La lengua es puerta a la cultura y vínculo a la herencia or Why I Write Bilingual Books by Lulu Delacre
I remember being a young mother and going to the children’s section of the public library in White Oak, MD. I was awed to see the number of quality books from which native English speakers could choose. Growing up in Puerto Rico in the 60’s, I had almost no access to children’s books. Few were published on the island. The ones sold in bookstores trickled in from Spain and did not reflect my life experiences. So, standing in the inviting children’s room of my local library I thought that my daughters were fortunate to have access to so many books. Still, since my girls grew up speaking Spanish at home, I yearned for books to link their life experiences on the mainland to those of their parents. Their home life not only included the language of their parents, but many references to their parent’s place of birth.
Puerto Rico, true to its name, is rich in cultural experiences. This smallest of the Greater Antilles gave me an appreciation for the Spanish language, oral lore, ancient traditions and rich folklore that to this day inspires my work. Some of my fondest memories are linked to the island’s succulent flavors, startling sights, searing smells and unforgettable sounds. The music of drums, timbales, güiros and maracas played during the day at carnavales and fiestas fills you with joy. And as the day fades into night, instrument notes give way to a tropical chorus that rises from within the abundant flora blanketing the island. Thousands of our beloved coquí tree frogs lull the locals to sleep.
When I moved to the States, I brought with me the coqui’s lullaby, imprinted in my heart and mind. So it was that as I read children’s books to my daughters, like Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series, I wondered why not? Why not create characters based on this tiny elusive tree frog, symbol of my birth place?
One afternoon as I was waiting for my younger daughter to finish her art lesson, I began to sketch coquíes. And from these sketches, Rafi and Rosi were born. I always knew that Rafi would be the older savvy brother; the one who often tries his latest trick on his little sister Rosi—just because. Rosi would look up to her big brother, and if any of those so-annoying-Rafi-tricks got to her, she would sure find a way to teach him a lesson.
The more I sketched Rafi and Rosi Coquí, the more sharply focused their roles became. I set their adventures in Puerto Rico. This allowed me the opportunity to share bits of the island’s traditions, folklore, history and music with readers that may not know anything about them. I sought to embed these fun and interesting facts into the backdrop of the universal experiences of a pair of siblings with a strong bond.
Today, I love to write these chapter books in dual-language versions. A fun read for kids that, like my daughters, may have family that hails from the Caribbean. Kids for whom Rafi and Rosi’s stories become a link to the island left behind. But Raft and Rosi are also ambassadors of sorts. Since many children can relate to their hijinks, their stories reach a panoply of kids. Their adventures broaden the horizons of many that have never been to the island and may have Puerto Rican classmates. I believe that language is the door to a culture and the link to your heritage. I sprinkle every English version with selected Spanish words, some of which are particular to Puerto Rico. In this way I pry open that door a sliver further.
Now, when I go to the children’s room of my local library, I feel proud. Proud to have added some books that speak to the children of today who are like mine were decades ago. Children that grow up living in two worlds. The world of home lived in Spanish and the world of school lived in English. Bilingual children for whom acceptance of their heritage and language comes in the shape of a book found in their public library.
LULU DELACRE has been writing and illustrating children’s books since 1980. Born and raised in Puerto Rico to Argentinean parents, Delacre is a three-time Pura Belpré Award honoree. Her thirty-eight titles include Arroz con Leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes from Latin America; ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! Descubriendo el bosque nublado; Olinguito, from A to Z! Unveiling the Cloud Forest and Us, in Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos. Delacre has lectured internationally, served as a juror for the National Book Awards, and exhibited her work at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, among other venues. She is currently working on Rafi and Rosi: Music! the fourth in the Rafi and Rosi Series. Visit Lulu at luludelacre.com
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