June 4, 2013— -- It's warm, school's winding down and diving into a book isn't what most children have in mind when it comes to how they plan to spend the lazy days of summer. But a group of Latina bloggers, most of them moms, want to change this.
The group has launched an online effort called Latinas 4 Latino Literature (LL4L) to get more Hispanic kids interested in reading. And unlike in other summer reading programs, these women are turning to what they know best -- the online community -- to introduce young readers and their families to literature.
That's no small feat. Walk into a Walmart or a Barnes and Noble, and you'll be hard-pressed to find an English-language book geared toward Latino kids -- or even a translation of a Spanish-language children's book.
And while young Latinos can certainly enjoy mainstream classics like Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, kids really respond and fall in love with reading when they see themselves in the characters, when they can recognize their doting grandmas and their crazy-but-lovable families on the pages of the books they pick up.
L4LL has its origins in a New York Times article last December on the lack of Latino characters in young adult literature. That story struck a nerve in the Latina blogging community, said Viviana Hurtado, a blogger with a Yale Ph.D. in literature, and one of the founders of L4LL.
Chat rooms and email threads lit up with messages from exasperated Hispanics after the article ran, lamenting the state of affairs it described. But instead of simply fuming, Hurtado and several other women set out to change things. They founded L4LL to clamor for more Hispanic authors and increase literacy among Latinos.
"Keeping Spanish alive and keeping connections to our culture alive are important, but that's a struggle," Hurtado said. "There's an untapped consumer market in Hispanic readers who want to read more books published by Latinos."
And while Hurtado doesn't think publishing houses have done enough to bring Latino authors to market, she and the other bloggers are turning to the web to bring what is available to young Hispanic readers. L4LL recently kicked off a summer reading program that provides age-appropriate Latino-authored book suggestions to families. Parents can order them online or download them as ebooks. There are also Hispanic bloggers and up-and-coming authors who have taken to the web to promote their own content.
The group is partnering with Google and may offer some free reading content through Google Education. They also have free downloadable worksheets and reading lists available in English and Spanish.
The program will incorporate everything from "Twitter parties" that revolve around a specific hashtag to Google Hangouts with Latino authors. L4LL has already hosted a "blog hop" that featured 20 Latino authors on 20 Latina blogs.
"Latinos want to become more fully integrated into the American community, they want to, but they don't know how," Hurtado said. So L4LL has followed the Latino community to a place where they feel comfortable: the internet.
Connecting isn't as easy as speaking Spanish or English or both, she cautioned. It's more about understanding where the community members come from and respecting them. Latinos were courted by both parties in the last U.S. presidential election, she noted -- but many felt disillusioned by how they were portrayed in the media, and they turned to the digital space to regain some control of the narrative.
Using their web skills, the women behind L4LL are now hoping to bring a similar sense of empowerment to their children by opening them to a world of literature with protagonists that look, speak and act like them.
"When there is identification going on because you recognize a last name or see a skin color that looks familiar...there's a connection and an identification established," Hurtado said. "If that is one of the inroads that is going to help us access this community and get kids hooked on reading, we're going full-throttle."