Few Latino Characters Found in Books?

Are children’s books lacking color? Several Latinos say yes.

Education experts and teachers that work with Hispanic students are stating there is a lack of images in children’s books young readers could identify with, according to an investigation conducted by The New York Times. Instead, books commonly read by elementary school students feature a white protagonist.

“As schools across the country implement the Common Core — national standards for what students should learn in English and math — many teachers are questioning whether nonwhite students are seeing themselves reflected in their reading,” stated the newspaper.

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, just over three percent of the 3,400 books reviewed were written by or are about Latinos. For that same year, the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that Hispanic students are the fastest-growing segment of the school population.

Some, like author Luis J. Rodriguez, believe the lack of Latino representation in books don't accurately reflect the current growing population of Latinos in the country, a problem publishers have not seemingly tackled enough.

“Publishers have to be aware of the need not to pigeonhole Latino writings or characters, but to include them in other books, shelves and stories,” said Rodriguez to Fox News Latino. “More and more Americans will have shades of brown in their skin, and many languages, histories, and stories to tell and related to. People of European descent, their past and present, do not need to be taken away or belittled. It's just time to be real about this country, including the varieties of people that have always been here and continue to come.”

Meanwhile, the Times noted several publishers, like Simon & Schuster, do want to find more works by Hispanic writers. The company's new series, “The Cupcake Diaries,” features a young Latina named Mia.

“We were conscious of making one of the characters Hispanic,” said vice president in the children’s division Valerie Garfield to the publication. “And doing it in a way that girls could identify with, but not in a way that calls it out.”

Others have discovered new ways to further promote literature for Latinos.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda, a teacher who opened La Casa Azul Bookstore in New York City this past summer, used her childhood as inspiration to sell books touching on Latino culture for families, educators and students.

“Reading work by Chicana/o writers connected me to stories that I could relate to,” says Cerda. “I began seeking out more books that reflected my identity and experience after reading Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya – a book I stumbled upon during one of my visits to the local public library. It was the first book in which I saw myself. Aspects of my culture and traditions were reflected back to me, providing a new sense of pride and validation in my cultural background.”

With the growth of Latino children in classrooms, there’s also a rise of students underperforming. The National Assessment of Education Progress found in 2011 data that 18 percent of Hispanic fourth graders were proficient in reading in comparison to 43 percent of white fourth graders.

While no specific reason was provided, perhaps more books catered for Latinos of all ethnicities would encourage more reading.

“It would be more helpful as a teacher,” said third-grade teacher Kate Cornell to the Times, “to have these go-to books where I can say ‘I think you are going to like this book. This book reminds me of you.’”

Books for Young Readers Recommended by Author Julia Alvarez:

-Esperanza Rising and Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan

-Prizefighter en mi Casa by Charlton Trujillo

-The Circuit and Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez

-The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta

-The Taste of Salt, Grab Hands & Run and By the Sea by Frances Temple