A new award supports first-time Latino authors of children’s literature

Josefina’s Habichuelas / Las habichuelas de Josefina by Jasminne Mendez won the 2021 Salinas de Alba Award for children’s picture books. Arte Público Press has just launched the Reyes-Olivas Award for first-time Latino writers of children’s literature.

In 2020, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 228 (or 7%) of 3,299 published children’s books were written by Latinos and only 200 (or 6%) centered Latino characters.

Arte Público Press – the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic publisher in the U.S. based at the University of Houston – is launching a new $5,000 award that aims to inspire and support more first-time Latino authors of books for children and teens.

“There just are not enough writers producing works for and about Latino children. In particular, the Reyes-Olivas Award is squarely targeting those who have written for adults to encourage them to write for young adults and children,” said Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público Press.

Studies suggest a link between representation in literature and literacy rates, indicating that more inclusive children’s literature could lead to more successful reading skills and academic outcomes.

“Latino kids need to see themselves and their families in books, which will contribute to positive feelings about their identity,” said Dr. Kanellos. “Reading books by Hispanic authors will help kids believe they are important—in school and society—and will hopefully lead to increased educational achievement.”

The Reyes-Olivas Award for Best First Book of Latino Children’s and Young Adult Literature will be given annually, starting in the fall of 2022. In addition to the prize money, the award includes publication of the book, an advance, and future royalties.

In an email to Houston Arts Journal, Arte Público Press described the selection process:

“We’ll send calls for submission multiple times throughout the year … we are looking for books that authentically represent the lives of Hispanic children. So we’re not looking for re-tellings of Grimms fairy tales or books about life in Argentina or Spain. We want our books to speak to Hispanic kids living here, which means we might publish books about migration from Central America (given the influx of children and families from the region and the issue of unaccompanied minors, etc.), for instance. Our award committee will review appropriate submissions year-round and will make a decision by August for publication later in the year.”

The award is named for Dr. Augustina “Tina” Reyes and Dr. Michael Olivas, both retired University of Houston professors, who donated $80,000 to create an endowment for the prize.

“At a time when politics have brought libraries and teachers under fire, it is more important than ever to step in and encourage support for reading education, including the wide array of children’s literature by and from our community,” Reyes and Olivas said in a statement.

The couple say they plan to raise an additional $45,000 to ensure that the $5,000 award can be given each year using endowment interest.

The Reyes-Olivas Award is among the latest Houston-based efforts to support writers of color, including a new BIPOC Book Fest set to take place this spring.

In 2020, Arte Público Press also established the Salinas de Alba Award for Latino Children’s Literature, a $5,000 prize that is given to authors of children’s picture books.

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