I do love a month-long celebration of books, which is why I've been brainstorming titles to promote for Latino Books Month! With the We Need Diverse Books grassroots campaign getting stronger and more visible every day, the importance of publishing, reading, critically reviewing, and promoting books that reflect the diversity of this world is gaining more attention. I whittled this list down substantially (I focused on Latino books by Latino/Latina authors); while these are my top favorites, I have many more that I could have included!
Margarita Engle's novels in verse should be your first picks for memorable and eye-opening Latino literature for youth; her novels have brought to life Cuban musicians, artists, and fighters for independence. Enchanted Air is her most recent and personal creation, as it chronicles her young adulthood in Los Angeles during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is a welcome addition to historical literature for youth for capturing the experience of a young Latina during an incredibly charged and frightful time with her ancestral homeland, but also for its Los Angeles setting, which is not often explored in historical literature (compared to other cities of similar size). See my December review for a fuller review of this knockout read. Engle's Mountain Dog is also a fantastic read.
When it comes to children's historical fiction set in the American West, Esperanza Rising is inarguably one of the most engrossing and moving stories you will find. Set in California during the Great Depression, this portrayal of a young Mexican-American girl who bravely faces the upheaval in her life is one of my standard recommendations for historical fiction assignments. Ryan's most recent novel, Echo, is one of the 2016 Newbery Honor titles (and includes a Latino character forced to attend a segregated school in California).
YA dystopia is not really my thing. I've read enough that I can give several honest and positive recommendations for fans, but it's something that I admittedly have to make myself read. Now that the popularity of this genre has cooled considerably, I mostly only pick up a dystopian novel if it offers something unique, such as a main character from a minority community. I'm also not keen on reading a book in one sitting, but that's exactly what I did when I popped The Living (also set in California) into my bag to take home. This is one of the most intense and gripping reads I have read in some time. Check out my April 2014 review if you're interested in more details. (I'm currently reading Bluescreen, which I would definitely recommend for fans of futuristic YA novels; a Latina teenager is the main character. It's also set in California--Los Angeles, to be exact!).
When granddaughter Lucy feels under the weather (chicken pox), Mama Provi cooks up her famous arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) to provide delicious nourishment. While climbing the stairs to Lucy's apartment, Mama Provi encounters her neighbors (from different cultures and ethnicities), who contribute to the meal, providing a hearty and multicultural feast for Lucy. Mama Provi and the Pot of Rice is one of those great picture books that can be enjoyed by kindergartners as well as third graders, showing that picture books shouldn't be abandoned after kindergarten!
I read Maria Had a Little Llama for a recent "stories in rhyme/Mother Goose" story time in honor of National Poetry Month and Mother Goose Day (May 1). Set in Peru, this is an adorable adaptation of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and received an Illustrator Honor citation from the 2014 Pura Belpre Award committee.
Nino is a brave lucha libre wrestler, but can he fend off freshly-napped little sisters? Nino Wrestles the World is a funny, realistic, and charming siblings story. Lucha libre is a very popular wrestling style in Mexico in which the wrestlers wear masks; we've added quite a few lucha libre-themed stories to our collection in recent years.
Sonia Manzano recently retired from Sesame Street; hopefully, she'll write more children's/YA books in her television retirement! Set in 1969's Spanish Harlem, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano is a sensitive and powerful coming of age story story centered on a fourteen year old Puerto Rican-American girl whose family is torn between both sides of the Puerto Rican/Latino activist movement of that time.
Gary Soto's books are must reads for any collection offering Latino books for children; Too Many Tamales, set during Christmas, is a heartwarming and gorgeously illustrated tale about truth-telling and family love. Share this with your lower elementary grade students!
Cross-cultural books (like Mama Provi and the Pot of Rice) are one of my beloved genres; you can't get much more universal than the drama of losing a tooth (or food). While the Tooth Fairy visits children in the United States, El Raton Perez (a mouse) takes the teeth of children in Mexico. Both visit Mexican-American Miguel when he places his tooth under his pillow; who will take the tooth and get the glory? The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez is funny, festive, and a sweet story of multiculturalism and cooperation. Pair this with Throw Your Tooth on the Roof for an around-the-world study of lost teeth customs.
Fans of YA coming-of-age stories should not miss Under the Mesquite, which follows a teen poet as she comes to term with her mother's cancer diagnosis and the hardships that follow. Guadalupe Garcia McCall's upcoming book is a Romeo and Juliet story set during the Mexican War for Independence along the Texas border; cannot wait!
Finally, What Can You Do With a Paleta/What Can You Do With a Rebozo? celebrate everyday life with family and neighbors in a Mexican barrio (neighborhood). Children explore the many fun and creative things you can do with a paleta (popsicle) or a rebozo (scarf). I've had great success reading both books to preschool groups.
Until next Monday--happy reading!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library