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The lack of Latinos in Children’s Literature

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I can’t tell you the name of the very first book that I loved, but I can tell you that I loved it because the protagonist was my doppelgänger: his name was Christopher.  I knew how to “read” that book before I even new how to read; I’d have my parents read it to me every night.  It was that connection to that very first book that spurred my love for reading other children’s books as a young boy (Berenstain Bears, whatup), and set the foundation for any future academic success.

As the Latino student population in K-12 public schools inches even closer to a quarter of the total public school enrollment, educators and experts alike are finding that my connection with children’s books is not the typical Latino experience.  The reason?  As a recent article in The New York Times points out, Latino students aren’t connecting with children’s books because they don’t see themselves in very many of them.

The lack of children’s books with Latino characters shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone in this country.  Latinos (along with every non-white ethnic group) are greatly underrepresented in the media, politics, academia, etc.  It’s not always a guarantee to see Latinos on channels other than Mundo Fox, Univision, or Telemundo.  And when Latino issues are talked about on shows like Meet The Press, there’s often not a brown person to be seen.

The issue with children’s literature, however, is that a lack of Latino characters in children’s books can ultimately hinder an impressionable child’s love and appreciation for reading.  And as a recent study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln confirms, it is during these formative ages that reading is so very crucial to a child’s future academic success.

In my classroom, I see it first hand.  My top-performing students are also the school’s top-performing readers.  Their vocabulary is far more expansive, they have increased mental stamina, and they perform better on state standardized tests.

But again, getting to that point where reading is appreciated and valued is the first, and most important step.  There are surely thousands of Latino students that make a connection with their texts and find a love for reading, even with a lack of Latino characters.  But as the statistics on Latinos and education tell us, it’s clearly not enough.

Whatever loss Latino students suffer from not seeing themselves in books could be boosted by parents who read to/with them.  Realistically speaking, however, this is something that probably isn’t going to change, especially in low-income households.  This is exactly why Latino students need more opportunities to see themselves in books.  (It’s no guarantee, but it could definitely make a difference.)

This would benefit not only Latino students, but to students from other races/ethnicities who could ultimately learn more about other cultures through literature.  The protagonist in my first book, after all, had blue eyes and blond hair.

Which leads me to my last point: it’s perfectly OK for Latino students to read about white characters.  The problem occurs, of course, when that’s all they’re reading about.





About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Perhaps we Latinos need to see this as a call to write the books these kids are missing. Latino writers (especially American, English-speaking ones) often write the kinds of stories they themselves read when they were growing up–and end up writing about white protagonists.

    When I was a girl I remember loving it when a main character at LEAST ha dark hair–and better yet when her eyes were dark, too.

    I grew up reading the Trixie Belden series, which was about a bunch of white kids who created a club and had adventures solving mysteries. Inspired by the fun I had reading those, I have begun a series about city kids in a school for the arts who create a rock band. The lead guitarist? A rockin’ LATINA. A Nuyorican to be precise (like me)! And in the traditional male role of guitar hero. Please visit my website:, or read my spotlight interview on! Thank you y que Dios de te bendiga!

  2. Daniel Ruiz says:

    ” And when Latino issues are talked about on shows like Meet The Press, there’s often not a brown person to be seen.” Since when are all Latinos brown? Man someone should tell the millions of African, Asian, European, and Middle Eastern Latinos that they no longer count as Latinos.

    “it’s perfectly OK for Latino students to read about white characters.” Seriously? There are white Latinos. Or are they not real Latinos to you?

    I hope that there are indeed more Latinos in children’s books, but that those characters reflect the true racial and ethnic diversity of Latin America. The last thing we need is another generation of Latinos in the US believing the idiotic myth that every Latino is brown and/or has a Spanish last name. I use to laugh about it but now it is getting disturbing that “educated” Latinos are promoting the myth. Reminds me of how wackos in the US claim only those of pure European descent are real Americans.

  3. Genunesol says:

    Honestly, I am afraid of how more “Latino” characters in literature will appear. Are they going to truly represent the diversity of Latinos that encompasses nearly every racial group on the planet from Europeans to Africans to Native Americans to Asians or are the going to present “Latinos” as most Latinos want to truly appear? If you are a little confused as to how most Latinos want to appear then just look at the Ms. Universe Pageants and see the European looking contestants that were submitted for virtually every Latin American country with the exception of a few (Haiti and Cuba I believe were the only exceptions). If Latinos are going to be so adamant about being diverse then it is time we start within our own cultural realm. Truth be told, most of us know that a lot of the aspects that make Latino culture so enthralling the music the food and the dances are heavily and powerfully influence by Africans and Native Americans. Looking at the medias depiction of “Latinos” however, you would think it was only the Europeans and too many Latinos are okay with this.

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