Vanessa Nielsen

Hands full of books is a mind full of adventure. With millions looking to travel and photos worth a thousand words, you can still give the world to your child through books. Vanessa Nielsen is the founder of Sol Book Box, a Spanish children’s book subscription service. Growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico in a bilingual household, she lacked picture books in Spanish. Now a mother of 3, she provides a service to parents across the country, offering a way to connect with and stimulate children’s minds. “I had a child and I wanted to make sure she spoke Spanish and English. I don’t know if you’ve tried to find books here in the United States in Spanish, but…it was very limited […] I decided to be the person that started that service that would curate books in Spanish so that bilingual parents could spend less time looking for books and more time actually reading them.”

Growing up, Vanessa hardly ever got to read her favorite childhood books in Spanish, “In Mexico, they just weren’t as easily available as there were in the United States.” Having grown up in the north of Mexico, the border that tens of thousands attempt to reach every year was only three hours away from her elementary school and high school in Colonia Juarez. “When our school teams would play, we would play futból with […] another school in Chihuahua and then they would play American football with the school in New Mexico. So we crossed the border pretty frequently, both in our personal life, like to go shopping or even to visit the doctor or the dentist, and also in our professional and school life.”

A transient life between the two borders was normal for her, as she had an American passport through her Mexican-born father’s American family. So when Vanessa left Mexico to go to Provo, Utah for college, she was leaving behind her father’s apple orchard field where she’d spend summers touring the peaches and apples. She was leaving behind a rural landscape and authentic enchilada rojas, her favorite. She was leaving a vibrant culture and one that she understood. She, like so many immigrants, though may have felt connected to American culture, experienced a different reality once she arrived. “I felt like I was basically American-ish sorta, but when I moved to the United States and was really surrounded by people who had grown up here, I realized that there were lots of gaps in my understanding of cultural things everybody else may have experienced or knew about. Certainly institutional things like credit […] I remember feeling really lonely my first semester I was there […] Culturally, I didn’t feel quite as embraced as I was used to feeling in Mexico.” Though she has settled her family in Phoenix, Arizona, she hopes to bring her family to Mexico someday, “It’s a beautiful place to be a child because we were so free. We could roam and play and do things and we were outside all day.” 

As quarantine continues, she relishes that her children have had more time together, “They have become each other’s only friend and companion. I’ve just been so impressed and so happy with how they have gotten along with each other and with how they’ve played with each other. And just like figured out how to really love each other […] I think that’s definitely been amplified during this quarantine.” 

Though travel is advised against for the time being, Vanessa reminisces attending the Feria Internacional del Libro in Guadalajara, Mexico, the biggest book fair in the Americas and second in the world. It is here where she is able to comb through the grand Expo Guadalajara containing thousands of books brought from hundreds of international publishers and distributors. It is here where she finds the best Spanish books by native speakers, “authentic Spanish picture books,” to send out to her customers. “My priorities are just that they’d be extremely well-written, really beautifully illustrated, and if if they are translated, then the translation is actually a good translation.”

In 2016 when Vanessa won a contest at her local radio show who patterned with a business accelerator, her life forever changed. “I used to spend a lot of time protesting and trying to turn and and trying to dismantle or tear down the things that I felt were wrong, but since having kids, I decided my energy is better spent trying to build up things that I think are valuable and things that I think are important.” For Vanessa, it was always important to help others and help her community, a value she took from church and her community in Pheoenix, “It’s a very action-oriented faith community — that has helped me have an action oriented faith life. Not just studying how can I be a better person but actually thinking about how I can put love not action and put faith and service into action.” 

The best way to help is to act. And with Sol Book Box, Vanessa has used her bilingual, bicultural upbringing brought questions of her identity, feeling the need to prove her “Mexican-ness.” She empowers folks to keep their language and keep their culture and has kept her own experiences in mind when she created this company. “I’m trying to help parents keep their kids connected and have them be rooted in their heritage, even though they live here in the States. Having them really be able to feel part of that broader culture, even if they were born here, but they know where their families come from.” 

There are 47 million immigrants in the United States and they came for different reasons from different places with varying cultures. But they are connected through many other things; they know about change and ambition; they know about loving and longing; they know about working hard. And to unite in one place to bring their warmth and love is what Vanessa loves, “That’s something that I really appreciate about here. If you have a plan, you can make it happen and you can work to give yourself the life you want. I think that’s really beautiful.”

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