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.”
Surprise #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.
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.