Others, like Pam Munoz Ryan's "Esperanza Rising" were published in English and given the award for the English version. A Spanish translation was later published, but after it received the Belpre, I believe.

Alexandra Do you know of similar awards that celebrate books about other ethnicities?

twadham Of course, there is the Corretta Scott King award that celebrates African American books and authors. I have heard talk of the establisment of an award for Asian children's literature, but I'm not sure where that initiative stands.

Greg_K What's the best way to attract children of Hispanic descent into the library? Do read-alouds with bilingual books work even when you don't speak Spanish?

twadham I think the best way to attract Hispanic kids into the library is through the parents. You have to do outreach to the parents wherever they are. You let them know that the library is there, and what it can do for their child's education. I've found that most Hispanic parents are very concerned with their childs education. We had a library here in Arizona where the parents didn't go in--they stayed outside while their children went in. I went to a head start meeting and read some stories and talked about the library. After this, some of the parents went in the library for the first time. The librarian told me that I had finally given them permission to become library users.

Greg_K What's the best way to attract children of Hispanic descent into the library? Do read-alouds with bilingual books work even when you don't speak Spanish?

twadham As far as read alouds, yes bilingual books can absolutely work even when you don't speak Spanish. I've seen people find a Spanish speaker to read the Spanish text out loud, so that one reads the English, and the other repeats it in Spanish. Also, you can read Spanish without actually speaking it with a little bit of training. Spanish, unlike English, reads exactly how it looks, so its fairly easy to pronounce.

awilson If I could read only one Belpre award winner, which would you recommend?

twadham I'd probably have to recommend "Esperanza Rising". It is a tremendously moving book, and a real breakthrough title.

M_Salas Esperanza Rising got the award right before we printed the Spanish version.

twadham Glad to know I was right on that one!

Alexandra What advice can you give to a Hispanic child or teenager interested in writing a children's book?

twadham They should write about what they know. We had a kid at one of our libraries write a wonderful story about immigrating to the United States, and how they traded cows for a car. I hope to see that published in some way some day.

Ismael As a member of the committee about how many titles have you examined for outstanding illustrations? Can you provide some titles?

twadham We are just starting our work, as we will present the award given in 2006. One of the books I've looked at is "The Dream on Blanca's Wall" by Jane Medina, which is a lovely book of poetry with expressive black and white illustrations. The other book I mentioned previously, "Arroro Mi Nino" is lovely as well.

M_Salas Can I mention that Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of Esperanza Rising, is publishing a new wonderful title: Becoming Naomi León. For fans of Esperanza: you are going to LOVE this one. Coming in English first, fall 2004, Spanish: fall 2005

twadham I have this book right next to me on my desk, and I have to concur. I'm very excited about it.

Rafael Have any of the books become films?

twadham I'm not aware that films have been made from any of the Belpre winners. That's the next barrier we have to break.

EmilyJ Can you recommend some great titles that perhaps haven't won any awards yet, and thus are less well known than they should be?

twadham Absolutely, I like Nancy Maria Grande Tabor's "Celebrations" which will be a very useful book about holidays. The illustrations are weak, but this is a much needed book.

Rafael How many books have you read so far for the author award?

twadham I think three eligible titles so far.

NYPL Is there a large audience for books about Latino culture in the United States? How do we let publishers know what we want...?

twadham The audience for Latino books is large and growing rapidly. Publishers always want to hear from librarians and other what sorts of books we are looking for. E-mail the editors at Lectorum (Scholastic), and all the other major publishers who do Spanish-language books and let them know what you want.

M_Salas How can we submit original Spanish titles to the Pura Belpre Award. I would love to submit: Estrellas en el cielo; los poemas de la abuela by Alejandra Longo.

twadham Go to the ALA Website, http://www.ala.org and click on "Our Organization". Navigate to ALSC, and from there to the site of the Pura Belpre Award. There is a list of the committee members and their addresses. What most publishers do is to send the titles to each of the committee members.
NYPL Are there any books you haven't mentioned that you'd like to tell us about?

twadham Wow, there are so many books, and we've hardly got to any of them. Laura Gallego Garcia's fantasies for children were featured in a recent issue of Criticas, and I'm excited about her work. Julia Alvarez, this year's Belpre winner, has a new title coming out, "Finding Miracles." It will be released in October. I like "Pio Peep: Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes" by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, with illustrations by Vivi Escriva
Ismael Has this award been a stepping stone to celebrity status for an award winner?

twadham I'm not sure that it has been--the award is still, sadly, not that widely know outside of the library community. That needs to change.

NYPL We'll be posting a short bibliography of Tim's recommendations on the NYPL website in a few days, along with the transcript.

twadham Thanks for all your questions!

NYPL Tim, we're almost out of time. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

twadham If anyone would like to contact me for further discussion offline, I can be reached at timwadham@mail.maricopa.gov

NYPL Thanks for joining us, everyone. This program will be repeated in Spanish this Thursday at 4 pm. Visit us on the web at http://www.nypl.org/chat/ for more online programming from The New York Public Library.