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Cinco de Mayo reading

It’s Cinco de Mayo! Celebrate with this updated list of books starring the holiday itself, Mexican and Mexican American protagonists, and the Spanish language. All were recommended at the time of publication by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide; reviews reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online.

For more recommended Spanish-language and bilingual books, click here.

Picture books

ada_let me helpIn Alma Flor Ada’s Let Me Help! / ¡Quiero ayudar!, pet parrot Perico knows how to say “Let me help!” He repeats this statement as his (human) family members prepare for the San Antonio Cinco de Mayo festival. They shoo him away, but to everyone’s surprise he eventually finds a way to help. Angela Domínguez’s warm-hearted illustrations — from a bird’s-eye view — support the family-centered text, printed in both English and Spanish. (Children’s Book Press, 2010)

brown_maya's blanketWhen Maya Morales is little, her grandmother makes her a blanket, a “special manta” that morphs into different (progressively smaller) things as Maya grows up. Based on the Yiddish folk song “I Had a Little Coat” (and inspired by her Jewish and Latina heritage), Monica Brown Maya’s Blanket / La manta de Maya is a contemporary story, in English and Spanish, with a timeless-folktale feel. David Diaz’s mixed-media illustrations are warm and joyful. (Lee/Children’s, 2015)

cumpiano_quinito day and nightQuinito describes, in English and Spanish, his family, friends, and activities in terms of opposites: “My Mami is short. My Papi is tall…I’m just the right size.” Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche by Ina Cumpiano succeeds as a book of opposites, an exposition of bilingual vocabulary, and an engaging portrayal of family and neighborhood. José Ramírez’s naive-style paintings in warm colors over black are both comforting and energy-packed. (Children’s Book Press, 2008)

kent_el perro con sombreroIn Derek Taylor Kent’s El perro con sombrero: A Bilingual Doggy Tale, Pepe is a lonely dog until he finds a hat and becomes el perro con sombrero, a famous movie star. Disaster strikes when a jealous cat steals his sombrero, but it helps Pepe realize there is something better than fame. Jed Henry’s illustrations are lively, funny, and filled with action, and the alternation between the English and Spanish translations feels natural. (Holt, 2015)

medina_mango, abuela, and meMia worries when her “far-away grandmother” arrives in Meg Medina’s Mango, Abuela, and Me. Abuela doesn’t speak English, and Mia’s “español is not good enough to tell her the things an abuela should know.” A pet-store parrot named Mango allows Mia and her abuela to truly connect. This heartwarming story about finding common ground and adapting to change is accompanied by Angela Dominguez’s illustrations, which capture the characters’ emotions and moods. Recipient of both a 2016 Belpré Author Honor and a Belpré Illustrator Honor. (Candlewick, 2015)

medina_tia isa wants a carThe young narrator of Meg Medina’s Tía Isa Wants a Car, who lives in America with her aunt and uncle, describes how Tía Isa wants a car, one that’s “the same shiny green as the ocean.” However, they don’t have enough money — yet. The narrator incorporates Spanish words naturally, giving the dialogue an authenticity that is neither laborious nor stilted. Soft watercolor illustrations by Claudio Muñoz mirror the text. Also available in a Spanish-language edition. (Candlewick, 2011)

mora_i pledge allegianceIn Pat Mora and Libby Martinez’s I Pledge Allegiance, a Mexican American girl and her great-aunt Lobo learn the Pledge of Allegiance: young Libby practices so she can lead her class at school; Lobo will recite the Pledge at her upcoming citizenship ceremony. Their love for each other is affectionately shown in Patrice Barton’s soft, digitally rendered illustrations, full of red, white, and blue. An author’s note introduces the real Lobo. (Knopf, 2014)

Nino Wrestles the WorldPint-sized Niño, fearless luchador and reluctantly attentive big brother, dons his red mask, ready to take on all comers, in Niño Wrestles the World. He battles a series of imagined foes from Mexican history and popular culture before facing the trickiest of opponents, las hermanitas! Working in digital collage, author/illustrator Yuyi Morales packs every polychromatic double-page spread with action, trying — not quite successfully, fortunately — to contain Niño’s energy within their frames. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2013)

reiser_my wayAuthor/illustrator Lynn Reiser uses the bilingual structure of My Way: A Margaret and Margarita Story / A mi manera: Un cuento de Margarita y Margaret in an ingenious way, with the English (Margaret’s voice) and Spanish (Margarita’s) mirroring each other on facing pages, but with each girl presenting a distinct self. Reiser’s cheerful primary-bright palette signals readers that friends liking different things is just fine. A satisfying, upbeat reminder that kids can be true to themselves and be a good friend, too. (Greenwillow, 2007)

saenz_perfect season for dreamingA Perfect Season for Dreaming / Un tiempo perfecto para soñar begins on the first day of summer as Octavio Rivera begins to dream. He shares these visions with his granddaughter Regina, who also experiences dreams as if they are “good friends who…console you when you’re lonely.” Author Benjamin Alire Sáenz beautifully evokes a dream state with long, languorous sentences in English and Spanish. Esau Andrade Valencia’s richly hued and textured surrealist tableaux are both accessible and inspired. (Cinco, 2008)

soto_big bushy mustacheIn Big Bushy Mustache by Gary Soto and Joe Cepeda, the only costume Ricky wants to wear for his class’s Cinco de Mayo play is a big, bushy mustache, because it looks just like Papi’s. When he wears it home from school to show his parents, he loses it along the way. Papi’s solution — he generously offers his own freshly shaved mustache — is a little unlikely, but the warm family relationship, emphasized in Cepeda’s bold paintings, comes across nevertheless. (Knopf, 1998)

thong_green is a chile pepperIn Roseanne Greenfield Thong’s festive concept book Green Is a Chile Pepper, all the colors found in a Latino neighborhood are described in rhyming text with frequent Spanish words, explained in detail in a glossary. The objects described, such as ristras, piñatas, and faroles, are staples of Mexican culture, but John Parra’s folk art–style paintings, stuffed with entertaining details, make them universally understandable and appealing. (Chronicle, 2014)

tonatiuh_dear primoTwo cousins, one in Mexico and the other in America, write letters to each other about their everyday lives in Duncan Tonatiuh’s Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin. Facing pages demonstrate how their cultural differences are far less important than their commonalities. Take the boys’ favorite foods, for example: it’s quesadillas for Carlitos and pizza for Charlie. Side-by-side illustrations show similar images: both boys seated, with food in hand. A clever, well-executed conceit. (Abrams, 2010)



ada_dancing homeMexican American fifth-grader Margie, star of Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta’s Dancing Home, tries hard to project an all-American image. This works until her cousin Lupe arrives from Mexico to live with Margie’s family. Alternating narration, injected with Spanish-language phrases, brings out the difficulties of language-learning and peer acceptance from each girl’s perspective. Authors Ada and Zubizarreta provide a sympathetic view of an immigrant child’s experience. (Atheneum, 2011)

ada_love amaliaAmalia is devastated when she learns her best friend is moving to California; fortunately, her abuelita comforts her with stories about loved ones far away. When Abuelita suddenly dies, Amalia must draw on what her grandmother has taught her to accept her grief and anger. Love, Amalia, written by Alma Flor Ada and illustrated by Gabriel M. Zubizarreta, portrays a multigenerational immigrant family with sensitively drawn characters and a low-key story. Concurrently published in Spanish. (Atheneum, 2012)


ryan_esperanza risingIn Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan’s poignant look at the realities of immigration, thirteen-year-old Esperanza, daughter of an affluent Mexican rancher, is forced to trade fancy dolls and dresses for hard work and ill-fitting hand-me-downs after her beloved father dies. Laboring in the United States, picking grapes on someone else’s land for pennies an hour, Esperanza is transformed into someone who can take care of herself and others. (Scholastic, 2000)



banks_joyrideLove triumphs in Anna Banks’s Romeo and Juliet–esque tale Joyride. Carly Vega is an impoverished Mexican American girl working night shifts to help her deported parents get back to America; Arden Moss is the wealthy Caucasian son of a racist sheriff. Carly’s conflicted response to familial responsibility and the significance of her complex problems with United States immigration policy are convincingly wrought. (Feiwel, 2015)

de la pena_mexican white boyThe one place Danny feels accepted is the baseball field. He imagines becoming a star, making his father proud enough to return from Mexico. Matt de la Peña’s Mexican White Boy is a fast-paced baseball story is unique in its gritty realism, framed in the context of broken homes and bicultural pressures. De la Peña poignantly conveys the message that, despite obstacles, you must shape your own future. (Delacorte, 2008)

mcneal_dark waterFifteen-year-old Pearl starts an illicit relationship with Amiel, an undocumented migrant laborer. When fire consumes southern California, Pearl abandons her family to warn Amiel of the approaching flames. Pearl ominously hints at impending disaster throughout the narrative; this foreshadowing heightens the climax’s suspense. Inspired by southern California’s 2007 fires, Laura McNeal’s National Book Award finalist novel Dark Water captures the desperation of both love and survival with wrenching authenticity. (Knopf, 2010)

pérez_out of darknessTwo teens, Mexican American Naomi and African American Wash, fall in love and struggle to keep their relationship secret in racist 1936 east Texas. Ashley Hope Pérez’s 2016 Printz Honor Book Out of Darkness weaves in the forces that led up to the 1937 New London school explosion, a tragedy rooted in the era’s violent abuse against minorities. A poignant, potent, and provocative historical drama steeped in well-researched factual details. (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015)

quintero_gabi a girl in pieces Gabi, a light-skinned Hispanic girl who is maybe a little bit too curvy, is no stranger to trouble. Her father is a meth addict, her brother’s a budding graffiti artist, her best friend’s pregnant, and another friend is homeless after coming out to his father. Blisteringly honest diary entries mix with poetry to create a beautifully distinct and powerful voice in Isabel Quintero’s 2014 Morris Award winner Gabi, A Girl in Pieces. (Cinco, 2014)

Aristotle and Dante Answer the Secrets of the UniverseTwo boys strike up a friendship that will change their lives in ways both subtle and profound in Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Belpré Author Award–winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Ari saves Dante’s life but breaks his own legs in the process, cementing the bond between the two Mexican American families. Ari’s first-person narrative — poetic, philosophical, honest — skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance. (Simon, 2012)

saldana_finding our wayIn the eleven disparate coming-of-age cuentos about Chicano culture collected in Finding Our Way: Stories, author Rene Saldaña Jr. forces the reader to experience the linguistic world of many of his protagonists — the decision to offer no glossary for the Spanish phrases that infuse his text serves as a curative disadvantage for the English-speaking reader. Never maudlin or overdrawn, these taut but lyrical tales bring light into the corners of kids’ lives. (Random/Lamb, 2003)



Poetry, folklore, and nonfiction

Muu MooAlma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy’s ¡Muu, Moo!: Rimas de animales / Animal Nursery Rhymes collects sixteen traditional nursery rhymes. Spanish is the preeminent language, with each rhyme presented first in Spanish and then in a free retelling in English (by Rosalma Zubizarreta) that captures the flavor of the original. This will be an invaluable resource for librarians and teachers, and with soft, warm watercolor illustrations by Viví Escrivá, it also makes an attractive gift book.

argueta_salsaJorge Argueta’s bilingual cooking poem Salsa: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem plays on the multiple meanings of salsa for a musical recipe (although the lack of measurements may leave some readers perplexed). As a boy and his family prepare salsa roja, his imagination runs wild, ingredients becoming instruments. Onomatopoeia and detailed ingredient descriptions play on various senses; Duncan Tonatiuh’s Mesoamerican-inspired drawings in earthy tones suit the poem’s combination of traditional and modern. (Groundwood, 2015)

bernier-grand_diego bigger than lifeIn free verse, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand’s Diego: Bigger than Life chronicles the childhood of Mexican painter Diego Rivera, before highlighting the passions (art, women, politics) of his adult life. These vignettes are appropriately accompanied by David Diaz’s vibrantly colored mixed-media silhouettes and occasionally — and to great effect — Rivera’s own paintings. An author’s note and quotes by Rivera are appended. (Cavendish, 2009)

delacre_arrorro mi ninoSelector/illustrator Lulu Delacre includes the best known Latino lullabies and finger plays in her collection Arrorro mi nino: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games, a veritable Latina Mother Goose. The fifteen selections are presented bilingually; the English versions are literal (unrhymed) translations of the original Spanish. Oil-wash illustrations capture lovely scenes of mothers and grandmothers with children and offer glimpses of Latino life. Finger-play instructions and music are included. (Lee and Low, 2004)

hayes_coyote under the tableThe Coyote Under the Table / El coyote debajo de la mesa: Folktales Told in Spanish and English, Joe Hayes’s collection of bilingual folktales drawn from the Hispanic New Mexico oral tradition, provides refreshing depth and humor. Brief source notes expand on the history of each of the ten tales and add social/historical context. Clean, unencumbered prose draws attention to the structure and rhythm of the stories, which are best read aloud. Antonio L.Castro’s amusing illustrations face the start of each entry. (Cinco Puntos, 2011)

Viva FridaIn Viva Frida, Yuyi Morales initially shows Kahlo as a puppet: made from steel, polymer clay, and wool, three-dimensional figures are photographed (by Tim O’Meara) and digitally manipulated inside double-page-spread collages. As we enter Kahlo’s mind, the medium changes to lush acrylics. The illustrations are accompanied by just a few words of text in both Spanish and English that leave readers with a dreamlike impression. An ingenious tour de force. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2014)

paschkis_flutter and humWritten first in Spanish then translated into English by the (non-native Spanish speaker) author, each of the animal poems in Julie Paschkis’s Flutter & Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales is intricately connected to its corresponding gouache painting, with additional, thematic words found throughout the pictures. For example, in “Fish / El Pez,” a boy sleeps on a boat that floats above fish swimming in a sea of lulling words: linger, flow; luna, burbuja. Holt 2015

tonatiuh_funny bonesJosé Guadalupe Posada (1852–1915) didn’t invent those iconic Day of the Dead skeletons, but they attained their greatest popularity during the years he drew them. In Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras, Duncan Tonatiuh digitally layers various colors and textures onto simple, black-outlined drawings, in his signature flat illustrative style; Posada’s own artwork also plays a prominent role. The straightforward narrative incorporates biographical highlights and personal anecdotes; extended sidebars illustrate printing processes. (Abrams, 2015)

Separate Is Never EqualIn 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Duncan Tonatiuh’s Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. (Abrams, 2014)

shahan_fiestaIn ¡Fiesta!: A Celebration of Latino Festivals, author Sherry Shahan describes twelve Latino festivals, one for each month of the year, in brief poems accompanied by short explanatory paragraphs. Some of the celebrations, such as Cinco de Mayo and Día de los Muertos, will be familiar; others that are very specific to certain countries or ethnic groups may not be. Paula Barragán’s vibrantly flowing digitally enhanced cut-paper illustrations accompany the text. (August/Little Folk, 2009)



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