More Essential Latino Children’s Books for Hispanic Heritage Month
It’s Hispanic Heritage Month – those weeks between September 15 and October 15 designated for the celebration of Latino culture. Because of the celebrations, events, articles, films, and yes, even the pandering marketing directed at Latinos in the U.S., the month presents us with a unique opportunity. Rarely is our culture so thrust into the spotlight as in Hispanic Heritage Month and rarely do we have the chance to leverage all the attention and focus into a discussion about the food, art and beauty of Hispanidad, but also the challenges Latinx people have faced in the U.S.
Rarely, too, do people of color get to see ourselves represented in the very art, film and media directed at us this month – this is especially the case with children’s literature. Books that tell our stories, showcase diverse characters and are penned by Latino authors are treasures, and these are a few gems. By reading and discussing them, kids see themselves reflected as storybook heroes, see their culture reinforced, and are gently introduced to more difficult topics (social justice, racism, workers’ rights, for instance) in a way they can understand.
I’ve written about books to read during this month before, but here are five more books that can shine a light on the positives and unfold the negatives of the American Latino experience in an age appropriate way.
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By Jose Lozano
Cinco Puntos Press
You can hear Lilly coming before she even walks into the room thanks to her favorite chanclas. She loves the way they look, feel and the slap, slap sound they make. When her well-worn chanclas meet their end, she’s devastated and less than eager to wear anything else. Kids will empathize with Lilly’s independence and sadness over the loss of her favorite kicks. Parents will recognize the frustration mama feels when Lilly digs in her heels and resists replacing her beloved chanclas with any other footwear. It’s a good reminder to pick your battles and allow kids to explore their likes and dislikes, especially when it comes clothes.
What Can You Do With A Paleta?
By Carmen Tafolla
Poet Carmen Tafolla penned this beautiful, almost musical ode to her neighborhood and the colorful paletas that brighten everyone’s day. In this picture book, two siblings taste every flavor and find joy in sharing the icy treats with the people they encounter every day. The sing, song quality of the text and dreamy illustrations make this book a fun read for younger children and a keepsake for adults who can reminisce about the magic of their own childhoods through the story.
Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin
By Duncan Tonatiuh
Remember letters? Not texts, snaps or posts, but handwritten letters sent via mail? In this original book, two cousins use this ancient communication method to talk about their very different lives on different sides of the border. Charlie lives in an urban city in the U.S., and Carlitos in rural Mexico. Over the course of several letters, they describe their surroundings, what they do and the people who share their world. No matter how different the two may be, they are eager to receive their letters and write back. In this way, the book reinforces the bond between family members regardless of distance or borders.
Family Pictures / Cuadros de Familia
By Carmen Lomas Garza
Children’s Book Press
This isn’t necessarily exclusively a children’s book – it’s a family book. A collection of artist Carmen Lomas Garza’s incredible paintings, together they tell the story of Mexican American life as she lived it. In the time before smart phones and Internet, families converged on porches to enjoy watermelon, women buzzed around kitchens and communities came together for quinceañeras. It shows our children what many older traditions looked like and serves to help adult readers remember scenes from our own lives that looked much like Lomas Garza’s beautiful works.
It’s Not Fair, No es justo: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia
By Carmen Tafolla and Sharyl Tenayuca
Texas social justice heroine Emma Tenayuca’s struggle for better quality of life for Mexican Americans is told in this bilingual book. When factory workers who were being paid slave wages and stripped of their rights, Tenayuca – a young, Mexican American woman — mobilized them by the thousands of them. And this was in the 1920s. Her work and legacy have made her a civil rights and worker’s rights icon. Tenayuca’s is a story not often told, so parents and children will appreciate discovering this heroine and getting real-life reassurance that one person can make a difference.