A Hispanic Heritage Moment ...
What I was mostly interested in doing during my time at Harper was to help Latino authors get published, regardless of whether their content was Latino or not (whatever that means!), because Latino children and young adults need role models, they need to know that people like them are writing books, and good ones at that! The content of the story to me, is a personal choice. The fact that you are a Latino author should not determine what type of story you write. Write what you know, whatever that is.
Additionally, the 2007 Texas Bluebonnet Award went to a bilingual book, which is kind of a big deal, since the winning book is chosen by kids, some 170,000 of them! This was the first time a bilingual book won the award, and considering Texas' Latino demographics, one may say that it was about time that happened! I was lucky enough to be there when Joe Hayes, who is not a Latino, but has been writing Latinos stories for a long time, received the award. Joe is a real trailblazer, he has been writing bilingual books for a long time. When he got up on stage he did what he does best: he told a bilingual story. And that was really great, but the best part of the ceremony for me was when a group of kids got up on stage and began telling the audience why they had chosen Joe's book: a little kid standing on this huge stage in this auditorium full of librarians and publishing folk went up to the microphone and said: "What I love about this book is that I can read it with my mom." That gave me chills, but then he went on to say: "She can read it to me in Spanish, and I can read it to her in English. It is something that we can do together." "This," I thought, "is the reason I do what I do!"
Let's not forget that literacy is a very important issue for Latinos. Latinos still have the highest school dropout index of any other group. So we need to give them books that they can use in any whatever language they need them, and we need to read to them from the time they are babies. And for parents who are monolingual, bilingual books—and books in Spanish for that matter—will make a world of difference. As parents read with their kids, and become more involved in their education, we may see a change in this sad trend. Again, from personal experience, I know that my mom could not really help me as much as she would've liked to when I was in school because she really could not navigate the system or speak the language very well. Books that parents enable parents to read to their children can bridge the tremendous gap that now exists between school and home for Latino parents, and the achievement gap for Latino students.
As an author, you have to first figure out what your forte is. One of the things I find myself saying to writers over and over again is "write what you know." You want to know about the trends and be familiar with them, in part, because you want to write for the right market, but that does not mean that you should write with only the market in mind, completely disregarding what you know and what your strengths are. Trends come and go, and by the time you finish writing the "next" Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. (as if that were actually possible!), the trend will be long gone and publishers will already be looking for the next "big" thing.
If you are an author/illustrator your forte is probably illustration. If your forte is illustration, you should know how to illustrate for children and who the best children's illustrators are, and why they are the best. If you belong to this category, you will want to display your artwork and your idea for the story as fully as you can, as mentioned previously. This does not mean that you should attempt to submit a finished book however. What you want to do is submit your manuscript along with an excellent sampling of your work. Do not try to bind the book, or self publish the book; you will never achieve the level of production quality available to a mainstream publisher. You will instead make your submission look amateurish and lead the editor to think that you know nothing about children's books, or how they are produced. Whenever I saw that type of submission, my first thought was always: "This person has no idea of how the publishing industry works," and if you do not know how the publishing industry works, chances are, you probably have not done enough research, or read enough children's books and that also tells me that you are not ready to write a book for a mainstream publisher. So, be very professional and know that as an author, what is expected of you is to submit a manuscript. For the most part, a picture book is 32-pages long.