By Meleena Loseke
Reading typically isn’t at the top of a kid’s summer to-do list, but one organization is trying to push against the literate-lazy summer wave.
Latinas For Latino Literature, an online initiative conceived by four Latina bloggers to promote Hispanic authors, has partnered with Google to create fun and engaging summer reading programs for people of all ages. The titles in the book list are mostly in English, but include some bilingual choices as well.
They created three different programs, for three different types of audiences: kids, young adults and reading groups. The program involves a contest, with projects and prizes for each audience.
The L4LL, as it is also called, was designed for kids ages 0-18 but with the whole family in mind. Children are encouraged to read a total of eight books and write reports throughout the 10 weeks of the program. “Parents are involved every step of the way,” said L4LL co-founder Viviana Hurtado. Involvement ranges from reading to babies, taking a ‘reading pledge’ and monitoring daily reading logs for the little ones.
“Technology allows us to take our content, to take our mission and magnify it.”
- Viviana Hurtado, Co-founder of L4LL
“When parents are involved by modeling and participating,” Hurtado said, “it maximizes the opportunity for educational success.”
L4LL has provided a recommended reading list, but Hurtado said that it is simply that: recommended. Children can read whatever they want to read, but the list is there to provide motivation. The list is divided by age as well as reading level.
“My hope of course is that you get them reading, I don’t know, House on Mango Street today,” Hurtado said, “and tomorrow, you spark a love of reading, and they’re going to be hungry to read whatever they can get their hands on, whether it’s Shakespeare, whether it’s The Iliad or whether it’s Cervantes. The point is to get kids reading.”
The main purpose of the reading list, however, is to promote U.S.-Latino literature ― it is comprised 100 percent of works by U.S.-Latino authors. L4LL addresses the lack of this type of literature within the Latino community in order to create a better reading and learning experience for Latino children. According to Hurtado and a number of experts, when children see themselves in books, it creates a better connection and reading experience.
“We also know that during the summer, some kids obviously want to take a break from studying,” Hurtado said. “So how do you respect the rest that they need – the break that they need and want – but also keep them reading and learning so that you don’t hit what’s called the ‘summer slide.’”
Almost 500 families from the United States, a couple Latin American countries and even Germany have signed up for the little kids program and the number is growing, Hurtado said.
Officially, families have until the day before the contest ends on August 12 to register, but in order to compete for the prize packs, backpacks stuffed with school necessities, families must register by July 4. The first 100 families to have read the eight books and done the book reports by August 12 will be eligible to win the prize packs.
Alternatively, the L4LL Young Adult Challenge is designed for kids ages 12-18. They also have to read eight books by August 12, but they are also given the task of doing a video book report. They are competing to win one of 20 tablets, seven of which are chromebooks.
The last division of competition is the L4LL Latino Children Summer Reading Program Group Challenge. The group challenge, explains Hurtado, was created to address the library book clubs and summer reading programs all across the country that wanted to join L4LL in summer challenges.
They are competing to meet and chat with a famous Latina author/illustrator via a Google Hangout. Younger kids ages 4-8 will get a chance to talk with Puerto Rican award-winning author and illustrator Lulu Delacre, and older kids could chat with Margarita Engle, an award-winning Latina poet.
L4LL was founded in December 2012 in response to an article published by The New York Times that described the lack of Latino characters in children’s books.
The summer reading programs come on the heels of a few other initiatives since L4LL’s inception only half a year ago, which Hurtado described as “wildly successful.” They have hosted a couple of Twitter parties with Las Comadres and Junot Diaz, as well as a “Dia Blog Hop,” for which L4LL featured 20 Latina authors on 20 Latina blogs over the course of 20 days.
What sets L4LL’s reading programs apart from other summer reading initiatives are the facts that they involve the entire family, it’s nationwide, and everything is online. According to Hurtado, it is the “first ever online nationwide Latino children’s summer reading program.”
Technology is involved in almost all aspects of L4LL’s summer reading programs. Registration is online, families receive email newsletters, young adults must create video book reports, and computer tablets are offered as prizes.
“Technology is so important for L4LL,” Hurtado said, “because that’s where we are as bloggers and how we found each other as bloggers, but also because that’s where our community is.”
In order to better connect the old-fashioned literature with new, innovative technology and make reading a more fun experience, Hurtado said that it was a “no-brainer” to reach out to Google. The web search engine has hosted Google Hangouts for L4LL and will also provide some of the titles on the recommended reading lists as e-books. A YouTube channel is also being developed as an additional way to connect with their audience.
“Technology allows us to take our content, to take our mission and magnify it,” Hurtado said. “There’s just a lot of really terrific platforms that Google has that completely, organically, seamlessly syncs with us and gives us an opportunity to reach people even more.”