Summary: Isabel’s got the typical first-day-of-school jitters, but she has an additional worry: she doesn’t speak much English. She begs not to go; her mother is understanding but insistent, offering her this advice: “Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.” Things are tough at first, and when a girl named Sarah offers to be her friend, Isabel doesn’t understand and shakes her head. In the afternoon, though, there’s time to draw, and Isabel loves using all the colors. Remembering Mami’s advice, she draws two faces and shows them to Sarah, along with the word “Amigas”. The rest of the class enthusiastically admires Isabel’s picture, and Isabel ends up thinking that maybe school won’t be so bad after all. The story is told in both English and Spanish and includes two pages of Spanish to English translations for the words used in the story. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A perfect back-to-school book for ELL students, particularly those who speak Spanish. The story captures the worries of learning a new language and fitting in, with a realistically hopeful ending.
Cons: I hope Isabel can get some good ELL services at school.
Summary: When the narrator visits her abuelo, she loves helping him sell fruit. Together they make up a song to let people know the fruits they have, “Mango, limón, coco, melón, naranja, toronjo, plátano, piña.” On New Year’s Eve, many customers buy grapes so they can gobble up twelve at midnight, making a wish for each chime of the clock. The girl’s last wish is always to be able to visit her grandparents more often, but much of the time they have to make do with letters that travel between the U.S. and Cuba. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Spanglish, travel restrictions to Cuba, los pregoneros or the singing vendors, and New Year’s Eve. Available in Spanish and English. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The lively narration and colorful illustrations present an inviting portrayal of Cuba that would pair well with All the Way to Havana for a Cuban/Margarita Engle story hour. Well deserving of some Pura Belpré recognition.
Cons: Eating twelve grapes on the stroke of midnight sounds challenging.
Summary: Selena’s love of singing is obvious from the first page of this biography, in which she’s using a rolled tortilla as a microphone. She started at a young age, and by the time she was nine, she was singing in a band at the family restaurant with her siblings on drums and guitar. Hard economic times meant losing the restaurant and a move to Corpus Christi, Texas, where the family bought a bus and went on the road to perform. Wanting to connect with her audience, Selena taught herself Spanish so she could sing the much-loved Tejano songs, ultimately succeeding in the male-dominated field of Tejano music. The story ends with Selena’s final concert at the Houston Astrodome performing before over 60,000 people, inviting them to “¡Canta conmigo!” Includes author’s note with additional biographical information and a list of Selena’s studio albums. Available in both English and Spanish versions. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Another great picture book biography about Selena that can be paired with last year’s Selena: Queen of Tejano Music. This one emphasizes Selena’s hard work and how she overcame sexism and racism to succeed. With the Netflix series introducing Selena’s music to a new generation, there’s sure to be a big demand for both of these books.
Cons: Selena’s marriage is covered in one sentence, with no mention of her married name Perez, and her death is described in the author’s note simply as “she was killed on March 31, 1995”.
Summary: Areli Morales tells her story, beginning with her childhood in Mexico where she lived with Abuela. Every Saturday her parents would call from the United States, and Areli dreamed of the day she could join them there. Her older brother Alex lived with her, but eventually was able to leave, because, unlike Areli, he had been born in the U.S. Finally, when Areli was in kindergarten, she got word that she would be able to join the rest of the family. When Areli arrived, she was thrilled to be with her parents and Alex, but struggled to learn English and fit in at school, where kids sometimes called her “illegal”. As the years passed, things got easier, and a fifth grade field trip to Ellis Island made Areli realize how many other immigrants had come to America just like she had, and helped her to dream of a bright future in America. Includes an author’s note about her DACA status: how she obtained it, what opportunities it opened up for her, and how it has been threatened. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Areli’s story is told in a way that will engage younger readers but also show older kids the experience of immigrating to the U.S. and what it means to be a DACA recipient. Kids who have had an experience similar to Areli’s will appreciate her story, and those who haven’t will get a child’s perspective on what it’s like.
Cons: I liked Areli’s author’s note, but I would have liked even more information or additional resources about DACA.
Summary: A boy travels through his L.A. neighborhood on a hot summer day, in search of Paletero José, a pushcart vendor with cool treats. As he goes, he greets other friends selling their goods on the streets, but won’t be deterred from his destination. Finally he arrives, makes his selection, reaches into his pocket…and discovers that his money is gone! Lucky for him, the friends along the way noticed the coins falling as he ran, picked them up, and followed him. With a “muchas gracías, amigos,” he goes to make his purchase, but Paletero José has a different idea: free paletas for all in celebration of kindness. 32 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Enjoy this summer treat celebrating kindness and community from Latin Grammy winner Lucky Diaz. The rhyming text is catchy, interspersed with Spanish words and phrases, and the colorful illustrations evoke a vibrant neighborhood on a bright summer day.
Summary: El Toro has a big match coming up, wrestling The Wall. His trainer, Kooky Dooky, has lots of ideas about how to get him ready, but first he must get El Toro out of bed. This proves challenging, as El Toro doesn’t want to eat breakfast, stretch, or go for a jog…he just wants to sleep. Finally, though, he is ready for action and, cheered on by his fans, he zips through every challenge Kooky Dooky puts before him. When it’s time for the big match, El Toro defeats The Wall with one big “Pow!”. 56 page; ages 4-8.
Pros: Raúl the Third brings the fun of his ¡Vamos! books to this new early reader series that is sure to be a hit. There are many Spanish translations of English words and phrases in the text, with the Spanish in a purple font to make it readily distinguishable. Book 2 (Tag Team) was published simultaneously. Let’s hope this is just the beginning.
Cons: After all that training, I wish the wrestling match had been longer than a single page.
Summary: Two groups of kids meet on the playground: three speak English and three speak Spanish. At first, the groups watch and listen to each other, unable to speak the others’ language. Gradually, they find things in common: jumping rope, dancing, and enjoying the playground equipment. By the end of the day, they’re playing together and learning words from a new language. Then it’s “¡Hasta mañana!” and “See you tomorrow!” as each group heads off in a different direction. Includes a glossary of Spanish and English words and an author’s note about the importance of learning languages, written in both English and Spanish. 32 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: A cute story about overcoming language barriers to friendship. The text is written in English and Spanish, which could help kids learn a few words in a new language.
Cons: There were a few pages of text around the jump rope scene that weren’t translated, or the translation was a little confusing.
Summary: International children’s advocate Warren Binford was shocked by his 2019 visit to the Clint Border Patrol Station in Texas where he found over 350 children locked in a warehouse, a loading dock, and overcrowded cells. After Donald Trump and Mike Pence refused to acknowledge the truth about Clint, Warren and his colleagues went on social media to ask artists, writers, faith leaders, and anyone else to help these children tell their stories. Project Amplify has resulted in songs, plays, billboards, works of art, and now this book, which is a collection of the children’s stories in their own words. Illustrated by 17 Latinx artists, the text is in both English and Spanish, and lets the kids tell why they left their countries for the U.S. and the deplorable conditions they experienced once they got here. Includes a foreword by Michael Garcia Bochenek of Human Rights Watch and several pages about Project Amplify and the book, including thumbnail portraits of each artist and questions to ask children about the text. 96 pages; ages 8 and up.
Pros: An incredibly powerful book, made more so by the amazing illustrations (some realistic and some more fantastic), and the back matter.
Cons: It’s hard to recommend an age group for this book. While I think there are plenty of elementary kids who would learn a lot from it, it should definitely be read with some adult guidance.
Summary: “Every morning the rain forest calls to Zonia.” Off she goes with her animal friends: playing hide-and-seek, running races, and lying quiet and still. After a day with the animals, she’s ready to return to her parents and baby brother. On the way home, though, she stumbles upon something she’s never seen before: the severed stumps of trees that have been cut down. She tells her mother that the forest needs help, and her mother says it is calling to her. “‘Then I will answer,’ says Zonia, ‘as I always do.’” Includes additional information about the Asháninka, the largest indigenous group living in the Peruvian rain forest; a few facts about the Amazon; threats to the Amazon; and Zonia’s animal friends in order of appearance. Spanish version also available: La Selva de Zonia. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This is sure to be a hit with any child who loves animals. Zonia’s life in the rain forest looks like a lot of fun, and the animals are beautifully rendered. The environmental message is delivered delicately, then reinforced with the excellent back matter. Another Caldecott contender!
Cons: I hate to mention it with all the excellent back matter, but I would have liked to have seen a map.
Summary: Growing up in Texas, Selena Quintanilla was surrounded by music from an early age. Her father taught her older siblings to play guitar and drums, and Selena soon proved herself to be a natural performer, singing and dancing to their music. By the time she was nine years old, they were performing regularly in her father’s restaurant. A few years later, the restaurant went out of business and the family fell on hard times. Touring and making music seemed like the only way to make a living. There was a demand for Tejano music, so Selena learned Spanish to perform the popular songs. By the time she was in her late teens, Selena was an award-winning star, loved in both Mexico and the U.S. She also was a popular celebrity, treating both her fans and co-workers with kindness and respect. The final page memorializes Selena as a trailblazer and role model. Includes several pages of additional information about Selena and her music, ending with a few paragraphs about her murder at the age of 23. A Spanish-language version of this book, Selena: Reina de la MúsicaTejana is also available. 48 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Here’s another book I’ve been anticipating for several months, as my music-loving daughter has gotten me interested in learning more about Selena. As I imagine is true for many others, I only knew about her death, so I’m glad this book has been written to celebrate her life and legacy. There’s a lot of text, but the story is so engaging it doesn’t feel like a lot to plow through, and the illustrations really capture Selena’s spirit. I was even inspired to watch the official video of “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom”, which is an incredibly catchy tune. Sadly, as the book concludes, quoting Selena biographer Joe Nick Patoski: “The debate will never cease as to what could have been.”
Cons: This book seems to be getting recommended for the 6-9 age group, but I think older kids will appreciate it more, due to both the text-heavy story and the tragic ending.