The heroes in books that I read growing up were all white. Even though these characters looked nothing like me, I still related to them. From Junie B. Jones’ sassiness to Hermione Granger’s know-it-all-ness to Percy Jackson’s trustworthiness. When I did read a book that featured a Hispanic or Latinx character it always grabbed my attention, because here was someone that looked like me and shared my culture. Sadly, these diverse characters were often sidekicks or minor characters; this was not their story, they were not the hero.
Fast forward from the 90’s to today’s children’s literature which celebrates diverse characters and authors. Much of that is thanks to the wise words of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop. Published thirty years ago, in her essay “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors” Dr. Bishop stressed the importance of children seeing themselves in the books they read and learning about the lives of others, which can help us understand each other better. At HCPL we make sure that our collection reflects our community, so any young reader may find themselves in books on our shelves.
Though I still cherish the white main characters I grew up with and encourage others to read them, I do enjoy introducing fellow readers to new diverse main characters.
Here are children books featuring Hispanic and Latinx main characters.
For the past 20 years, books by author and illustrator Mo Willems have become as well read as Dr. Seuss. Years ago, I read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus to my younger sisters and they loved Willem’s unique illustrations that brought to life the demanding and hilarious Pigeon. Like Mo Willems, author and illustrator Raúl the Third has his own unique illustrations to bring to life his characters. In ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market!, readers are introduced to Little Lobo and his bustling community. Readers of the Pigeon books will enjoy the interactive Little Lobo picture books that are filled with detailed illustrations and Spanish vocabulary.
Who couldn’t relate to Junie B. Jones wanting to take her baby brother to school on Pet Day? I wanted to do the same to my younger sister at the time. Like Junie B. Jones, Sofia Martinez is an outgoing, smart, funny, and mischievous girl that can find herself landing in trouble. With colorful illustrations and Spanish words sprinkled throughout, the Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules is a great read-a-like to Barbara Park’s beloved series.
Growing up I loved to read books by Gail Carson Levine. My favorite books were Ella Enchanted, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, and Fairest. They all featured magical adventures, fantastical lands, and strong and fierce princesses that save themselves and the day. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s newest middle grade novel Solimar: The Swords of Monarch includes everything that I love about Levine’s books and it’s rich with Latin-American culture and mythology. I wish I had this book as a tween. A must read for Gail Carson Levine fans of all ages!
With The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan introduced Percy Jackson and since then tween readers have been fascinated with Greek mythology. Now Riordan works with diverse authors to introduce readers to mythology other than Greek, like Maya mythology in Jennifer Cervantes’ The Storm Runner. Fans of Percy Jackson will want to read about new hero Zane Obispo, as he deals with Mayan gods, mythical creatures, and an ancient prophecy to save the world. (Side note: Have y’all seen the new teaser for the Percy Jackson show? GOOSEBUMPS!!!)
The Giver by Lois Lowry, though required reading of sixth grade, this thought-provoking book about a dystopian society captivated me so much so that I read ahead and finished the book before my entire class. Like 1994 John Newbery Medal winner for outstanding contribution to children's literature The Giver, 2022 Newbery Medal winner The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera features a courageous and compassionate protagonist that must fight to survive a future with a sinister regime that alters and deletes memories. Higuera manages to weave together her science fiction tale with Mexican folklore that makes for a lyrical and compelling read.