Like so many U.S.-born Hispanics of her generation, Marianne Arellano Pazos struggled to teach her daughters the language she learned as a child. Her efforts went beyond the usual, too — from flashcards to a music playlist she would pop into the car sound system when she and her daughters were stuck in traffic.
Last year, with the elder, Soleil, now 6, in school and the younger, Serena, now 3, slipping into an all -English vocabulary, Arellano Pazos took her efforts one step further. She penned her own stories and recruited her sister, Diana Arellano, to illustrate them. Together they created a website and published six books through Amazon’s print-on-demand arm.
And so Señorita Bienvenida, Amanda, Miguel, Eva and other characters were born.
“I started doing it for people like me who had learned Spanish and wanted to pass it on to their children, but weren’t sure how to do it or were having a hard time of it,” said Arellano Pazos, a business-school graduate who worked at a print company and then as a paralegal before staying home with her children. “I knew there were a lot of other parents looking for help.”
Arellano Pazos targets her stories to young students of Spanish in the United States and Hispanic parents who want their children to become familiar with the written form of the language. She decided to self-publish after rejections from traditional publishers. Publishers in Spain, she concluded, weren’t looking for “a Cuban girl from Miami writing these books about things that happen in the suburbs,” and U.S. publishers tended to translate books they had published first in English.
Arellano Pazos, however, wanted tell stories that spoke to her children’s experience of being Hispanic in the United States.
The Arellano sisters have sold about 200 books through their website, librosarellano.com. in the past few months. Their marketing plan, they joke, is “word of mouth and costs nothing.” The books, with bright pictures and simple text, are designed to be read aloud by an adult, but beginning readers might also be able to decipher the longer words.
In El Arbol de Amanda (Amanda’s Tree), for example, a little girl is having café with her stuffed animals. Amanda holds up an espresso coffee maker. A demitasse cup sits on the table next to her. Vocabulary words are introduced as Amanda builds a bench in her garage and then takes it, along with her animals, to her favorite tree.
“I like to include everyday things, the kind of experiences children have in the normal course of the day,” Arellano Pazos said.
The Arellano sisters may be on to something, says Silvia Palenzuela, part of a research team with Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research. Though she is not familiar with the books, Palenzuela said that an FCRR study involving about 1,000 families found that there was some Spanish-language retention by U.S. Hispanics into the second and third generation.
However, even with children who speak Spanish, Palenzuela said, reading fluency and vocabulary may be limited. The FRCC study found that many Spanish-speaking children did not recognize letters unique to the language, such as the ñ and the double l.
Arellano Pazos, 37, said this is also true of her generation, the American-born children of Cuban parents who came here as children. To write the books, she had to brush up on grammar.
Miami is a unique language laboratory because the city’s Spanish-speaking population has been replenished by successive waves of Latin American immigrants. Motivated parents can find Spanish-language preschools and dual-language public school programs for their children.
Diana Arellano, 23, a recent University of Florida graduate, says that illustrating her sister’s books has prompted her to consider what she will do with the children she hopes to have someday.
“It’s made me realize that it’s important for me to pass on the language,” Arellano said. “It’s part of who I am.”