SALT LAKE CITY — After growing up in the culturally diverse Bay Area of Northern California, Utah author Karl Beckstrand came to understand the importance of diversity.
"I think a lot of people grew up with not many people different from them around them," he said in an interview. "So exposing people to other cultures is part of my mission as a writer."
The Midvale resident and graduate of Brigham Young University also served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile, where he learned Spanish. He now uses his language skills to write multilingual pictures books for children, including "Great Cape o' Colors" (Premio Publishing, ages 3 and up), which came out this year.
"Great Cape o' Colors" is the fourth book in a series meant to expose children to career options and give them ideas for how to earn money. It not only teaches children names of colors in Spanish and English but also explores how something as simple as a cape or robe can transform someone into a magician, a judge or a professor. The book explores how children can imagine and dress up during play, and gives them ideas for what they can become when they grow up.
A previous book in the series, "The Bridge of the Golden Wood" was chosen as part of the curriculum to teach children financial literacy in the state of Vermont, and Beckstrand aims to make all his books both fun and educational for parents and teachers to help their children learn.
Beckstrand has published almost all of his several dozen books on his own press, Premio Publishing, where he prints Spanish, English and bilingual versions of his multilingual pictures books. "Great Cape o' Colors" even has a coloring book version. He also includes a Spanish and English pronunciation guide at the front of the book.
In addition to his mission to Chile and growing up in a diverse city, Beckstrand also has a master's degree in international relations, attended a Spanish branch of his church for six years and teaches English as a second language to refugees once a week.
"I feel like I learn from them and I become a better person because I've been exposed to their cultures," he said.
Because he's seen how much he's benefitted from these experiences, he said he wants to help share what he's learned with others through his books.
Beckstrand earned his undergraduate degree in journalism and makes a living teaching digital media classes at Mountainland Technical College in Lehi. Since he does all his own marketing and printing, staying on top of technology media programs helps both his teaching and his publishing.
He said he's always making sure to stay "curious about new options" for distributing and marketing his books. To go with his book "Sounds in the House," he created an interactive app through which children can learn Spanish and English, which Kirkus reviewed positively. Through his efforts, he's been well-reviewed by Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book blog and the School Library Journal and has achieved top rankings on Amazon.
At times, Beckstrand will also visit schools and speak to children about his writing career. Once, a teacher emailed him about a child who, after hearing Beckstrand's presentation, decided he wanted to be a writer. His parents saw their son change his focus to do everything he could to gain the skills he needed for his new career aspirations.
As Beckstrand strives to provide educational tools for children, he hopes they'll become more open to people who might be different from them.
"We should become more accepting to speakers of other languages," he said. "Coming across someone who speaks another language shouldn't be rare and weird. It should be matter-of-fact, and we should embrace it more."