There are so many great picture books for Hispanic Heritage Month. Recently especially a flurry of books from both Spanish-speaking Latino authors and English-speaking authors alike have come out that you may not be aware of. Here I’m talking about the best picture books for Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15. These books can also be great for other occasions throughout the year to teach about famous Latinos, Chicanos, and all Hispanic cultures throughout the world.
As with any occasion there are hundreds and thousands of fun activities to teach with. The best, though, in my opinion, is through stories. And no stories are better to teach with by being able to get through a beginning, middle and end in one lesson than picture books!
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Check out the books:
Famous Artists and Writers
This is one of my favorite Frida Kahlo biographies. It shows how Frida developed into an artist from little girl to adult. Kids get really interested and develop more questions about her as they learn more about her. They also get a look into where some of her inspiration for her paintings came from.
Ok, there are a LOT of Frida Kahlo biographies, but this is my second favorite. Each spread shows a different one of her many pets and how she featured them in her paintings throughout her life. The illustrations are wonderful, but the text and how it compares Frida’s character traits to those of her pets really stand out. As you can see, this was a Pura Belpre Honor Book.
Okay, okay, I know. 3 Frida Kahlo biographies on this list? Well, yes! This book is probably most appropriate for Kindergarten or first grade with the limited text. However, it is the unique diorama-style illustrations that Yuyi Morales uses in this book that really make it stand out. They give the kids so much to talk about making it perfect for developing vocabulary in Spanish or English. Wait! Spanish or English? Yup! This book is written in English and Spanish throughout, and the awards it’s won prove how amazing this book is.
I was really excited to find this bilingual biography of Cuban poet, revolutionary, warrior and national hero Jose Marti. Author Emma Otheguy seamlessly weaves in verses from Marti’s Versos sencillos. The text tells the life of Marti and what influenced him to fight for Cuba’s independence from Spain. The text is bilingual perfect for sharing amongst bilingual and monolingual classrooms. What better way to get your students analyzing poetry than through one of Latin America’s greatest poets?
Speaking of the Versos sencillos, one of the most famous musicians to cover the song “Guantanamera” that borrows verses from Marti is Celia Cruz. Known as the Queen of Salsa, Celia is known for popularizing Latin music in the United States. This biography tells of how she left Cuba as a girl and came to the United States. Monica Brown does it again this time with a bilingual biography!
This book is another great book that goes perfectly with My Name is Celia, also by Monica Brown. This studies the mambo king Tito Puente who has plenty of songs you can play for students to accompany the book. This book is again bilingual and written in both English and Spanish. The illustrations in this are vibrant and engaging and the text complex enough even for upper elementary students.
Juan Garcia Esquivel was a pioneer in lounge music. You may not have heard of him, but you probably will recognize some of his songs. Most of his songs are completely instrumental, and I like playing them while reading the book. The text is full of onomatopoeias, and Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations really bring the text alive in his unique style.
This book is great because it is in English and in Spanish titled ¡Esquivel! Un artista del sonido de la era espacial.
Amalia Hernández was a pioneer in Mexican dance creating the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico dance company. Her dance company traveled the world spreading Mexican culture. This story is part biography and part dance history. This book was written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh and done in his trademark style. This book is better for upper elementary students, though lower elementary students would also enjoy it with more scaffolding.
Unfortunately, this book is only available in English as of this writing.
This book is kind an inception situation: it’s a biography of Pura Belpré and it also was a Pura Belpré Honor book. An inspiring picture book biography of storyteller, puppeteer, and New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, who championed bilingual literature: Pura Belpré. When she came to America in 1921, Pura Belpré carried the cuentos folklóricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread story seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy. Also one of my favorite diverse picture books for 2020!
This book is probably best for near the end of Hispanic Heritage Month as it touches on the subject of Dia de los Muertos, which happens after the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. This book, again by Duncan Tonatiuh, talks about the life of a man named Lupe Posada. He is most noted for his skeleton art that popularized the skeleton motif on Day of the Dead in Mexico. This book is a mixture of Tonatiuh’s beautiful illustrations and Posada’s own artwork. It is probably best-suited for upper elementary students with the content and length.
This book is available in English only as of this writing, but with the number of awards it has won, it’s only a matter of time before they translate it.
This is an autobiography by author Yuyi Morales when she crossed the border from Mexico and came to live in the US in 1994. This book tells the story of her crossing and transition to living in this new place with her son all told in verse. My favorite part is how she shows how libraries and books helped her and her son adapt to their new life. This book is deep enough for upper elementary yet there is still plenty that lower elementary students can comprehend.
Who hasn’t heard of 100 Years of Solitude / Cien anos de soledad? Elementary students probably haven’t, but what a brilliant way to introduce them to the world-renowned author Gabriel Garcia Marquez? As ever Monica Brown’s text does not disappoint, and she uses imagery from his own writing to incorporate it into the this wonderful biography.
This book was a favorite of one of my Chilean students. It tells the story of Gabriela Mistral, the teacher, poet and writer who became the first Latina Nobel Prize winner. The text is perfect for a read aloud for primary grades, and my upper elementary English and Spanish readers used this book to write about her life.
The book is bilingual. Monica Brown does not disappoint.
Ok, this is my last author biography from Monica Brown. I saved the best for last, though. This book tells the life of Chilean poet laureate and author Pablo Neruda from his childhood. The illustrations really show how Neruda loved words and how he saw them everywhere. Lower elementary students will be able to enjoy this biography, and this would be a great introduction to the upper elementary chapter book The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. That chapter book is also in Spanish titled El soñador.
Social Justice Leaders
That’s Not Fair! / ¡No Es Justo!: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca
This book tells the story of Emma Tenayuca, an organizer of pecan shellers in San Antonio, Texas in the 1920s. This is the story of her life and accomplishments for workers’ rights. This book is in both English and Spanish and great for upper elementary students who may be interested in social justice and labor organization. Also one of my favorite books about activism!
We go from one of our oldest biographies in Emma Tenayuca to one of the most contemporary with Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Jonah Winter compares the Supreme Court justice to that of a flower growing from little girl in the Bronx to her nomination to the highest court of the United States. This book, like Jonah Winter’s other book on this list about Frida Kahlo is best suited for K-3. What I love most about this book is that it is in English and Spanish making it ideal to share with colleagues regardless of the language that they teach in. Also one of my favorite books for Women’s History Month!
There are many books about Cesar Chavez, famous farm labor organizer, and a list of the best biography picture books for Hispanic Heritage Month would not be complete without one of them. This book shows the story of his life from the time he was young all the way through his march to Sacramento. Yuyi Morales’ illustrations bring the story to life, and Kathleen Krull’s text helps students understand the importance of this man. Even better is listening to some of his speeches after reading the book. His voice, having read the story, will entrance your students. Best for upper grades.
I bought this book for one of my fourth graders who, after reading Harvesting Hope told me that Dolores Huerta was even more important than Cesar Chavez. She wanted everyone to know how Chavez and Huerta actually worked together. She wrote a biography of Dolores Huerta using this book. Sarah Warren’s text is perfect for upper grade students to read, but could be taught as a read aloud grades 1-5.
If you don’t call ensuring that all children have access to books being a social justice leader, I don’t know what is. Luis Soriano was a teacher in rural Colombia who decided to bring books to children in isolated villages using a donkeys to carry the books (biblio(teca) – library, burro – donkey). This biography is written following Luis and his donkeys Alfa and Beto (Alfabeto = alphabet in English). In my lesson plan I include a link to a video in English and Spanish that actually shows Luis and his books as he bring them to the children of Colombia.
What’s best is that this book is in English and can also be found in Spanish titled Biblioburro: Una historia real de Colombia.
This version of the Luis Soriano story follows a small girl named Ana living in a village in the mountains of Colombia. She talks about waiting for the Biblioburro to visit her town. This version is interesting because it focuses on the girl and Luis’ impact on her life.
Even better, the book is in both English and Spanish making it perfect for sharing this story.
This book is one of my favorites on the entire list for upper elementary. Before Brown v. Board of Education, was Sylvia Mendez and her family and how they fought to end school segregation in California. As always Duncan Tonatiuh’s text and illustrations bring this story to life in his unique style. This book has won MULTIPLE awards. I only wish this book could also be found in Spanish.
Other Picture Books for Hispanic Heritage Month
These 20 biography picture books for Hispanic Heritage Month are but a smattering of the huge number of books that are out there. These were some of my favorites, and I tried to include a good mix of books that both primary and upper elementary students would enjoy. No matter what, share the love of reading with your students by using these amazing stories about famous and not so famous Latinos.
If you know of any others that are not on this list, please let me know in the comments! I always love finding awesome books!
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