Latinx Authors Celebrate Children's Literature In Virtual Festival Las Musas, a group of writers, held a Latinx KidLit Book Festival this month to celebrate authors, illustrators and books by — and about — Latinx people.

Latinx Authors Celebrate Children's Literature In Virtual Festival

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A collective of writers called Las Musas recently held its first online book festival celebrating Latinx children's literature. NPR's Mandalit del Barco offers a peek.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The two-day virtual Latinx Kidlit Festival featured more than 140 authors and illustrators who answered questions from children around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: What inspires you to write?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Tell us about your character.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: How long does it usually take you to write a book?

DEL BARCO: In one panel, Mexican writer and illustrator Flavia Zorrilla Drago talked about her first picture book, "Gustavo The Shy Ghost."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLAVIA Z DRAGO: I like to draw monsters, ghosts and witches. Everything that is scary and weird, I love that.

DEL BARCO: In another session, National Medal of Arts winner Julia Alvarez talked about what motivates her to write.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JULIA ALVAREZ: I see the faces of those kids at the border, you know, looking up in terror, being wrenched from their parents. And it puts - we have a wonderful word in Spanish - an inquietud, a pebble in my shoe. It just keeps rattling in there until I shake it out on paper.

DEL BARCO: During the festival, there were panels on serious themes in Latinx children's literature - social justice, machismo and toxic masculinity and immigration stories. There was also fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEL BARCO: A children's concert, dance classes, cooking lessons and a sketching contest...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Draw a dragon mixed with a cat, and they have to fly (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

DEL BARCO: There was storytelling and even a poetry slam. Here's an excerpt from Elisabet Velasquez reading her poem "Pronunciation."

(SOUNDBITE OF POEM, "PRONUNCIATION")

ELIZABET VELASQUEZ: Some people say that we're saying it wrong, but they are just jealous that our accents want every letter to be heard because isn't that the worst thing - to exist so plainly in sight and still be ignored?

DEL BARCO: According to the Cooperative Children's Book Center, 479 of the 4,035 children's books they compiled were by or about Latinx people, who make up 18% of the country's population.

MAYRA CUEVAS: Unfortunately, Latinx representation in kids books is abysmally low. And that is something that we are working with in the industry and with publishers to fix.

DEL BARCO: Las Musas organizer Mayra Cuevas is a CNN worldwide producer whose debut YA book "Salty, Bitter, Sweet" comes out next month. She says representation in children's literature matters.

CUEVAS: It's a way for kids to see themselves, to see their lives and their experiences validated.

DEL BARCO: This year, the country's biggest publishing houses were called out for underrepresenting Latinx voices. Some have begun diversity initiatives, and many were sponsors of the Latinx Kidlit Festival. Cuevas says the virtual gathering was inspired by the Everywhere Book Fest, which took place in May after the coronavirus pandemic shut down live events.

CUEVAS: All of our book tours were canceled. Also, people in our communities were hurting. Teachers were hurting. We know that the Black and Latinx communities were the hardest hit from the pandemic. So we really felt like this was a way in which we could bring some joy to our community, doing what we do best - you know, tell stories.

DEL BARCO: The Latinx Kidlit Festival is on YouTube, and there's a website filled with resources for educators and young readers like 14-year-old Katie Abreu, a student at the Young Women's Leadership School of the Bronx. She got the chance to ask a question of author Elizabeth Acevedo.

KATIE ABREU: It made me feel like I'm a proud Puerto Rican, and I should be a proud Dominican. Elizabeth made me feel like it is important for me to let it be out there, let it be known.

DEL BARCO: That's exactly the kind of reaction Las Musas were hoping for.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGULARIS' "REAL FEAST")

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