Pamela Mercado Michelli’s daughter, Daniela, 5, loves to read. “I always took my daughter to storytime at the … Maple Grove Public Library,” Michelli says. “She started talking really clearly at a very young age.” But as Michelli searched for new stories for Daniela, she realized how few children’s books are originally written in Spanish. Instead, “It’s like a known English title that then they translated, and I feel like it’s not necessarily the same thing,” Michelli says of many Spanish-language children’s titles.
Maple Grove’s Michelli, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, isn’t the only person to note the disparity. According to a 2019 study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only 6.1 percent of children’s and young adult fiction published in the United States was written by Latino authors, and only 6.3 percent of the literature was written about Latino characters.
Michelli decided that she would write her own children’s book, one that stars Daniela and celebrates Puerto Rico. In early 2021, Michelli teamed up with Membri, an Argentinian artist, to publish Daniela y Mateo Viajan a Puerto Rico, written for 4- to 6-year-olds.
Based on Daniela’s close friendship with her dog Mateo, the book follows the pair as they explore Puerto Rico. “I wanted to give [Daniela] something that she could feel proud of that embraced our culture and our language,” Michelli says.
For her second book, Daniela y Mateo Viajan a Argentina, Michelli is working with the Minneapolis-based publisher Wise Ink and hopes to release the book by the end of 2021. Looking to the future, Michelli is planning a series of literary trips for Daniela and Mateo, with destinations like Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
For now, though, Michelli is focusing on sharing Daniela and Mateo’s story with the Puerto Rican community in the Twin Cities and reading it to Daniela’s preschool during story time. “[Daniela] really likes reading it,” Michelli says. “She likes telling other people she has a book, [that] she’s in a book, so that’s been really rewarding.”
Daniela y Mateo Viajan a Puerto Rico is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as on danielaymateo.com.
Daniela y Mateo viajan a Puerto Rico