Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Even Kids in Remote Colombian Villages are Reading Piñata Books!

As Americans, we don’t think twice about our easy access to books through libraries. As kids, we went to the public library to check out books that took us around the world, into Outer Space, and to lands that exist only in our imaginations. And we used the school library to read books for reports and other projects. If we were lucky, we were overcome by what author Pat Mora calls “bookjoy” and trips to the library were for pleasure and not just to meet school obligations.

Here in Houston, residents can choose from a slew of libraries. They can go to libraries run by the city —Houston Public Library, which has over 40 branches—or they can go to libraries run by Harris County Public Library, which has over 25 branches. There are libraries close to home and others close to school and work. There are even libraries with “drive through” service. How easy is that? Order your book online, and then drive through to pick it up.

But many people around the world are not so fortunate. Libraries as we know them don’t exist everywhere. Sadly, many children don’t have access to books the way Americans do. But the awareness that books are critical to self-improvement ensures that people find a way to share books and encourage literacy skills.

For people in rural Colombia, books, and even the ability to read, are a rare luxury. But 38-year-old Luis Soriano has made it his mission to spread literacy by taking books to children in villages where schools often don’t exist. With the help of two faithful donkeys, Alfa and Beto, he operates the biblioburro, a different kind of mobile library.

CNN recently profiled Mr. Soriano and included a short video on its site. We were thrilled to see a child holding a particular book—Butterflies on Carmen Street / Mariposas en la calle Carmen by Monica Brown—which was carried by a biblioburro and found its way into the hands of a little boy living a world away; and that is pure “bookjoy!”

To learn more, click here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cisneros, Cisneros, AND Cisneros

The dust seems to have settled just ten days after the Texas State Board of Education voted on changes to be made to public school textbooks. In light of certain changes, it becomes more apparent that our mission to continue making the names of Latino writers known to children in Texas and beyond is more important than ever.

From the San Antonio Express-News we read, “Textbook vote boots Cisneros.” This is Texas we’re talking about, so the reference to boots is not surprising. But what doesn’t make sense to us, as a publisher of not only Latino literature but a fairly new book by [Henry] Cisneros, is that the first Hispanic mayor of a large U.S. city who was also selected to serve as the nation’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is not going to be referenced in textbooks because he hasn’t “done anything” in recent years. We don’t think so; the book he edited, Latinos and the Nation’s Future, demonstrates that he is still an influential voice on public policy matters.

And author Sandra Cisneros will no longer be mentioned in textbooks. We published her seminal work, The House on Mango Street, in 1985. It’s likely that the book will still be required reading for students, but they will not learn about her in social studies courses as an example of a Texas artist. It’s not easy to understand the logic behind the decision, but we are very pleased that author Diane Gonzales Bertrand will now be included in new textbooks.

The business of removing and adding names to history books is clearly not so clear. It is obvious that it’s a politically motivated process. As it stands, Henry Cisneros and Sandra Cisneros will be (final decision after a public hearing in March) erased from social studies books. And we will forge ahead, as an outlet for the voices of Latino writers. One in particular happens to be another Cisneros. Carlos Cisneros is the author of a forthcoming legal thriller, The Name Partner. More on him and the book soon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Publishing, media, and the internet are constantly changing. In the past, publishers frequently promoted books by sending authors on tour. For a number of reasons (the economy, the demise of the independent bookstore, etc.), book tours are far less common. But fortunately, we have entered a new, digital age, which allows endless possibilities for book promotion.

Last season we published Meet Me under the Ceiba, a novel by the Panama-based author Silvio Sirias. When we learned we’d be publishing a book by an author in Central America, we thought that would be the death knell. How could we possibly promote a book in the U.S. by an author who wouldn’t be around for promotional events? A new, or relatively new, author’s willingness to self promote is often the key to a book’s success. Fans don’t magically appear, and you can’t sell a book if no one knows about it, no matter how good it is.

So, we were excited to discover that Silvio—a literature professor in his mid-fifties—was quite internet savvy. He has a Web site, blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts that he actually updates regularly. Then he hit us with news: he was going on a virtual book tour. With the help of a virtual tour company called BronzeWord Virtual Latino Book Tours, a ten-day tour was set. Each blog host offered a free, signed copy of the book for the person who had the best comment or discussion topic. Through reviews, posts, and discussions on these blogs, interest is being generated, fans are being created, and books are being sold.

Unlike so many young, naive writers, Silvio wasn't going to expectantly wait around for fame and fortune to come to him. And because of his use of the internet, Silvio and his new book have more of a presence than many books with authors who are physically in the U.S. Silvio’s book tour began on Monday, January 11 with Book-lover Carol and will continue until Friday, January 22. To follow his tour or see his previous stops, check out his schedule below:

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