This year’s top selections for children and teens about and by Latinos are as diverse and multidimensional as the culture they represent. From Pura Belpré Award-winners to debut authors hailing from Argentina, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, these stellar offerings speak not just to kids of Hispanic descent, but to all readers. As it proved difficult to choose a top pick, this committee has elected to put these works on equal footing, be they bilingual, Spanish-language, or in English.
The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu. Running Pr. Gr 9 Up.
Andreu’s debut novel, based on her own experiences, poignantly captures a different facet of what it means to be an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. With blond hair and a pale complexion, Argentinean-born high school senior M.T. does not fit the stereotypes of her legal status. She lives in constant fear of being discovered, of her father’s hopelessness turned to domestic violence, and of a bleak future void of a university experience. M.T. finds her way between two cultures, languages, and sets of expectations.
Caminar by Skila Brown. Candlewick. Gr 6 Up.
This debut novel in free verse chronicles the experience of a young highland Guatemalan indigenous boy in the midst of the country’s civil war, a little-known topic in the United States. Carlos’s village is caught in a conflict between the army and guerilla soldiers, and throughout the text he is faced with decisions, large and small, around the concept of what it means to become a man. The visual layout of the poems serves to deepen the meaning and emotional impact of this powerful work.
Draw! by Raúl Colón. illus. by author. S. & S. PreS-Gr 3.
A lovely wordless picture book based on Colón’s childhood, in which readers are transported to a tale about creativity and imagination. Through illustrations filled with textures, depth, and a palette of pastel colors, kids meet a boy alone in his room who uses his books, pencils, and sketchbook to travel beyond his bedroom’s walls. A successful and wonderful achievement.
Little Roja Riding Hood by Susan Middleton Elya. illus. by Susan Guevara. Putnam. PreS-Gr 2.
The Big Bad Lobo is no match for Little Roja Riding Hood and her Abuelita in this contemporary retelling of a popular fairy tale. Elya’s rhythmic, rhyming text is interspersed with authentic Spanglish phrasings, which, paired with Guevara’s watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations, give a uniquely Latino flavor to this classic tale. Bound to be a hit with kids and adults alike, this is an excellent addition to any bilingual storytime.
Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera. illus. by Raúl Colón. Dial. Gr 4-8.
A thorough and much-needed collection of short biographies on 20 Latino men and women who have shaped United States history. It memorializes well-known (Sonia Sotomayor) and more obscure figures (Ignacio E. Lozano). California Poet Laureate Herrera infuses the lyrical narratives with engaging text. Colón’s resplendent portraits for each individual perfectly complement the entries. Complete with further reading and source notes, this is a visually and textually luminous work.
Dalia’s Wondrous Hair/El cabello maravilloso de Dalia by Laura Lacámara. illus. by author. Piñata. K-Gr 2.
In this bilingual picture book, Lacámara delivers a whimsical Caribbean tale of a young Cuban girl named Dalia and her luxuriant hair. The colorful and vibrant illustrations adeptly express the protagonist’s joyful spirit, her loving relationship with her mother, and the growing sense of community of the all-female cast of characters.
Viva Frida! by Yuyi Morales. illus. by author. photos by Tim O’Meara. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Gr 1 Up.
Utilizing stop-motion photography, puppets, and acrylic paintings, this warm, bilingual picture book explores Frida Kahlo’s life, spirit, and work. The simple and short poetic text wonderfully complements each frame and image, masterfully portraying the iconic artist’s feelings. A love letter to Frida, in which the author’s admiration for and efforts in creating this book speak for themselves.
Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Cinco Puntos. Gr 9 Up.
Gabi Hernandez grapples with tough coming-of-age issues during senior year, including her father’s meth addiction, falling in love, and whether she’ll ever be “Mexican enough” to please her mother. In poetic and humorous diary entries peppered with Spanglish, Quintero gives voice to a complex, not always likable but totally believable teen who struggles to figure out her own place in the world. With a refreshing take on slut- and fat-shaming, Gabi’s tale will resonate with all young adults, and especially with Latinas trying to find their own voices.
Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life by Catherine Reef. Houghton Harcourt. Gr 7 Up.
Reef’s well-researched yet accessible title provides an eye-opening look into the political philosophies and historical context that influenced Frida Kahlo’s and Diego Rivera’s art. The author’s selection of primary sources brings to life the story of the talented couple with renewed freshness, which, paired with excellent bibliographic content, provides readers with a thorough nonfiction resource that gives insight into these two artistic heavyweights.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams. Gr 2–5.
An important story that ranks with Brown vs. Board of Education. When the Mendezes moved to Westminster, CA, in 1944, third-grader Sylvia tried to enter Westminster School, but was turned away because she was Mexican American. Tonatiuh’s codex-style art is truly one-of-a-kind, and his text is lyrical yet child-friendly. A historically, socially, and culturally relevant title that showcases how one family’s fight with desegregation paved the way for current struggles for human rights.