April 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Bilingual and Spanish-language titles that celebrate family ties | Libro por libro

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’Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish (Thong)  ©2014 by Sara Palacios

’Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish (Thong)
©2014 by Sara Palacios

Family is an integral part of Latino identity. These bonds often go beyond nuclear units to include tíos (uncles) and tías (aunts), primos (cousins) and abuelos (grandparents), and even other distant and semi-distant relations. Grandparents often live in the same households with children and grandchildren and gatherings are filled with lively and joyous festivities. As the holidays approach, Libro por libro highlights core titles about family, including bedtime stories, Spanish-language lullabies, and realistic and fantastical treatments of separation and loss.

All in the Family

DELACRE, Lulu. Arrorró mi niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games. illus. by author. 32p. Lee & Low. 2004. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781600604416.
PreS-Gr 1 –A stellar example of a title that parents can read and even sing aloud to children. Delacre selected rhymes from suggestions made to her by Latina mothers whom she had come to know, hailing from 14 different countries. Tender illustrations accompany the text, demonstrating a strong bond between parents and children. Musical scores for lullabies that have official melodies are also included. But as Delacre suggests, all that the rhymes require is a soothing voice.

LOMAS GARZA, Carmen. Family Pictures/Cuadros de familias. illus. by author. tr. by Rosalma Zubizarreta. 15th anniversary ed. 32p. Children’s Book Pr. 2005. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9780892392070.
K Up –This groundbreaking picture book/art album was first published in 1990 in a family scrapbook–style format. Lomas Garza’s paintings were inspired by her recollections of growing up in Kingsville, Texas. Her memories reinforce the role of the extended family in Latino life—celebrating rites of passage, such as birthday parties, quinceañeras, and cakewalk fundraisers to send kids to college. The artist remembers making tamales during Christmastime and eating watermelon in the summer. Aspects of spirituality in Latino life are represented with a scene of the curandera, or healer, visiting a neighbor’s house. Truly a touchstone.

Maravillosas historias para antes de dormir. Vol. 1. illus. 184p. Pirueta/Roca. pap. $18.95. ISBN 9788415235712.
K-Gr 3 –A great resource for Spanish-language bedtime stories. This volume has a unique feature—a grid outlining the types of stories that can be found within, which readers can use to navigate to their favorite subjects. Do you want an adventure tale about princesses? How about a bedtime story about fairies? Or would you rather hear a scary story about animals? They are all here, along with stories featuring witches, fantastical creatures, bandits, and artists. The first in a series, the title’s design is eye-catching, full of appealing and colorful illustrations. A more traditional table of contents is found at the end, which identifies the author and illustrator of each tale.

Migrant (Mateo) illustration by Javier Martínez Pedro.

Migrant (Mateo)
Illustration by Javier Martínez Pedro.

MATEO, José Manuel. Migrant. illus. by Javier Martínez Pedro. tr. from Spanish by Emmy Smith Ready. 22p. Abrams. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781419709579.
Gr 2-4 –A common struggle that Latino families face is that of immigration—which often separates members for long periods of time. This unique book is told from the perspective of a young Mexican boy who, along with his mother and sister, is left alone with the other women and children in his village after all the men have gone north to seek work. When money from his father stops coming, he and his mother and sister are forced to become migrants as well. Evading capture by the border patrol, they make their way to Los Angeles, where there is work cleaning houses. The unresolved ending makes the story more poignant and universal. The book is designed in the style of an ancient codex: it is one continuous picture, folded in the accordion style. The accompanying text follows the illustration down the left-hand side of the page. Pedro’s black-and-white drawings are detailed and have the feel of ancient Aztec art, even as they portray a contemporary story. The work might not hold up well to circulation because of the format, but this should not keep it from being purchased and shared.

PÉREZ, Amada Irma. My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito. illus. by Maya Christina Gonzalez. 32p. Children’s Book Pr. 2008. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9780892392230.
Gr 2-5 –Based on the author’s family history, this tale is about an unnamed girl who is almost nine years old and still sharing a room with her five brothers. She wants a space of her own, but her two-bedroom house is tiny, and her family hardly fits. What’s more, there are often members of the extended family staying with them until they find jobs and places to live. The main character recalls a time when there were up to 16 people in the house. The protagonist finally finds a place to call her own—a storage closet separated from the living room with a curtain. Her family helps her decorate it with a mixture of the only paints available, resulting in magenta-colored walls. Her uncle procures a bed and they even manage to buy a lamp. A lovely slice-of-life story that will resonate with many kids.

THONG, Roseanne Greenfield. ’Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish. illus. by Sara Palacios. 32p. Viking. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670016341.
PreS- Gr 1 –Just in time for the holidays, this Latino version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” takes the familiar Clement Clarke Moore poem and highlights Latino family Christmas traditions. Spanish words are used throughout the text, which begins “’Twas Nochebuena, and all through the casa, every creature was kneading tamale masa.” Tamales are a vitally important part of the festivities, so it’s no wonder that this activity opens the tale. The story proceeds to showcase traditions, such as the posadas (nine-day celebration of the Nativity) procession, playing lotería (Mexican bingo), and breaking a piñata. Finally, the family attends midnight Mass, and returns home for a dinner of turkey with mole. Thong’s simple narrative makes this work a good choice for a multicultural holiday storytime. There is no Santa Claus here, but a great deal of unity and warmth. Palacios’s brightly colored and festive illustrations add cheer to this sweet title that should be on display and shared every year.

WEILL, Cynthia. Mi familia calaca/My Skeleton Family. illus. by Jesús Canseco Zárate. 32p. Cinco Puntos. 2013. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781935955504.
PreS-Gr 1 –Big sister Anita introduces readers to all of the members of the family—her bratty brother, cute baby brother, fabulous parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, and the dogs. By the way, they are all skeletons. An author’s note explains that skeletons have a long tradition of appearing in Mexican culture, especially in humorous tales. This practice is evident with characters such as Yuyi Morales’s Señor Calavera in Just a Minute (Chronicle, 2003). During the Day of the Dead/Día de los muertos (October 31-November 2) celebrations, sugar skulls are used to decorate shrines for a family’s dearly departed—and also consumed by children. A true highlight are the photos of papier mâché skeletons created by Oaxacan artist Zárate. His detailed figures are delightful and will elicit chuckles from young readers.



ALVAREZ, Julia. How Tía Lola Came to Visit/Stay. Knopf. 2001. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9780375802157.
––––. De cómo tía Lola vino de visita/a quedarse. tr. by Liliana Valenzuela. Yearling. 2011. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780307930408.
ea vol: 144p. (The Tía Lola Stories/Las historias de tía Lola).
Gr 3-7 –Alvarez’s “Tía Lola” books provide a delightful look at a contemporary Latino family dealing with realistic issues. Like Mary Poppins, Tía Lola comes to help Miguel and his sister Juanita after their parents separate and they move with their mother to Vermont. Tía Lola dresses colorfully, tries to learn English, and also helps Miguel adjust to his new surroundings. At the same time, Tía Lola is also dealing in her own way with the changes in her life, and missing her home in the Dominican Republic. There are three other titles in this chapter book series that are just as endearing. The characters, along with the distinctive third-person narration, make these books a must-purchase. Related activities for the books that can be used in the classroom and in libraries can be found at www.tialolastories.com.

MEDINA, Meg. Tía Isa Wants a Car. 2011. ISBN 9780763641566.
––––. Tía Isa quiere un carro. 2012. ISBN 9780763661298.
ea vol: 32p. illus. by Claudio Muñoz. Candlewick. Tr $15.99.
PreS-Gr 2 –Tía Isa can’t buy a car right away because she is saving money to bring her relatives to the United States. She has two piles of savings, one for the family, and one for the car. Tía Isa’s niece (the unnamed narrator) takes matters into her own hands and finds odd jobs to help pay for the vehicle. Medina’s lyrical prose poignantly portrays the relationship between an aunt and her niece but also a nuanced view of immigration. Tía Isa’s situation will resonate with young readers who may themselves be separated from family members and trying to find a way to bring their loved ones back together. Muñoz’s watercolor illustrations lovingly portray the bond between aunt and niece.


COSTALES, Amy. Abuelita Full of Life/Abuelita llena de vida. illus. by Martha Avilés. 32p. Luna Rising. 2007. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780873589147.
PreS-Gr 1 –When Abuelita comes to stay with José’s family, he makes space for her in his room. The boy loves his grandmother. She plants a garden, she cooks chiles, she takes him to the park and tells him stories in the evening. The narrative is held together by the repeated refrain with variations on the idea that “grandmother is old, but she is lively,” such as “her skin is wrinkled, but it is soft to kiss.” Similar comparisons are added each time the refrain returns. This book is full of the joy of sharing and learning from a grandparent. It is a common experience for Latino children, and Avilés’s illustrations depict a quirky individual with small glasses that sit forward on her nose, braided hair, and a mischievous smile. What more could you want in a grandma?

DORROS, Arthur. Abuela. Dutton. 1991. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525447504; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780140562255.
––––. Abuela. (Spanish Ed.) Puffin. 1997. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780140562262.
ea vol: illus. by Elisa Kleven. 40p.
PreS-Gr 1 –A classic in Latino literature for children, this title deserves its long life on school and public library shelves. Rosalba gets on the bus with her grandmother, and as they visit various places in New York City, they imagine that they are flying above it, like the birds in Central Park. As the little girl and Abuela fly above and around the bustling metropolis, they see grandma’s cousin loading and unloading crates on a boat, and tourists visiting the Statue of Liberty. They even hitch a ride on a jetliner leaving the airport. But their trip revolves around family—touching base with Uncle Pablo and Aunt Elisa in their store and visiting Rosalba’s father at his job. Finally, the pair returns to where they started: Central Park, where they hold hands and talk of future adventures together. This story depicts a loving relationship with touches of the Latin American literary tradition of magical realism. The fantastical becomes real not only through Dorros’s soaring text but also through Kleven’s imaginative artwork.

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

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. Millie Naughton says:

    Thank you for this wonderful list! I teach a dual language class, and I am always on the lookout for quality books in Spanish that are not just translated versions of popular English titles. Our library media specialist also works extremely hard trying to find all kinds of books to go along with our units and keep our library collection in English as well as Spanish growing.

  2. Another great list! Thanks, Tim!