Children’s Books: Publishers Discuss the Mexican Market’s Evolution

In News by Adam Critchley

At the 2023 Guadalajara International Book Fair, three Mexican children’s publishers discuss what they describe the sector’s boom.

Reading at the 2023 Guadalajara International Book Fair, December 2. Image: FIL Guadalajara, Carlos Zepeda

By Adam Critchley

Publishers Point to Pivotal Government Initiatives
In Mexico, publishers say it was governmental children’s publishing initiatives that spurred them to begin producing books for young readers, in a market previously dominated by imported titles. This, they say, triggered what has turned out to be a lot of success.

Cristina Urrutia: ‘To Recover “Mexican-ness”‘

One such publisher is Mexico City-based Ediciones Tecolote. Founded in 1993, Tecolote has seen its titles sell into 18 languages.

Speaking at the Guadalajara International Book Fair‘s discussion on the experiences of children’s publishers in the Mexican market, Tecolote’s founder Cristina Urrutia says the house’s aim is “to recover ‘Mexican-ness.'”

I feel that we’ve been bombarded by so many foreign influences,” she says, “and I want to highlight the Mexican elements, for children to recognize their own culture, art,and customs. So we’re focused on that, and our books have reached far and wide, in terms of every corner of the country, thanks to the Libros del Rincón collection.”

That collection, opened in the 1980s by the Mexican education ministry, furnished schools with children’s books, catering to all levels of reading ability, published as a collaboration between the ministry and a number of private houses including Planeta and Porrúa. Libros del Rincón’s titles published between 2009 and 2016 can be consulted online here.

“It’s important that a child today knows about such themes as ecology and conservation,” Urrutia says, “but also that they have their imaginations and fantasies stimulated. We’ve also bought rights [to international properties] to give children [in Mexico] the best of what’s out there, not because it’s in fashion, but because it might be what a Mexican child might want to read.”

Peggy Espinoza: ‘Books That Are More Representative’

Mexican children’s publishers discussing their market experience at the 2023 Guadalajara International Book Fair. From left, Mónica Bergna, founder of Alboroto Ediciones; Peggy Espinoza, founder of Petra Ediciones, and Cristina Urrutia, founder of Ediciones Tecolote. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Adam Critchley

Similarly, Petra Ediciones, founded in 1990 by Peggy Espinoza in Zapopan, publishes children’s books as well as art, illustration, and nonfiction titles, and forms part of the Smallworld collective, which also includes Les Trois Ourses (France), Tara Books (India), One Stroke (Japan).

The houses share a stand at Bologna.

“Prior to the 1970s,” Espinoza says, “there were children’s books, but Mexican publishers emerged when the spaces appeared in which to create, which I would identify as the 1990s. What spurred the opening up of that space and the emergence of children’s-focused publishers was the Libro del Rincón program.
“Children’s books tell stories,” she says, “but also show us ways of looking at the world. They have an aesthetic that often represents the reality of the countries they come from. And reading in a more multi-dimensional way is very important for children, taking into account arts such as illustration, sculpture, theater. So we need to know how to make books that are more representative.”

Petra Ediciones publishes photographer Jill Hartley’s Loteria fotográfica mexicana, which depicts the country in images and with references to popular culture. Espinoza describes it as a volume “to be read at many levels.”

“We wanted readers to read the reality of the country,” she says, “to offer the book as a piece of documentary. As we can be ignorant of some countries and their realities, it’s important to bring other stories to [Mexican] children.”

Mónica Bergna: ‘A Watershed Moment’

At the 2023 Guadalajara International Book Fair, December 2. Image: FIL Guadalajara, Eva Becerra

Mónica Bergna, who founded Alboroto Ediciones in 2017, and whose mission statement says its books “are meant to disrupt in order to get a reaction,” says she saw “an invasion of books from outside Mexico, but it was a first step, although it initially made it difficult for local publishers.

That led to what she describes as “the triumph” of Mexican children’s publishing.

“In the 1970s in Mexico,” Bergna says, “there was practically no children’s literature, everybody read books imported from Spain or Walt Disney, and there was nothing else. The big publishers in Mexico had no interest in children’s publishing, and it became the sole job of the state, the government, to produce children’s books.

“Then were was a watershed moment, which was the Colibrí collection,she says, referring to an imprint produced by Mexico’s Council for Educational Promotion and featuring photographs by Mexican-American photographer Mariana Yampolsky, now also available as audiobooks.

“Yampolsky inspired a number of local illustrators and writers,” Bergna says, “and that began to show publishers in Mexico that there was talent here to create strong children’s literature,” Bergna says.

“Today, production has changed completely. We have homegrown children’s literature with excellent illustrators and writers, and that was also thanks in part to the education ministry’s Libraries for Schools program, which purchases around 10,000 titles per year. Publishers large and small began to turn their attention to children’s books, and that’s what served to develop children’s literature, and today there’s a vast offering,

“I would see that as the start of the boom in the children’s segment.”

Textbooks Dominate the Mexican Market

At the 2023 Guadalajara International Book Fair, December 2. Image: FIL Guadalajara, Nabil Quintero

According to book chamber, Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM), school textbooks account for the largest share of book production in Mexico, with 14.6 million copies printed for the commercial market in 2022, and 37.2 million for state secondary schools. That’s an increase of 13.9 percent and 35.5 percent respectively over 2021 figures.

Related Article: Mexico’s Book Chamber Files Lawsuit in Textbook Dispute. Image: Walking home from school in Vallodolid, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – Getty iStockphoto: Kertu EE

However, the entire traditional program of textbook production has been upended this year by the federal government, leading, as Publishing Perspectives readers know, to CANIEM’s lawsuit of the López Obrador government, following nationwide criticism of the state-run classroom content and production scheme.

As of 2022, English-language-learning books have occupied second place and children’s books third place. In the latter segment, private production totaled 15.8 million copies in 2022, a 15.1 percent year-on-year increase, against 1.3 million from state-owned publishers, a 1.5-percent increase.

Bergna says that Alboroto aims for three revenue streams, from sales to the public, sales to the government, and sales of rights. “But we also had the idea to make this a publisher open to foreign authors and illustrators,” she says, “because it’s important to create a new generation of children’s books, and a new generation of readers.”

Tecolote’s Urrutia highlights the importance of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as a forum for engaging in rights sales, and at which Tecolote won a Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2007 for El libro negro de los colores by Menena Cottin with illustrations by Rosana Fariá, both Venezuelan. The book uses Braille to tell the story of two children, one of whom is blind, and how they experience color. The title reportedly has sold rights into 16 markets.

Another of Tecolote’s titles, Migrar by José Manuel Mateo and Javier Martínez Pedro, is a book about migration, an example of how a Mexican children’s book crossed borders into other markets, as it is “universal,” Urrutia says, “but also showcases a Mexican traditional handcraft,” images painted on bark paper known as amate.

“It was very important,” she says, “because the Mexican stand at Bologna had few visitors until Mexican publishers began to win prizes. Then publishers from other countries began to take an interest in Mexican children’s books. Today we have something in our favor, which is that cultural diversity is growing. People are more interested in other cultures, and Mexican authors and illustrators are now going beyond the local, and that perhaps makes their books easier to sell.

“Prizes have opened doors and given us visibility, because selling and buying rights is not easy. But internationalization is not just rights but also incorporating new authors and illustrators,” Urrutia says. “We used to think about publishing books for Mexican kids, and then we thought about kids per se, and that change of mentality was very important.”

At the 2023 Guadalajara International Book Fair, December 2. Image: FIL Guadalajara, Natalia Fregoso


More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s book publishing is here, more on the Mexican book market is here, more on the international rights trade is here, more on independent publishing is here, and more on Latin America is here

About the Author

Adam Critchley

Adam Critchley is a Mexico-based freelance writer and translator. His articles have been published in Latin American Literature Today, Brando, Forbes, GQ, Gatopardo, Publishers Weekly, Travesías and Vinísfera, among other publications, and his short stories have appeared in The Brooklyn Review, El Puro Cuento and Storyteller-UK. His translations include a series of children's books based on indigenous Mexican folk tales. He can be contacted at adamcritchley@hotmail.com.