DÍA: Great Kids' Books about Latinos

Celebrate DIA, Diversity in Action, with these children's books featuring Latino characters.

When I first started at OPL, I worked at the César Chávez Branch in the Fruitvale (non-Facebook link here) I could not have a bigger soft spot in my heart for this place. It's sunny, the floors are shiny, the colors inside the branch are radiant. The staff is friendly, and you can get the best veggie burrito in Oakland right across the street.

But for me? It was all about lunch breaks in the staff room with gorgeous old cartoons from Mexico. I dug way into the Spanish-language cartoon section, where there are books you won't find at any other library in Oakland. Also, since Chávez gets the best selection of Latin American DVDs, I brought home Cantínflas episodes, and Chavo del Ocho so I could see what my old coworker meant when he called me "La Chilindrina" Note: that character definitely grew up to be a librarian.

It's true, Chávez Branch has treasures best enjoyed by visiting--a Chicano collection, a gorgeous mural by Daniel Camacho, a seed library, and in the summertime, free lunch for kids--but you can get any of the wonderful Latino children's books on this list at any OPL branch (if your branch doesn't own it, place a hold). Happy reading, happy Día!

Yes! We are Latinos, by Alma Flor Ada. Stories told in short pieces by thirteen different voices about their individual Latino identities.

The best Lucha Libre picture book ever? I'd put money on Niño. Presenting Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales. (If you love this book and you love Yuyi Morales, you can meet her in June in San Francisco.)

Mi familia Calaca: my skeleton family, by Cynthia Weill. I kind of adore this little charmer. Its simple text is also perfect for children beginning to read on their own, and it's in English and Spanish, side by side. You can read about artist Jesús Canseco Zarate in the back.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, by Duncan Tonatiuh. It's clear that Tonatiuh is a boundary-pusher. This beautifully illustrated story spins a folktale: a young rabbit crosses the Mexican border into the US, with the help of a "coyote" (in both senses), to find his father, who went to look for work but has disappeared. Not a subject many would be comfortable tackling in a picture book, but Tonatiuh does it admirably.

Maria Had a Little llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita, by Angela Dominguez. "Mary had a little lamb" transported to a Peruvian village, and now the lamb is a llama. I approve of all things llama. Plus Angela Dominguez is local, and she used to share a studio with a friend of mine! Cool, huh? It's like I know her. (I collect children's illustrators as imaginary BFFs.)

Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, rey del Mambo, by Monica Brown, illustrated by Rafael López. Spicy-pretty picture book biography of the Mambo great.

Jimmy the Greatest! by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. This one's a bit of a sleeper; and yes, it really is great. Jimmy, a boxer in a small Latin American town, decides to stay and help his neighbors instead of pursuing boxing fame. Makes you think about what it really means to be "the greatest." 

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash, by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benítez. I knew the Freddie Ramos books were a hit when I walked into a third-grade classroom and asked the kids what books they'd liked from the library, and they all yelled as one "ZAPPA TOE!" It took a few seconds, but I put it together. ZaPAHto Power is a fun, exciting series for elementary school chapter book readers.

The Gumazing Gum Girl: Chews Your Destiny, by Rhode Montijo. I can definitively say that Gabby Gomez is the FIRST Latina superhero who is made of gum. Well, not really made of it. There's an origin story. I really, really hope this is the first in a series, but there's no word either way on the author's website.... please, Sr. Montijo? (Looks like there are supposed to be three!)

Maximilian and the mystery of the guardian angel: a bilingual Lucha Libre thriller, by Xavier Garza. For that independently-reading kid who loves mysteries AND luchadores.

Luz makes a splash, by Claudia Dávila. Luz is a neighborhood do-gooder, and a leader in water conservation in her diverse community. A good tie-in to this here drought thing we're experiencing.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina. I'm not sure how many more times I'll have the pleasure of recommending a book for children (okay, teens) with a swear in the title, so I'm going to savor it. This is a powerful book about bullying that captures the dread of knowing someone's got you in their sights... for reasons unknown to you.

Saving Baby Doe, by Danette Vigilante. This one has yet to hit our shelves, but you can reserve it now. Two Brooklyn tweens find an abandoned baby, and try to do the right thing for her, but what is the right thing?

For lots more children's books with Latino characters, click over to Pinterest!