Lapacazo Sandoval is walking around the Harlem School of The Arts like a kid in a candy store. She glides away like she’s flying through the school’s brightly lit hallways, full of enthusiasm to show off the vacant studio room she’s been using to do voice overs for her forthcoming children’s multi-media book, Taking The E Train.
The project, she says, was inspired by Richard Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican graffiti artist from the Bronx, who told her while the two were on a trip on the Jamaica Queens-bound train that the Subway line is the coolest in the summer.
Taking The E Train centers around a Latina grandmother (referred to as “Abuela”) and her three grandchildren as they take a trip on a E train. She gifts them with a notepad and crayons, asking them to draw what they observe on the train. And anyone who’s ever been on a New York City train knows how diverse it is.
With taking a stab at children’s content publishing across multi-media platforms, Sandoval aims to diversify the children’s entertainment programming business. More so, she’s determined to make tangible and woke stories that allow kids of all cultures to see images of themselves. Like the film, TV and fashion industries, there’s always been a huge disparity for people of color in publishing—on both the subject and the content side.
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Education School found that in 2016, only 427 books were written or illustrated by people of color. Additionally, NPR found that 736 out of 3,400 analyzed books were about people of color out of 3,400.
“In our childhood, we’re reading authors who are mostly white,” she says now inside a Harlem coffee shop across the street from City College. “You turn on the television, you see white faces and it becomes normal. There’s nothing normal about that. We share this world with a plethora of other cultures, and in creating children’s books as creators and authors we understand the world we’re looking at. We understand the things that need to be said.”
“James Baldwin, one of the most important authors of our time, talks a lot about image and self-hatred,” she continues. “And the need for reflection, because when you really look at what we as the people bring, we’re beautiful. We’re magnificent.”
The children’s author has teamed up with KaZoom Publishing to create Taking The E Train and Everybody Loves Cake. KaZoom, created by Donna Beasley, is dedicated to creating content for African-American and Latino kids on multiple platforms, made by blacks and Latinos.
Just as much as this a story about bringing representation to an industry that’s been inundated with Anglo-Saxon influences from its inception, it is equally a tale about survival.
Sandoval, who was a successful film unit publicist in Hollywood, lost everything to alcohol addiction. “I was in the street in LA and New York with just my laptop, which I would use to write every night,” she says with a hint of sadness in her voice. “It gave me the strength and hope to get my life together.”
Prior to becoming homeless, her career skyrocketed when Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a longtime member of the Academy Awards’ Board of Governors, took notice of her prowess as a young publicist at 25 years old.
The now book author of African-American and Mexican descent, helped make actor John Leguizamo a household name at the beginning of his career.
“When Cheryl Boone Isaacs asked me why I decided to represent John, I said ‘because as a Latino young man he deserves as much attention as his white counterparts,’” she remembers. “He had to go through the door, so other people like Lin Manuel Miranda can go through the door.”
Miranda certainly pushed those doors open with In The Heights and Hamilton. Sandoval aims to do just that in the children’s literary world with an urban African-American and Latino flair.
She has another collection of stories titled The Sleepy Town Collection, which feature a righteous hip-hop-loving Rhino and a sweet Giraffe named Penny.
Listening to Sandoval’s passion for placing a kaleidoscope on the eyes of book publishers and creators, for some reason reminds me of the fierce tenacity the hip-hop community had to get radio play back when the genre was shunned by the media in the ‘80s to early ‘90s.
Slick Rick’s 1988 “Children’s Story” off his The Great Adventures of Slick Rick album presents the plight of kids growing up in the inner city caught in the mischief that engulfs them.
“There lived a lil’ boy who was mislead/By another lil’ boy and this is what he said: “Me and you, tonight we’re gonna make some cash/Robbin’ old folks and makin’ the dash”/They did the job, money came with ease/But one couldn’t stop, it’s like he had a disease,” he rapped.
These are the type of diverse stories that need to be told—with characters and story lines that mirror our children’s experiences and their environment. For Sandoval, her main goal is to make these colorful vignettes transcend book pages and iPads onto TV screens. “I want to be the Shonda Rhimes of children’s publishing,” she says.
A reading for Taking The E Train will be held at the Harlem School of the Arts on Nov. 4.