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The Rise in Latino Children’s Literature: A 2015 Accounting

So we need diverse books, which at this point in the proceedings shouldn’t really be news to much of anyone.  You know it.  I know it.  But ascertaining progress can be tricky in these matters.  Anyone who works in publishing knows that it takes years and years for books to reach publication.  Read through any copy of PW Children’s Bookshelf and you’ll have the enormously satisfying experience of noting all the diverse authors being announced there.  Yet it will take some time before their books hit our shelves.  What is there for the kiddos in the interim?

To answer this I turned to one of the smaller subsets of children’s literature: books starring Latino characters.  In the past this has been a lamentable experience.  Most of what was out there got a Pura Belpre nod and that was it.  There’s a reason the Pura Belpre used to be every other year, folks.  But 2015 has been different.  We’re seeing the number of titles going up up up and I like what I see. Please note however that there is still a lot of work to be done.  In the grand scheme of what is being published (particularly when we compare the number of books here to the number of Hispanic Americans residing in the States) we’re just beginning.

With that in mind, here are the 2015 books starring Latino and Latino-American characters.  I know that there are titles that I have missed.  Feel free to chime in with them in the comments.

Picture Books

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Still kicking myself that I didn’t include this in my last Caldecott prediction round-up.  There’s time enough.  By the way, if you want to play the how-many-books-does-Margarita-Engle-have-out-in-2015 game, now’s the time to start counting.  Read the Seven Impossible Things interview with the creators here.

Papa Gave Me a Stick by Janice Levy. Illustrated by Simone Shin

A very simple story about a boy who wants a guitar and the folktale-esque way in which he acquires one.  In a lot of ways it had many similarities to the far more serious . . .

Finding the Music / En Pos de la Musica by Jennifer Torres. Illustrated by Renato Alarcao

Again we have a kid obsessed with getting a guitar (and mariachis too, come to think of it).  However, this book was far more realistic and for an older readership in general.

Hens for Friends by Sandy De Lisle. Illustrated by Amelia Hansen

In 2015 hens are hot.  SLJ recently highlighted three of them, but I’ve seen far far more than that so far.  Case in point this sweet little tale.  It’s a story about keeping backyard chickens and would pair nicely with fellow 2015 release Millie’s Chickens by Brenda Williams.

Little Chanclas by Jose Lozano

If you want to talk about the publisher who’s been putting out Latino children’s literature with the greatest consistency, you’d be amiss in not pointing to Cinco Punto Press.  Each year they’ve a plethora of titles.  If the company’s name sounds familiar that may be because of their recent runaway YA hit Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.  This year they’ve at least two titles that caught my eye.  This and . . .

My Tata’s Remedies / Los remedios de mi tata by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford. Illustrated by Antonio Castro L.

. . . this.  An intergenerational tale, not too different from . . .

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez

I know at least two women who hiss and growl every time they see a picture book where the grandmother is portrayed in the stereotypical old lady manner.  So I love how the abuela here is a very realistically aged woman.  The story of how she and her granddaughter overcome their language barriers makes it one of the lovelier books this year.

Salsa: Una Poema Para Cocinar / A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta. Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

I’m fairly certain there are more bilingual picture books out in 2015 that I’m simply blanking on.  With Mr. Tonatiuh’s rise in fortunes thanks to his ALA Youth Media Award wins for Separate Is Never Equal, I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of this fella in the future.

Maya’s Blanket / La Manta de Maya by Monica Brown. Illustrated by David Diaz

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano. Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

The Sock Thief by Ana Crespo. Illustrated by Nana Gonzalez

Note the boy character.  I was happy to see a pretty even split between the boys and the girls in the picture book sphere.  Unfortunately that equality takes a bit of a nose dive as we go up in reading levels.

Early Chapter Books

In many ways, this is the area that has seen the most improvement.  When it comes to Latino characters in early chapter books, you pretty much have Zapato Power or nothing.  This year we’re seeing three new series and one new standalone title.  Unfortunately, the gender tilts a little too far in one direction.

Sofia Martinez: My Family Adventure by Jacqueline Jules. Illustrated by Kim Smith

Look at the attitude on that girl!  Smith’s art goes a long way towards selling Sofia as a character.  You look at this book jacket and you want to know more about her.  Fortunately, you’ll have your chance.  Future Sofia titles are being produced left, right, and central.

Emma Is On the Air: Big News by Ida Siegal. Illustrated by Karla Pena

This one’s a little different since author Ida Siegal is (at least according to Wikipedia) “an American television journalist news reporter who has been an on-air reporter for NBC New York since January 2003” (you can tell she’s a kind of celebrity because illustrator Karla Pena’s name is nowhere to be found on the cover, at least in this edition).  No complaints here, mind you.  The more the merrier.

Lola Levine is Not Mean! by Monica Brown

Like Drum Dream Girl, which features a Chinese-African-Cuban heroine, Lola Levine is one of the finer heroines sporting a dual heritage.  Peruvian/Jewish, I like this cover particularly since it shows Lola doing what she does best while her brother lies at her side.

The Best Friend Battle by Lindsay Eyre

If you noticed that all the prior books were sporting girls and not boys, that is true. We certainly need more boys in all areas but particularly in our early chapter books and middle grade novels. In this case, Georgie Diaz isn’t the focus of the book.  No, the heroine is the girl on the far left, and she’s just trying to hold onto her best friend in spite of the (very platonic) friendship overtures of Georgie.

Middle Grade Novels

Silhouettes are very “in” these days.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan


Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

Notice, however that when boys are typically pictured on middle grade books their faces are often hidden:

Canned and Crushed by Bibi Belford

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson

Not that I don’t love chocolate, of course.  There are, of course, exceptions to the rules.  This gorgeous cover for one . . .

The Amazing Adventures of Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Considering that the boy lives in England, I’m still gonna count it.  It’s such a great book, after all.  And then there’s this upcoming sequel to Ambassador . . .

Nomad by William Alexander

It’s sort of our only “action” book with a boy, though.

However, I am very pleased to say that we did locate a graphic novel.  And perhaps true parity with Caucasian literature comes when every race gets their own distinctively gross book.

Booger Beard by Vincent “Vinny” Navarrete

Switching gears entirely, let’s talk about immigration!

Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco by Judy Rose

Quite possibly one of the best book jackets of the year.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Illustrated by Katie Kath

See?  Chickens!  They’re everywhere!

Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

I was excited to hear about this fall release from Emily Seife.  If we’re talking action adventure then this and one other novel come to mind  . . .

Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez

So the girls are getting the bulk of the action novels in 2015.


Graphic Novels

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

A good example of casual diversity.  Astrid’s ethnicity is never the point of the book.



Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made It from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues by Matt Tavares

Last year I had a devil of a time finding good picture book sports bios.  They’re out there, folks and they vary in terms of content.  This is one of the winners.

Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba by Alma Flor Ada

Brown Girl Dreaming set loose the publisher wheels.  I have no doubt Ms. Ada was working on this for years.  The time is now perfect to release it.  It is, I do believe, a middle grade memoir.  Oh, rarest of beasts.

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Aliona Bereghici

By my count this is Ms. Engle’s third book out this year.  She has an older memoir by the name of Enchanted Air that I’m not including here simply because I don’t cover YA.  There may be more in the works.

Women Who Broke the Rules: Sonia Sotomayor by Kathleen Krull

Almost forgot this one.  Not the first Sotomayor bio and certainly not the last but perhaps the most fun.

So what have I missed?  We’ve an entire season on the horizon.  Surely this is just a drop in the ocean, yes?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I think you mixed up Alma Flora Ada’s ISLAND TREASURES with Margarita Engle’s ENCHANTED AIR.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Aw pfui. Good call. Good early-morning-I-can-totally-change-this call. Much obliged.

  2. annmarie braithwaite says:

    Well said.


    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      They’re great, but they’re 2014 titles. I’m just counting 2015 today. But good thinking!

  4. I wouldn’t call Enchanted Air any more YA than Stead’s Goodbye Stranger. 12 and up sez the publisher and I’d agree.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Haven’t read it myself, so I was just going by the publisher descriptions. I’ll wait and see how the reviews look.

    • I agree, Monica. Like Brown Girl Dreaming, Engle talks a lot about family history and her parents’ journeys and if I remember correctly, she’s still in middle school when the book ends. I think fans of BGD will really love it.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      The interesting thing about that links is the sheer number of YA titles vs. children’s book titles. I wonder if there’s a significant difference in the market itself. After all, when it comes to sheer numbers there are more children’s books than YA titles published in a given year. Food for thought.

  5. AHH! I LOVE this list! Thanks, Betsy! I really enjoyed ROLLER GIRL and UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER. Both so great at just casually weaving the character’s culture into the fantastic storylines. Looking forward to more great reading this year. This Latina’s gonna buy some books.

  6. Beautiful list! Thanks for putting it together!

  7. Thank you for this wonderful summary!

  8. This is a wonderful post Elizabeth, and I am forwarding it to my latino community, muchas, muchas gracias for your support to the latino / latina authors and literature :))

  9. This is a wonderful post which I am sharing with my latino community, muchas gracias for your support of latino/a literature. Maria

  10. Ana Schmitt says:

    Two fabolous books missing in this list are: Magdalena’s picnic/ El picnic de Magdalena by Patricia Aguilar, and Low Riders in Space by Cathy Camper.

  11. Thanks, Betsy, for yet another wonderful and inclusive list. I’d just humbly add that in my new middle grade novel, “Moonpenny Island”, the main character, Flor, has a Latina mother and extended family.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Why has no one informed me of this fact before? Adding it now! Thank you!

  12. Permit me to add to this illustrious list – Sonia Sotomayor: I’ll Be the Judge of That – illustrated with wit by Angela Dominguez –

  13. The rise in Latino literature in 2015 is a move in the right direction. Bu taking into account that almost 25% of American Children are Latin and that books for Latino children are only 2% of total books for children .. many moe Latino nooks for children should be published in the U.S. Thanks for the list, Elizabeth.

  14. Every Tuesday, and the past ten years, children’s author and bloguero René Colato Laínez, features illustrated children’s books in La Bloga.

  15. We have several of these titles (Roller Girl, Growing Up Pedro, Moonpenny Island), and I need to order everything that we don’t have. Thank you so much for this. We are a rather rural community (except for our county seat, which is more suburban) with a growing Latino population, so I’m excited about these books.

  16. David Bowles, thank you for the YA link. Off to order those titles as well. And I’m adding La Bloga to my blog roll-thank you, Michael Sedano.

  17. Terrie DeHaan says:

    thank you for producing such a wonderful resource!!!

  18. Hi there,
    You may want to check out Lectura Books, just featured in Huffington Post about our Spanish/English bilingual books. We think you’ll love them! Katherine

  19. Robin Herrera says:

    Vinny Navarrete’s BOOGER BEARD!

  20. Judy Goldman says:

    Thanks so much for this! Have you thought about reviewing books in Spanish published in Latin American countries? There are so many wonderful books out there which available in the US and/or through pubisher’s webpages.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Would that I spoke the language. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve cursed my teenage self for learning French instead.

  21. Elizabeth Bird says:

    You know, I think that after all these comments, I expected a lot more suggestions of nonfiction. Huh.

  22. Thanks so much and thanks from Cinco Puntos!