Back to school books abound in contemporary children’s literature. From Kevin Henkes’ endearing Chrysanthemum (Mulberry Books), to the fun If You Take a Mouse to School (HarperCollins), and every other serialized character that has, at some point, released a “school-themed” title, you will find no shortage of choices at your local bookstore, or by searching online. Surprisingly however, there are still very few school-themed children’s books featuring Latino characters, or that may be particularly well-suited for Latino parents interested in celebrating their heritage and language with their children.
Read Related: 2013 International Latino Book Award Winners
With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of books to help children—and parents—make the sometimes-dreaded first day of school and end of summer something to look forward to. So, as you shop for school supplies and help your kids get back into “school-mode”—or prepare them for their first school day ever!—here is a list of books you should pick up to help address some of your particular school-related concerns:
FOR PRESCHOOLERS Germs Are Not for Sharing/Los gérmenes no son para compartir by Elizabeth Verdic, Illustrated by Marika Heinlen (Free Spirit Publishing)
Part of the publisher’s “Best Behavior” series in bilingual format that also includes “Hands Are Not For Hitting/Las manos no son para pegar,” and “Words Are Not for Hurting/Las palabras no son para lastimar,” these books, which are available in both board book and picture book editions, serve as wonderful tools to help children embark on their road to socialization—a very important component of the preschool experience.
My Very First Book of Numbers / Mi primer libro de números and My Very First Book of Shapes / Mi primer libro de figuras by Eric Carle (Philomel)
They say that Kindergarten is the new first grade, and there are many children these days who can sing their “ABCs,” count to at least 10, and even write their name before they ever set foot inside a classroom. So why not help yours get a leg up on school and gain confidence by using these books to acquire some of these early skills at home? The books in this series double as a matching game that requires readers to find the shape or number that goes with the items on display on the other half of the page, making learning fun, as it should be, especially for the preschool set. And these bilingual editions will enable you to continue reinforcing both languages, to boot!
FOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN Nuestro Autobús/The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom (Boyds Mills Press)
For younger children, taking the bus is often part of the fun of going to school. This book takes full advantage of that excitement, as it exhibits all types of vehicles parading in front of a school bus stop as two children wait for their bus to arrive. Despite its simple, short text, the book manages to offer a subplot via engaging illustrations that feature a growing number of children waiting at the stop on each page, making it an excellent choice for repeated readings that encourage paying attention to detail.
I Am René, the Boy/ Soy René el niño and René Has Two Last Names/René tiene dos apellidos By René Colato Laínez (Arte Público)
These delightful books that focus on finding acceptance among one’s peers take aspects that are unique to our cultural heritage—such as the fact that most of us born in another country carry both our fathers and mother’s last names—and makes them cause to celebrate and opportunities to learn about other cultures, rather than reasons to feel “different” or left out. A great resource to reaffirm the importance of cultural heritage to younger children.
Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora, Illustrated by Raúl Colón (Knopf)
This gorgeously illustrated and inspirational book based on the true story of Mexican-American author and educator Tomás Rivera—a child of migrant workers who went on to become the first minority Chancellor in the University of California system and have a children’s literature award named after him—beautifully displays what education (with the help of those essential libraries!) can make possible, as it celebrates the power of stories to enlighten and transform lives.
FOR MIDDLE GRADERS My Name is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada (Atheneum)
What’s in a name? Chances are that your middle grader may have this book on her list of required readings at school, especially if she lives in an area largely populated by Latinos. If she does not, then this modern classic should be on her bookshelf at home, to remind her about the importance of her cultural heritage, and yes, even her name.
Choke by Diana López (Scholastic)
A middle grade teacher herself, López wrote this poignant book after she learned about a dangerous “choking game” some of the girls at her school were playing. While the book explains what this so-called game entails (for kids and parents to be aware of just how dangerous and life threatening it really is), the story focuses on the everyday peer pressures our children face when they are out of our immediate reach. Written with a great deal of sensitivity, this one may serve as a wonderful conversation starter to read with your kids, to help emphasize the importance of being true to oneself.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Knopf)
Could I be overstating the importance of this book by including it in both my Summer Reading List and this one? Possibly. But I can’t think of a single character written by a Latina in recent months that has it tougher than Auggie does as he begins his first day of school, or who so warmly turns hardship into pure inspiration. Your kids will love this one, and possibly find themselves relating with this least likely of characters. The anti-bullying campaign launched by the book’s publisher is just icing on the cake.
FOR TEENS Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (Candlewick)
If bullying concerns you (and let’s face it, if you have a kid in high school, it most likely does), hand this eye-opening book over to your teen. And read it along with her, because the importance of friends and family in this book—as in real life—cannot be overemphasized. And as communication is the most important component of all relationships, please discuss!
The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir by Gaby Rodriguez (Simon & Schuster)
This memoir was inspired by Gaby Rodriguez’s remarkable high school senior project, for which she decided to fake a teen pregnancy in order to learn more about the reasons behind the teen pregnancy epidemic, while also helping to examine the stereotype of the “pregnant Latina teen.” The story received quite a bit of media attention and was turned into a TV movie, but it is the book and the sensitivity with which it approaches its topic that will serve as the best conversation starter with your own Latina teen.
Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo (Candlewick)
If there is one perennial truth about high school, it is that appearances matter, and that sadly, teens tend to “judge most books by their covers”—the exact opposite of what this book does. Fat Angie is required reading for any teen who worries about a few extra pounds, surely, but also for every other teen who silently suffers while waiting for someone to see them for who they truly are—which is to say, for every teen. This excellent book manages a rare feat in that it is both entertaining and meaningful, something that both you and your teen want in your reading choices!
As always, I encourage you to add your favorites in the comments below so that all families can benefit from your reading experiences.
Have a wonderful school year! —Adriana