Helping ensure that her 4-year-old son’s generation learns about its Latino heritage, and that “assimilation doesn’t get the best of them,” is of the upmost importance for CSU Dominguez Hills alumna Ariana Stein.
Stein’s longtime friend Patty Rodriguez, who is also a mother, couldn’t agree more. In fact, when Stein first discussed the importance of passing on their culture with her, Rodriguez had already been on such a “journey” trying to submit dual-language children book manuscripts to publishers, but with little success.
“We shared ideas, but more importantly, we shared the same passion for the goals we had envisioned,” said Stein (2008, B.A., business administration). “When she shared her story and asked me to embark on her journey with her, my heart immediately knew that together we could change the world.”
As partners, the world did begin to change for them with Lil’ Libros, the bilingual (Spanish-English) book publishing company that Stein and Rodriguez launched in December 2014. The journey to getting Lil’ Libros on bookshelves was not an easy one, but today their titles are sold in more than 600 Target stores nationwide, as well as Barnes & Noble, Scholastic, Amazon, through more than 150 independent retailers, and elsewhere.
Written for parents of young children up to age 5, Lil’ Libros eventually gained popularity in the unforgiving children’s books market with such book titles as “Frida,” “Guadalupe,” and “Loteria: First Words,” their first book and one of their best sellers.
“The best thing you can do for children is to introduce them to literature at the earliest possible age,” said Stein. “Reading sparks imagination, creativity, and confidence, and children at this age are like sponges. They absorb everything you do for them. If we are able to help set a foundation and love for reading, we’ve done our job.”
Stein and Rodriguez know that real change begins with children, and with the parents who love and read to them, and that like a child, the origins of a good story are born and flourish best from within one’s culture.
Children love the stories and Latin-American subject matter found in Lil’ Libros books, according to Stein, as well as the bright colors and simplicity. Their parents enjoy that their kids are being exposed to second language acquisition through great stories about their culture.
“We’ve had parents come up to us to tell us that these books changed their children’s lives,” she said. “They share that Lil’ Libros books are their favorite, and that the books have helped their children’s vocabulary in both languages.”
Stein has “always been passionate about business” and “creating something from nothing.” While Rodriguez handles creative for Lil’ Libros, Stein manages the company’s business operations, but they often combine their “strong suits” to brainstorm book titles, content, logistics, and other aspects of the day-to-day operations.
Lil’ Libros books continue to grow in popularity. The company recently signed a worldwide distribution agreement with Gibbs Smith, a publisher based in Layton, Utah. Another goal for expanding the company is to create books for older age groups—to “grow with the children” who read them. Long term, they want to become “one of the most trusted bilingual publishers in the world.”
But most of all, Stein and Rodriguez just want to help parents “gift their children with a love for reading.”
“The most gratifying thing is when parents send us pictures of their children reading our books. That is everything we ever wished for, and more,” Stein said. “I get up every single day feeling grateful for the things we are able to do for our community, and that two Latina women broke barriers and proved that anything is possible.”