Hispanic Heritage month is a great time to discover books that celebrate Hispanic cultures and to showcase Hispanic authors. This list is just a tiny slice of the vibrant, varied selection of reads out there. Whatever your child’s age, there’s a book to inspire their pride, curiosity and admiration.
BABY & TODDLER:
The prolific Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein are changing the board book game with their Lil’ Libros. These books are engaging to the ear and to the eye (thanks to Citaly Reyes’ fabulous illustrations). They teach simple concepts like counting, colors and emotions, but do so through various aspects of Hispanic (and particularly Mexican) culture. Some introduce important historic figures, as in Frida, Zapata and Celia. Others celebrate cultural mainstays, like Lucha Libre and Loteria. These books are a great way to stir a child’s joy and curiosity about Hispanic heritage early.
PRESCHOOL & EARLY ELEMENTARY:
As children reach school age, it’s a great time to introduce them to stories of real people. Kids need to hear about people who persevered and overcame great challenges, paving the way for future generations. It’s especially powerful when these stories includes the childhood experiences of a hero. It helps children to dream big about their own potential to impact their world and their community.
Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe follows the artist from childhood to young adulthood, as his longing to become a serious artist grows. The collage illustrations are mesmerizing and the story is unafraid to touch on the struggles Basquiat faced as a young Puerto Rican boy growing up in Brooklyn.
Viva Frida is a striking and unique telling of the life of Frida Kahlo, with a focus on her artistic process. Yuyi Morales, an incredible illustrator, tried something a little different in this book. She created awe-inspiringly lifelike puppets and surrounded them with intricate settings and props. It makes you feel like you are peering into another world and creates a sense of intimacy.
Jonah Winter‘s Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx is a great read for children from the Bronx. Sonya as a child is relatable and likable and this story of her beginnings inspires kids to dream about their own future.
To learn about many different incredible Hispanic influencers in one fell swoop, read Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle. The poems are written in the voices of a wide variety of heroes–artists, advocates, musicians, writers, scientists, men and women, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran and more. This book is probably a stretch level-wise for younger children (kindergarten to 2nd graders), but Rafael Lopez‘s vibrant illustrations, featuring each Hispanic hero looking unflinchingly into the readers’ eyes will help engage them. And who knows–I’m often amazed by what even young children can understand with the support of read-aloud.
Tweens need characters they can relate to. The short story collection Us, In Progress: Short Stories about Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre offers this. Each story offers the perspective of a different young person, each dealing with the joys and pains of growing up Latino in this country. This book can serve as both a mirror and a window for young readers.
Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States is a great companion to Us, In Progress. It also offers many different perspectives, all voices of young people, but this time in the form of poetry. Spanish is a beautiful language and is deliciously at home in poetry, and this makes it a real pleasure to read the Spanish versions of the poems. It will delight and spark pride in young readers who already speak Spanish and will likely intrigue, attract and inspire those who haven’t yet learned.
So, full disclosure, I just have not been able to make time to read YA novels recently. So, while I can’t offer first-hand recommendations for this age group, I will gladly share my to-read list. These three books are at the top of my list. When the semester ends and I’m on winter break, you’d best believe I’ll be devouring these titles. And I strongly encourage you to join me!
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez — Currently long-listed for the National Book Award, a college-bound young woman deals with the aftermath of her “perfect” sister’s sudden death. I might have to neglect my homework to get a jump on this one, especially given the award-season timeliness.
The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera — Set in the South Bronx, so this is kind of a no-brainer. Margot makes a bad call (using dad’s credit card for a shopping spree), gets grounded and has to work at the struggling corner store, slicing deli meat. There’s family drama, and of course…a boy. I very much look forward to reading it.
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera — This book imagines a world in which you are informed when you’ve reached your “End Day.” On the last day of their lives, Mateo and Rufus meet each other through an app that pairs you with a “Last Friend.” If that premise isn’t intriguing enough–I recently discovered that this author was born and raised in the Bronx, so I’m double-intrigued! And after looking up Silvera’s previous novels, my list just keeps growing longer. His More Happy Than Not is one of my “To-reads” now too!
If you’re seeking more books to help you explore and enjoy Hispanic culture and heritage this month–or ALL the time–the nominees and winners of the Pura Belpré Award is a great place to start. As the first Puerto Rican librarian in the NYPL, Pura Belpré was an incredible woman and this award honors her by honoring excellent literature about Hispanic culture and often written by Hispanic authors.