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Bilingual books get educators' approval
Associated Press
September 29, 2003
By Erin Hanafy

NEW YORK - With publishers responding to the growing Hispanic market in the United States, there are more choices than ever for children's books in Spanish.

Recently, Barnes and Noble announced its "Libros en Espanol" initiative to dedicate more space to books in Spanish, and amazon.com has a section dedicated to Spanish books. But it's the bilingual-book market that interests educators.

Many believe that bilingual books, those in both English and Spanish or another language, offer the key to helping children of immigrants adjust to the United States while maintaining ties to their parents.

"It reinforces the English and it also serves as a bridge with their parents. It serves as a way for parents to be involved in their children's education," says Oralia Garza de Cortes, a parent education specialist.

As part of her duties with Families in Schools, a nonprofit group that promotes the link between parents and schools in Los Angeles, de Cortes often conducts story hours with parents and children.

"I use a lot of the bilingual books precisely because I want these parents to become familiar with the stories and go check them out at the library," says de Cortes.

Bilingual books also allow immigrant children to honor their heritage and their parents' native language while learning English, says Ina Cumpiano, editorial director for Children's Book Press.

"I think it's crucial. Literature then becomes theirs, rather than something that belongs to a sort of dominant structure outside of themselves," Cumpiano says.

Children's Book Press, established in 1973, was one of the first publishers to embrace the concept that later became known as multiculturalism. The press has published bilingual titles in Tagalog, Vietnamese and Chinese. An English-Korean book is in the works.

Bilingual books can offer a "stamp of approval" for children who don't see their experience depicted in books.

"I use the bilingual books with my own children," says Rosemary Brosnan, executive editor for Rayo, a 2-year-old HarperCollins imprint dedicated to the Hispanic market in United States.

Brosnan's husband is Colombian, and her children are bilingual.

"It also helps reinforce a child's identity to see himself in a book, and they can say, 'OK, this validates me,' " she says.

Writing bilingual books isn't as simple as merely translating English stories into another language, Brosnan says.

In Pio Peep! Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes (Rayo, 2003, $14.99), the introduction warns readers that the translation is actually a "poetic re-creation." For example, the Spanish rhyme "Cinco pollitos / tiene mi tia / Uno le canta / otro le pia / y tres le tocan la chirimia" has a similar but slightly altered English version: "Rum-a-tum-tum, whistles and sticks / my auntie makes music with five little chicks / One is a singer / another can hum / three play the melody, rum-a-tum-tum."

"They just rob the books of the beauty of nursery rhymes," Brosnan says of literal translations. "It was kind of a tough decision because some people get upset if they can't compare sides like, 'OK, this is English and this is Spanish.' "

Literal translations also can lack authenticity and context for bilingual children, Cumpiano says.

"Often they're translating the Anglo experience into Spanish," she says. "It's sort of a cottage industry, and they switch communities, but they're essentially outsiders looking in."

In Drum, Chavi, Drum! (Children's Book Press, 2003, $16.95), a Cuban-American girl finds music and adventure as she wanders through her Miami neighborhood before the Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) festival. Both the author, Mayra L. Dole, and the illustrator, Tonel, were born in Cuba and live in the United States.

That kind of authenticity is important, as Cumpiano learned on one of her first book projects. The Puerto Rican native was helping the artist on a children's book about Puerto Rican characters and even sewed a piece of quilt like her grandmother made to provide inspiration.

She was happy to see the quilt included in the finished product but shocked to see a frame around it with a design that looked Mayan or Aztec.

"I know as much about Mayan or Aztec culture as anybody else would," Cumpiano says.

For nonfiction books, literal translations paired with photographs help children to learn language.

Dorling Kindersley, an information and reference publisher since 1992, has always included bilingual books among its history, geography, numbers and language titles. "Our books are photographic and they're easy to grasp; it's a good way to learn language," says Chuck Lang, senior vice president of publishing.

"I've been in books for 20 years, and I remember at Random House many years ago it was a much smaller market.

Now when you get major national retailers that are really doing distributions across the country, it's just so much more of the fabric of the country."