This series of multicultural chapter books features a Dominican American protagonist.

Big News! Emma is on the Air is the first of a series of multicultural chapter books for grades 2-3. The books feature an enthusiastic 8-year-old protagonist who wants to become a TV reporter. Many thanks to author, Ida Siegal, a real-life TV news reporter, and Scholastic, for providing this book for Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

Find the entire marvelous collection of 2017 multicultural children’s book resources in this link-up of reviews and activities.

In the book, Emma’s father is a newspaper reporter who helps Emma investigate her first news story – a worm in a hamburger at school. Her dad is also from the Dominican Republic, so Spanish is part of Emma’s life at home, and common Spanish phrases are incorporated into their conversations. The family lives in Washington Heights, an excellent setting for a series of multicultural chapter books. True to the location, Emma speaks some Spanish at school too.

This is an entertaining book, told in the first person from Emma’s point of view. I appreciate that the narrator simply explains that she speaks Spanish and throughout the book translates the Spanish phrases to English and provides the pronunciation. Emma’s ease with the language fits her personality, and undoubtedly stems from the author’s real life experience. Ida Siegal’s husband is indeed from the Dominican Republic, and her two children are learning Spanish. Her multicultural chapter books draw on her own personal and professional life. You can find Big News! Emma is on the Air on Amazon.

Casual Diversity in Multicultural Chapter Books

There is an ongoing of discussion of casual diversity in books for children. In an blog post for School Library Journal, librarian Betsy Bird explained, “We’re just looking for books where diversity is integrated into the storyline without a hitch. Put another way, these are books where the point of the story isn’t diversity, but just a natural outgrowth of it.”

Contributing to the conversation, author Mitali Perkins points out in a post on her blog that casual diversity depends on an informed author: Even (perhaps especially) in such “real world” books featuring characters with different ethnic backgrounds, the author and/or illustrator should think through carefully how that heritage would shape each character. Perhaps none of that background work that has informed the author’s imagination will be obvious to the reader in the final story or art, but our reflection, personal experience, and research will all affect the characters’ depictions–and the child reader–in subtle ways.

For another strong protagonist from a diverse background, see the first Spanish stories about Marisol McDonald and also activities for the latest Marisol McDonald book.

Diversity in Emma is on the Air

How does the discussion of casual diversity apply to Big News! Emma is on the Air? I believe Emma’s Dominican heritage does indeed shape her character and, in particular, her relationship with her father. Although the book on the whole is not intended to be realistic, Emma says “Papi likes it when I speak Spanish” and “I think he was starting to get irritated. Maybe he’d like it better if I sang in Spanish? ‘¡Estoy famosa! ¡Estoy famosa! ¡Estoy famosa!’ “ Many readers of these multicultural chapter books will identify with the importance of the heritage language and an effort to speak it to please a parent.

Multicultural Chapter Books: Activities for the Series

Teachers and parents can enrich the reading experience by tapping into the setting and characters in this series of multicultural chapter books. Readers can:

  • Investigate the Dominican Republic and immigration to the United States.
  • Research Washington Heights and its history of diversity.
  • Learn about news outlets in Spanish in the United States, including newspapers, radio and television.
  • List the Spanish phrases in the book. They are in italics and easy to locate. Practice the pronunciation and think of situations where the phrases could be used.
  • Consider the story and imagine other interactions Emma would have in Spanish (with her father or other characters). Children who are learning Spanish can make a list of additional phrases they think Emma would use.
  • Write a news report. The book introduces kids to some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into news. In fact, there is a section at the end that encourages kids to report a story. If you have heritage speakers, encourage them to do a report in Spanish.
  • Read an article (selected by the instructor or a parent) from the online version of the bilingual Washington Heights newspaper The Manhattan Times.
  • Explore Washington Heights through photos, especially pictures of signs in Spanish. Here are a few images with Creative Common licenses to get you started.
  • Try additional Spanish reading resources for kids as recommended by teachers and parents.

Emma is on the Air is a series of multicultural chapter books set in Washington Heights.

Washington Heights is the setting for a series of multicultural chapter books.

Emma is on the Air is set in the diverse neighborhood of Washington Heights.

A sign in Spanish in the diverse neighborhood of Washington Heights.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year. The event was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves. We also work diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using Multicultural Children’s Book Day, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Medallion Level Sponsors include Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV. Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee&Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak Media. Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books.

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson.  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d also like to give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team. They host the book review link-up on celebration day and work to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Don’t forget to connect with us on social media. Also, look for and use the official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Spanish Infographics by Pictoline
Spanish Vowel Songs for Pronunciation and Literacy