May 23, 2017

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In the Know: Nonfiction Titles in Spanish | Libro por libro

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This month’s Libro por libro column takes a look at Spanish-language nonfiction titles. There are loads of bilingual materials out there that fill a niche, primarily for reports. There is also a plethora of very slim, simple, and sometimes oversimplified bilingual books covering basic topics and concepts targeting very young readers. But rarely do books in this format cover topics in much depth, and the themes they cover are fairly universal, rather than culturally specific. So where is the really meaty nonfiction in Spanish? What about nonfiction that speaks directly to the interests of Spanish-speaking readers? It exists. Some of it can be found in the output of publishers from Spain as well as from smaller, independent U.S. publishers. Below are some beautiful informational titles that will help you build a quality collection.

First, some unique nonfiction that gets it right for younger readers:

GANGES, Montse. El perro. illus. by Anna Clariana. (Zoo ¿Quién soy? Series). ISBN 978-84-9825-622-2.
. El caballo. illus. by Mercè Canals. (Zoo ¿Cómo soy? Series). ISBN 978-84-9825-622-2.
. El delfín. illus. by Jordi Sales. (Zoo ¿Dónde vivo? Series). ISBN 978-84 9825-627-7.
ea vol: Combel Editorial. 2012. Tr $7.95.
PreS-K–These series titles are examples of what nonfiction for the very young should be. Rather than oversimplified texts that are essentially high-interest low-reading level books, they present factual information in a way that is appropriate for a preschool and kindergarten audiences. ¿Quién soy?, or “Who am I?” is the youngest series. In El perro, a dog speaks directly to readers and asks questions such as, “Am I a dwarf or a giant?” The illustration on the right shows a child with a small dog. A drawing of a dwarf on the child’s wall gives readers a clue to the answer. This unique approach teaches children about size relationships, in addition to pets. Another design feature is that each line of text is repeated twice on the page, once in all caps, and once in a cursive font, also allowing them to function as an adjunct to handwriting instruction. ¿Cómo soy?, which roughly translates as “How am I?,” is a clever combination of illustrations and actual photographs giving a level of factual information perfectly suited to the intended audience. In El caballo, a horse introduces himself and then asks, “What kind of tail do I have?” The answer on the next spread shows a photograph of horses’ tails. An illustration for the question, “What do horses eat?” shows horses at a table with bibs eating off of plates. This giggle-inducing image sets up readers up for the more factually correct photo of what horses really eat. The book ends with a spread of photographs of different breeds of horses. The series aimed at the highest reading level is ¿Dónde vivo?, or Where Do I Live? El delfín would actually make a terrific read-aloud. The book answers just one simple question: “Where does a dolphin live?” Several possibilities are given, which are clearly incorrect. For example, for the question “Does a dolphin live in a glass of water?” the illustration shows the creature obviously not fitting into a glass. The text gives children the chance to yell the answer: “Noooooo!” After determining that a dolphin cannot live in a bathtub, a water fountain, a swimming pool, or in the clouds, the correct answer is given: a dolphin lives in the ocean. The final spread provides photos of dolphins in the ocean along with some factual information.

Activity Idea: Some of these books work very well as read-alouds and would be appropriate for themed storytimes. They invite audience participation and could be paired with other fiction or nonfiction titles about these animals.

Other books in the ¿Quién soy? series:
El gato (Cat), El pajaro (Bird), El pez (Fish).
Other books in the ¿Cómo soy? series:
La vaca (Cow), La gallina (Hen), La oveja (Sheep).
Other books in the ¿Dónde vivo? series:
El pingüíno (Penguin), El tigre (Tiger), El cocodrilo (Crocodile).

Here are some terrific informational books in Spanish, which are comparable to DK’s “Eyewitness” series. The design of these titles is a bit different, but like the DK books, they have strong visual interest and are great for filling a real need for general nonfiction books in Spanish.

EDWARDS, Hermione & Holly Russell. Descubre y juega: ¿De dónde vienen las cosas? Macmillan. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-84-9825-582-9.
K-Gr 6
–This book uses pop-up-style paper engineering to show children where things come from. For example, a spread about plants and food has a lift-the-flap with a lemon, pineapple, and potato. You lift the flap and see a photo of how they grow. There is a nice page that shows the process of extracting chocolate from cocoa beans. There is a delightful foldout that shows a block of cheese, asking the question, “Do you know of other ways to eat cheese?” The first flaps show a sandwich, and macaroni and cheese. When you fold it out to full size there is a pizza. This is an excellent presentation of a simple idea in a visual and interactive way that will appeal to kids.

Ganges, Montse. Historias increíbles. Bk. 1. ISBN 978-84-9825-578-2.
Historias increíbles. Bk. 2. ISBN 978-84-9825-579-9.ea. vol: illus. by Imma Pla. Combel Editorial. 2012. Tr $16.95.
Gr 6 Up
–These two volumes are compilations of true adventure stories. Book One includes the explorers Marco Polo, Ernest Shackleton, Amelia Earhart, Thor Heyerdahl, along with two alpine climbers, Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal. The second volume covers the historical gamut, beginning with Pheidippides, the messenger whose run inspired the modern marathon, and highlights the stories of swimming great, Gertrude Ederle; Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay, the conquerors of Mount Everest; Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins; and Dian Fossey, noted for her work with gorillas. These books work not only as collective biographies but also as general reading for kids who want to learn about intrepid explorers, athletes, and adventurers. The large-format books present the information in different ways, using photographs and sidebars, and graphically appealing maps that are easy to follow, and provide visual learners with a good sense of the geography.

ELIE, Mathilde. En el tiempo de los dinosaurios. ISBN 978-84-9825-645-1.

LOIZEAU, Catherine. Los conquistadores de los mares. ISBN 978-84-9825-644-4. ea. vol: Combel Editorial. 2012. Tr $19.95.
Gr 6 Up
–The text of these two titles is written in short, readable paragraphs, and the spreads are full of visual interest along with information. There is a mixture of photos and illustrations that makes these volumes extremely browsable. Elie’s book will delight any dinosaur-loving, Spanish-speaking child. It provides not only information about the wide variety of dinosaurs themselves, but also about fossils, archaeological digs, and even movies like Jurassic Park. Loizeau presents a history of ocean exploration beginning with the Phoenicians, and then continuing on with the Greeks, Vikings, Columbus, and on through to the sinking of the Titanic. Some of the stories, such as those of the pirates of the Caribbean and Captain Cook are provided in graphic-novel format. A quiz is included at the end of both books.

Here are two books that can serve as resources for librarians who are working to bring the makerspace movement to their Spanish-speaking population. These are superb books to support craft programs, and hands-on activities. Manufacturas brings along with it the added value of recycling and reusing materials. Maya provides a wealth of historical background about the Mayan people.

BELL-REHWOLDT, Sheri. Maya: inventos increíbles que puedes construir tú mismo. illus. by Tom Casteel. Nomad Pr. 2012. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-84-9825-582-9.

TUBAU, Victoria. Manufacturas: 30 ideas sencillas para fabricar objetos con residuos. Combel Editorial. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-84-9825-530-0.
Gr 3-6
Maya provides a number of interesting activities. There are directions to make a funeral mask and musical instruments. It provides instructions as how to weave fabric, make paper and construct children’s toys. There are even recipes for Mexican hot chocolate and tortillas. With each of these projects there are sidebars that explain the cultural context. The number of library programs and activities that could be derived from the information in this book is endless. It’s a must-have for professional collections as well as for circulation. Manufacturas is the book for makerspaces in Spanish! The focus here is on using leftover materials and recyclables to create things, from hats to masks to purses to dresses. The supplies that can be used to create these items are very simple and easy to find. We’re talking cardboard boxes, shoe boxes, plastic grocery bags, plastic bottles, and paper plates. The illustrations are created with a mixture of drawings and photos. The instructions are great for visual learners and are easy to follow. The projects in this book are likely to inspire creativity well beyond the actual items depicted. Another real plus is that this title is particularly well designed and manufactured, with a strong cloth binding.

One important area that for nonfiction collection-building is biographies of Latino role models. It is important for kids to read about people like themselves, and for them to develop a sense of pride and possibility. This is one area of Spanish-language nonfiction where you can find culturally specific works, even from U.S. Publishers. Here are some examples.

VALAY, Ana Patricia. Giovanni Dos Santos . ISBN 978-1-4222-2597-4.

VÁZQUEZ-LOZANO, Gustavo A. & Federico Vargas Benard. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. ISBN 978-1-4222-2660-5.

WANDERSMAN, Aldo. Ronaldinho gaúcho. ISBN 978-1-4222-2604-9. ea vol: (Superstars of Soccer Series). Mason Crest. 2013. PLB $19.95.
Gr 4-8
–These three books are available in both English and Spanish. Here is an example of series titles that do belong in public as well as school library collections and can serve a dual function: providing interesting material for reluctant bilingual readers, as well as something that will be of cultural interest. The celebrated athletes featured in these books are of different nationalities including Brazil and Mexico. While the text is easy to read, it is not oversimplified, and there is significant information about each player packed into the 32 page format. Each volume includes great pictures, suggestions for further reading (and collection building) along with websites to direct young readers for more information. I especially appreciated that the volumes about Javier Hernández and Ronaldinho are written by native Mexican and Brazilian authors who are closer to the game and the cultural significance that these players have for the fans.

HERNÁNDEZ, Daniel. con Susan Goldman Rubin. Me llaman héroe: recuerdos de mi juventud. S & S. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-6619-7.
Gr 7 Up
–Daniel Hernández was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s intern and was at her side on January 8, 2011, when a shooter would change the lives of everyone who had gathered at the Safeway that day to meet her. Hernández is credited with saving Giffords’s life and has been called a hero for what he did that day. In this autobiography, Hernández tells his story about growing up as an LGBT Latino teen, and what led him to that fateful day in Tucson. Hernández’s book is all about how to overcome obstacles to achieve something in life and this Spanish translation is an absolute must for collections serving Spanish-speaking teens.

SALINAS, Eva. Lo inventaron los latinoamericanos: innovaciones asombrosas. Annick Press. 2012. Tr $21.95 ISBN 978-1-55451-379-6.
Gr 4-7
–While not precisely a biography, this slim volume commemorates achievements of Latinos over history, such as the distinctive clothing that becomes symbolic of national pride in Latin American countries. It describes the constructions of ancient civilizations as well, such as the city of Machu Picchu and the Mayan pyramids. The much-discussed Mayan calendar also makes an appearance. There is a good sampling of many forms of beautiful folk art. Cultural celebrations, music, and dance are also celebrated. And, of course, there are spreads devoted to chocolate and chili peppers. All of this is presented with a pleasant design, and excellent photographs.

Tim WadhamTim Wadham is the director of the City of Puyallup Public Library in Washington State. Email him at

Tim Wadham About Tim Wadham

Tim Wadham ( is a library administrator and the author of Wordplay for Kids (ALA Editions, 2015).

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