Coming from the small South American country of Uruguay, a little state like Delaware felt like home for Enrique Morás.
After arriving in the United States in 2000 and working in finance for about 15 years, he realized he wasn’t doing something he really loved.
“I decided that it was time for me to start doing something that I really wanted, and that I really enjoyed, and that I thought could contribute and make a difference,” he said.
Out of that desire came Syncretic Press, an independent publishing company focused on Spanish-language children’s books. The company, now based in Wilmington, features books from authors around the world but specializes in works by writers from Spanish-speaking countries.
“You have stories that touch from fiction to nonfiction, elements that bring humor, perhaps stories that connect more with traditions within a certain area in South America,” he said. “At the same time touching on topics that could be universal, that can really relate to kids from different cultures and different countries.”
After visiting book fairs in Barcelona, Madrid, Buenos Aires, and throughout Mexico, Morás started building a stable of authors and illustrators to publish.
“We connected with small presses in South America that we enjoy their work, and so that helped us assemble a catalog that brings different perspectives, different points of view,” he said.
Morás works with local libraries, school districts, and the United Way to get his books into little hands. The company also offers a Spanish book club, similar to the popular Scholastic book fair, for parents to purchase books for their kids at a discount while also earning books to be donated to their classroom.
Finding titles that are relatable is important for Spanish-speaking kids, said Adriana Camacho-Church, a reference librarian for New Castle County.
“It introduces readers to authors and illustrators from different countries, especially from Latin America,” she said. “I think this can be inspiring and I think that it kind of opens up the world to other cultures and things like that. We’re not just focusing on authors from the U.S.”
Camacho-Church’s job includes creating bilingual storytime, computer classes in Spanish, and other programs for both children and adults in Latino communities, so she was thrilled to learn about Syncretic Press when she stumbled upon Morás selling books at a farmer’s market in Wilmington a few years ago.
“When I found out that it existed in Delaware, I was delighted and I was surprised because I didn’t expect anything like this, but I’m glad he’s here,” she said.
Morás’ books are available at several Delaware libraries including the Wilmington Public Library, the Route 9 Library south of Wilmington, and the Dover Public Library.
The books are a great way for Spanish-speaking children to maintain their native language in a predominantly English-speaking area,” Camacho-Church said. “These books are a wonderful way of keeping up with the language, in terms of reading and writing skills, so it helps tremendously in terms of bilingual education.”
Often, Spanish-language children’s books are just simple translations of a popular book in English. But these books are different.
Because Syncretic’s books are written by international authors, they more accurately reflect the culture of the country where the author lives. That can help immerse students in the culture as well as the language, said Sarah Vieni-Vento, a world language and immersion coordinator for Appoquinimink School District.
“There’s no dumbing down of the language,” she said. Often, translations will “Americanize” some cultural references, but not Syncretic’s books.
For example, in “La Tortilla de Papas” by Sandra Siemens, the main character goes shopping for ingredients to make a tortilla. But what people in Spain call a tortilla is very different from what Americans call a tortilla.
“In the United States, we’re used to the tortilla being the thin little bread you make the tacos out of, but there, it’s like literally eggs and potatoes that are all cooked together in this big pan,” Vieni-Vento said. “It’s such a basic staple of Spain.”
Keeping the Spanish meaning of tortilla in the book is another sign of the publishing company’s commitment to authenticity, she said.
Vieni-Vento first met Morás at a state education conference and was excited to discover a local publisher with books that connected with her Peruvian heritage.
“It brings you right back to your country in a way,” she said. “The artwork was very, very unique to each of the countries and each of the books had a cultural tie to the story.”
“The kids are seeing names in here or representations that tie directly to them and their identity, and that’s something that’s so important in what we want to make sure we promote,” she said. “They’re seeing author names that are familiar, that look like their names. Even that alone is something that is so great.”
Morás said he works to find books that explore deeper ideas than most traditional children’s books.
For example, the book “Más Allá” helps kids understand diverse religious views of death and the afterlife. Written by Silvia and David Fernández of Spain and illustrated by Mercè López, the book focuses on a group of circus animals that constantly risk their lives as part of the tightrope act.
“The story goes, as they start falling from this tightrope, they basically show their belief and what happens after you die,” Morás said. “So there, without naming them, really emerges images of what would be a Christian point of view, a Muslim point of view, a Native American point of view, and an ancient Egyptian point of view of the afterlife.”
While a twist at the end of the book reveals all the circus animals have actually survived their brush with death, the book offers adults a chance to start a conversation.
“They are not really dying throughout the book, but just falling from the rope and getting hurt, but during that process that imagery and that discussion comes up,” he said. “It has a humor element to it and at the same time, a great trigger for a meaningful conversation about points of view regarding the hereafter.”
In a way, the inclusive perspective of “Más Allá” reflects the meaning of the name Syncretic Press. Merriam-Webster defines “syncretic” as something characterized or brought about by a combination of different forms of belief or practice. Morás said reading these books can help kids learn about unfamiliar cultures and become better connected to the rest of the world.
Other titles include “Vota y Verá,” the story of former Uruguayan president José “Pepe” Mujica, who’s known as “the poorest president in the world.” Mujica’s story, written by journalist Darío Klein of Uruguay, focuses on how the right to vote provides people with enormous power.
That book, also published in English as “Vote and See,” was named the best political or current affairs book of 2019 from the International Latino Book Awards.
Morás has also been slowly adding more books translated into English to his offerings, giving the English-speaking audience a chance to discover and enjoy authors they might otherwise not have access to because of the language barrier.
“We are trying to bring different points of view and different perspectives from the Spanish-speaking community into our books, and into our catalog, and presenting this to the American reader both in Spanish and in English, which is something that for us has been evolving,” he said. “To basically give it more exposure and make it possible for a broader audience to see these works that otherwise are just not within reach.”
Just like the circus animals in “Más Allá,” running a small publishing company out of his office in Wilmington is a little like walking the tightrope every day, but Morás said he wouldn’t trade the long days for anything.
“I wake up every Monday and I’m excited about the week ahead,” he said. “That is something that I wouldn’t exchange for any safety feeling that, at times, working in corporate America might give you.”
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