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Librarians to Publishers: More Latin@ Books, Please!

Mary McCoy, Senior Librarian, Art, Music, & Recreation Department,
Collage of Books

According to the 2013 American Community Survey, over 1.8 million Hispanic or Latino people live in the City of Los Angeles, or 48.6% of the population. We see Hispanic and Latino culture everywhere in our city, in our architecture, our history, our food, our neighborhoods. But one place we do not see it enough is on the shelves of our libraries and bookstores.

Each year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin - Madison compiles statistics on the number of children’s and teen books by and about people of color published in the United States.

In 2014, of 3500 books for children and teens received at the CCBC, only 66 - less than 2% - featured Latino characters.

Organizations such as We Need Diverse Books have sought to bring attention to the disparities that exist in children’s publishing and to enact changes in the publishing industry “to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”

Why is it so important? Because not only should children see themselves in books, they should also have the opportunity to see cultures and experiences that are not their own. Because when young people do not see themselves in books it sends the message that their experiences are not valued by society, and even that books and reading are not for them. On the flipside, more representative books teach empathy and respect and encourage curiosity.

And who doesn’t want that for their kids?

Los Angeles Public Library librarians want to see more books about Latin@ and Hispanic culture and experiences on our shelves. However, that does not diminish the quality or importance of the Latin@ and Hispanic books that are being published.

Here are a few of our recent favorites:

Picture Books

Abuelo by Arthur Dorros. Illustrated by Raul Colon
An illustrated story about a boy and his grandfather, and the family bond that can span miles.

Dalia’s Wondrous Hair by Laura Lacamara
A Cuban girl transforms her long and unruly hair into a garden.

I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora
Libby and her great-aunt, Lobo, both learn the Pledge of Allegiance--Libby for school, and Lobo for her U.S. citizenship ceremony.

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales
Lucha Libre champion Niño has no trouble fending off monstrous opponents, but when his little sisters awaken from their naps, he is in for a no-holds-barred wrestling match that will truly test his skills.

I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra L. Pinkney. Photographs by Myles C. Pinkey
Photographs and poetic text celebrate the beauty and diversity of Latino children.

Green is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Thong
A little girl discovers all the bright colors in her Hispanic American neighborhood.

Children’s Chapter Books

Yes! We Are Latinos by Alma flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. Pictures by David Diaz.
A collection of twelve narrative poems/stories about the young Latino and Latina's experiences in the United States. Supplemented with nonfiction sections outlining the history, culture, triumphs and challenges of the Latino people.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi
While practicing for their next baseball game, thirteen-year-old friends Rabi, Miguel, and Joe discover that the nefarious activities of the Delbe, Iowa, meatpacking plant have caused cows to turn into zombies.        

Caminar by Skila Brown
Set in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

Children’s Nonfiction

Sonia Sotomayor by Kathleen Krull
Sotomayor broke the rules women were supposed to follow in her life and career, ultimately becoming the first Latino justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the third woman to serve the Court.

Tuesday Tucks Me In: the Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog by Luis Carlos Montalván
This full-color picture book filled with adorable photographs tells the story of the amazing service dog who helps former U.S. Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalván overcome his combat-related wounds.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez, an eight-year-old girl of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, played an instrumental role in Mendez v. Westminster, the landmark desegregation case of 1946 in California.

Teen Fiction & Nonfiction

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria Andreu
M.T. is a high-achieving high school student, who hiding the fact that she's an undocumented immigrant in the United States.

The Living by Matt de la Peña
After an earthquake destroys California and a tsunami wrecks the luxury cruise ship where he is a summer employee, high schooler Shy confronts another deadly surprise. (And also check out its sequel The Hunted.)

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle
In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano
Pura Belpre Honor winner and Emmy award-winning actor Sonia Manzano, best known for her role as Maria on Sesame Street, tells her story of growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s.

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt
Evan, the nephew of a conservative southern senator, and Alma, who lives with her large, warm Mexican family, fall in love, but when Immigration and Customs Enforcement begins raids on their town, Alma knows she needs to tell Evan her secrets, but how can she tell her country-club boyfriend that she is an undocumented immigrant?

Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
In an adventure reminiscent of Homer's Odyssey, fifteen-year-old Odilia and her four younger sisters embark on a journey to return a dead man to his family in Mexico, aided by La Llorona, but impeded by a witch, a warlock, chupacabras, and more.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows-the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find. Lace Paloma may be new to her family's show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she's been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it's a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace's life. 

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

When the murals painted on the walls of her Brooklyn neighborhood start to change and fade in front of her, Sierra Santiago realizes that something strange is going on--then she discovers her Puerto Rican family are shadowshapers and finds herself in a battle with an evil anthropologist for the lives of her family and friends.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez chronicles her senior year in high school as she deals with her feelings about tough issues with her family and friends, crushes on boys, and her love of poetry.

Show and Prove by Sophia Quintero
Friends Smiles and Nike spend the summer of 1983 in the South Bronx working a job at a summer camp, chasing girls, and breakdancing.

When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez
Elizabeth Davis and Emily Daniels seem to have little in common except Ms. Diaz's English class and the solace they find in the words of Emily Dickinson, but both are struggling with to cope with monumental secrets and tumultuous emotions that will lead one to attempt suicide.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Fifteen-year-old Ari Mendoza is an angry loner with a brother in prison, but when he meets Dante and they become friends, Ari starts to ask questions about himself, his parents, and his family that he has never asked before.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
After enduring his father's suicide, his own suicide attempt, broken friendships, and more in the Bronx projects, Aaron Soto, sixteen, is already considering the Leteo Institute's memory-alteration procedure when his new friendship with Thomas turns to unrequited love.

Additional book recommendations:

Latin@s in Kidlit

The Pura Belpré Award winners, 1996-present: an annual award presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.