March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

More, Por Favor: English-language Picture Books | Libro por libro

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©John Parra from Green Is a Chile Pepper (Chronicle)

©John Parra from Green Is a Chile Pepper (Chronicle)

The focus of Libro por libro has never been exclusively to highlight books written in Spanish. I’m interested in any and all titles that are about Latino culture or by Latino writers, even if they are published entirely in English. There are, of course, also books that are bilingual with the entire text translated into Spanish and typically presented along with the English text. There are also books primarily in English that have Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout. It’s those titles that I would like to explore in this column. Fitting nicely with the theme of the New Year, the majority of these books are 2014 releases.

So who is the primary audience for these books and how can they be used in programming? Everyone can enjoy the following selections, and they should be part of every librarian’s repertoire. They are a great way to introduce Spanish words to English speakers, and many of the books include glossaries. Kids (and adults) enjoy a sense of accomplishment in figuring out the meaning of words in context and being able to say that they know a bit of Spanish vocabulary. They might even be tempted to learn more, especially if there are Spanish speakers in their communities. More importantly, these books serve the numerous children of Latino heritage who have grown up with English as their primary language and want to keep in touch with their cultural roots as reflected in the Spanish language. I recall once talking with a Latina teen who regretted the fact that she was not able to read Pam Muñoz Ryan’s classic, Esperanza Rising (Scholastic, 2000), in Spanish. The following books can be used to reconnect younger Latino readers with their native tongue.


MORA, Pat & Libby Martinez. I Pledge Allegiance. illus. by Patrice Barton. Knopf. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780307931818.

It goes without saying that immigration is a hot-button political issue at the moment. Mora’s new book sidesteps the politics in this story of a girl named Libby and her great-aunt Lobo. The older woman has passed her citizenship exam and is about to attend a naturalization ceremony. Libby is studying the Pledge of Allegiance in her class, and is both excited and slightly nervous to lead the class in the pledge prior to her great-aunt’s big day. This book succeeds in not only explaining the Pledge of Allegiance but also the reasons that her great-aunt chose to immigrate to the U. S. An author’s note reveals that Lobo is a real person—Mora’s aunt, who became a U. S. citizen in the 1970s. This title encapsulates what all the books in this column are about when Lobo says, “I am proud to be from Mexico and to speak Spanish and English.” This is an essential purchase.

DORROS, Arthur. Abuelo. illus. by Raúl Colón. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780061686276.

Dorros explores the heritage of a friend from Argentina, and the man’s memories of his grandfather, who was a cowboy on the pampas. The young boy narrates the story, saying that he and his grandfather “ride [their horses] with the wind.” The story continues in this magical realism style—very popular in Latin American literature. The boy and his Abuelo “ride into the clouds” and “reach [their] hands to the stars.” As they ride together, Abuelo shares his wisdom. The child’s life is shattered when he and his family have to move to the big city. He thinks he might be lost, but finds that from his rooftop he can still see the stars, and as he adjusts to schools and bullies, his grandfather rides with him. The text is beautiful, but the real star here is Colón’s always fabulous artwork, which subtly illustrates the journey from the pampas to the city with a color palette that changes along with the narrative.

ELYA, Susan Middleton. Little Roja Riding Hood. illus. by Susan Guevara. Putnam. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399247675.

Elya’s version of the familiar story has a rhyming text and uses Spanish words throughout, sometimes as a way of creating rhymes. The rhythm and rhyme scheme are spot-on, making this a great choice for reading aloud. The grandmother character is particularly likable. She is not about to be saved by any random woodcutter who happens to be wandering through the forest. She’s totally buff, and prepared to dispatch the wolf on her own! Guevara, who won the Pura Belpré Award for Illustration for Gary Soto’s “Chato” books (Putnam), provides the rollicking images in this reworking of the fairy tale.

KYLE, Tracey. Gazpacho for Nacho. illus. by Carolina Farias. Amazon/Two Lions. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781477817278.

A young boy named Nacho will only eat cold soup. His mother offers him many other foods, even ice cream and cheese, but nothing works, and she is tired of making gazpacho day after day. Finally, she takes Nacho shopping and purchases the ingredients for Nacho to make his own. There is a lovely sequence showing mother and son preparing the soup together. The plan works, and once Nacho has a taste of cooking, he knows that this is only the start and is now ready to try new recipes. Like Little Roja Riding Hood, this book has a rhyming text. Of course, it includes a recipe, which children and parents can make together. The illustrations are especially notable. The colors are rich and deep, and there is a lovely note of magical realism when Nacho and his mother are in the supermarket, along with other shoppers exploring enormous vegetables, climbing over tomatoes, and lifting a huge chili pepper. This is truly a celebration of deliciousness.

THONG, Roseanne Greenfield . Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors. illus. by John Parra. Chronicle. 2014. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9781452102030.

Thong uses rhyming quatrains to explore colors through elements of culture: yellow masa or corn mash, and green chili peppers. The book ends with a literal rainbow of colors. The illustrations have a folk-art feel and are full of Latino children experiencing the wonders of the world. A perfect choice for the very youngest audiences.

WEILL, Cynthia. Count Me In! A Parade of Mexican Folk Art Numbers in English and Spanish. illus by the Aguilar Sisters. Cinco Puntos. 2012. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781935955399.

Here is another concept book that is more traditionally bilingual, and which pairs nicely with Green Is a Chile Pepper. Photos of clay figures created by the Aguilar Sisters of Oaxaca, Mexico, decorate the pages. Each spread shows the appropriate number of figures, who are all part of a parade: three musicians and five children with whimsically designed lanterns. The combination of folk art and the counting concept works splendidly to convey the context of the beloved Oaxacan cultural celebration. One idea for using this book in programming would be to have children create and decorate their own clay figures, just like the ones in the book.

LAINEZ, Rene Colato. Señor Pancho Had a Rancho. illus. by Ellwood Smith. Holiday House. 2013. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823426324.

This is a cross-cultural rendition of the song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” that can be used in many ways in both bilingual and regular storytimes and other programs. Smith’s art is the star here, with lively portrayals of frenetic birds, easily frightened dogs, and singing sheep. Emphasizing the bilingual angle, the book is designed with Old MacDonald on one side of each spread and Señor Pancho on the other. Old MacDonald says “Hello” and Señor Pancho says “Hola.” Most delightful are the dancing cows–one who says “Moo” and the other who says “Muu,” encouraging the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking youngsters to sing along.

MORALES , Yuyi . Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book . Roaring Brook. 2008. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596433298.

Here is an alphabet book starring the hero of el Día de los muertos, the Day of the Dead: Señor Calevera—Mister Skeleton. Señor Calevera is on his way to Grandma Beetle’s birthday bash. Along the way he picks up presents in alphabetical order. Zelmiro the ghost continues prompting Señor Calevera to get more presents, “just in case….” Just before he gets to Grandma Beetle’s house, he crashes on his bike, destroying all the carefully gathered gifts. But there is no need to worry, there’s a happy ending in the offing. Morales brilliantly captures the fabric of Latino life and culture. From the details of Señor Calevera’s candy-skull head, to a lotería card, and a lucha libre poster, this is Latino life in all its boldly colored magic. There’s just the right blend of English and Spanish and a unique style of illustration that results in a perfectly mixed concoction which holds universal appeal, regardless of one’s language or cultural background.

ELYA , Susan Middleton . Rubia and the Three Osos . illus. by Melissa Sweet. Disney/Hyperion. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781423112525.

Here is another Latino version of a familiar tale told with a rhyming text, liberally peppered with Spanish words. In this case Rubia (“blond girl” in Spanish) visits the house of the three bears, and all goes as expected until the end. Instead of just running away, the story continues with Rubia making soup for the bears and delivering it their house. She even patches up baby bear’s chair and plays with him. The tale ends with a variation on the typical Latino welcome “Mi casa es su casa,” or “My house is your house.” Like all of the books with rhyming texts mentioned here, this is a great read-aloud. Children will love the rhythm and sound of the words, including the ones in Spanish.

VAMOS , Samantha R. The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred . illus. by Rafael López. Charlesbridge. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781580892421.

Like Rubia and Little Roja, Vamos’s title celebrates a Latina woman, this time the Farm Maiden who makes a traditional Spanish dish—arroz con leche, or a pudding with rice and milk. This is also a fun take on the popular folk rhyme “The House That Jack Built.” Animals help the Farm Maiden acquire the ingredients for the pudding. The mix of English and Spanish works very logically here, with the animal names and the food items appearing in Spanish. This book has a lot going for it: It’s a celebration of community, language, culture, and food. Could you ask for anything more? As always, López’s illustrations have just the right mix of stylization and realism, blended with a strong sense of color, line, and design that makes this book truly special. [Note: A starred review of the book/audio version of this title by Live Oak Media appears on p. 53.]

The creators of the Latin@s in Kid Lit blog invite readers to sign up for the 2014 Latin@s in Kid Lit Reading Challenge, which will run from January 1 to December 31. Participants will have the opportunity to diversify their reading lists and support established and emerging writers.

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Tim Wadham About Tim Wadham

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