Arte Público Press

Piña­ta Books Are Full of Surprises!

Arte Públi­co Press uses the delight­ful metaphor of piña­ta to describe its imprint of bi-lin­gual Span­ish-Eng­lish books for chil­dren — full of delights and full of surprises.

Sur­prise #1 — Arte Públi­co Press is the orig­i­nal pub­lish­er of San­dra Cis­neros’ sem­i­nal The House on Man­go Street. To fur­ther bring His­pan­ic lit­er­a­ture to main­stream audi­ences, “Arte Públi­co Press launched the Recov­er­ing the US His­pan­ic Lit­er­ary Her­itage Pro­gram in 1992. This pro­gram rep­re­sents the first nation­al­ly coör­di­nat­ed attempt to recov­er, index, and pub­lish lost Lati­no writ­ings that date from the Amer­i­can colo­nial peri­od through 1960.”

Pinata BooksSur­prise #2 — Piña­ta Books include bilin­gual pic­ture books for chil­dren, bilin­gual “flip” books for mid­dle-grade read­ers, infor­ma­tive biogra­phies, and non­fic­tion books that take a clos­er look at US His­pan­ic his­to­ry through a dif­fer­ent set of eyes, plus a vari­ety of nov­els for young adults. Piña­ta Books help fill the need for qual­i­ty, bilin­gual books that reflect “themes, char­ac­ters, and cus­toms unique to US His­pan­ic culture.”

This month I was hon­ored and delight­ed to inter­view Mari­na Tristán, Assis­tant Direc­tor of Arte Públi­co Press at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hous­ton. I thought about what chal­lenges this pub­lish­er faced — ini­tial­ly to break into pub­lish­ing bi-lin­gual Spanish/English books for chil­dren and now, cur­rent­ly, with the pan­dem­ic. I asked Marina:

What is most reward­ing — and chal­leng­ing — about being an edi­tor or publisher?

As an inde­pen­dent non-prof­it, mis­sion-dri­ven press, Arte Públi­co Press’ goal is to pro­vide pub­lish­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to Lati­no authors and to ensure Lati­nos, par­tic­u­lar­ly chil­dren, see them­selves and their cul­ture in books. And, of course, it’s impor­tant for oth­ers to rec­og­nize Lati­nos are part of US his­to­ry and cul­ture. When we first start­ed pub­lish­ing books in the late 1970s, there were very few — if any — His­pan­ic authors who were house­hold names, and Lati­nos were most­ly rep­re­sent­ed as thieves and gang­bangers in books (and movies). That has changed tremen­dous­ly over the years. Now, most high school and col­lege stu­dents are famil­iar with San­dra Cis­neros’ The House on Man­go Street, which Arte Públi­co first pub­lished in the 1980s.

Marina Tristan

Mari­na Tristán

We seek to ensure Lati­no authors are appre­ci­at­ed as part of the US lit­er­ary canon and kids see them­selves as val­ued con­trib­u­tors to our nation­al cul­ture. There are many rewards in our work, such as when a teacher tells me that a con­firmed non-read­er — a kid who has nev­er read a book — was caught read­ing one of our books on the school steps before school … or a kid enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly notes that an author’s name on one of our books is the same as hers. His­pan­ic kids can relate to our books and that might help them to become read­ers and see them­selves as writ­ers. The books pub­lished under our imprint for chil­dren, Piña­ta Books, serve as a gate­way between school and home. Our kids’ pic­ture books are bilin­gual, which allows par­ents who are not lit­er­ate in Eng­lish to share in their children’s edu­ca­tion and what writer Pat Mora calls “bookjoy.” Our pub­lish­ing pro­gram absolute­ly makes a dif­fer­ence in people’s lives, start­ing with our children.

Obvi­ous­ly, there are many chal­lenges as an inde­pen­dent pub­lish­er, but main­ly we can­not com­pete with major press­es that are part of glob­al con­glom­er­ates with huge bud­gets at their dis­pos­al and news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines as part of their hold­ings that can pro­mote the books they publish.

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

  • Trust Me — Richard San­tos’ thrilling debut nov­el fol­lows a mis­matched group of peo­ple des­per­ate­ly search­ing for mon­ey, hap­pi­ness, and love. And aren’t we all doing that?? The upcom­ing elec­tions make this riv­et­ing read about a polit­i­cal cam­paign oper­a­tive par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant as it bar­rels through the New Mex­i­can land­scape in an explo­ration of inno­cence and guilt, pow­er, and wealth. Kirkus Reviews called it “a com­pul­sive­ly read­able debut.”
  • Man­hat­tan Trop­ics / Trópi­co en Man­hat­tan — orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Span­ish in 1951, this was the first nov­el to focus on the post­war influx of Puer­to Ricans to New York. This new edi­tion con­tains a first-ever Eng­lish trans­la­tion, and its explo­ration of class, race, and gen­der — while demon­strat­ing the community’s resilience and cul­tur­al pride — ensures its rel­e­vance today.
  • Wish­bone — this engag­ing nov­el for teens jux­ta­pos­es a young girl’s expe­ri­ences being bul­lied at school in Hous­ton because she’s “too ugly, too fat, too Mex­i­can,” with her grandmother’s many years before while mar­ried to a male chau­vin­ist in Lare­do, Texas. Horn Book Mag­a­zine said, “Spare writ­ing and the rev­e­la­tion of long-held secrets make for a com­pelling tale, with an ulti­mate­ly empow­er­ing and sat­is­fy­ing conclusion.”
  • Hol­ly Her­nan­dez and the Death of Dis­co — this cap­ti­vat­ing who­dunit for young adults is set dur­ing the dis­co-dance craze of the 1970s and fol­lows two stu­dents try­ing to solve a mur­der at their high school. Kirkus Reviews said, “This fast-paced, skill­ful­ly devel­oped mur­der mys­tery offers equal billing to both char­ac­ters, their sep­a­rate lives, and their indi­vid­ual prob­lems while also exam­in­ing gen­der inequal­i­ty and social injus­tice and pro­vid­ing an inter­est­ing look at the his­to­ry of dis­co as a safe place for queer peo­ple and peo­ple of col­or. A fun mur­der mys­tery with a side of dis­co fever.”

What books of yours would you espe­cial­ly rec­om­mend to young read­ers, teach­ers, and librarians?

  • My Shoes and I / Mis zap­atos y yo — René Cola­to Laínez draws on his own expe­ri­ence trav­el­ing from El Sal­vador to the Unit­ed States in this poignant bilin­gual pic­ture book about young migrant chil­dren mak­ing the ardu­ous jour­ney to be reunit­ed with fam­i­ly. School Library Jour­nal called it a “mov­ing, heart­felt tale of courage and perseverance.”
  • The Boy Who Touched the Stars / El niño que alcanzó las estrel­las — This inspir­ing bilin­gual pic­ture book recounts José M. Hernández’s rise from a migrant farm-work­ing fam­i­ly to an astro­naut. The book men­tions José’s sec­ond-grade teacher who was instru­men­tal both in con­vinc­ing his father to set­tle in Stock­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, so the chil­dren could pros­per and encour­ag­ing his edu­ca­tion­al and space career. In its starred review, Kirkus Reviews said, “This out­stand­ing bilin­gual auto­bi­og­ra­phy encap­su­lates the life-chang­ing pow­er of hav­ing a goal and the will to achieve it.”
  • The Case of the Pen Gone Miss­ing / El caso de la pluma per­di­da — The first short, bilin­gual nov­el in the Mick­ey Rangel Mys­tery series intro­duces read­ers ages 8 – 12 to this fifth-grade, web-cer­ti­fied sleuth (with a cer­tifi­cate to prove it!) who lives in South Texas. School Library Jour­nal said, “Live­ly and enter­tain­ing nar­ra­tive cou­pled with attrac­tive [black and white] illus­tra­tions will make this book a favorite among young mys­tery readers.”
  • The Miss­ing Chan­cle­ta and Oth­er Top-Secret Cas­es / La chan­cle­ta per­di­da y otros casos secre­tos — this first short, bilin­gual nov­el in the Fla­ca Files / Los expe­di­entes de Fla­ca series fea­tures a plucky sec­ond-grade girl named Fla­ca who envi­sions her­self a detec­tive. Rem­i­nis­cent of Har­ri­et the Spy, this skin­ny Puer­to Rican girl imag­ines mys­ter­ies all around! Kirkus Reviews said, “Short and sweet, this book is a good choice. Chuck­le-induc­ing fun.”

Shar­ing Piña­ta Books with young lis­ten­ers, it has been my delight to have my grand­chil­dren snug­gle close and ask me to “read this book again, please.” Some­times we read in Eng­lish, some­times in Span­ish. What an extra treat to hear the same sto­ry in two dif­fer­ent lan­guages. Thank you, Arte Públi­co Press, and thank you, Mari­na, for your won­der­ful intro­duc­tion to your books.

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