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Young woman in a black t-shirt and white cap sits at a table surrounded by promotional materials.

Daniela Palacios attends a “Para KIDS! vendor event last year.

Courtesy of Daniela Palacios

Families like mine need more bilingual children’s books

My parents speak Spanish; my 8-year-old brother speaks English. Why aren’t there children’s books they can enjoy together?

This personal essay series features stories by high school students taking part in Chalkbeat's fellowship program.

I spent weeks crafting a script for my first pitch competition and rehearsing it over Zoom with my mentor, Symone. Make sure the judges can see your eyes, she told me. Add relevant statistics. Define ‘bilingual’ for the audience. 

To prepare, I set up my desk in the brightest room in our house, and with the help of my mom decorated the white wall behind me with a colorful banner. As a final touch, I ordered a custom-made T-shirt with my company’s first logo.

Finally, I recorded my two-minute pitch and sent it off. 

“Hello, my name is Daniela Palacios,” I began, introducing my company, Para KIDS! “I sell bilingual children’s books that are written in both English and Spanish. I came up with my idea because as an older sister, I struggle to find bilingual books for my younger brother, who has difficulty understanding Spanish.” 

For the past two years now, I have been determined to get these books to families who need them — families like mine. It is my love for my now 8-year-old brother, Xavier, that keeps me going. 

I think about the time Xavier broke down in tears because he couldn’t understand the words to the Spanish-language children’s book “El oso se comió tu sándwich,” about a bear who steals a boy’s sandwich. I imagine my brother growing up without being able to comprehend and appreciate our family’s Hispanic culture. But when I searched for books that Xavier, a native English speaker, could enjoy alongside my parents, who are native Spanish speakers, I came up largely empty-handed.

Through my market research, I discovered that schools in my community of Newark only offered a limited number of bilingual children’s books to their students at their on-site libraries.

I imagine my brother growing up without being able to comprehend and appreciate our family’s Hispanic culture.

It was frustrating to see the publishing industry’s exclusion of bilingual families.  Many families in my Newark community face similar language barriers. Some 49.5% of city families speak another language besides English at home, according to census data.

All children need literature that validates their experiences and multiple identities and encourages them to interact with youth from different backgrounds. Immigrant children in the U.S. need bilingual books so they can learn English and keep up their native language skills. These books enable families like ours to bond over stories that both parent and child can understand. 

Zoom conversation with Dr. Seuss theme. Adults and young children are on the call.

Para KIDS! collaborated with Liberty Family Success Center on a community bilingual reading event to celebrate Read Across America 2022.

Courtesy of Daniela Palacios

To help my brother — and fill a significant hole in the marketplace — I started Para KIDS! At first, I wondered: “Can I, a teen from Newark, really do this?” I rarely saw female entrepreneurs of color being highlighted for their projects, especially not those from cities like Newark. Nevertheless, I was determined to bring my bilingual children’s book business to life because I recognized its potential impact. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, reaching out to founders and publishing industry professionals for advice and participating in business academies, through which I met Symone. 

I wrote Para KIDS! first bilingual picture book. It is about the friendship between Sara, a new Ecuadorian immigrant to the U.S., and her classmate Riley, who is Mexican-American and speaks limited Spanish. 

Since my junior year of high school, I have entered pitch competitions on behalf of my company. No matter whether I placed or lost, these experiences were invaluable; they allowed me to grow as a social entrepreneur and public speaker. I have also been able to raise awareness of the importance of bilingual education and educational equity.

During business pitches, it is my job to convince competition judges and audiences that bilingual children’s books featuring diverse characters and experiences matter. Every time I talk about my business I feel a strong sense of pride because I am representing the Latinx and bilingual communities. The prize money I’ve won over the past two years has allowed me to bring my company to life. For example, I have been able to hire an illustrator to design my first bilingual children’s book.  

The book — about Sara and Riley’s cross-cultural, multilingual friendship — is called “Sara’s New Country and New Friend/El nuevo país y la nueva amiga de Sara,” and it will be published this summer. The story’s message, like that of Para KIDS! itself: Love and friendship transcend language barriers.

Daniela Palacios (she/her) is a senior at Science Park High School. She will be attending Columbia University in the fall. Daniela is the creator of Para KIDS!, a media company that publishes bilingual children’s stories with immigrant characters. She is the author of a forthcoming Spanish bilingual children’s book, “Sara’s New Country and New Friend/ El nuevo país y la nueva amiga de Sara.” Daniela is a Chalkbeat Student Voices fellow.