Planet Picture Book

El Salvador

This leg of the Planet Picture Book journey was prompted by, appropriately enough, a book: Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano and translated by Elisa Amado. I kept seeing it mentioned – in lists or reviews – and I was determined to get hold of a copy. And then I discovered some other fantastic picture books by Salvadoran writers . . . Time for destination El Salvador!

El Salvador is a small country in Central America with a population of around 6 million. From the early 16th century until 1821, the country was under Spanish rule. Spanish is the official language today, but three indigenous languages, principally Nahuat, but also Potón Lenca and Ulwa, are still spoken by some families or elders. The majority of the population are Mestizos, people of combined European and Amerindian descent.

El Salvador still bears the scars of a Civil War that raged from 1979 to 1992. Many Salvadorans fled their homeland during this period, mostly travelling overland through Mexico to the US. Migration continued after the war and it is estimated that some 2 million Salvadorans now live in the United States.

When I looked into Salvadoran picture books, two names appeared in nearly every search: Jorge Argueta and René Colato Lainez. Both authors left El Salvador during the Civil War and now live in the United States. Jorge Argueta is a prolific writer of bilingual stories and poetry for children. He is one of main founders of the annual Manyula International Children’s Poetry Festival in San Salvador, and, in 2016, he opened the Library of Dreams (La Biblioteca de los Sueños) in San Jacinto, where he was born. He also runs Luna’s Press and Bookstore in San Francisco, which specialises in multicultural bilingual children’s books.

René Colato Laínez also has a raft of bilingual titles – and awards – to his name, including the recently released Telegramas al cielo/Telegrams to Heaven, which tells the story of the childhood of Archbishop ​Óscar Arnulfo Romero, a national hero in El Salvador. René Colato Laínez has been writing stories since he was a child and credits his uncle, famous Salvadoran author Jorge Buenaventura Laínez, as a major inspiration.

The three picture books I have chosen are all bilingual Spanish/English titles and they address interesting – and important – issues, such as migration, belonging, racism, identity and indigenous heritage. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano, translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood Books, 2016) bilingual edition (Spanish/English)

Mamá the Alien/Mamá la Extraterrestre by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Laura Lacámara, translated by René Colato Laínez (Lee & Low Books, 2016) bilingual edition (Spanish/English)

Hablando con madre tierra/Talking with Mother Earth by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Lucia Angela Perez (Groundwood Books, 2016) bilingual edition (Spanish/English)

[Image: Santa Tecla y volcan de San Salvador by Diego Brito, made available under a creative commons licence. Source:]

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