Many remember their favorite children’s stories from infancy. They are passed down for generations and sing nursery rhymes. Children’s book author Paola Gutiérrez, a former Orange County teacher, wanted to create stories to help her students learn multiple languages.
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“I spoke to the children in Spanish, and looking at the books we had, most were in English, and few were bilingual,” said the writer, who lives in Fullerton. “So, in my head, I was like, ‘This book would need this,’ or ‘How nice would it be if I could find this book in Spanish?’”
On a recent Sunday in September, Gutiérrez kicked off her book tour with a reading of “Yo Lloro/I Cry” at the Anaheim Public Library in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Gutiérrez moved to Anaheim 17 years ago from Morelia, Mexico, where her grandfather, whom she refers to as Papito José, raised her.
“I am both proud to be Mexican and proud to represent my country here in the United States,” Gutiérrez said by phone prior to the library event. “The people who come here from different nationalities have dreams. We work hard, we strive for our goals, and we want to do good.”
The author’s most recent book, “Yo Lloro/I Cry,” is based on her experience working with children and answering why babies cry. “When you spend practically all day with the children, you know why they are crying,” Gutiérrez said. “They cry if they have a wet diaper, they cry if they feel sad, they cry if they are bored. So I wanted to write a book in a way where children could understand that if a child cries, it is not just for the sake of crying but because there is some need not being met.”
Portraying a diverse family and introducing new vocabulary in both Spanish and English was key.
“I add new words because, on each page, if the child cries when mommy feeds him, then the child feels ‘exhausted.’ Or when daddy changes the diaper, the child feels ‘comfortable.’ So I wanted the children to know, and by reading it in a fun way, how a basic need can be easily fulfilled, the child feels content,” Gutiérrez said.
Performing alongside Gutiérrez at the Anaheim reading was singer-songwriter Maya Garza, a recent Cal State Fullerton graduate, who wrote a lullaby song to accompany the book. Garza met Gutiérrez about a year ago after attending an open mic night at collective plant shop Casa Verde in Whittier. The two nurtured a friendship at the monthly event. Eventually, Gutiérrez approached Garza about composing a song inspired by her book.
“We collaborated on a chorus with a melody to go (with), and I figured out the music part on my end with my guitar,” said Garza, who wrote the song a couple of months ago. “For me, it was more about the music. The lyrics were already there for me, so it was just putting those pieces together. I was constantly in contact with (Paola) like, ‘How does this sound? What do you think about this?’ Sending her voice memos every day, it was a whole thing.”
Gutiérrez began volunteering at the library shortly after moving to the United States. “She was a recent immigrant, had a small child, and was a single mother. Even when she was having a hard time, she still volunteered at the library and was always asking what she could do to help,” recalled Angelica Sauceda Garcia, a library assistant.
Sauceda García expressed the importance of celebrating diverse groups. “Libraries have really become wonderful community centers. On top of sharing our love of reading and books for kids of all ages, we do a lot of programming to celebrate the different families that come here. We are a place where everybody is welcome. We celebrate banned books. We do a lot of programming just to get folks to continue reading,” she said. The Anaheim Public Library programming ranges from meet the author events to book clubs and bilingual storytimes.
When Gutiérrez is not writing, she hosts two podcasts. “2 Mexicanas Norteadas” (“2 Northern Mexicans”) is where she talks to Mexican women who left Mexico for the United States in stories with a nostalgic look at the lives they had, from stories of “love, joy, pain, success,” among other revelations, the Spotify for Podcasters listing teases. Her other podcast, “El libro felíz y yo” (“The Happy Book”), is based on stories she has introduced to her students.
“I started (“El libro felíz y yo”) to preserve the Spanish language,” Gutierrez said. “I thought about my friends who say they find it difficult for their children to maintain Spanish because their classes are always in English. So, I thought a podcast was ideal, and I started recording it.”
Gutiérrez also self-published “No Me Gusta el Brocoli” (“I Don’t Like Broccoli”) and is currently working on her third project, a collection of poetry about Papito José, her grandfather. For more on the author, tour, books, and more, visit Instagram @ellibrofelizyyo.
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