Hello, Círculos: ArteKids Books Bring Spanish, Fine Art to Youngest Readers

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Miriam Sitz

In January 2011, three major San Antonian cultural entities embarked on a collaborative endeavor uniting art, bilingual literacy, and early childhood education. The combined efforts of the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA), the San Antonio Public Library Foundation (SAPLF), and the Trinity University Press resulted in ArteKids, five bilingual books featuring artwork from the SAMA collection.

shapes_cov_100112The initial spark for ArteKids grew from a seed planted by “Born to Read” (BTR), a national early literacy program. Kaye Lenox, the former president and CEO of the SAPLF, initiated the BTR program in San Antonio. The parents of each of the more than 25,000 babies born every year in Bexar County receives a bag with a library card application, two books (one of which is bilingual), reading strategies for children’s developmental stages, and a map of library branches.

According to the SAPLF’s website, the purpose of this initiative is twofold: “to help parents understand the importance of instilling the love of reading early on and (to let) them know the Library is there for them, in their neighborhood, with a virtually endless supply of free books to nurture their offspring into lifelong learners.”

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Responsible for selection of the BTR bag books, Lenox discovered “My First ABC, a children’s book produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The next natural step was to investigate the possibility of creating San Antonio’s own set of children’s books, teaching numbers, colors, animals, and shapes through artwork from SAMA.

“Not only would the books strive to instill a love of reading in our community’s children,” said the SAPLF website, “but these books would foster a love of art by providing images of masterpieces that families can see in their hometown.”

TUP_colors_coverThe production of ArteKids books began in 2011. Barbara Ras, director of the Trinity University Press, explained that after extensive research, the Press, not typically in the business of children’s literature, identified seasoned book designer and editor Madeleine Budnick for the project. All text is bilingual and all artwork comes from the SAMA collection.

“Providing the art was no small task, because some of the pieces were not currently on exhibit,” noted Ras. Not only did the book designer and curators delve into the hidden places of SAMA, but museum staff worked to obtain proper permissions and photographs of each work of art.

The ArteKids series has been met with extremely positive critical reception. The first three books released were “123 Sí,” which won a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal (best board book) and a bronze International Latino Book Award in 2012; “Colores Everywhere,” which won a bronze International Latino Book Award in 2013; and “Hello, Círculos!, which won a silver International Latino Book Award in 2013. The final two books, “Animal Amigos!” and “Black & Blanco,” were published in June of 2013.

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Ras noted that the support of Tom Semmes and the Semmes Foundation proved vital to the series.

“The Semmes Foundation supported the production and dissemination of those last four books, and we’re so grateful for that generous support and for (Tom Semmes’) recognition of the project’s importance. What these books do is introduce children to not just the concept that each book develops, but to reading … and to the richness of art in our community.”

TUP_ani_lowres_covmech_042313Katie Luber, the Kelso Director of the San Antonio Museum of Art, called the collaboration “a tremendous opportunity to show our collections off to a really huge audience.”

She pointed out that most often, an adult reads books to a child, meaning that the parents, grandparents, or other adult figure in the child’s life is exposed to the artwork as well. Luber said that Emily Jones, the former chief operating officer of SAMA and now a full-time mom to three young children spearheaded the endeavor from SAMA’s end.

Ras called ArteKids a “wonderful community service and terrific combination of cultural entities in the city,” but doesn’t expect the Press to make further forays into children’s literature. “Our strengths and mission are dedicated to adult nonfiction.”

As for the possibility of more books for a younger audience from SAMA, “I certainly hope so,” said Luber. “It’s been such a fantastic collaboration.” Ras agreed with Luber’s assessment of the team effort, saying, “Its great to have these wonderful synergies between local partners. … We worked really well together and every step was exciting.”

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Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]

(Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group has performed consulting services for Trinity University, but does not publish sponsored stories.) 

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