MOWMT Day #13: Mariana Rios Ramírez Tells Stories with Spanish
by Mariana Ríos Ramírez
One of my favorite things about being a Mexican children’s book author is sharing my personal experiences, culture, and language through my stories. I selected today’s topic to be Storytelling with Spanish because my debut picture book includes words and phrases in this language. However, the strategies I’ll highlight in these mentor texts can be applied to any other language you wish to use in your manuscripts.
Santiago’s Dinosaurios tells the story of a Mexican immigrant boy who finds himself facing his first day of 1st grade in a new school, in a new town, in a new country AND without understanding English.
To make the story more realistic, and to help readers connect with Santiago’s anxiety and frustration, I decided he would only speak/think in Spanish, like a real Mexican immigrant child would do. That was one of the best decisions I made for this manuscript, and I´m grateful my editors agreed. Since I didn’t want to make it hard for readers who might not understand Spanish, English translations were added as notes within the same pages. This provided a convenient way to follow the story without consulting a glossary at the end of the book.
For example, in the next image Santiago is mumbling in Spanish, and you can find the English translation in the bottom of the same page.
This is the way in which I added Spanish to my book. It worked well with the story I wanted to tell, but this isn’t the only option. Let’s take a look at some amazing books which use Spanish in their storytelling too.
Written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Irena Freitas, this book was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in August 2022. The story takes place the night before Halloween, when a girl gets a new babysitter whom she suspects is a bruja.
This funny and full of excitement picture book uses Spanish words and phrases like “¡Ay Caramba!” or “Bate, bate, chocolate.” Sometimes, there are Spanish words followed by that same word in English, such as: ¡Corre! Run! or ¡Bruja! Witch! This strategy clarifies the meaning of Spanish words for the readers instantly. Other times, Ana uses Spanish words that sound and look like English ones, without translation, for example: plan perfecto (perfect plan) or delicioso (delicious). This book also included a well known lullaby in Spanish in one spread. I loved that!
* If you’re interested, there’s a Spanish edition available: Cuando tu Niñera es una Bruja.
This heartwarming book written by Michael Genhart and illustrated by Loris Lora was published by Harry N. Abrams in September, 2021.
The story is inspired by one of the author’s beloved Mexican traditions: making tamales with his family on Christmas Eve.
In some sentences Michael writes the word in Spanish, followed by the word in English, such as: “I use my ojos, my eyes, to measure.” In other pages, he sprinkles commonly known Spanish words such as Abuela, tía, mamá or tamales.
However, there are several spreads in which translation from English to Spanish is done within the illustrations. For example, in a page with the text: “May you always have protection and security,” the illustration shows the written words “protección y seguridad”. Although this book doesn’t include a glossary at the end, the context of the story as well as the strategies mentioned above allow non Spanish speaking readers to understand the book.
* If you’re interested, a Spanish edition will be available soon: Que tu Vida sea Deliciosa.
This is another great mentor text written by Cynthia Harmony, illustrated by Teresa Martínez and published by Penguin Workshop on June 2022.
The story follows a girl and her dog as they go around their neighborhood when they’re suddenly surprised by an earthquake. This book, inspired by true events, highlights the Mexican spirit of solidarity when overcoming adversity.
Cynthia uses Spanish words and short phrases throughout the text. She doesn’t translate the Spanish words by placing the English words next to them; however, illustrations provide enough context for non speaking Spanish readers to understand the story. Additionally, there’s a glossary at the end.
* If you’re interested, there’s a Spanish edition available: Mi Ciudad Canta.
This beautiful book written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Domínguez was published by Candlewick Press in October 2017.
The story follows Mia who suddenly finds herself sharing her room with Abuela, who just moved in and doesn’t speak English. Little by little, both of them will learn English and Spanish from each other until they´ll be able to communicate and grow their relationship.
The plot of this book allowed Meg to include Spanish in a variety of ways. She sprinkled easy words such as Mami, Papi, Abuela. However, she also used Spanish and English translation next to each other in a sentence, for example: “A feather, una pluma, from a wild parrot that roosted in her mango trees.” Another way in which Spanish was included is a spread showing Abuela and Mia having an exchange of words in English and Spanish as they cooked a meal together. “¡Carne! Meat! ¡Pasas! Raisins! ¡Aceite! Oil!”
Additionally, there are pages in which short phrases were included in Spanish in a sentence and the English translation could be found in the next one. For example:
“Buenas tardes, Mango,” Abuela says, opening his cage door when I get home from school.
“Good afternoon,” I say, and give him a seed.
* If you’re interested, a Spanish version is available: Mango, Abuela y Yo
* For this book, the Spanish version was written first.
As you can see, there are many effective alternatives in which you can introduce Spanish, or another language, into your story. What matters the most is that you provide readers with a clear way of understanding what is happening in the pages. However, you also have to make sure the language flows well, that it has a purpose in the storytelling, and that it makes the story feel more authentic. Thanks for reading!
BIO: Mariana Ríos Ramírez is a Mexican author living in Anderson, South Carolina with her husband, two kids and a Chihuahua mix dog named Rogers.
She received a degree in international business from Tecnológico de Monterrey (México) and an MBA degree in Tecnológico de Monterrey and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, USA.
Before becoming a children’s book author she worked as a high school teacher for seven years and co-owned an online business of customized party decorations. Mariana is a member of SCBWI, Storyteller Academy, Las Musas, and Rate your Story. Santiago’s Dinosaurios is her debut picture book.
Besides writing, Mariana enjoys photography, singing, traveling, watching k-dramas, and spending time with family and friends. She also loves flowers, dogs, Mexican and Asian food, and Chai Lattes.
Prize: One winner will get a signed copy of Santiago’s Dinosaurios + stickers, bookmark and postcard.
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