April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Building Collections and Connections: A Taste of Latino Culture | Libro por libro

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Collage of Spanish Book covers

Welcome to Libro por libro/Book by Book. I’m thrilled to be writing this new column, which marks the beginning of a new approach to SLJ’s coverage of Spanish-language and bilingual books for young readers. Rather than simply offering random reviews, the focus of this column will be building core collections and using those books to create connections with readers. With each column I’ll be introducing a topic(s) or theme(s) and I’ll include both new and backlist titles, and discuss how they can be effectively used in schools and public libraries. The books reviewed in this column are all recommended for school or public library collections that serve bilingual and Spanish-speaking readers. And they are not recommended simply because they are good books. These books also provide young Spanish-speaking readers with something more intangible, yet vitally important: a sense of their cultural heritage. In these books, they will see themselves, they will hear the music of the Spanish language, and they will explore the many varieties of the Latino cultural experience.

I welcome your feedback. If you have any requests for topics or themes that would be helpful to you in your library, please let me know. This column will only be worthwhile if it is practical. Please contact me at wadhambooks@gmail.com.

This month I am focusing on three important cultural topics: Food, Folktales, and Family.


In this Article

Pat Mora once said that “language is culture.” If the Spanish language is the primary ingredient of Latino culture, its cuisine has to be the second. Here are a couple of new tales, and one from the backlist, that focus on foods from Latino culture:

ARGUETA, Jorge. Guacamole: Un poema para cocinar/Guacamole: A Cooking Poem. tr. by Elisa Amado. illus. by Margarita Sada. (Cooking Poems Series) Groundwood/Tigrillo. 2012. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-1-55498-133-5.
PreS-Gr 3–In this third book in the series from Argueta, a young girl makes guacamole in a joyful, fanciful, imaginative narrative. A liberal dash of similes makes the poetry sing. However, the most unique thing about this book is the way that Sada’s illustrations change perspective as the story progresses, showing the children smaller than the avocado itself. The magical realism of the children playing in and on the avocado make this book all about finding magic and wonder in the everyday. Kids reading the book can easily follow along and make guacamole themselves with the recipe that is provided at the end. Argueta’s previous two cooking poem books, Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding (2010) and Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup (2009, both Groundwood) should also be part of your collection.

DE ANDA, Diane. A Day Without Sugar/Un día sin azucar. illus. by Janet Montecalvo. Piñata. 2012. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-1-5588-5702-5.
Gr 1-4–Given that diabetes is a significant problem in the Latino community, this book is recommended even though it exists almost entirely to teach a lesson. And that lesson is that excess sugar is not healthy. Tito, who is 10, realizes that he is at risk, as he has older relatives who have diabetes. So while staying with his cousins at his aunt’s house, Tito tries to go an entire day without sugar. He and his cousins make it a game, finding the hidden sugar in products they didn’t realize contained it. They discover that they can make substitutions and have delicious food even if sugar is not added.

MAZE, Stephanie, ed. Healthy Foods from A to Z/Comida sana de la A a la Z. illus. by Renée Comet. Moonstone. Sept. 2012. RTE $15.95. ISBN 978-0-9834-9831-5.
PreS-Gr 4–This delightful book is illustrated with photographs of healthy food, and on each page the photographer uses the foods to create a healthy food face. The names of the foods are provided in Spanish with English translations below in parentheses. This title is particularly helpful in that it includes suggestions for making your own healthy food faces, along with other projects. There is also supplemental information for parents about the nutritutional benefits of the foods depicted.

KETTEMAN, Helen. Señorita Gordita. illus. by Will Terry. Albert Whitman. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-7302-0.
PreS-Gr 2–In a book that combines food and folktales, the Little Gingerbread Boy is transported to the American Southwest. He also receives a gender and cuisine switch to become a thick, fried, corn masa tortilla known as Señorita Gordita, who escapes numerous desert predators until she is tricked by an owl sitting atop a saguaro cactus. Terry’s illustrations emphasize the menacing nature of critters such as Araña, the spider, along with a snake and a scorpion.

RUIZ-FLORES, Lupe. Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia. tr. by Gabriela Baeza Ventura. illus. by Laura Lacámara. Piñata. 2012. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-1-5588-5705-6.
K-Gr 4–Alicia attends a fiesta where she learns about aguas frescas, or smoothies, and asks her mother if they can try them at home. They do, using a blender that makes the drinks slightly different from what she had experienced at the fiesta. When Alicia learns that one of her friends on her soccer team has diabetes, she invites the entire team to her house for healthy, no-sugar-added aguas frescas. The book lacks a recipe, but the illustrations make you want to grab whatever fruit you have available and fire up the blender right away! This book will pair well with A Day Without Sugar/Un día sin azucar.

VAMOS, Samantha R. The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred. illus. by Rafael López. Charlesbridge. 2011. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-1-5808-9242-1.
PreS-Gr 1–This colorful title is a winner of a Pura Belpré Honor award for illustration. Its fresh take on the rhyme “The House That Jack Built” chronicles the making of a delicious pot of arroz con leche, or rice pudding, in which all of the farm animals from the hen to the goat to the burro find a way to contribute. What really makes this a standout is López’s signature acrylic illustrations. A recipe is included.

Activity ideas: Of course the most obvious, and certainly most delicious, activity to do along with these books is to make some food. The easiest would be to make guacamole from the recipe in Argueta’s book, and serve it with chips. You might also want to make fruit smoothies after reading Alicia’s Fruity Drinks. Healthy Foods from A to Z provides lots of activity ideas appropriate for libraries such as creating bracelets with whole wheat noodles, or using potatoes or jicama to carve a stamp design, and then dipping them in paint to print the design on paper.


Here are three new essential titles that celebrate the rich traditions of Latino folktales:

BERNIER-GRANDE, Carmen T., retel. Our Lady of Guadalupe. illus. by Tonya Engel. Amazon. 2012. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-6135-7.
K-Gr 3–One of Mexico’s most beloved folktales is treated both reverently and poetically in this retelling. Bernier-Grand’s rich language captures the humility of Juan Diego, who when he first see’s the Virgin Mary states “I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, a tail end, a leaf.” The muted illustrations capture a folkloric feel perfectly suited to the tone of the story.

COFER, Judith Ortiz. La fiesta de los animales: Leyendas latinas/Animal Jamboree: Latino Folktales. Piñata. 2012. pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-5588-5743-8.
Gr 4-6–Pura Belpré-winner Judith Ortiz Cofer presents a bilingual book of Latino folktales about animals. This book is formatted with the English and Spanish versions of the tales on opposite sides rather than on opposing pages of a spread, you simply flip the book over to read the tales in the other language. These tales show the tables getting turned on animals, whether it is a pair of arrogant starving lions whose plot to cook a goat gets turned back on them, or a group of mice that bury a cat as a gesture of goodwill, only to find that the cat might not be dead. Also included are stories about a tiny ant that assists an elderly couple in saving their garden and a parrot who loves sausages.

HAYES, Joe, retel. The Coyote Under the Table/El coyote debajo de la mesa. tr. by reteller. illus. by Antonio Castro L. Cinco Puntos. 2011. RTE $19.95. ISBN 978-1-9359-5521-4; pap. $12.95 ISBN 978-1-9359-5506-1.
Gr 2-6–This bilingual collection of stories is one that storytellers will want to come back to again and again. The title story has a dog that makes friends with his former mortal enemy, Coyote. The old dog is about to be put down by his masters who think he is no longer useful. But Coyote has a plan for him to prove his worth, and the dog is later able to repay the favor. Some of these stories have visible roots in European folklore, but they are all distinctly Hispanic. There is a version of “Puss in Boots” in which Gato Pinto, a spotted cat, saves a young man from the jealous treachery of his brothers. In another, a boy gets the power to turn into an ant, an eagle, and a lion, and uses the power to rescue a fair maiden. Hayes has perfected his storyteller’s voice, and the words flow on the page just as if you were hearing the story in person. The Spanish translation is equally readable and tellable for that matter. The illustrations by Castro L. find the most memorable moments in the story and bring them to life with a feeling of action and delightul (and sometimes hilarious) facial expressions. Hayes includes source notes that provide helpful information about the provenance of these tales and the changes that he made in his retellings.

Activity Idea: The thing that makes Hayes’s tales such a gift for teachers and librarians is that they are easy to learn, memorize, and tell on your own. And just as he has made these stories his own, librarians can make them their own. Being a programming librarian working with children means that you are constantly searching for material. Hayes’s books provide that material. You can also have children learn the stories and tell them to the group as well. Check out his other books, such as The Day it Snowed Tortillas (Cinco Puntos, 2003).

*It is necessary to acknowledge the difficulty of presenting an overtly religious tale such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in school and public library settings. This is a challenge with Latino folklore, as many of the folktales have religious roots. Use your best judgment based on your community when sharing these stories.


Latino culture values family, particularly extended family, and ancestors who have passed on as well through celebrations such as El día de los muertos or Day of the Dead. The following books celebrate families in the community, aunts, mother/daughter relationships, and the pain of being separated from family, and the joy of being reunited. These are all universal issues, but each of these titles has a unique cultural perspective.

DORROS, Arthur. Mamá and Me. illus. by Rudy Gutierrez. HarperCollins/Rayo. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-0605-8160-2; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-058161-9.
PreS-Gr 3–Dorros’s book is an ode to a relationship between a mother and her daughter, told in English with a smattering of Spanish. The child wants to do things by herself but she also recognizes the need for help from her mother. Gutierrez’s stylized illustrations capture both the contemporary aspect of the story, while incorporating Latino design traditions.

GONZALES BERTRAND, Diane. The Park Our Town Built/El parque que nuestro pueblo construyó . illus. By Tanja Bauerle. Raven Tree. 2011. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-1-9362-9914-0.
PreS-Gr 2–In this book, multiple families band together to make their community a better place. Gonzales Bertrand has come up with a unique and clever way to use the “The House That Jack Built” trope as a way to create a successful bilingual story. As the things needed to build the park come together, they are first introduced in English, but when they are repeated the words are Spanish. The conceit works wonderfully, and is supported by a bilingual vocabulary page at the end. Many of the same themes appear in Gonzales Bertrand’s Family, Familia (Piñata, 1999).

MEDINA, Meg. Tía Isa quiere un carro. illus. by Claudio Muñoz. Candlewick. 2012. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6129-8; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5751-2.
PreS-Gr 2–Aunt Isa wants a car so she can drive her niece to the beach. This story, narrated by the unnamed niece, is not just about Aunt Isa achieving her dreams, but is also about the dreams of immigrant families who are often separated for financial reasons, working until they can be together again. A lovely book that speaks to the emotional experience of immigration.

COLÓN, Edie. Good-bye, Havana! Hola, Nueva York! illus. By Raúl Colón. S & S. 2011. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0674-2; ebook $12.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-3484-4.
PreS-Gr 3–Edie Colón’s autobiographical story of coming to the Bronx as a girl is a moving account of Castro’s Cuban revolution and the immigrant experience through the eyes of a child. Raúl Colón’s illustrations are the highlight here, his distinctive watercolor and pencil style perfectly conveys the wonder of seeing the New York City for the first time, and the warmth of being reunited with family.

Activity idea: Invite a relative of one of the children who was not born in the United States to come and speak with the children about their immigrant experience.

Tim WadhamTim Wadham is the director of the City of Puyallup Public Library in Washington State. He is the author of Programming with Latino Children’s Materials: A How-to-Do-It Manual for Librarians (1999) and Libros Esenciales: Building, Marketing, and Programming a Core Collection of Spanish Language Children’s Materials (2006, both Neal-Schuman).

Tim Wadham About Tim Wadham

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



  1. What a great new column. Congratulations. Delighted to read it and see “The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred” here as well. Thank you. All best, Samantha Vamos

  2. Tim, this is the column I have been longing for! Please know that you are providing such an important service to librarians and teachers who want the best of the best for their students! I look forward to following your column! Thanks, Shari Shaw, Library Media Specialist, Livonia, MI.

  3. Desiree Fairooz says:

    Thanks SLJ for providing a forum and Tim’s blog. I’d love to see how we can encourage each other in our bilingual programming and also give publishers ideas for themes and stories we want to see.
    I’d love to find Bolivian, Colombian and Peruvian folktales for children. I haven’t found anything published in either language for children.

    Also, needed are picture books that provide rhythm and rhyme in Spanish for our youngest, Babies, Prek and Kinder kids. Predictable stories like Denise Fleming’s Mama Cat, Beetle Bop, or Linda Sue Park’s Bee Bim Bop. These are great examples of rhythm and rhyme but of course I’m not expecting translations to work. No, I’m asking for authors and publishers for authentic rhythm and rhyme. Maybe Jorge Argueta could take his poetry like “sopa de frijoles” and make a picture book out of it. Hmm, makes me hungry!

  4. Jane LeBlanc says:

    I am thrilled to see this new approach for spanish/bilingual literature. I wonder if you could broaden the focus to include titles for high school English students who typically begin their first spanish class in 9th grade. What materials can we provide to these new learners, who are older and may not be interested in the easier books, even though that is the level they can read…. Is there material for this group? Thanks for always being a step ahead…

  5. Fantastic, and Tim is in our region! I will be ordering his publications – Programming with Latino Children’s Materials: A How-to-Do-It Manual for Librarians (1999) and Libros Esenciales: Building, Marketing, and Programming a Core Collection of Spanish Language Children’s Materials (2006, both Neal-Schuman). Thank you.


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