The SERC Library Blog continues its “From Here to Diversity” series dedicated to providing 18 exciting book recommendations for children, preteens, and young adults that recognize the importance of diverse representation in reading materials.
This week, we are shedding some more light on diverse representation by choosing 18 novels that feature protagonists and other characters from a Latinx cultural background. With the acknowledgement that only 5 percent of all children’s books published in 2018 featured characters of Latinx heritage, it remains important to provide exposure to these stories so that all young readers can feel seen and heard.
In the list below, there are three sections of books: Picture Books, Middle Grade Novels, and High School Reads. The six books in each section feature predominantly #ownvoices stories and have been published within the last few years. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a taste of the variety of stories that provide representation to these communities, appreciate an underrepresented perspective of experience, acknowledge histories, and celebrate #ownvoices authors and stories.
In celebration of Mexican culture and the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, this brightly illustrated counting book tells the story of Grandma Beetle, who enchants Mr. Calavera, a skeleton, while he is waiting for her to finish her chores for her party. This trickster tale counts in both English and Spanish as it weaves math skills together with an appreciation of traditions.
This Pura Belpré Medal winner for Illustration retells the classic Princess and the Pea story with some Peruvian flair. With a sprinkling of humor, both author and illustrator weave the story of the prince who wants to marry and his mother who puts forth some tricks to test which lady is the most worthy.
Lola is tasked by her teacher to draw a picture of her first home, but she can’t remember what it looks like. She was too young when she and her family left the Dominican Republic. So Lola spends the afternoon asking all her family members their memories, both bad and good, and learning about their beautiful island home.
Yuyi tells her own story in this Pura Belpré award-winning book for illustration. Not knowing the language or what may wait for her on the other side, Yuyi makes her way to the United States with her infant son with the dream of a better life. With the strength of the public library to support them, Yuyi and her son learn a strange new language and create a new home to build their dreams upon.
Lucia loves pretending to be a superhero on the playground. Even though she can do all the flips and crazy jumps, the boys still tell her that a girl could never be a superhero. Upset, Lola tells her Abuela about what the boys on the playground said. Little does Lola know that she comes from a long line of female superheroes, luchadoras, or female fighters from the Mexican tradition of lucha libre. With her Abuela’s story to inspire her and a flashy costume, she must return to the playground to stop injustice in its tracks.
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise (Author), Paola Escobar (Illustrator)
This picture book tells the biography of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. Through her support of folk tales and stories, she was able to create beloved books and a legacy that continues to support bilingual literature today. Young readers will learn about this influential Latinx lady and be inspired by her work.
Middle School Novels
Arturo loves his life with its mango smoothies, basketball games, shifts at Abuela’s restaurant, and his cute new neighbor Carmen. He is so busy spending his summer with his crush that he doesn’t notice how his neighborhood is starting to change and the creepy land developer behind it all. Arturo and Carmen must come up with a scheme that will halt the developer in his tracks, and in the process they will learn about themselves and the power of protest.
Malu (that is short for Maria Luisa O’Neill-Morales) is a punk-rock lover. From the zines she makes to her favorite Chuck Taylors, Malu strives to stay true to herself. But living the punk-rock way of life, like her father, is already proving to be a problem at her new school in Chicago. Her first day there, Malu gets called a “coconut” (that is, brown on the outside and white on the inside) by the popular Selena and ends up making her an enemy. But Malu is not easily swayed. With the help of some new “misfit” friends at school, Malu puts together a band to play a punk-rock song for a school event. Through her illustrated adventures, Malu will learn to balance both being Mexican and punk rock.
Max Cordoba has many questions about the future: Will he make it on the futbol team? Will he ever meet his missing mother? What happened to her? What was she like? If only the stories Buelo told him about were true – then he would be able to find the mysterious gatekeeper who guides people to tomorrow and find out what his future might hold. But when Max discovers that some of the legends just might be true, he sets out to see if he can find the future for himself.
Proud of his Latin American heritage, Charlie Hernandez is an expert on all the classic myths, thanks to his grandmother and her stories of monsters and other scary things that wait in the dark. As fun as these stories are, he’s never believed in them – that is, until one day his body starts changing into something that is very close to one of his favorite legends. Charlie is suddenly thrust into a battle to protect the Land of the Living from a group of evil spirits that want to rule mankind. He must figure out what is happening to himself if he is going to save the world from ending.
Lety Munoz loves volunteering at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter. The animals are adorable and they don’t judge her when she takes her time finding the right words in English from her first language, Spanish. When the shelter assigns Lety and classmate Hunter to write profiles for the pets, Lety is excited to help out. Hunter, on the other hand, does not want to work as a team. Hunter makes a deal with Lety that whoever writes the most profiles for the pets that get adopted will get to be the main writer and the loser will pick a different job to do in the shelter. Will Lety get the chance to prove herself and how awesome a writer she can be?
This graphic novel tells the story of three friends, Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria, and their love of lowrider cars. By chance they come upon a contest promising a trunkful of cash to the person who enters with the best lowrider car. The team agrees that winning this prize will allow them to open up the garage of their dreams. Readers can come along on this crazy adventure to create the best car in the universe.
High School Reads
This Pura Belpré award winner tells the story of Xiomara Battista, a feisty girl with so much to say. Xiomara pours her words and feelings into poetry in a leather-bound journal — and she knows her poems must stay there. If her strict, religious mother ever found out about them, life as she knows it – her relationship with the boy in her class named Aman, her involvement at a slam poetry club at school, and her avoidance of religious Confirmation classes – would come to an end. But with words as powerful as Xiomara’s, it is only a matter of time before her truth is set free.
Dante and Ari could not be more different. Yet somehow when they meet at the local swimming pool, they become instant friends. Both boys have challenges to overcome – Ari is angry over the loss of his father and brother, and Dante is struggling to find a way to tell his family about his sexuality. Yet in each other, the boys find ways to accept themselves and become the people they want to be.
This supernatural fantasy tale inspired by Latin American culture follows Alexandra Mortiz, a bruja (or witch) who wants nothing to do with her magical powers. While her family plans her Deathday celebration, which will unleash her powers completely, Alex casts a canto that will instead strip herself of magic and unintentionally sends her entire family to the underworld. Alex, her friend Rishi, and brujo boy Nova must travel to the center of Los Lagos to free them all before it is too late.
Francisco has a simple life in Bolivia – school, friends, family, and soccer make up his life. Then suddenly Francisco’s father is unjustly arrested on false charges, and the entire family must move into the prison with their father. The prison’s conditions are terrible, and Francisco is faced with a terrible decision: stay with his father in dangerous conditions or make the trek with his sister to their grandparents in the countryside.
In 1958, Manny Maldonado spends his days being the mischievous misfit of his San Gabriel valley neighborhood. Manny, aka Man-On-Fire, and his friends are obsessed with the Iron River, a train that passes by his home. From listening to it chug through his neighborhood to catching a ride on its caboose to throwing old fruit at its cars, the Iron River is a central part of their everyday lives. However, the boys’ innocent misdeeds come at a cost when a homeless person is found murdered nearby and a local cop believes they are guilty of the crime.
Julia is nothing close to being a perfect Mexican daughter. That title always belonged to Olga, Julia’s older sister. Now that Olga is dead, her absence has left a gaping hole in Julia’s and her family’s life. But how perfect was Olga, really? When she discovers some information about Olga that alters her perspective about her “perfect” older sister, Julia, with the help of her friends, becomes dedicated to finding out the truth at any cost.
* Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic.
Disclaimer: Resources and listings in this blog post do not indicate approval or endorsement by SERC or the Connecticut State Department of Education. The listings are provided solely as a resource of general information.