September means new backpacks and football kickoff and pumpkin spice latte month (*insert eyeroll), but mid-month, September is also became Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15). So we put together some of our very favorite children’s and YA books honoring Hispanic heritage, because there’s often no better way to honor any wonderful, diverse, complex, inspiring culture than to dive into some books about it with our kids.
Whether your own heritage is Hispanic, or you want to know more about the lives of your friends, neighbors and colleagues, we think these books are a terrific start. Because we all want to raise more compassionate, understanding, worldly children.
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Hispanic Heritage Month books for ChildrenI am a superfan of Matt de la Peña’s writing, not only because his work is lyrically stunning, but because he respects young readers by tackling hard issues head on, albeit with whimsy and care. His picture book for young readers, Carmela Full of Wishes, is no exception. Here he’s paired up again with the brilliant illustrator Christian Robinson to create a moving and meaningful tribute to dreamers. Read this book. I say that emphatically!
I must admit that Dreamers, by award-winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales, is a staggering read. It is based on the author’s own experience coming to the US from Mexico with her infant son, the type of story that’s been on the news so much lately. Even though Morales left behind everything she owned, she still brought so much with her — what an extraordinary lesson for kids. I love that this book honors the dream and the contribution that immigrants like Morales bring to America, and I, for one, am so glad she’s here. (A Spanish-language edition is also available.)
Photo: @LuAndBeanRead on Instagram which is a great feed for fans of kid lit!
We’re so grateful our kids have powerful and diverse women role models like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — and especially for our girls. Born in Puerto Rico, she became the first Hispanic SCOTUS justice, and only the third woman ever, after Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Sotomayor’s brand new autobiographical children’s book, Turning Pages: My Life Story (also available in a Spanish-language edition) is a must-add to your home collection. Kids will love discovering the things that inspired her as a young girl with a more complex childhood than you might have known.
I also love the description of it on Lulu and Bean Read about how it inspired her to think more about the life-changing power of books, especially for children.
This charming retelling of the classic fairytale, La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya and Juana Martinez-Neal, reimagines the story as set in Peru. The illustrations are mesmerizing, with a folksy charm that won them the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for outstanding illustration in a children’s book celebrating the Latino cultural experience. For an introduction to Latino culture (which largely comprises Hispanic culture) plus some basic Spanish vocabulary, this is a great gateway book for early readers.
Another terrific children’s book to pick up for Hispanic Heritage Month is All Around Us by Xelena Gonzales and Adriana M. Garcia. This book is more about nature and our relationship to it, although with a decidedly Hispanic perspective. The art is energetic and alive, inspiring kids to develop an appreciation for both Native and Hispanic values honoring life and nature.
As one of the most notable Hispanic women that our kids learn about, it’s not surprising that there’s an abundance of children’s books about Frida Kahlo. In fact, I have multiple biographies an anthologies that include her on my own shelves. But the award-winning 2017 book Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos, by Monica Brown and John Parra begs to be included. This story sheds light on Frida’s beloved — and unusual — pets, including a monkey, parrot, fawn and even an eagle. For animal-loving kids, this is a terrific read.
Typically, the chupacabra is a fairly terrifying legend. Just Google images of the chupacabra (without your kids nearby) and you’ll see what I mean. But don’t fear the title The Chupacabra Ate the Candleabra by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ana Aranda! It serves up a silly, zany twist on the classic Mexican legend to introduce kids to another aspect of Hispanic lore, and kids will just love it.
Hispanic Heritage Month books for YA Readers
We’ve shared The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez several times here, because of its quirky, true-to-herself heroine who is such an empowering example for our own girls. This is a book about so many relatable issues for our tweens and young teens — surviving at a new school, living through a parents’ separation, not quite fitting in, and yes, being Hispanic. We think any middle-school kid will love it.
The poignant, heartbreaking, and unfortunately timely memoir, My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Erica Moroz, recounts Guerrero’s experience as a young girl living in Boston with her happy, loving family. One day, without warning, her undocumented parents were taken from their home and deported. Guerrero went on to become a star of the show Orange is the New Black — you may know her as the beautiful young inmate Maritza Ramos — and this book depicts a difficult but relatable childhood that was both challenging and full of hope.
The historical novel My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson sheds light on a specific and fascinating part of Cuban history. In the book, 13-year-old Lora joins Castro’s army of literary teachers, heading into the rural and impoverished countryside to teach people how to read. It’s a coming-of-age story full of danger, compassion and intrigue. In fact, my own kids loved this one so much, they couldn’t put it down. It’s highly recommended for kids about 10-14 — and fans of Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia will need little convincing to pick it up.
If you binged Jane the Virgin or you’re looking for a made-for-teens alternative to Crazy Rich Asians, try The Go-Between by Veronica Chambers. Cammi’s mom is a famous telenovela star and her dad is the go-to voice over talent for all the big movies. She seems to live a charmed life — but the stereotypes she embraced when her family moves from Mexico City to LA make her start questioning everything. It’s a great lesson that money doesn’t always equal privilege, and even kids who seem to have it all have their issues too.
Set among Miami’s vibrant Hispanic culture, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya is a true family story. Arturo works at his grandmother’s restaurant, plays basketball, and falls for Carmen, a poetry lover. But their family business is threatened by gentrification, and Arturo has to learn to fight for what he believes in most. It should offer plenty of opportunities for great family discussions when your kid has finished it.
In the 2018 Pura Belpre Award-winner Lucky Broken Girl, author Ruth Behar beautifully depicts a based-on-her-true-story tale of a young Jewish-Cuban immigrant living in NYC in the 1960s. Just as she starts to get comfortable in her new life, navigating English and her new New York friends and neighbors, she experiences an unimaginable accident that leaves her homebound. But she discovers that even in the very worst moments of our lives, there can be a lot of beauty. With blurbs from other authors we love like Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) and Marjorie Agosín (I Lived on Butterfly Hill), it’s definitely a worthwhile read.
Heartbreaking, inspiring, and also hilarious, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, tells the story of Julia, who is anything but perfect. When her sister Olga dies in a tragic accident, her mother doesn’t hesitate to point out Julia’s every failure. But, with the help of her first love, she begins to uncover some of Olga’s secrets and must decide whether she should reveal them and shatter the impressions of her Mexican mother. Juan Felipe Herrera, the US Poet Laureate, calls it “a perfect book about imperfection,” and isn’t that a theme that every one of our tweens and teens can relate to? Absolutely.
Do you have other favorite children’s books or YA books that are great reads for HIspanic Heritage Month and beyond? We’d love to hear them! Just leave them in comments.