Jul 28, 2015


Literacy – A Legacy We Must Pass On To The Next Generation

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source: Simon Blackley

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!”
— A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The importance of reading can not be over-stated, yet Latino children are reading at a lower level than many of their peers. An analysis of U.S. government statistics by the Foundation for Child Development shows that Latino children rank second from the bottom in reading. Various other studies have also found that there is a “lower rate of book reading by Latino parents with their young children.”

Apart from the necessity of encouraging our children to read on their own, and reading to them, modeling good reading habits is also very important. Studies show that parents who read are more likely to have children who read. If you’re not a parent, you can still serve as a good role model to nieces, nephews and other special children in your life.

Not sure where to start? Go to your local public library and get a library card – it’s usually free and children feel really special when they get to have their own. Though I encourage you to allow the children to pick whichever books excite them, here are some books with a little sabor Latino that are worth checking out too.

Infants & Up

Cuentos Que Contaban Nuestras Abuelas (Tales Our Abuelitas Told): Cuentos populares Hispánicos by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Felipe Davalos, and Susan Guevara – Not all of us are blessed to have grown up hearing the popular stories of Latin America – and those of us that have heard them, may have forgotten them. This book will help you pass them on to the next generation.

En Mi Familia/In My Family by Carmen Lomas Garza – Introduce your niño/a to some fantastic art. The beautiful illustrations in this book are paintings by Carmen Lomas Garza, an artist with the unique ability of capturing daily Latino family life.


F is For Fiesta by Susan Middleton Elya – A fun, simple Spanglish alphabet book with a very catchy rhythm to the words and super cute illustrations.





Mamá Goose – A Latino Nursery Treasury by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy – This is Mother Goose, estilo Latino! Includes bilingual lullabies, hand games, proverbs, nursery rhymes, jump-rope songs, stories and more.



Tweens & Teens

My Name Is Pablo by Aimee Sommerfeldt - This book might be difficult to find but it’s worth seeking out. Published in 1965 by Norwegian author Aimee Sommerfelt, the language has a quaint feel that is hard to come by in more modern books. The story is about a Norwegian boy whose family come to live in Mexico for a year, and the shoe shine boy named Pablo who finds his way into their lives.

Wáchale!: Poetry and Prose on Growing Up Latino Today – This bilingual collection of prose and poetry features 29 Latino writers of diverse voices. The book is categorized as “young adult” but is more than substantial enough to be appreciated by older readers. (Tip: the “young adult” section is a well kept secret, full of many amazing books. Don’t be shy about checking it out for yourself.)


The Jumping Tree by René Saldaña, Jr. – A sweet collection of stories about an adolescent Chicano boy growing up in South Texas. The stories are filled with so many strange yet amusing details that I’ve concluded that this book is probably somewhat autobiographical or the writer is a genius at capturing such nuances. (Perhaps both could be true.) Jumping tree teaches lessons about family, becoming a man, dealing with peer pressure and being true to yourself. This is an especially good book for young Latino Americans struggling with identity issues.


Crazy Loco by David Rice – Nine stories about everyday life in a small town in South Texas. The voice of each story rings true whether it’s about the family dog with a bilingual name, first kisses, attending mass, competitive cousins, border patrol, or los abuelos.



Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez – This is another great book that you will enjoy reading yourself. The book alternates chapters, half being told by Mari, an undocumented Mexican girl living in the U.S., the other half by Tyler, a Caucasian American boy she befriends. Mari lives in a trailer with her two younger sisters, father and uncles on the farm Tyler’s father owns. The two main story lines focus on the friendship between Tyler and Mari, and the disappearance of Mari’s mother which they can’t report to the police for fear of being deported. This is serious subject matter handled thoughtfully and in such a way that children will really grasp the issues while feeling compassion for the characters.

For more book recommendations check out SpanglishBaby.com and LatinBabyBookClub.com

What are your child’s favorite books?

Tracy López is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family. She can also be reached via Twitter @Latinaish.

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Tracy López

Tracy López

Tracy is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family.

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  1. Thanks for such a well written article emphasizing our need to pass on to our children the gift of literacy, the wonders that can be found in books. Nowhere can children better learn to read and enjoy reading than in a loving family environment. And books offer wonderful opportunities to dialogue with children about meaningful topics. Meaningful conversations at home are a decisive determinant on academic success. Thanks also for including in your recommendation list two of the books, Tales Our Abuelitas Told and Mama Goose I have co-authored with Isabel Campoy. If you liked Mama Goose you may also like Pio Peep!, Muu Moo Animal Nursery Rhymes, and the latest, just about to come out Ten Little Puppies/Diez perritos. If you email me your mailing address I will try to make sure it is sent to you. All best wishes to you and everyone who reads this blog. Alma Flor Ada

  2. Alma, thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a nice comment.

    I’m thankful for the books you wrote because they allowed me to tell stories to my children which I didn’t know otherwise. My husband is Salvadoran, but I’m Anglo. We try to make sure they know their roots, but this job seems to fall more into the lap of the mother – so resources such as your books are ever so helpful!

    I will be in touch. Thank you for your kind offer.

  3. Going to the library is truly awesome and I think families are going less and less. In our local branch events are always going on foe kids, right now we have the “summer reading program”, I find that while the kids are reading there or enjoying one of the planned programs I can blog, read a book or even a magazine. Some cities even have a billingual storytime.

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

      Marcela, you are so right on that point (less use of libraries). With the explosion of and use of the internet for everything in our lives, many families are skipping the library. For us, we’re fortunate to have a library that is “fun” for our kids — they’ve remodeled it to make it kids’ friendly for all ages. So, for them, it’s like going out on a special, fun, outing. We love our library for that reason.


  1. […] Note:  This week, we recommended a great list of books for children and adults. Some of the children’s books were bilingual and the others fostered our cultural […]

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