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Reflections on Picture Books Featuring Brazilian Characters

Teacher At Montessori School Reading To Children At Story Time

Marcela Peres is the Library Director at the Lewiston Public Library in Lewiston, Maine, and a member of the Diverse BookFinder Advisory Council.

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As a librarian, I love the Diverse BookFinder for giving me a tool to use in so many ways, but particularly when helping library patrons, teachers, and parents identify books featuring children of a particular identity—assuming these books are being written and published. I am Brazilian, and now an expectant mother, so I set out to look for picture books representing the Brazilian experience, and was more than a little dismayed at what I found in the current publishing landscape.

A simple search for “Brazil” yielded 19 books, two of which were actually showcasing many different cultures and included Brazil only in part. Approached another way, 17 books are tagged as “Ethnicity: Brazilian.” These books fell into a mix of DBF categories, most notably Beautiful Life (7) and Biography (7).

Brazil is the largest Latin American country (and, the 5th largest in the world), so there’s no way around one fact: there are very, very few picture books being written about the country. Further, books featuring country-less “Latin American” characters, while ostensibly nice for Latinx children of all backgrounds hoping to see themselves on a page, often quickly erase any Brazilian experience by using words in Spanish. My future child will identify with these Latinx characters until suddenly, it’s clear they’re not meant to, or worse, they’ve been forgotten—an all too common experience for Brazilian American children (and adults, for that matter).

What little does appear to be known about Brazil comes through in common stereotypes, futebol/soccer and poverty chief among them. These are unfortunately abundant in the 17 Brazilian Ethnicity books. Simply perusing the summaries of these books reveals that a whopping 8 (at least) include some soccer, and at least one presumably touches on poverty-stricken favelas (it mentions “street kids”). Two of these books, profiling Brazilian soccer great Pelé, appear to be bilingual in English and Spanish. It’s unclear whether any of these books actually feature Portuguese, the language of Brazil, and several feature immigrant characters trying to learn English.

Of course, many, if not most, Brazilians love futebol. It is certainly the national sport and a pastime for many Brazilian children, so there is accuracy in its inclusion. But when there exist so few depictions of such a large country with an enormous diversity of ethnic backgrounds, food, arts, and yes, hobbies—aren’t there more stories to tell? Where are the stories of gauchos, the famous cowboys of Rio Grande do Sul? Or stories featuring some of the almost one million Brazilians who identify as indigenous? People have often (erroneously) assumed I am Roman Catholic, but what about the practitioners of Afro-American Candomblé in Bahia, or Buddhism in metropolitan São Paulo, home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan? For that matter, where are the picture books showing the variety of ways in which people have melded a variety of religious traditions in order to create faiths and spiritual practices often uniquely Brazilian? Even the stereotypes are underrepresented: I expected to see an above-average number of books depicting Carnival or the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, but was surprised to see none!

In short, more can be done. My child and other Brazilian children deserve to see a wider depiction of their cultural background, and I would love for everyone else to be able to learn more about the rich history and people of Brazil. Part of being Brazilian is fending off frequent erasure and invisibility against a world that insists that Latinx = Hispanic (it does not), and that Portuguese “is basically Spanish.” These struggles are constant, and I would like more for my child than books that insists the only thing that makes Brazilians unique is a sport. As I’ve often found when using the Diverse BookFinder, publishers could greatly benefit from seeing the hard data found here when deciding which potential books to greenlight or actively pursue.

All this said, some wonderful titles appear in the DBF that do make an effort to tell broader stories featuring Brazilian characters, and I look forward to reading them and sharing them with others:



The best tailor in Pinbauê

2017

by Eymard Toledo

Uncle Flores is the best tailor in the town of Pinbauê in Brazil. He used to make colourful costumes for the carnival, but nowadays he only makes grey uniforms for the factory workers. The houses are covered with dust from the factory, the river water is murky, and everything is drab. Edinho, his nephew, comes by every day after school to help cut and iron the cloth and listen to his uncle's stories. But when the factory tells Uncle Flores they don't need his uniforms anymore, Edinho comes up with an ingenious idea to get his uncle back to work and make everyone in town happier

Beautiful Life




Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.