This year’s top selections for children and teens by and about Latin@s touch on universal themes of family, memory, and cultural identity. The list showcases well-known children’s book creators doing some of their best work, as well as debut authors. The selections encompass picture books that are perfect to be read aloud, stories about Latin@ cultural figures, along with fiction and nonfiction for middle school and young adult readers. Whether bilingual or in English, these books convey the rich heritage of what it is to be Latin@.
Lola Levine Is Not Mean! by Monica Brown. illus. by Angela Dominguez. Little, Brown. Gr 1-3.
Lola is not hesitant to be different from her peers and to share her opinions on gender roles, kindness, soccer, little brothers, and bullying—the latter of which she experiences fairly frequently. In this chapter book, the biracial second grader often expresses her thoughts in diary entries or by creating “convincing” notes to family members. A realistic, humorous look at important issues for young children.
Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Maya by Monica Brown. illus. by David Diaz. Lee & Low/Children’s Pr. K-Gr 4.
A tender bilingual picture book inspired by a traditional Yiddish folk song that shows the importance of family traditions and the preservation of memories. Maya loves the blanket stitched by her abuela, which gets transformed into a variety of things, from a dress to a bookmark. The mixed-media illustrations give this endearing tale an added beauty that charms.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. illus. by Christian Robinson. Putnam. PreS-Gr 1.
A picture book that demonstrates how to be content. When CJ and his grandmother take the crosstown bus after church, CJ points out things he doesn’t have. She shows him how to see the beauty in what he does have. The predictable rhythms of the nearly perfect text make the story feel like an urban folktale. Robinson’s illustrations highlight the beauty that Nana shows CJ in everyday things.
Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. illus. by Rafael López. HMH. PreS-Gr 3.
Engle’s exquisite use of alliteration and rhythm capture the struggle of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, Cuba’s first female percussionist, in challenging the notion that congas and timbales and drumming were only for boys. Illustrated with López’s lush artwork, this picture book biography is in perfect harmony, setting the tone for this can-do story of persistence and attained dreams.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle. illus. by Edel Rodriguez. S. & S./Atheneum. Gr 6-10.
In this personal and deep reflection on her childhood, the author showcases historical and emotional vignettes of a life between two countries. Young readers will get a solid coming-of-age tale of growing up bicultural and the joys and pains found through that journey. A memoir-in-verse that gently intertwines a love letter to Cuba and life, family, and memories attached to the island.
Roller Girl. by Victoria Jamieson. illus. by author. Dial. Gr 4-8.
Astrid Vasquez’s passion for roller skating is ignited after she attends one of her mother’s infamous “cultural enlightenment” outings. This humorous and touching graphic novel’s brightly colored illustrations present a perfect balance of text and images to convey Astrid’s growth as she pushes herself physically and emotionally, while simultaneously navigating relationships, self-discovery, and healthy, loving communication with her mother.
Little Chanclas by José Lozano. illus. by author. Cinco Puntos. K-Gr 2.
This inventive narrative follows Lily Lujan, aka Little Chanclas, as her mother and sister do their best to try to get her to change out of her favorite chanclas (flip-flops) into more sensible shoes. But she will not budge, until inevitably her favorite flip-flops fall apart. Lozano’s artwork is alive with the vibrant colors of an East Los Angeles street mural. Spanglish/Chicano words are interwoven with family scenes of love and support that affirm the title character’s cultural identity.
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Scholastic. Gr 5-9.
In this epic novel that spans years and continents, Muñoz Ryan masterfully connects the power of music with the power of love and family. Three children—one in Germany, another in Pennsylvania, and one in California—are united by a harmonica that passes from one to the other. Readers will especially appreciate the story of Ivy Lopez and her struggle to get an equal education.
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Gr 7 Up.
This lyrical urban fantasy tackles themes of power, race, justice, and art, embedded in the cultural and historical landscape of Brooklyn, NY. When Sierra’s summer of painting and fun with friends is disrupted, she must unravel the mystery behind the ancestral spirits surrounding the murals in her neighborhood and figure out the connection to her family. Older is a debut YA author with an engaging and unique voice.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams. Gr 2-5.
A nonfiction work that deftly gives life to the contributions of artist José Guadalupe Posada, who created the iconography that is central to the celebration of El día de los muertos. Tonatiuh interweaves his signature codex-style drawings and digital collage with Posada’s own calavera prints. With a text and design that is appealing to young and older readers, this title offers many avenues for exploration of Mexican culture.