Books for children hablan espanol more

August 08, 2004|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff

Puss in Boots is wearing botas. The Tortoise and the Jackrabbit double as La Tortuga y la Liebre. In a new edition of a Richard Scarry book coming out this fall, young readers can count to ciento as well as 100.

With an eye to a rapidly growing market of Spanish-speaking readers, children's book publishers are expanding their offerings of "bilingual" books in Spanish and English, along with titles in Spanish alone.

Chronicle Books has been publishing a series of classic fairy tales, including Puss in Boots and The Princess and the Pea, with the two languages next to each other. Rising Moon, a children's publishing house in Flagstaff, Ariz., is launching a bilingual division called Luna Rising, which is releasing two books by popular author Scarry in Spanish and English.

Houghton Mifflin has new board books for the very small, such as What Can I Do When It Rains? (One answer: Read a book, or leer un libro.) For older children, the Larousse line, which Houghton Mifflin distributes, has new versions in Spanish of classic tales like La Odisea (The Odyssey).

"It seems like just about every [publishing] house now has started their own imprints of Spanish language material," said Luann Toth, managing book review editor for School Library Journal.

"There's definitely more available," said Ruth Anne Champion, children's materials coordinator for Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library. "My experience is that all kinds of kids seem interested in books in other languages."

Demand rising

The Hispanic population is now the largest minority in the U.S., census figures show, growing by 46.7 percent between 1990 and 2000. "We are seeing increased demand from all fronts," said Taylor Wray, marketing manager for the Larousse line.

But catering to the market is harder than it may seem.

Translations won't work well for every children's book, points out Eric Howard, director of marketing and sales for Northland Publishing, the parent company of Rising Moon and Luna Rising.

For example, it's difficult to replicate the rhymes and rhythms that attract children to some stories in English -- such as Dr. Seuss books -- though translations have been done. The Scarry books, he said, were chosen because of their simple text and vivid pictures.

"It's not a secret that sales are in this sector," Howard said. "We still have to come to the market with a quality product."

That doesn't always happen, said editor Toth. "To be quite honest, some of these are not particularly well done," she said.

Toth said that while publishers are gearing up for foreign-language growth by creating new divisions, they are still figuring out which format is best.

"It seems to be a little bit unclear as to the best way to go," said Toth. "Do you put the English version and Spanish version on the same page? I think we're seeing a lot of stories that are written in English but somehow incorporating some words and phrases, incorporating Latino families."

Spanish translations and bilingual books also are being used by English-speaking families who want their children to learn Spanish.

That's what Sandra Cartagena, a library associate in the children's department at Howard County's East Columbia branch library, learned when she started a story time in Spanish. Her aim had been to attract immigrant families who lived nearby, spoke little English and didn't know much about the library.

Instead, "people who came were the ones who were bilingual and wanted to raise their children bilingual," Cartagena said.

The Howard County library system now stocks more than 200 bilingual children's titles, and runs several bilingual and Spanish-only story times. (The Patterson Park and Broadway branches of the Pratt library also occasionally offer bilingual story times.) At a recent story hour at the East Columbia branch, five mothers listened along with their toddlers and babies as Cartagena read books like Mi Mundo (a Spanish translation of My World, by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd). All could speak English.

Bilingual children

Jenny Bonilla of Columbia brought her 2 1/2 -year-old son, Tomas, because she wants him to learn Spanish so that he can communicate with her husband's relatives from the Dominican Republic.

The family uses bilingual books at home. Tomas' favorite is In Search of Stellaluna (En Busca de la Familia de Stelaluna), which tells the story of a bat who is raised by birds.

"We decided the best thing for him was to do this from the start," Bonilla said.

Giuliana Centty, a Silver Spring dentist, uses bilingual books to introduce her Peruvian culture to her children, 10-month-old Luciana Wolcott and 2 1/2 -year-old Oliver Wolcott.

"They need to know where they are coming from," she said.

Myriam Met, acting director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland, said bilingual books may not always be the best way to teach children a second language.

It depends on the child's vocabulary, his interest in learning a new language, and the type of book being used, she said.

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