In April 2018, Melissa Fontaine and Mariangélica Duque were discussing their frustration with a lack of bilingual stories for their children. Both originally from Colombia and now living in Santa Barbara, they wanted to create a program that would allow kids, both English speakers and Spanish speakers, to listen to stories that would promote emotional understanding, cultivate empathy, and celebrate other cultures. One year later, after countless hours of writing, translating, and recording, they launched Pipilo, an audio story service available in both English and Spanish. “This is really something that started out as a personal need and developed into a business,” says Duque.
Pipilo’s library includes more than 30 stories, with at least two new stories being added every month. “My personal favorite is called ‘Mama’s Belly,’” said Duque. “Most of the stories are from the perspective of the kids, but this one is from the mother’s point of view. I cry whenever I hear it.” The service has garnered more than 200 subscribers since launching in June 2019, and now the founders say that they’re eager to keep expanding their work.
Duque says they’d like to partner up with area organizations to host bilingual storytelling sessions. They’ve also caught the attention of the legendary children’s storyteller Michael Katz, who Duque says phoned her and expressed his interest in getting involved. “He’s one of our heroes, so using one of his stories he narrated for us was really special,” said Duque.
Many of the stories on the site emphasize themes like cultural understanding, appreciation for and connection with nature, and development of emotional intelligence. Duque says that the stories aren’t necessarily meant to teach kids lessons but to spark virtues like curiosity and tolerance.
Fontaine moved to the United States from Colombia when she was 2 years old; Duque relocated 10 years ago. “We want our stories to help kids understand the value of different cultures,” said Duque. “In this country and in this city, there are a lot of kids who might enter the classroom for the first time without strong English skills. We want them to feel welcome.”
Payment for the service is also based on a sliding scale between $3 and $7 per month, so that lower-income families aren’t barred from access. “We know not all families have the same financial resources,” said Duque. “We want everyone to be able to use the service, because we want everyone to be involved.”