22 Latinx Middle Grade Titles Filled with Magic, Found Family, and More

This roundup of books for young readers highlights the diversity of story and culture within the Latinx community. Add these to your Latinx Heritage Month displays and promote yearlong.

collage of middle grade latinx books

This roundup of books for young readers highlights the diversity of story and culture within the Latinx community. Add these to your Latinx Heritage Month displays and promote yearlong.

The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062947697.
Gr 3-6 –This riveting, suspenseful book presents a unique blend of Greek mythology and Cuban culture. Callie’s Cuban heritage is highlighted throughout the story, particularly once the Muse Squad relocates to Miami and the diverse group attempts to acclimate. VERDICT Perfect for readers of mythology-based adventures, fantasy fans, and anyone who enjoys a suspenseful action book.—Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor Sch. Dist., Lancaster, PA

The Dream Weaver by Reina Luz Alegre S & S. ISBN 9781534462311.
Gr 3-5 –Twelve-year-old Zoey is used to going along with her dad’s ever-changing dreams, even if it means moving every few months. After all, he’s the only parent that Zoey and her older brother José have left. When Zoey’s father announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City and leaving Zoey and José to stay with their Cuban grandfather at the Jersey Shore, she’s not sure how to feel. VERDICT Alegre has written a warm, funny, empowering book that’s sure to appeal to fans of Meg Medina’sMerci Suarez Changes Gears or Pablo Cartaya’s The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. Recommended for all collections.—Kelsey Socha, Springfield City Library, MA

The Water Bears by Kim BakerRandom/Wendy Lamb. ISBN 9781984852205.
Gr 4-7 –Newt Gomez lives on a remote island and worries about bears because one swam out last year and attacked him. Now the almost 13-year-old has bear-related post-traumatic stress disorder: bad dreams, cold sweats, fear of bear-like noises. He wants to live with his abuela on the mainland, where he won’t be the only Latinx kid in town. VERDICT Recommended, although this may require hand-selling to more thoughtful readers.—Elizabeth Friend, Wester Middle School, TX

Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena BarronHMH. ISBN 9781328635181.
Gr 5-7 –Twelve-year-old Maya is daydreaming about summer break when time pauses and the color begins to bleed from the world. Her two friends, science-obsessed Frankie and occult-obsessed Eli, try to offer an explanation (science and ghosts, respectively) but when creatures from African folklore come to life in their South Side Chicago neighborhood and Maya’s father goes missing, the community elders finally reveal the truth: The three tweens are godlings of the Orisha, and Maya’s father is the Guardian of the Veil between worlds. VERDICT Mixing in hard choices, believable emotions, tough lessons, and mistakes made with the best of intentions, Barron has created a must-read tale. For fans of “Percy Jackson” who are yearning for a new pantheon, but not quite ready for Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.—Maggie Mason Smith, Clemson University, SC

Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar . Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. ISBN 9780525516477.
 Gr 3-7–Pura Belpré Award winner Behar’s newest story is based on her own grandmother’s immigration journey. Eleven-year-old Esther bravely travels to Cuba from Poland to help her father earn enough money for the rest of their family to join them, including her mother, grandmother, three brothers, and cherished sister Malka. VERDICT Readers will not want to part with this story of resilience. A World War II refugee tale that spotlights dedicated hard work. A must-have for public, elementary, and middle school libraries.—Kristin Unruh, Siersma Elem. Sch., Warren, MI

Battle of the Bad-Breath Bats by David Bowles & illus. by Shane Clester. HarperCollins /Harper. ISBN 9780062947802; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780062947796.
Gr 1-5–Malia and her two cousins are spending the summer with Aunt Lucy in Gulf City. On the way to the local water park, the kids take a “shortcut” down a creepy street that does not show up on Malia’s phone map. On spooky 13th Street, they meet giant bats with evil intentions. In a plot reminiscent of a video game, the cousins must rely on friendly monster allies as they use their wits to battle and defeat the Snatch Bats. Will our heroes escape 13th Street or will they be overpowered by this larger-than-life enemy? VERDICT From the enticing cover to the cliff-hanger chapter endings, this series is meant to encourage reading and boost confidence and skills.—Kate Nafz, Fair Lawn Public Library, NJ

Rise of the Halfling King: Tales of the Feathered Serpent by David Bowles (text) & illus. by Charlene Bowles. Cinco Puntos . ISBN 9781947627376.
Gr 4-8–In this tale drawn from Mesoamerican myth, Sayam, a stouthearted halfling, deposes a tyrant. In an afterword, David Bowles likens graphic novels to the predominantly visual hieroglyphics Mesoamericans employed in their written records. The first installment in a 10-volume series converting his Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky to a graphic format, this book reads the way that a folk tale is traditionally heard: It’s fast, vivid, and action-laden. Since archetypes require little elaboration, readers freed from the burden of intricate characterization can instead attend to the story’s cultural context and perennial themes. Charlene Bowles melds the stylizations of historical codices and scrolls with livelier, rounded linework typical of modern comics to create an engaging accompaniment to the concise text. Characters are all Indigenous Mayans. VERDICT An obvious buy for those that already have plenty of titles featuring Greco-Roman and Norse deities.—Steven Thompson, Bound Brook Memorial P.L., NJ

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros HarperCollins /Harper. ISBN 9780062881687.
Gr 5-7–A timely story of one boy’s fight to reunite his family, save a friendship, and stand up for justice. Efrén’s story is not uncommon. In the last few years, the news has become saturated with headlines about deportations and separated families. Cisneros provides a heart-wrenching and evocative glimpse of what one family’s life might look like on both sides of the border. Using down-to-earth characters and authentic scenarios, he tells a story of resilience, strength, and love. VERDICT In a time full of divisiveness and unknowns, this resonant title will inspire young readers to make a difference, no matter the hardships they face.—Rebecca Redinger, Lincoln Park Branch, Chicago Public Library

The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Cordova Scholastic. ISBN 9781338239546.
Gr 3-6–Danny Monteverde has survived the foster care system because of his brave older sister, Pili; their mysterious book of fairy tales, The Way to Rio Luna; and his unshakable belief in magic. But when Pili disappears from her group home and is presumed a runaway, and his foster father throws away his beloved book, Danny’s world begins to crumble. This is a classic portal fantasy, a portrait of childhood resilience, and an ode to kids who “have hearts that love and souls that are kind and minds that believe.” VERDICT With its diverse, fully-realized cast of characters and inventive world-building, this complex adventure quest is a rare treat for fantasy lovers and those who believe in magic.—Molly ­Saunders, Manatee County P.L., Bradenton, FL 

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas Farrar. ISBN 9780374313609.
Gr 4-7–With a dad in the military, Nestor has moving down to a science: pack his bedroom in under five minutes, keep his head down at the new school, and make sure people don’t learn he can talk to animals. For Nestor, each stop is nothing more than a countdown until he moves again. But this move is different. Nestor and his mother have come to New Haven, TX, to live with his Cuban abuela while his father is deployed to Afghanistan. Cuevas crafts a riveting story based on folktales from Panama and Costa Rica. Spanish words and Latin American customs are integrated throughout. Magical folklore provides the foundation for the plot, but themes of home, family, and friendship are the core of the book, with a heaping dose of creepiness to make it more fun. VERDICT Hand this unique story to fans of “Rick Riordan Presents” and students looking for scary books.—Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA

Santiago’s Road Home by Alexandra DiazS. & S. /Paula Wiseman Bks. ISBN 9781534446236.
Gr 5-7–Fleeing his abusive family, 12-year-old Santiago joins a young mother, María Dolores, and her daughter, Alegría, in an attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. The three are near death from exhaustion and dehydration when border agents find and separate them. Santiago spends months in a youth detention facility where he is treated as a “criminal” and given no information about the mother and daughter, whom he has come to think of as his sisters. The prose is straightforward, presenting stark realities with no adornment. VERDICT Vivid details and a sympathetic protagonist make this a harrowing but deeply illuminating portrayal of the struggles faced by families at the U.S.-Mexico border.—Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

Stella Diaz Never Gives Up by Angela Dominguez Roaring Brook . ISBN 9781250229113.
Gr 3-5–Stella Diaz takes on summer with the same energy and curiosity she brought to school when first introduced in Stella Diaz Has Something to Say. Whether she’s seeing the ocean for the first time or attending the Shedd Aquarium summer camp, Stella finds support and confidence to raise her voice in advocacy. Worried that her passion for protecting the marine life is hers alone, Stella’s heart soars when her new camp friends join her saving-the-oceans club. Dominguez deftly navigates Stella’s feelings of helplessness when confronted with the enormity of the impact of human consumption, providing readers with reassurance that even little changes make a big difference. VERDICT A stellar sequel or stand-alone title with a plot that strikes the perfect balance between character-driven action and activism.—Amy Seto Forrester, Denver Public Library

With a Star in My Hand: Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero by Margarita Engle Atheneum. ISBN 9781534424937.
Gr 7 Up–In the capable hands of Engle, this novel in verse about Rubén Darío is utterly moving. Born in the late 1860s, Darío created a literary movement known as Modernismo while rambunctiously coming of age. Engle shares a trove of discoveries about a boy from Nicaragua with a fractured family who became the celebrated “Poet Boy” traveling the world. He overcame hardship and pushed the boundaries of artistry, with his most renowned poem about a fairytale scribbled to a young fan. Engle’s author’s note suggests the majority of the book is biographically accurate based on Darío’s own comprehensive writing. Engle’s form and research is something to be heralded, as is Darío’s life and work. VERDICT A top purchase for public and school libraries alike; a stellar example of verse and historical fiction.—Alicia Abdul, Albany High School, NY

The Madre de Aguas of Cuba by Adam Otheguy, Emma Gidwitz Dutton. ISBN 9780735231429.
Gr 2-5–A sensitive and informative story wrapped up in a magical mystery adventure. Gidwitz has teamed up with Emma Otheguy to write this new installment of “The Unicorn Rescue Society” series. Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna are members of a secret group that protects mythical creatures, and this time they travel to Cuba to find the Madre de Aguas, a sea serpent that protects the water supply of the island and surrounding area. VERDICT Short, simple, magical fun that has something to say about the contemporary world. Highly recommended where the earlier books are popular.—Jeri Murphy, C.F. Simmons Middle School, Aurora, IL

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera Levine Querido . ISBN 9781646140039.
Gr 3-7–Readers will be immediately drawn into the zippy first-person voice of Lupe Wong, future first female pitcher in Major League Baseball and defender of social justice. Young people will identify with the torture that is the middle school square-dancing unit. Lupe is determined to fight for the right to not participate. Debut author Higuera imbues the text with diversity through cultures and family structures, as well as neurodiversity; Lupe’s friend Niles is autistic. Lupe manages to make the square-dancing unit work, all while fixing some age-old traditions that are no longer culturally relevant. Kids becoming aware and ready to fight for social justice causes will be inspired by Lupe, who learns to sift through what she doesn’t like and fight for that which is most important. VERDICT A humorous, fresh #OwnVoices title sure to appeal to social justice advocates and reluctant square dancers everywhere.—Kate Nafz, Fair Lawn P.L., NJ

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks . ISBN 9780525518433.
Gr 5-8–Taking his title from a fictional baller’s mantra, Maldonado depicts his young hero’s awakening to the ugly realities of contemporary American racism. Caught between his best friend Dan, and Dan’s racist cousin Chad; straddling the line between his overprotective, naive white mother and his realist, all-too-aware Black father; and doing his best to integrate his middle school friend group, biracial Stephen is finding it tricky to “stay wide in all lanes.” VERDICT Maldonado uses a biracial adolescent boy’s perspective to draw his readers into an engaging story of identity and tough choices that will appeal to middle schoolers everywhere. An ideal choice for school book clubs and advisory.—Jane Barrer, United Nations International School, New York City

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia Disney-Hyperion/Rick Riordan Presents . ISBN 9781368049177.  
Gr 5-8–Twelve-year-old Paola “Pao” Santiago lives in Silver Springs, AZ, with her besties Dante and Emma. Her mother strongly believes in ancestor ghosts and regional legends like La Llorona, a weeping ghost who drowns her victims in the Gila River. Pao appreciates science and evidence, a position she must question when Emma disappears. Mejia’s Mexican American myth succeeds both as an extended quest and a humorous contemporary story. Her real genius lies, however, in detailed yet effortless characterization. It takes mere pages before readers will know and love Pao. Pao is both a pragmatist and a dreamer. Character development, the Southwestern setting, and action share story space without seeming rushed. VERDICT A warm, thrilling Mexican American adventure. An essential purchase.—Caitlin ­Augusta, Stratford Lib. Assoc., CT

On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied MendezLee & Low/Tu Bks . ISBN 9781643790312.
Gr 4-7–Twelve-year-old Minerva Soledad Miranda is no stranger to shouldering more than her fair share of responsibilities. While Mama works hard at two jobs, Minerva helps out at home with her two younger sisters, Kota and Avi. When Mama doesn’t come back from work one night, but glitter is left behind on the girls’ bed and pink cupcakes are found on the windowsill, Minerva doesn’t know what to think. Her sisters believe in Peques, fairies that are part of Argentinian folklore. Assuming that Mama will return soon, Minerva attempts to keep things as normal as possible—she worries her immigrant family may face deportation or foster care if they’re found out. VERDICT Mendez manages to successfully weave multiple story lines and characters throughout the novel, and each is satisfactorily resolved at the end. Minerva’s predicament will reach many readers grappling with similar insecurities or uncertainties in this timely, emotionally charged story.—Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

Ghost Squad by Claribel A Ortega Scholastic. ISBN 9781338280128.
Gr 4 Up–Looking for a Halloween read? Look no further. Something strange is happening to Lucely’s ghost family of fireflies, known as cocuyos—they are fading away. They tell her that something evil is coming. In an attempt to revive her Mama Teresa, Lucely and her best friend Syd perform a spell to raise the dead, but accidentally awaken old evil spirits that want to revenge against their town. VERDICT Ortega’s debut is filled with action, humor, and originality. Lucely and Syd’s adventure gives readers paranormal thrills akin to Ghostbusters and the Goonies, from a refreshingly different cultural perspective.—Ruth Guerrier-Pierre, New York Public Library

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel RyonS. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks . ISBN 9781534449671.

Gr 5-8–Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has waited years to develop her forbearers’ secret gift—when people in her family turn 12, they gain a magical skill. But since her grandfather Welo passed away a year ago, everything’s been going wrong. Her twin Sonja’s gift surfaced, and Yolanda’s didn’t; her best friend Ghita ditched her for Sonja; and now, her grandmother Wela’s failing health may force the girls into foster care. Ryon delivers a touching peek into the daily struggles of a modern family. The tinge of whimsical magic permeating the Rodríguez line creates the perfect ambiance for stirring up, and resolving, conflict among Yolanda, those she cares for, and the town. Yolanda blossoms on the pages as her mission to help Wela has her confronting truths about her family’s magic, her responsibility to loved ones, and her acceptance of herself. VERDICT A must-have tale, perfect for fans of emotionally resonant magical realism like Karen Strong’s Just South of Home.—Emily Walker, Lisle Library District, IL

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan Scholastic. ISBN 9781338157864.
Gr 3-6–Eleven-year-old Maximiliano Córdoba lives in Santa Maria village with his father’s extended family of stone masons. On the mundane level, he wants to join a fútbol clinic with his friend Chuy, but an abandoned stone tower—La Reina Gigante—makes him wonder about hidden refugees fleeing the neighboring country of Abismo. While Max’s father is away, Max encounters a refugee, Isadora, and learns his family are secretly guardians who help people flee to safety. In his father’s absence, Max determines to guide Isadora to the next stop with all the dangers that entails, partly to discover information about his long-absent mother. VERDICT A gem of a story with timely messages whose main audience is educators and contemplative children. Nevertheless, a required purchase.—Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT


Nuestra América: 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States by Sabrina Vourvoulias (text) & illus. by Gloria Félix. Running Pr. ISBN 9780762497478.
Gr 3-7–Vibrant illustrations and a lively narrative come together to spotlight the stories of 30 Latinas and Latinos. These men and women have worked in a wide variety of fields, overcome great obstacles, and have contributed to the world in significant ways. Trailblazers include engineer Sylvia Acevedo, clinical psychologist Martha E. Bernal, baseball player Roberto Clemente, and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Marcario García. Three to four pages are dedicated to each profile, with one page featuring an illustrated portrait of the individual against a colorful background. The text provides information about the early life of each person along with personal milestones, such as education, paths to careers, and accomplishments. VERDICT An excellent nonfiction title focusing on luminous Latinas and Latinos, whose stories are sure to encourage and inspire hope in young readers everywhere.—Selenia Paz, Harris County P.L., Houston

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