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Latinx youth in CHCCS create bilingual picture book to foster equity

Mariposas students create collages at Frank Porter Graham Bilingue Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Peg Gignoux.

Liberation. Transformation. Growth. These are all themes discussed in “El regalo de Lenna," or “Lenna’s Gift," a bilingual children’s picture book created by a Latinx student group called Mariposas, as well as the organization For Kids By Kids (FKBK), a group of teaching artists that edit and create picture books. 

Mariposas, which means butterflies, is an organization that works to empower Latinx youth and their families in the greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. It was founded in 2013 by Barbie Garayúa Tudryn, a counselor at the Frank Porter Graham Bilingüe Elementary School.

FKBK contacted the Mariposas program in spring 2019 and proposed that the two groups work together to create a book. Garayúa Tudryn said the opportunity to work with a writer and illustrator would be invaluable to her students. 

“The chance for the Mariposas community to share a piece of ourselves far and wide was one we couldn't refuse,” Garayúa Tudryn said. “In times when there are a lot of harmful narratives being disseminated about Latinxs in this country, we were given an opportunity to work on a counter-narrative, and we just couldn't turn it down.”

FKBK writer Susie Wilde and artist Peg Gignoux initially met with Mariposas students and their families to discuss what themes they wanted to include in the book. They chose the themes of liberation and transformation, and Garayúa Tudryn said they reflected the personal experiences of the Mariposas community.

“Transformation because of the changes or temporary adjustments people undergo when they migrate or enter a different space,” Garayúa Tudryn said. “Liberation because of the boundless self-awareness and humility we all need, regardless of background, to generate positive change in our lives and in the lives of others.”

Starting in September 2019, Wilde and Gignoux held workshops on Tuesday and Thursday evenings with the Mariposas students to work on the writing and illustrations for “El regalo de Lenna.” These workshops lasted until December.

“The kids showed resilience and spark,” Gignoux said. “There was an unbelievable level of commitment to the project. We had our sessions at night, so they had already been at school all day, but they still showed up and were fully committed.”

During these workshops, students worked on developing the book’s storyline and characters. Wilde said that the writing process was difficult but rewarding. 

“Over a series of months, we developed the story until we had over 50 drafts,” Wilde said. “One of the things that is really great for kids to see is that it isn’t one and done. It’s a series and a process of working through things.”

The Mariposas students also got to illustrate the book. Gignoux taught the students how to hand dye cloth, screenprint words into cloth, mix colors and create paper collages. Gignoux said the work was collaborative, and some of the older Mariposas took on leadership roles.

“As we started to develop certain ideas, (the students) would work on various ideas together and then individually, and then we would merge their work,” Gignoux said. “The older girls were really great in mentoring the younger ones, which really helped move us along. There was a lot of work to pull together, so it was great that they showed a lot of leadership.” 

“El regalo de Lenna” is now in its final stages of production, and the Mariposas and FKBK team are raising money with a Kickstarter campaign to print the book. The plot of the story follows a character called River, who learns about what it takes to become an ally toward someone with different experiences.

Garayúa Tudryn said she believes the plot and message of the book will be important in teaching children about collaboration and power dynamics. 

“‘El regalo de Lenna’ will be a valuable tool to start having conversations with young kids,” she said. “When they enter relationships or collaborations with kids that don't look like them, they can actively work to create environments where power is shared equitably and where everyone has equal access to defining their own narratives.”  

@DTHCityState |

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