I was born wealthy, rich in family, books, and languages. I had the good fortune to grow up in a loving bilingual home in El Paso, Texas. My grandparents spoke only Spanish, but my mom and dad were bilingual, so I always spoke both English and Spanish. How I wish I were trilingual!
I not only love words and languages, I love diversity. The Hispanic or Latino national community is highly diverse: some are new arrivals; some are families that have lived on the U.S. landscape for generations. Some have ancestors from countries such as Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Peru. Some are dark, some fair, and some are Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Some speak only Spanish, some only English, some are multilingual.
I was a children’s book author before I noticed that none of the books I read or
loved featured any characters who looked like me or my family, who spoke Spanish and enjoyed saying both candy and “dulces.” Luckily, many Latino authors are now writing wonderful books for us all. In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, here are 10 of my favorites:
1. The Dreamer
By Pam Muñoz Ryan
The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was born Neftali Reyes. This wonderful book is an artful collaboration between the author and inventive illustrations by Peter Sis. We hear and see what the young poet did in his Chilean homeland. We feel his father’s cruelty and the power of Neftali’s fertile imagination.
2. Firefly Letters
By Margarita Engle
Through short, subtle poetic sections, Engle shares the friendships between very different young women in the 1800s, one Swedish, two Cuban. In the lush Cuban landscape, and through historical fiction, we explore women’s rights, slavery, the impact of varying economic circumstances on personal realities. We also learn about Sweden’s first woman novelist Fredrika Bremer.
3. I Love Saturdays y domingos
By Alma Flor Ada
This book cleverly reminds us that people from all over the world, despite the languages they speak, can be quite similar. A little girl spends Saturdays with her European American grandparents and Sundays (“los domingos”) with her Abuelito y Abuelita—her Mexican American grandparents. We experience both cultures and enjoy the comfort of family. A good weekend!
4. Just in Case
By Yuyi Morales
Morales effortlessly combines familiar subjects like the alphabet and gift-giving with concepts such as the Day of the Dead and Spanish vocabulary to help kids learn about culture and language in this fun-loving and beautifully illustrated book. Join Señor Calvera, the skeleton from Day of the Dead celebrations, on his journey to find the perfect gift for Grandma Beetle as he sifts through the alphabet for ideas.
5. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/
Jitomates y Otros Poemas de Primavera
By Francisco X. Alarcón
Playing with themes of nature and family, this collection of poems is a delightful, bilingual tribute to culture and poetry. We savor words, rhythms, and the energy and generosity of a singing poet and of inventive illustrator Maya Christina Gonzalez.
6. Neighborhood Odes
By Gary Soto
I cherish my copy of Soto’s ODES. We see and hear a a busy Chicano neighborhood from the perspective of one of its young members. We’re skim down rivers of playful languages, English and Spanish. Linguistic exuberance, page by page.
7. Return to Sender
By Julia Alvarez
How do young people make sense of ethnic and economic differences when they become personal? When Tyler’s family is forced to hire Mexican workers for their farm, he meets, Mari. Riddled with questions and torn by legalities, can Tyler and Mari ever have a real friendship?
8. The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos
By Lucia Gonzalez
The transition from sunny Puerto Rico life to cold New York City living is difficult for cousins Hildamar and Santiago. Thanks to a dedicated librarian, they discover the wonder of libraries. This book is a loving tribute to Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at New York Public Library. A major children’s book award now honors her legacy.
9. Waiting for Biblioburro
By Monica Brown
Ana likes stories. How delighted she is when in her small village she sees an amazing sight: a traveling library! Monica Brown and illustrator John Parra were inspired by the work of Colombian librarian Luis Soriano and his Biblioburro, or “donkey library.” His vision inspires us all.
10. What Can You Do with a Rebozo
By Carmen Tafolla
A little imagination can go a long way! As part of her “What Can You Do with a …” series, Tafolla shares the wonderful experiences of a young girl and her family as they discover the many uses for a “rebozo,” or traditional Mexican shawl, in their daily life full of culture and color.
More information about Pat can be found on her website, http://www.patmora.com/.
Pat Mora is a popular speaker and the author of more than forty books for children, teens, and adults. A former teacher and university administrator, Pat is a literacy advocate excited about sharing “bookjoy.” She founded the family literacy initiative, El día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day (“Día”). Pat’s new book will be published in English and Spanish editions, "The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe"; "La Hermosa Señora: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe."