Kirkwood author finds success with Spanish-language kids’ books
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By Patrick Saunders, contributor
Atlanta, GA — When Kirkwood resident Janike Ruginis’s son was born, she couldn’t find Spanish-language books appropriate for his age — so she created her own.
Janike and her sister Alexis started the small press Veoleo (Spanish for “I see, I read”) in 2018 to help readers up to age three celebrate their Latin American and Caribbean heritage.
Janike was born in Colombia and raised bilingually, and she wanted her son to have “that gift of being bilingual” as well, she told Decaturish.
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“Teaching a language has to start early,” she said. “And it’s not only about teaching a language, but teaching a culture.”
Janike, a lecturer in the Spanish Language Program at Spelman, wanted her son to be immersed in the language. She had a background in the publishing industry and Alexis, a New York City resident, is a lawyer. They came up with the idea for the first book, wrote it, found a printer and found an illustrator from Puerto Rico named Eduardo Espada. And “Donde Esta El Coqui” became their first release.
“It’s like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ kind of situation. It’s simple enough for a child learning Spanish and all about the present tense,” Janike said. “We did incredibly well.”
They used Kirkwood and parenting Facebook groups to promote Veoleo’s mission.
“I would just post, ‘Meet me at the park, I’m doing Spanish storytime,’” Janike said. “It was all about putting ourselves out there and creating a community. It’s not just about selling books.”
Pandemic forces a Veoleo pivot
They sustained themselves for the first year on in-person sales at books fairs and by partnering with Brave & Kind Bookshop in Oakhurst to do readings. Then the pandemic hit.
“All of a sudden all of these things were not available anymore,” Janike said. “We had two books in the making. We had to put that on hold and pivot in some way to continue to offer enrichment programming, but also having a sustainable business.”
So they began offering Spanish-language storytimes, art classes and yoga classes through their Instagram page. They also hired Latinx artists to create coloring sheets emblematic of Latin American culture and made them available for free on the Veoleo website.
“Our source of revenue is books, but we want to be able to support our community with materials for free that would be available,” Janike said. “We didn’t want our families to feel lost and without resources to do what they wanted to do at home.”
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They’ve since released a second book through Veoleo called “Pensamientos,” meaning “thoughts.”
“It’s about teaching children about emotional awareness and emotional intelligence,” Janike said. “It’s so hard for us still to process and share and digest all of these mixed emotions that we’re feeling and we really need to support our children in a way that’s developmentally appropriate for them in these uncertain times.”
“We’re incredibly grateful for having a community on Instagram that has supported us throughout a very uncertain time, and we are so grateful to our families to welcome us to their homes through these different resources,” Janike added.
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