Q & A with Isabel Campoy: Co-author of Maybe Something Beautiful and an educator specializing in dual language learning

Isabel Campoy is the co-author of this year’s Jumpstart Read for the Record book selection, Maybe Something Beautiful. In addition to being an acclaimed author of numerous children’s books, Campoy is also an educator specializing in the areas of literacy, home school interaction, and language acquisition.

On today’s blog, Campoy tells us a little about her background and why reading with children is important, even if the reading takes place in a language other than English.

Tell us about your background as an author and educator.

I followed my father’s path and became a linguist. Since I was a child, he insisted on the importance of learning languages and instilled in all of us the love for other cultures. When I arrived in the United States at sixteen years old from Alicante, Spain, I was glad I had some tools to communicate in Trenton, Michigan, where I won a scholarship to spend my senior year of high school as an exchange student.

My entire life has revolved around books. I published my first story when I was eleven. It was a silly little tale about a snowman that didn’t want to melt. As a child growing up in Spain, I had never seen snow, and this story, at the very least, proved I had imagination, if not talent! In my twenties I applied to many scholarships and studied in Reading, England, and then at the University of California, Los Angeles as a Fulbright Scholar. In Boston, I became an editor of foreign languages, and in San Francisco, I wrote my first children’s book.

I am glad to have been able to blend my academic background and my creative writing in books that cover language, education, and children’s literature in quite a number of books. My publications, both in English and Spanish, want to inspire children to go beyond the known and expand their horizons reaching out to other ways of experiencing life. It is such a joy to multiply your pool of friends by speaking their language!

What is the story of Maybe Something Beautiful?

Maybe Something Beautiful is the triumph of hope and possibility. It is the assertiveness of identity, as the united voice of a community says: ¡Sí se puede! Yes, we can! It is also the recognition that the search for beauty is a powerful motivator for change, and that art is a great tool to materialize it.

When Theresa and I talked about the idea for this book, we knew that there was more than a story to tell. There was a beautiful effort from a community to create change. Change of how they saw themselves and their physical surroundings, change from single to plural, change from prose to poetry. It took years for all of us, authors, illustrator, agents, and publishers, to materialize the idea and create these pages that are no longer just a children’s story, but evidence of the strength of determination. And achieved through the magic wand of a brush and the inspiring joy of a girl that wanted change.

How did the idea for an original Spanish-language version of the book come about?

It was a logical development. Children who are still learning to read in English could benefit from this powerful story in Spanish. The setting is in San Diego. The real story originated in the heart of Rafael López, a Mexican artist, and his wife, Candice, and was inspired by the community that made the Urban Art Trail possiblea multicultural, multilingual community. I dreamt of the publication date for “Quizás algo hermoso” from day one.

At Jumpstart, we often speak of the benefit of families reading with young children. Why do you think reading with children is so powerful?

 I wish all parents knew that just a few minutes each night sharing a book with their children is like depositing thousands of dollars in the bank account of their child’s brain.

I think it is a privilege to have a child sitting on your lap, reading together and admiring the illustrations, as parents and child take together a trip through the imagination to distant places, laughing together about innocent characters, learning together about other realities. These experiences are not only pleasurable, but also crucial in the early development of a child. I wish all parents knew that just a few minutes each night sharing a book with their children is like depositing thousands of dollars in the bank account of their child’s brain. If they worry about feeding their bodies, they should equally worry about feeding their brain. A young child’s brain feeds with words (in more than one language, as it has been unquestionably proven). It feeds with experiences, either real or found in books. It feeds with play, and social encounters, and love. I have written extensively about this for Latino parents with Alma Flor Ada, with whom I have co-authored many books.  “Ayudando a nuestros hijos” is one of these books, where we offer practical examples. We have also created “Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües, an expanded Spanish version of Colin Baker’s “Guide for Parents and Teachers of Bilingüal Children,” which answers all possible questions concerning the rearing of bilingual children. I cannot stress enough how crucial reading is for a child. I always say that love makes time when there isn’t any. This is a real way of loving children: reading to them!

What are some of your favorite children’s books to read with your own family?

Every time a new baby is born in the family, I run to purchase “Good Night Moon” once again. This book was translated into Spanish for us (my brothers and sister) by my father and I remember knowing the illustrations so well that sometimes I dreamt I lived in that room, with a rabbit grandma in a rocking chair. In order to make sure that the children will be bilingual, we read “¡Pio Peep!,” “Moo, Muu,” “Ten Little Puppies,” or “Mamá Goose.” “Tales Our Abuelitas Told” is also a favorite. But, we all make sure that we bring books home from diverse cultures. Although only 14% of books published every year in the U.S. are written by authors of color, we still have some wonderful books to choose from. Hopefully the pool to choose from will keep growing!

Did you like to read a lot as a child? What was your favorite book as a child?

Actually, in school, I was chosen (for my good voice and my total lack of manual skills) to read to the class while they were sewing or engaged in any other manual activity. This way, the teacher thought silence was reinforced. But, I was an “action person” and I preferred after school to climb trees with my brother or invent search expeditions to the hills near home looking for adventure. I liked to write though, and I translated my imaginary encounters among trees, in pencil-written manuscripts that I illustrated and tried to sell to my brother, Diego. To this day, “Platero y yo” and “The Little Prince” are still my favorites.

One of the reasons we are excited to feature the Spanish version of your book is to encourage Spanish-speaking families to read at home with their children in Spanish, which has tremendous benefits for young children. What would you say to parents who may not understand the value of reading in their home language?

Learning to read in English, however, means having to make a triple effort for meaning, pronunciation, and written form. But even more, Spanish is the link with parents and family, with roots and culture, with identity and strength. For children, speaking Spanish at home and learning English at school is an easy transition and they will master both if both are given the same prestige, attention, and value.

What an important question this is and how much I appreciate that you ask me about this topic. I don’t know when having one arm was better than having two, or one eye, or one leg. The same with two languages. Two is better than one. And in this case MÁS es siempre MÁS, MORE is always MORE. Because the effort that parents and children put in the first years of life to learn a language are very valuable, those efforts need to go beyond conversations at home to reading in Spanish at home. Children know what many words mean, they now how to say them/pronounce them, so, discovering their written form only means taking one step further. Learning to read in English, however, means having to make a triple effort for meaning, pronunciation and written form. But even more, Spanish is the link with parents and family, with roots and culture, with identity and strength. For children, speaking Spanish at home and learning English at school is an easy transition and they will master both if both are given the same prestige, attention, and value.

One important thing to know is that Spanish reads exactly as it is pronounced. It is a syllabic system that is easy to acquire (it is much easier to learn to read in Spanish than in English). Facilitating this at home with books written in Spanish will provide the springboard for the child to make the effort to learn how to read in a much harder language: English.

I would like to refer parents to the two books I mentioned before: “Ayudando a nuestros hijos” and “Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües.” And, I would urge them to speak to teachers that speak two languages before making a decision to take their children to an English only program. I must also say that the success of Dual Language Programs all over the United States is based on the fact that English speaking parents have realized how important being bilingual is, and there are waiting lists in major cities in this country for English speaking children to have an opening in a Dual Language Program. To add is better than to subtract. Truly!

Do you have any recommendations for parents looking for children’s books in their home languages?

Fortunately, the number of books published in Spanish in the United States is growing. The North American Academy of the Spanish Language has created an award for books published in Spanish in the Unites States and we find that each year there is a new pool of young authors that is being born. (I am very grateful that the award has been named after us www.premiocampoy-ada.com) There are also several great websites that devote their content to highlight good authentic books in Spanish such as:


That is at least a beginning!

Can you share a few tips for making the reading experience come alive, no matter the language?

The first tip I would give is ENTHUSIASM! Read with gusto to your child. Make sure that he or she hears in your voice that something great is about to happen and that parents and children are going to enjoy it together.

Spend time on the cover. Ask questions about what the book might be about. Create expectation!

  • Read slowly. Use the proper tone when a child character is speaking, or when an adult is making an entrance on the page.
  • Re-read whenever it is necessary.
  • Ask questions about what is going on.
  • Look at the child and ask if she or he has been in a similar situation, if he or she knows someone that lived a similar story.
  • Listen to the child’s comments and engage in conversation about the book.
  • Ask the child for a favorite moment.
  • If there is time, ask the child to do an illustration inspired by the book.

Above all, make sure that the child learns to have books in her or his hands and treasures going to the library.

Thank you for your questions!

Isabel Campoy

Twitter Chat with Isabel Campoy & Theresa Howell

Tues, September 25 | 3:00 pm ET

Join us for a Twitter Chat with Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, authors of this year’s Read for the Record book, Maybe Something Beautiful. We’ll learn more about the book and discuss the importance of reading with children — especially dual language learners. Follow @Jumpstartkids and use #RFTRchat to join the chat!

Together, we can help all children build the key language and literacy skills they need to take on the world.

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