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Exhibit at Eric Carle Museum in Amherst shines spotlight on Latino children’s literature

  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>The mother-and-daughter team of Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez illustrated “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story.

    PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS
    The mother-and-daughter team of Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez illustrated “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story.

  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>An illustration by Lulu Delacre from the book “Golden Tales: Myths, Legends and Folktales from Latin America”

    PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS
    An illustration by Lulu Delacre from the book “Golden Tales: Myths, Legends and Folktales from Latin America”

  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>New Mexico children's book illustrator Amy Cordova uses vibrant colors in a neo-folk art style.

    PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS
    New Mexico children's book illustrator Amy Cordova uses vibrant colors in a neo-folk art style.

  • llustration © 2007 by Raúl Colón. Tour Development by Smith Kramer Traveling Exhibitions, Kansas City, Missouri

    llustration © 2007 by Raúl Colón. Tour Development by Smith Kramer Traveling Exhibitions, Kansas City, Missouri

  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>An illustration by New York City artist Raúl Colón from “Sugar Cane Lets Her Hair Down,” a Caribbean version of the Rapunzel story

    PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS
    An illustration by New York City artist Raúl Colón from “Sugar Cane Lets Her Hair Down,” a Caribbean version of the Rapunzel story

  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/> Mexican illustrator Honorio Robledo's portrayal of el Cucuy, who parents would call to help discipline disobedient children<br/>

    PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS
    Mexican illustrator Honorio Robledo's portrayal of el Cucuy, who parents would call to help discipline disobedient children

  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/> Lulu Delacre has been writing and illustrating books in Spanish and English since 1980. This picture is from “Golden Tales: Myths, Legends and Folktales from Latin America.”

    PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS
    Lulu Delacre has been writing and illustrating books in Spanish and English since 1980. This picture is from “Golden Tales: Myths, Legends and Folktales from Latin America.”

  • Archguitarist Peter Blanchette of Northampton rehearses in the Northampton Center for the Arts ballroom recently for the sixth annual Bach Birthday Concert that will take place there Friday. The concert will be the Center's last at its current location. KEVIN GUTTING

    Archguitarist Peter Blanchette of Northampton rehearses in the Northampton Center for the Arts ballroom recently for the sixth annual Bach Birthday Concert that will take place there Friday. The concert will be the Center's last at its current location. KEVIN GUTTING

  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>The mother-and-daughter team of Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez illustrated “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story.
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>An illustration by Lulu Delacre from the book “Golden Tales: Myths, Legends and Folktales from Latin America”
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>New Mexico children's book illustrator Amy Cordova uses vibrant colors in a neo-folk art style.
  • llustration © 2007 by Raúl Colón. Tour Development by Smith Kramer Traveling Exhibitions, Kansas City, Missouri
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/>An illustration by New York City artist Raúl Colón from “Sugar Cane Lets Her Hair Down,” a Caribbean version of the Rapunzel story
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/> Mexican illustrator Honorio Robledo's portrayal of el Cucuy, who parents would call to help discipline disobedient children<br/>
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF SMITH KRAMER TRAVELING EXHIBITIONS<br/> Lulu Delacre has been writing and illustrating books in Spanish and English since 1980. This picture is from “Golden Tales: Myths, Legends and Folktales from Latin America.”
  • Archguitarist Peter Blanchette of Northampton rehearses in the Northampton Center for the Arts ballroom recently for the sixth annual Bach Birthday Concert that will take place there Friday. The concert will be the Center's last at its current location. KEVIN GUTTING

Latinos have played an increasingly important role in the United States in the last few decades, from the halls of Congress to Major League Baseball diamonds to the voting booths in last November’s presidential election.

As well-represented characters in children’s literature? Not so much.

Yet staff at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art say there are plenty of books for young Latino readers — in Spanish and English — that can be found outside of mainstream publishers. And to bring more attention to those works, the museum will open an exhibit next week dedicated to the art of Latino folk tales, or cuentos populaire-art.

The show, which opens Tuesday, features more than 60 illustrations by 12 Latino and Latina artists and writers, from the United States and countries such as Mexico and Argentina. The work is culled from traditional stories and legends from Spanish-speaking regions across the Western Hemisphere. Some of the artists’ books will also be on display.

Aside from the focus on traditional tales — including Spanish versions of well-known children’s stories like “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” — what stands out about the show is the vibrant palette of the illustrations. Rich yellows, blues, greens and other colors bring what curator Nick Clark calls “a joyous quality” to the art.

“I see it as a visual counterpoint to the folk tales,” Clark said. “There’s a tradition of folk art using rich colors to tell stories that are built on legend and imagination. And the stories in this show are set in warm climates, where you can see some of these bright colors in the architecture and other features of the landscape.”

Clark notes that the Carle museum has previously featured the art of one of the contributors to the show, Raul Colón, a well-known New York artist and Puerto Rican native whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications. But the work of other artists in the new exhibit, such as Lulu Delacre and Amy Córdova, will be appearing at the museum for the first time.

“This is a wonderful opportunity, a really varied show and something we’ve wanted to do for some time,” he said. The show was originally put together by Smith Kramer, a Kansas City company that arranges traveling exhibits of art.

As Clark sees it, the exhibit helps fill a dearth that’s become evident in elementary schools in the United States: a lack of Latino characters in the books children read. According to a New York Times article in December, only 3 percent of 3,400 children’s books published in the United States in 2011 were written by or about Latinos, at a time when Hispanic students make up about 24 percent of the nation’s public school enrollment.

“The big publishers have not gone into this market. It’s mostly the small publishers, the independents,” Clark said.

Little by little

Lulu Delacre, born in Puerto Rico to Argentinian parents, has written and illustrated books in Spanish and English since 1980. But in a phone call from her home in Maryland, Delacre said it’s only in perhaps the last 15 years that publishers have expressed more interest in Latino themes, bilingual books and similar material.

“Little by little, it has begun to change, especially with the introduction of bilingual education,” she said. “It ebbs and flows.”

The creation of awards for Latino children’s authors, such as the Pura Belpré Medal — named after the first Latina librarian in the New York Public Library system — has also brought more recognition to the field, Delacre said.

Delacre, who studied at the L’Ecole Supérieure d’Arts Graphiques in France, works in a variety of styles, from oil painting to pastels. She says she lets the content of her story dictate what kind of art will accompany it.

For instance, some of the examples of her work in the Amherst show are taken from “Golden Tales: Myths, Legends and Folktales from Latin America,” a book she developed after researching Aztec and Zapotec stories from Mexico and other legends from the Caribbean Islands. She used linoleum block printing in some cases to match the design motifs from Zapotec stonework and other art forms that informed the old legends.

Elsewhere in the exhibit, artwork is devoted to stories that often began as songs and oral legends — about saints, gods and goddesses, tricksters and an infamous southwestern bogeyman, or el Cucuy, who parents would call to help discipline disobedient children. Mexican illustrator Honorio Robledo depicts the ogre as a scary giant with a large red ear who can hear when children are misbehaving.

The mother-and-daughter team of Glora Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez, meanwhile, illustrate “Little Gold Star,” or “Estrellita de Oro,” a version of the Cinderella story that, according to exhibition notes, was first brought to the New World by Spanish settlers. In this telling, the bullied heroine, Arcía, is rewarded for her kindness by a magical hawk, which places a gold star on her forehead; by contrast, her two cruel and jealous stepsisters end up sprouting a donkey’s ear and a green horn, respectively.

Examples of the work of Colón, the New York artist, include his illustrations from “Sugar Cane Lets Her Hair Down,” a Caribbean version of the Rapunzel story in which a young island girl is stolen from her parents by a sorceress and locked away in a seaside tower. Can a man who comes by in a boat, singing and playing a guitar, break the spell and free the girl, now grown into a beauty whose hair flows to the ground?

Colón’s illustrations, a mix of layered watercolor, colored pencils and careful etchings, have a soft, luminous quality that readily evokes the warm air and tranquil rhythms of the Caribbean.

Lulu Delacre says she’s thrilled to be part of the show and hopes it will be part of a growing interest among readers, parents and publishers in stories featuring Latino themes and characters, particularly showing them in everyday life.

And Clark notes that the Washington, D.C., nonprofit group First Book, which works to get books and other educational resources into low-income communities, recently awarded two publishing companies — including industry titan HarperCollins — $500,000 each to develop children’s books featuring underrepresented groups of people. Those books would then be available to schools and libraries at deep discounts.

“Latino Folk Tales” opens Tuesday and will be on view through June 9 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 West Bay Road, Amherst. A number of related special events, such as puppet shows and drawing workshops, will take place during the exhibit’s run, including during school-vacation week of April 15-19. Visit carlemuseum.org or call 658-1110 for details.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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