Image Source: Karina Llamas/Lil' Libros
Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein loved Coco. The Mexican-American small business owners both took their young children to see the Pixar animated film which made history as Disney's first-ever movie to have a minority character as a lead role. As first-generation Latinas and mothers, it was important their children see themselves on the big screen and that they support the superdiverse film. After all, Rodriguez and Stein, who are the masterminds behind bilingual children's book publishing house Lil' Libros, know too well the importance of supporting Latinx projects.
Four months after Coco made movie history, Lil' Libros added two new picture books to their collection, which spotlight a different Latinx icon or tradition in every book. One book tells the inspiring story of the late Tejano singer Selena, who in the last decade has arguably become one of the biggest role models for Mexican-American youth everywhere. Rodriguez took to Facebook to ask the Latinx community for their support just like how millions of Latinxes came out to see Coco in November.
Her pleas were clearly heard. After a little over 24 hours, the picture book reached the top of Amazon's Hot New Releases list.
It was the first children's book to retell Selena's story, and it was the 12th book for Rodriguez and Stein who first started Lil' Libros in 2014. Both born to Mexican immigrant parents, Rodriguez and Stein grew up bilingual, a feat that was just as challenging as it was rewarding.
Image Source: Lil' Libros
"Growing up with immigrant parents, you always feel this weight on your shoulders of this, 'Am I truly American? Am I truly Mexican?' or wherever your parents came from, and then you feel like you don't really belong based on what society has drilled in your head," Rodriguez told POPSUGAR. "So I think growing up, it just seemed really important to me to stay connected."
While Rodriguez and Stein made sure to speak Spanish at home, they noticed it was difficult for their kids to grasp the language, especially with the lack of representation in TV and film and in school, where the curriculum is all, understandably, in English.
When Rodriguez and Stein looked for bilingual children's books, they were surprised to find little to no selection. While they found books that were translated from English to Spanish, there weren't children's books that used both English and Spanish to tell stories.
After going to a publisher who knocked the idea down, claiming there was no audience for it, Rodriguez and Stein decided to put their savings together and release the books as an independent publishing house.
The books, which the duo wrote themselves (they're illustrated by the artist Citali Reyes) use Latinx pop culture icons, historical figures, and Latinx games and traditions to teach children about history, geography, colors, numbers, and other skills. From Counting with Frida Kahlo to Around the World with Cantinflas, Lil' Libros elegantly uses Latinx culture to teach and entertain children as young as babies. Even adults are loving them.
"We have so many people say, 'I have no kids but I love these books,'" Rodriguez said.
Their first three books were sold on their online store and in independent book stores all over Los Angeles, where they both live. Soon they were popping up at community events, festivals, and on Instagram feeds. Fast forward six months, and the books were on the shelves of Target. To say Lil' Libros' success came from word of mouth would be an understatement, and Rodriguez and Stein totally recognize that.
Image Source: Lil' Libros
"I really believe that, as a community, you can create something very incredible that can be alongside these other incredible entities, other incredible publishers," Stein told me.
Now Lil' Libros is helping make reading time more memorable and educational for children and their parents, who might be learning or relearning their Latinx culture and history.
As for Rodriguez and Stein, the future of Lil' Libros looks as bright as their colorful pages. The two have a children's puzzle in the works and are even hoping to branch out to books for older audiences. But for now, the Lil' Libros team is happy sharing their stories with their community.
"[It's] our responsibility to continue preserving that culture and those traditions," Rodriguez said. "They are very much a part of our identity."