One of the great riches of our country is its people. For five centuries people of different cultures have come to the United States, bringing with them experiences and traditions that enrich our communities.
One way to share those experiences is through stories. Before there were books, history and customs were shared through storytelling. You may have even heard a story or two from a favorite relative. Within these stories you can find the history, traditions, customs, and beliefs of a society or group of people. Thankfully, authors and illustrators have collected generations of these histories, folktales, myths, and legend in children's books.
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, I pulled together some of my favorite picture book tales. Some are oral histories; some offer original interpretations of well-known stories; and still others show the universal tradition of myths and legends.
by Terri Fields / Illustrated by Sherry Rogers
Now that the corn was tall enough to make tortillas, a burro called his friends coyote, bobcat, and jackrabbit to help him. This picture book builds Spanish words into a story, which offers a twist on the Little Red Hen.
As told to Shelley Dale / Illustrated by Shelly Dale
A young boy asks his grandfather to tell him the story of Juan Quezada, a famous potter. Quezada comes across some clay pots. Curious, he wants to learn how they were made and he begins to experiment. Eventually he figures out how to replicate the process. The entire village helps make the pots. Quezada becomes a famous artist, and his pots are displayed in museums. This bilingual picture book biography introduces kids to primary sources, as Juan Quezada tells his life story.
Nacho and Lolita
By Pam Muñoz Ryan / Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Nacho, a rare pitacoche bird, lives in a mesquite tree at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. He is a lovely but lonely bird; so when the swallows arrive in spring, he enjoys a wonderful life. In the fall, his friends must fly south, and he is lonely again, uncertain that they will return. He wants to do whatever he can to assure they come back to the Mission. This is a picture book built around a Mexican legend.
Paco and the Giant Chile Plant / Paco y Planta de Chile Gigante
By Keith Polette / Illustrated by Elizabeth O. Dulemba
When Paco's mother runs out of money, she sends him to the market to sell la vaca (the cow). On the way, Paco meets a man who trades him a bag of magic chile seeds for the cow. Paco plants the semillas de chile and waits. When the plant erupts from the ground, Paco immediately grabs some chiles and climbs to the top ... only to be discovered by el gigante terrible. This is much more than a Spanish-added version of the classic story.
The Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story
by Joanne Oppenheim / Illustrated by Fabian Negrin
It is Christmas Eve (la Noche Buena). Everyone is happy ... even Papa, who just lost his job. Juanita is sad. True, there are no extra pesos for toys or candy, but more importantly, she doesn't have a gift to bring to church for the Baby Jesus. When everyone went in for services, Juanita stayed outside. A stone angel in the garden helps her find the perfect gift. She is skeptical of carrying weeds into church, but she does as the angel suggests. Will people laugh at her? This is a picture book story with a folk legend about how the Poinsettia became part of Christmas.
There are a number of wonderful online resources for exploring Hispanic culture through books. One of my favorites is Colorín Colorado, a PBS-affiliated website that provides resources, ideas, and activities that bridge the Spanish-speaking and English communities with bilingual resources. I regularly use their Books and Authors page and the underlying booklists to help me discover new books to share with my daughter.
Picture books give us an opportunity to visit places and learn new things without the inconveniences of luggage fees or jet lag. Through these stories we can immerse ourselves in the rich traditions of our personal, family, or community's heritage. Where have your picture book travels taken you? Leave a comment to share your journey with us!