This Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is a special time for Hispanic Americans, when the nation pays tribute to, and celebrates, the contributions of Latino Americans. To help parents kick off the festivities, I've rounded up some awesome and inspiring children's books for Hispanic Heritage Month.
The below list features a diverse selection of stories ranging from illustrated biographies that detail the lives of famous artists and musicians — such as Frida Kahlo and Tito Puente — to stories that simply tell sweet tales of heritage and family. I also threw in some charming, unique stories, like a little girl wanting to be a part of Lucha Libres, and a little boy longing to be a mermaid.
It can sometimes be tricky to convey big themes like "familial heritage" and "cultural contributions" to little kids, and I really feel like picture books — even more so than movies or film — do the best job of this. Kids can take their time with books, puzzling over interesting pictures and prodding their parents with questions. Books create a dialogue, and allow kids to explore and digest ideas at their own pace. My selections are all lively, heartfelt stories with vibrant illustrations, each paying tribute in its own special way.
1. 'Lucia the Luchadora' by Cynthia Leonor Garza, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez
A story celebrating family legacy and female empowerment, this is the tale of Lucia — a little girl who feels defeated after a group of boys tell her that girls can't be superheroes. When Lucia's abuela reveals that she actually comes from a long line of "luchadoras" — female Mexican wrestlers — Lucia dons a wrestling mask herself, and heads back to the playground. However, trouble soon arises, and her courage is put to the test.
2. 'Just In Case' by Yuyi Morales
This gorgeously illustrated book tells the story of a Day of the Dead skeleton trying to figure out what to give his Grandma Beetle for her birthday. He ends up giving her a gift for every letter of the alphabet ("A for Una Acordéon, B for Bigotes," etc.) making this a playful and unique Spanish lesson, as well as just a wildly imaginative story.
3. 'Julian Is a Mermaid' by Jessica Love
A winner of the Stonewall Book Award, there's just so much to love about this unique and heartfelt story. A little boy is riding a subway with his abuela, when he spies some women dressed as beautiful mermaids. Once he's home, he decides to put his own mermaid outfit together, even though he's nervous about what his abuela might think. Can boys be mermaids?
The illustrations in this are stunning, and the story may leave you teary... in a good way.
4. 'Alma and How She Got Her Name' by Juana Martinez Neal
This sweet and adorably illustrated book is about Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela: a little girl who is baffled by the length of her name. She doesn't understand why she needs so many! But then her father explains the meaning behind each name — sharing with her tales of her ancestors, and where the names come from. Alma quickly learns to love the history and story of her many names.
5. 'Viva Frida' by Yuyi Morales
Another one from Yuyi Morales, this tells the story of the bold, unique life of renowned artist Frida Kahlo. Morales pairs spare text with dreamy, whimsical photos of handcrafted figurines and teeny props, making this a captivating read for children and adults alike.
6. 'Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico's Folkloric Ballet' by Duncan Tonatiuh
This is a lovely way to introduce children to the life of Amalia Hernandez, the famed dancer and founder of El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. It's a charming and informative read, and the illustrations are almost as bold and unique as the dancer herself.
7. 'Tito Puente Mambo King' by Monica Brown, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
A picture book detailing the life of "Mambo King" Tito Puente, it begins with baby Tito banging on pots and pans, and follows his groundbreaking musical journey all the way to the Grammys. This book thrums with rhythm and musicality, and will likely be called upon for repeated reads from little ones.
8. 'What Can You Do with a Paleta?' by Carmen Tafolla, illustrated by Magaley Morales
A paleta — a frozen, fruit-flavored treat — becomes more than just a snack in this gorgeous picture book. In this story, as the paleta wagon rolls through the neighborhood, Mexican culture is weaved beautifully by a little girl sharing all the wonders of enjoying a sweet paleta on a hot day.