Moms create Spanish-language books
NEW YORK — You might have heard of the three blind mice or the itsy-bitsy spider who went up the water spout.
But how about the little cold and hungry chicks?
Anyone who grew up speaking Spanish is probably familiar with them. But Susie Jaramillo wants everyone to know “Los Pollitos,” a bedtime song about a hen caring for her hatchlings that is as familiar in the Spanish-speaking world as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is to English speakers.
The song is the heart of Canticos, a series of bilingual books, companion apps and singalong videos that the VenezuelanAmerican mother of two dreamed up after she couldn’t find enough Spanishlanguage books to read to her children.
The brand, which made its debut in 2016, had its biggest breakthrough this year when Nickelodeon adapted it to develop a series for toddlers on its digital platforms.
Canticos capitalized on a growing market for Spanish books in the United States, which the traditional publishing industry has addressed in fits and starts. Small companies are stepping in to fill the void, leveraging social media and strategic retail partnerships to target key customer bases.
“When I had my first child, I went online and thought, ‘Where are all the board books of these songs that I grew up with?’ “said Jaramillo, co-founder of a Latino-focused New York advertising agency. “We’re always singing the American songs in Spanish, and our songs are great. Why aren’t people singing them in English?” Susie Jaramillo reads her book “Los Pollitos.”
Jaramillo teamed with fellow mother Nuria Santamaria Wolfe, a former head of multicultural strategy at Twitter, to launch Encantos Media Studios, an entertainment company that released Canticos as the first of its planned bilingual brands.
Two other mothers, Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein, founded their own publishing company in 2014 when Rodriguez couldn’t sell mainstream publishers
on her concept of a bilingual board-book series featuring Latino icons and traditions. The company, Lil’ Libros, landed a partnership with Target just five months after publishing its first book, “Counting With Frida,” now the best-seller on Amazon among children’s counting books. The books are now sold at 1,300 stores nationwide.
“We didn’t expect this reaction. We were doing it for love. If 100 kids picked up our books, we would have been happy,” said Rodriguez, a senior producer for the radio show “On Air With Ryan Seacrest.”
In an internet-driven age of fractured consumer markets, Jaramillo and Santamaria Wolf said strategic partnerships have been key, particularly with retailers like Target, which considers Hispanic mothers a key customer base.
Pam Kaufman, president of global consumer products at Viacom/Nickelodeon, said the company was looking for a baby brand when she was introduced to Canticos at an industry conference. When she showed the videos to her Hispanic colleagues, some teared up.
“I thought, OK, we have something here,” Kaufman said. “We are excited about it because it is authentic.”
Nickelodeon, which also added a Spanishlanguage hub to its video subscription service NOGGIN in the spring, is planning a line of Canticos toys, clothing and decor for next year.
With sales picking up, major players in the traditional book industry are expanding their Spanish-language business. HarperCollins launched a new Spanish-language division in 2015. Chicago-based distributor IPG, already a key distributor of Spanishlanguage books, added two publishers from Spain and one from Mexico to its list in November.
But challenges continue, as Rodriquez and Stein understand. They were once stunned to find Lil’ Libros — an American series — upstairs in the “foreign section” of an Oregon bookstore.
Stein scooped them up and marched them downstairs to the children’s section.