Helping your children learn Grandma Martha’s life story isn’t just helpful for those once-in-a-blue-moon family reunions. Nope. As it turns out, teaching your children about their relatives and helping them embrace their family narrative benefits their emotional well-being, provides them a sense of identity, and improves their achievement and resilience. This is just one of the major reasons why I loved talking with Stephany Pando for this week’s Talking Shop. Her company — Cuento Books — provides custom board books for children that details the stories of their loved ones, creating rich traditions and building treasured family connections. Her work is honorable, meaningful, and important. With us, she chats the book creation process, the influence of heritage, and the biggest lessons she’s learned while running her own business. Without further ado: let’s meet Steph!
Tell us about where you grew up.
I grew up in the California Bay Area, spoiled by weather that makes it difficult to move anywhere else. My husband, two kids and I currently live in beautiful Palo Alto where we enjoy close-quarters living in a tiny, two-bedroom cottage.
How did Cuento Books get started?
I started Cuento Books when my son was born in 2015. I was looking for a way to tell him about my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents, who had passed away before he was born. They were very influential in our lives and we really wanted their influence to be felt by our kids, too. Making a children’s book about their lives seemed like a fun, natural and easy way for us to introduce our son to his great-grandparents. We loved reading to our son since the moment we brought him home from the hospital, so it just made so much sense to use that same format to teach him about his great-grandpa. We made our first book when my son was a few months old and we’ve been making them for others ever since!
What is the book creation process like?
The process of making a book has changed a bit throughout the years as I’ve tried to find the best and most effective way to make them, but I’ve finally found a process that has been working wonderfully! I have a questionnaire that the customer fills out to make their book about their loved one; this asks them questions about where their loved one is/was from, what some of their favorite things are/were and some qualities that make/made them special. I also ask for some pictures to reference for the illustrations and to go into the book. Once I get the responses and photos back, I put their book together with custom illustrations that fit the story of their loved one. This is my favorite part because I illustrate them myself! The illustrations are done in a simple style, but I love finding ways to include little details that are unique to each loved one’s life. The customer gets a proof of their book within a week and once they approve it, it gets printed into a beautiful, sturdy board book!
How does your heritage inspire your life and your business? How has it shaped your identity?
I’ve always felt proud of my Latin American heritage and have clung to it many times as I’ve gotten older and seen how easily those traditions could slip away. My parents are both Hispanic (my mom is from Peru and my dad is from Mexico), but my siblings and I were born and raised in the United States, so it could be very easy to let the Latin American traditions of our family go, especially now that most of us are married and starting our own families with our own traditions. My longing to pass on my heritage was part of the driver for starting Cuento Books. I wanted my kids to not only learn about their grandparents, but also the culture and traditions of their grandparents.
What is one of your favorite memories with a family member?
I have lots of sweet memories of sitting on my grandma’s bed and listening to her tell stories about her childhood. She used to live with us, so this happened fairly often. She came from a very humble upbringing and I always felt inspired and in awe of her after listening to her. I also loved watching movies with her because, for whatever reason, she thought violence in movies was hilarious. Her favorites were Jackie Chan movies and Home Alone and she would laugh uncontrollably anytime someone got hurt. I just laughed watching her laugh.
What has been the biggest small business learning curve for you?
There have been so many, and I am still constantly trying to figure things out! I think my toughest challenge has been figuring out how to manage my time as a stay-at-home mom and also running a small business. I love spending time with my kids and I want them to feel that my presence was a prominent part of their childhood, but I also truly love working on my business and get so much satisfaction and fulfillment out of making these books. I’m still working on this and I know it will continually evolve, but for now, we’ve found a good rhythm that works well work us.
What do you enjoy most about running your business?
I LOVE getting stories back and reading about someone else’s loved one! It reminds me that every person has a special story that has influenced others for good. I also love illustrating these books! I’ve loved drawing and painting since I was a kid and I love that I get to keep developing this skill by making these books. But the part that I think I enjoy the most about running this business is the feedback I get when a customer gets there book. Because of the nature of these books, getting them in the mail and sharing them with their children and family is usually a special, and sometimes even emotional, experience. I’ve had customers who have been kind enough to send me videos or photos of when they gifted a book to their family and it makes me so happy to see the joy on their faces! It really is what keeps me going when running this business gets challenging.
Why are connection, legacy, and the recording of family stories so important to you?
I think every person has an innate desire to save and pass on memories, especially when it comes to your family. I think it comes down to our desire for connection. When we feel connected to our loved ones, it makes us feel empowered and gives us a sense of belonging. I grew up feeling pride in belonging to a Latin American family. It made me feel part of something special and helped mold the person I’ve become. I want my children to also be shaped and influenced by not only the family they spend time with now, but also those loved ones who have already passed away.
How do you avoid burnout while running your own business?
Being a full-time stay-at-home mom, any spare chance I get I want to take to work on Cuento. I enjoy doing it so much that it doesn’t feel like work to me and I can spend hours and hours working on it. With a small business that only you yourself are running, there are endless “to-dos” that I want to accomplish, but the reality of my situation is that I don’t have endless time to work on it. So I’ve avoided burnout by trying to be more organized and intentional about the time I take to work on Cuento Books. I used to try and do a little bit here and there throughout the day, but it left me feeling like a bad mom and also like I wasn’t accomplishing anything with work. Now I plan out my week and specify when I am going to focus on work and it’s been so so helpful.
How has your family seen the benefits of forging bonds with your ancestors and sharing family stories?
I’ve felt a special connection with my kids and with my grandma (who is no longer living) when I’ve read to my kids about her or talked to them about where she was from. Maybe they don’t feel or understand that connection yet, but I know they will one day and I know they will be better for it. I know our family will also be closer and stronger because of it.
What advice do you have for those looking to start their own business?
I feel extremely unqualified to give anyone advice on this topic because I am still so new to this world and still have so much to learn myself, but I will say that the best advice I’ve been given was to just start. If you have an idea or a passion that is tugging at your heart and you want to dedicate more time to it or make it into a business, just start and see where it goes! I tend to be a perfectionist and feel like my work is never ready or good enough, especially when it comes to my illustrations. But when I took the leap to illustrate these books myself, the positive response I’ve received has given me so much confidence in my abilities and in my potential. I never would have thought that people would be happy with my illustrations, but putting myself out there has helped me recognize that I am good enough and that I do have something to offer. That is huge to me, and I never would have known if I hadn’t just started.
The Fun Qs:
What are some of your favorite children’s books?
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, You Are Special by Max Lucado, and all of the Pigeon books by Mo Willems!
What do you like to do in your off-hours?
I like to go to the park or do crafts with my kids, go on date nights with my husband, and spend time with family and friends who I admire and uplift me.
What is your favorite culturally-inspired meal to make?
My husband is more of the cook in our family, and he makes the best chocolate flan. It’s his grandma’s (who is from Cuba) recipe and it is always a crowd-pleaser.
What song is currently stuck in your head?
Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran “I Don’t Care” — it’s always on the radio and it’s so catchy and good, and weirdly hasn’t reached the point of driving me crazy yet!