Big Names, Interactive Workshops Set for Second Annual Latinx KidLit Book Festival

Margarita Engle, Meg Medina, Yuyi Morales, and Raúl the Third are just some of the children's literature creators set to take part in the free, virtual festival.

This week, authors, educators, and students can participate in the Second Annual Latinx KidLit Book Festival.

Learning from last year’s inaugural event, the 2021 programming for the free, virtual festival will be more interactive for students, and there will be more content in Spanish, according to founders and steering committee members Mayra Cuevas, Ismée Williams, and Alex Villasante.

The focus of the programming is on classrooms and providing resources for educators' curriculum, says Cuevas.

“We also integrated more workshop and craft-type sessions this year, so that kids could do exercises [during sessions]," she says.

These author visits and workshops are particularly special, she adds, because they are "available for schools who normally wouldn't have a budget or something like this.”

There is something in the two-day festival for every PreK–12 age group. Highlights from the December 9 and 10 schedule include: author Torrey Maldonado discussing how books create connection, allyship, and compassion; a draw-off with graphic novel illustrators Fanny Rodriguez, Ryan Estrada, and Yehudi Mercado drawing comic strips from viewer prompts; and a craft workshop for grades 4–8 with Newbery Medal–winning author Meg Medina. There are scheduled panels on social justice, poetry (with Margarita Engle), different careers in publishing, and conversations with Yuyi Morales and Raúl the Third. A live chat feature will allow students and educators to participate throughout the event.

There are also two pre-festival events this year—one for aspiring authors and another for educators.

All of the programming is available free on the festival’s YouTube page and will remain there for those who can’t access the event live. The festival's website includes educator guides in English and Spanish for elementary and high school, as well as a searchable database of titles by Latinx authors. Educators can receive a certificate of attendance and classes can view author "mini craft" lessons on Flipgrid. In addition, authors and illustrators will answer questions via Flipgrid. If a student's question is chosen, that student's classroom could win a collection of books for their classroom library.

The Latinx KidLit Book Festival was created by Cuevas, Williams, and Villasante, who all had different primary motivations but an aligned mission of uplifting Latinx creators and students.

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival foundersCuevas got the idea after participating in the virtual Everywhere Book Fest in May 2020. With Zoom events becoming more established and accepted, she saw that the virtual platform offered many possibilities.

“That led the question, okay, what if we could do something like this for the Latinx community, to uplift authors and illustrators?” she says.

Williams was thinking about the negative impact of the pandemic at a time when most schools were remote.

“For me, it was really about figuring out a way to give back to the educators and really help the students,” says Williams. “I was mostly concerned about the students, but also aware of all of the challenges that educators were facing, as well. Was there something that we could do to make it easier for them?”

A virtual event could provide content, she thought, and give educators some time to relax while enriching the students' classroom experience.

Villasante was motivated by an interaction she had with an educator at the 2019 NCTE conference. An educator approached Villasante and asked what she would be talking about. When Villasante said she was discussing Latinx books and authors, the educator responded, “Oh, I don't have any of those kids in my class.”

“That just hit me in such a way,” says Villasante. “This idea that even someone who was at a conferenceand you know, it's a professional development moment, they're there to learnand they're not seeing Latinx stories at for anyone else but Latinx. It's such an antiquated idea. And it's an idea that I feel like we also want to tackle while we're uplifting and amplifying Latinx creators. Of course, we're talking about these stories and why they're important and why the creators are important, but we're also saying these stories are for everyone. This belongs in your classroom. Do you teach human children? Then it belongs in your classroom.”

Educators around the country used the 2020 Latinx KidLit Book Festival programming in their classrooms.

Finally, the three wanted to create the festival to offer validation—to Latinx creators and students.

Cuevas monitored the live chat during the 2020 programming.

“We were so surprised when that feedback started rolling in," she says. "It was very emotional. We were getting comments from people saying that they felt seen, that they felt validated, that they were being recognized for the first time in this space.”

It began as a pandemic project, a virtual event to help educators, students, and authors struggling through unprecedented times. But it will not stop there.

“It was very moving, and it was very affirming that, yes, what we’re doing with the festival is important,” says Cuevas. “And we have to make sure that it continues.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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