Written by Mialise Carney, COSS Communications Student Assistant
When Dr. Larissa Mercado-Lopez, a professor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies had her son, she noticed a number of children toys that model caregiving were targeted at girls, despite the fact that many boys will also grow up to be parents and caregivers.
This inspired her to write the bilingual children’s book, Esteban de Luna, Baby Rescuer! / Esteban de Luna, ¡Rescatador de bebés! which follows the story of a little boy named Esteban who rescues a baby doll and uses his cape as a sling.
“I wanted children (and parents) to see how kids can straddle the borders of the gender binary–to show strength through tenderness. More and more we are hearing how important the skills of compassion, care, and empathy are for leaders, yet we don’t do a very good job of nurturing them in all children,” Dr. Mercado-Lopez said.
This is Mercado-Lopez’s first children’s book, but one of her research interests is in Chicanx children’s literature. She has also co-edited a scholarly volume with essays on critical approaches to Chicanx children’s literature and completed contract work as a fact checker and sensitivity reader for feminist and Latinx children’s and young adult books.
“This work motivated me to write a book to increase representation of Chicanx authors and to write a story with Chicanx characters that wasn’t particularly cultural,” she said.
Mercado-Lopez felt disconnected from “normal” things like writing after having her son, which pushed her to write this book. But she also wanted to challenge gender roles in a different way than she does as a scholar and teacher. She began writing by considering similar questions that she does when approaching academic writing—who is the audience? What is the message? How does she want her readers to feel?
“I feel like any work I do–whether it’s for children or academic audiences–involves thinking about voice, purpose, audience, and impact. In both my academic and children’s writing, I want to make a difference,” she said.
In September 2020, Mercado-Lopez participated in Fresno Writers Live, a virtual reading of Esteban de Luna, Baby Rescuer! / Esteban de Luna, ¡Rescatador de bebés! presented by the Fresno State Creative Writing Alumni Chapter. As an interdisciplinary scholar in English, she has read with the creative writing and English departments at events such as LitHop in the past. This virtual setting was unique as it allowed for audiences outside Fresno to attend and support Mercado-Lopez’s reading.
“I have to say, it doesn’t matter if we are live or virtual–reading children’s books to grown-ups is always an odd experience!” she said.
Mercado-Lopez is dedicated to making a difference in representation and access through writing and action at Fresno State. She is passionate about supporting students who are parents and is currently collaborating with the Dean of the Henry Madden Library to create a fundraising campaign for a family study room in the library. This family study room will be a dedicated space for students with children to study and collaborate with their children near them, connecting with other parents and classmates.
“So many student parents express the challenges of doing group work and studying with their peers because they lack childcare,” she said. “The children will also learn to see themselves as part of the Fresno State community. I hope we can fill it with children’s books!”