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Diversity in children's books: new series features young Latina

José Díaz-Balart talks with author Ida Siegal about her new book series “Emma is on the Air,” which features a young Latina girl who dreams of being a reporter.

The 2014-2015 school year marked a milestone for public schools: according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics last fall, the majority of minority schoolchildren was projected to make up 50.3% of the public school population. But is this shift in demographics reflected in the materials inside the classroom?

“When my son, who’s half-Dominican, turned four-years-old I started looking for children’s books that featured characters that were like him,” NBC New York reporter Ida Siegel said on Monday’s Rundown. “I soon found out there was almost nothing.”

After taking notice of the issue, Siegal decided to contribute to a solution: with a children’s book series of her own called Emma is on the Air, which features a young Latina girl who dreams of being a reporter.

“Since [kids are] so fascinated with what I do [as a reporter] I thought: I need to find a way to engage them on their level and bring them into my world,” Siegal said.

But instead of modeling Emma after her “freckled, red-headed” young self, she took a different approach.

“Why am I creating a character based on me when I should be creating characters based on my children?” Siegal asked herself, and decide dto change her lead character to a half-Dominican, eight-year-old girl who speaks Spanish, has long curly hair, and calls her father “papi,” just like her own children do.

Although there are TV shows for children that feature Hispanic characters, such as Dora the Explorer and Handy Manny, these often portray traditions from Mexican culture or inspired by an ambiguous mixture of Latin American cultures—such as Disney’s Latina Princess Elena of Avalor, who is set to debut next year and whose character is “inspired by a mixture of diverse Latin cultures and folklore.” Having children’s books that feature characters with different Latino cultures, could ease school’s efforts to incorporate the new majority’s heritage into the classroom.

The growth of minority students in the public school system is mainly driven by Latinos. In Miami-Dade, more than half of the student population is Hispanic. Now, school districts across the country face new challenges as they try to find out ways to connect with these students.