Reading Nook

18 Bilingual Children’s Books To Inspire A Love Of Language

Now is the perfect time to embrace the benefits of speaking more than one language.

In our highly connected, fast-paced global society, there’s never been a better time to be bilingual. Whether it’s connecting with your Spanish-speaking abuelita on a video call, writing postcards to your pen pal in France, or helping your child connect to their Chinese roots, it’s always a bonus to be fluent in more than one language. Seeing as we’re still in the depths of a pandemic that’s keeping us home more often, it’s also a great time for putting focus on expanding linguistic capacity.

If you’re a parent or caregiver, there are many reasons you may want to raise your child to be bilingual. Not only are you expanding their attention-spans and fostering empathy, you’re also preparing them for career success later in life — indeed, the benefits of being bilingual are myriad. And while it’s entirely possible to learn new languages later in life, our capacity for absorbing this knowledge diminishes with age, so childhood truly is the best time for this. One of the best ways to start your bilingual journey is by way of books. Whether you’re just now introducing your baby to bilingual board books or you’re kicking off lessons with a grade-school child, check out these fantastic bilingual books for young readers.

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Collections to lay a foundation

Sophia Espinoza, director of curriculum and learning design at Canticos, a bilingual preschool brand, shares this excellent gift set of starter books for the youngest learners that includes the following titles: First 100 Words, Letters A-Z, Numbers 1 to 100, Shapes & Patterns, Opposites, and Feelings. These simple board books will make it easy to lay the foundation for learning Spanish.

“At Canticos, we design all our books with these best practices in mind; each book is crafted with learning goals and developmental milestones in mind and meant to engage learners in a deep, fun, effective way,” says Espinoza.

Along with your basic word books, you’ll also want to incorporate books that “spark curiosity,” says Espinoza. “Things like nursery rhymes and myths are rich in allegories, symbols, and can lead to endless explorations of cultures familiar and novel,” she explains. This set of three early-reader nursery rhymes does exactly that.

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A book that celebrates the everyday

Espinoza also recommends this whimsical French-English book, for kids 4 to 8, about a snow day — something many kids can relate to. “Silliness and surprise tie into engagement and fun, and learning for children has to be fun,” she says.

Read & listen

“Language learning and vocabulary acquisition generally need to be as multisensory as possible, so incorporating touch (lift the flap, textures), sound (rhyming, singing), and visual cues (illustrations, color-coded text) makes for a stronger experience,” says Espinoza. She recommendes this Mandarin-English bilingual book, which also includes a CD to listen to for an added multisensory bonus.

A beautiful board book

This adorable board book for young readers highlights the life of Walter Mercado, the famous Puerto Rican astrologer whose life was also recently turned into a Netflix documentary, Mucho, Mucho Amor. This is one of a number of books by the Lil Libros brand that specializes in bilingual board books primarily for babies and toddlers.

Adventure awaits!

For slightly older readers (ages 4 to 8), Lil Libros presents Super Torta. Enjoy a few good laughs with your little one reading this hilarious story about a young boy whose love for tortas takes an interesting turn after a field trip to a nuclear power plant.

A beautifully woven tale

“This is about the weavers of Guatemala. It is a modern tale that talks about life in the villages of Guatemala. The main character is about the age of the target age range (3 to 8 years old), which makes it engaging,” says Caitlyn J. Zwang, a dual language teacher at a Montessori school in San Antonio, Texas. “The English text is still infused with Spanish words so even someone not fluent would be able to introduce isolated Spanish words.”

A great excuse to make a tasty meal

"The story focuses on how the main character cannot make her tortillas round and beautiful," says Zwang, adding that this is a great option for ages 3 to 8 to learn and practicing shapes in Spanish. "Learners could extend the activities to make play dough tortillas or even real tortillas," she suggests.

A book to inspire imaginative play

“This one can be acted out by the children listening to practice and build understanding. Like the previous stories, it teaches the language through something important to the cultures who speak Spanish,” says Zwang.

An introduction to American Sign Language

Zwang reminds us that ASL is a language that is often ignored in the conversation around bilingual books. She shares this recommendation: “The Moses books are a series that incorporates ASL into each book, but this is my favorite because it also teaches the science of vibrations and sound, so it’s a two-for-one. The story is written in English but accented with images of how to do the signs to tell key parts of the story. My students love to practice the signs as I read the story aloud.” This book is recommended for ages 3-6.

A book to treasure

Monica Olivera, author and education writer at MommyMaestra.com, calls this “a beautiful compendium of lullabies, riddles, rhymes and more from throughout Latin America.” She says, “Hispanic parents will love the connection to their own childhood, and children will love the stories as well as the illustrations.”

Music & interaction!

Olivera also suggests this fun book for readers 5 and younger. “This book includes the musical arrangement of more than 30 finger rhymes and action songs. Kids will love the music and the way they can physically interact with each selection,” she says.

A book to take you on an adventure

“I think children who love adventure will love this story about the famous archaeologist Tello,” says Olivera, who recommends this and other bilingual biographies written by the author, including My Name iI Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/la vida de Celia Cruz, for readers ages 4 through 8. “The illustrations are remarkable and the story of his discoveries is inspiring,” she says.

Great books to read out loud

Kristina Pino, a Miami-based fifth-grade teacher whose students are frequently Spanish speakers, highly recommends ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat and ¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market, both of which incorporate Spanish. “I really loved these for Spanish-English language learners because it's got both — loads of things are translated, and a lot of things in the background are labeled in Spanish for the Spanish learner," she says. "This sort of book works well as a read aloud/read together."

Back to basics

Laura Schreiber, a librarian based in Florida, says alphabet books are excellent for youngsters learning a new language and recommends this one that features four languages at a time. “For bilingual books for toddlers, I would recommend picture books that clearly show the word in both languages and a picture of the object,” she says. “Books that keep backgrounds and additional items to minimum would be more effective.”

A storybook to read over and over

“As kids grow up, we can choose story books that the kids will enjoy and probably ask you to read over and over,” says Maritere Rodriguez Bellas, author of Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie: Raising Bicultural Children. “A bilingual storybook can help increase vocabulary in both languages, teach sounds, the rhythms, and sentence structures.”

An introduction to some role models

Rodriguez Bellas and several other bilingual parents have highly recommended this book featuring short rhyming biographies of prominent Latinas including Sonia Sotomayor, Selena, and Ellen Ochoa. From Con Todo Press, this book can also be purchased as part of a gift set along with Fearless Trailblazer / Pioneros Audaces.

A book for a mama and her baby

Cuban-born author Laura Lacámara has written a number of beautiful bilingual books with a high level of cultural authenticity. This book, written for children ages 4 to 8, highlights the relationship between a mother and her child, and the child’s desire to bring the joy of music back to their mother.

Romper is thrilled to partner with Canticos, a bilingual learning system with books, games, puzzles, videos, and app, to bring you this article. Visit Canticosworld.com to learn more.