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'Being bilingual is a gift for life': Latina author wants more families to talk about books

Meg Medina fue nombrada embajadora nacional de literatura juvenil por la Library of Congress. Es la primera latina en el puesto.
Scott Elmquist
The Library of Congress
Meg Medina is the first Latina national youth ambassador by the Library of Congress.

When Cuban American author Meg Medina was named the first Latina as the national ambassador for young people's literature by the Library of Congress in 2023, she knew this meant a change.

“For Latinos, I know I'm something new, something that goes against stereotypes,” she said.“ I'm an example of what a literary life could look like.”

Puedes leer esta historia aquí.

She is motivated by the stereotypes around the Latino communities with books -- many perceive these communities don't read. Also, she is driven by her own experience growing up with a mother who barely spoke English, and of course, by her love for storytelling.

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Meg Medina speaks during her inauguration ceremony, January 24, 2023.
Shawn Miller
Library of Congress
National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Meg Medina speaks during her inauguration ceremony, January 24, 2023.

Medina publishes books in English and Spanish because she believes “reading in any language is helpful, and being bilingual is a gift for life.”

In her books, we meet characters like Abuela, Tía Isa, and Señora Mimí, and readers share small moments with them like learning to dance, wanting a car, or getting sad because a friend is moving far away. She wants her readers to feel proud of their roots and the life they have in the U.S.

This is what she is been telling families and children during her almost two years as ambassador through her platform ¡Cuéntame! Let’s Talk Books. Cuéntame’ is the Spanish word for “tell me.”

“This is a phrase I always used, like many Latinos do: when are we seeing each other? Tell me. Tell me something about your life, tell me how you are, tell me about your mom. Tell me, tell me, tell me,” said Medina.

When she visits schools and libraries, she asks the students: Tell me! What are you reading?

On each visit, a group of students shares what they are reading with Medina and the rest of the group. Medina does it herself, what she describes as book talks. At libraries, she repeats the exercise with families.

In the end, she says to continue the conversation at home, so they can connect more with each other, even though some people don't speak the same language as their relatives. These create more meaningful memories and a better appreciation of literature, she says.

Here are some tips: 

1. Visit the library more often

Make the library part of your daily routine or weekend routine.

“We go to the supermarket, pay some bills, and then later we go to the library for a moment, pick up three or four books,” suggests Medina. “Maybe later we'll have ice cream.”

She also suggests exploring the library beyond books, asking for audiobooks, instruments, or board games to take home. This is also a way to meet people who have similar tastes or who think differently. This creates more meaningful and healthy conversations about the world, she said.

2. Have reading materials at home

Medina says it's important to have anything to read at home, from magazines to comics, and graphic novels. Everything counts!

She highlights that it is especially important to narrate illustrations to younger children. She suggests parents go through the book drawings and ask their kids: “What is happening here? How does this character feel?” This is a way to develop the kids' emotional health, and make reading a more interactive experience, she says.

3. Let them pick

Although thelist of banned books grows every day and more people are trying to decide what young people should read or not, Medina believes that only parents can decide what their kids read.

So, she suggests letting them pick, especially teenagers. Ask them what they are interested in and what they want to learn from a book. Telling them something is banned or prohibited just opens the door for more curiosity, she said.

Read more: How to stay in love with reading this year, according to a CT-based book blogger

And again, join your kids in the process, and ask them if they are liking a book, or how they’re reacting to it, as a place to start.

4. Ask for recommendations!

Medina invites us all to go to the young people's literature section, either in English or Spanish at our local library, or online, and get a closer look at this genre. She believes it's in its best moment.

When she started writing 20 years ago, there were few Latino writers, and now there are dozens.

”There are new voices, new authors, illustrators … writing about Latinos' lives,” she said.

”We are from so many countries, we have different stories, we are doctors, workers, we are multiracial, and all those pieces are part of our identity.”

Medina believes some of her recommendations are an example of this:

She recommends checking out the titles awarded by Pura Belpré Awardsand authors from the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival.

She says her list of recommendations is never-ending, almost like a good conversation about books.

Medina will visit Nashua Public Library on Sunday, May 12, at 1:30 p.m. This is a free and family-friendly event. 

Follow Meg Medina on her social media. Soon she'll publish conversations with other youth literature authors. 

Maria Aguirre is a bilingual journalist that currently lives and works remotely from her home in Guayaquil, Ecuador. She currently writes and produces ¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire?
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