¡hola amigos!…a list of five latino stories to spice up your life

Book Fiesta 2 by Rafael LopezAs someone who knows…sort of…French, but is limited to counting to ten in Spanish, I realize I’ve largely passed by the rich trove of Latino kids’ lit which is being published here in the U.S.

I’m trying to correct that a bit today as we look forward to the Cinco de Mayo celebrations coming up in the next week. 

Even if you’re like me, not knowing a gato from a pato, you’ll enjoy these five and have your world opened a bit wider. Just look at all that deliciously sun-drenched color in these illustrations!!  Grab some chips and salsa or a luscious burrito and dip in…

maria had a little llama cover imageMaria Had a Little Llama/Maria Tenia una Llamita, by Angela Dominguez
published in 2013 by Henry Holt and Company

This bilingual take on the old nursery rhyme charmed my socks off.

It’s set in the Andes, with a kicky llama replacing Mary’s lamb. The gouache and ink illustrations exude joy and warmth as they unfold striking Peruvian landsapes and culture. How can you look at that little gal and not smile?! Darling!

maria had a little llama illustration angela dominguez from kirkusreviews

A truly charming, simple book to share with children ages 2 and up. This won a Pura Belpré Honor this year. To find more winners of this award for Latino authors and illustrators, check out the award page here. 

Nino wrestles the world cover imageNiño Wrestles the World, story and illustrations by Yuyi Morales
published in 2013 by Roaring Brook Press

This one’s the winner of the 2014 Pura Belpré Award, and I’ll admit — it took me aback at first!

Because I was completely ignorant of the massive fanbase in Mexico for Lucha Libre, “a theatrical, action-packed style of professional wrestling” complete with “bright colorful masks that represent everything from animals to mythical figures to ancient heroes and villains.” (Though, I do remember All-Star Wrestling as a child. Holy Mackeral.)

So, I went “Huh?!” at first glance. But then I looked again.

The story (in English) derives from that popular passion, and it’s about a little boy named Niño who is quite the luchadore in his daydreams. See him unleash his bag of tricks to conquer a grim mummy, a wailing ghostie, an extraterrestrial, and even a devil. Sheesh!

nino wrestles the world illustration yuyi morales

But the toughest challenge of all? Entertaining his twin baby sisters when naptime is over!

This hurly-burly of dynamic wrestling moves and devious challengers is packed with ZZZWAP! BLOOP! power, energy and color. The rambunctious story and outstandingly-fresh illustrations  have tickled the fancy of gobs of kids this past year. I bet you know already if this is a can’t-miss for your little hoodlums.

tito puente mambo king cover imageTito Puente: Mambo King /Rey del Mambo, story by Monica Brown, illustrated by Rafael López, translation by Adriana Dominguez
published 2013 by Rayo/Harper Collins

Tito Puente loved to make music from the time he was a little boy growing up in Spanish Harlem in the 1920s. He loved the dancing rhythms, the happy beats, the toe-tapping sounds.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World tito puente mambo king illustration rafael lopezWar II, and attending Juilliard, Tito worked his way up to become the famous bandleader of his own Tito Puente Orchestra, composing and conducting and pouring  upon the world his swirling, tropical jazz, his rumbas and salsas and mambos. Tum! Tica! Tac!

This vibrant bilingual biography of Puente features pages absolutely saturated in glorious colors, beaming out happiness and energy. My only regret is the lack of a discography. A jubilant read for ages 5 and up, and another 2014 Pura Belpré Honor title.

the cazuela that the farm maiden stirred cover imageThe Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred, by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2011 by Charlesbridge

This house-that-Jack-built style story begins with a large clay pot — a cazuela. Butter and sugar, cream and eggs, cinnamon and nutmeg and lime and rice, all must be fetched by the crew of helpful farm animals, so the cheery farm maiden can stir up some delectable rice pudding. Yummmmmm!

Vamos cleverly introduces Spanish vocabularythe cazuela that the farm maiden stirred illustration rafael lopez a word at a time in this otherwise-English accumulative tale, and there’s a glossary at back if we still can’t quite catch on. How kind. Not only that — there’s a recipe for Arroz con Leche which sounds like a dream to try!

Here’s the same illustrator as the previous title, and again López deluges us with magnificent color — fiery cayenne and rich caramel, blushing rose and  gleaming emerald. Wowzers! It’s a delightful story for preschoolers and up.

calling the doves cover imageCalling the Doves/El canto de las palomas, story by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Elly Simmons
published in 1995 by Children’s Book Press

Born on the road among the campesinos — migrant farm workers — of California, Juan Felipe Herrera would grow to become a prominent Mexican-American poet. 

These bilingual, lyrical memories of his childhood are a glimpse of the beautiful way Herrera weaves words together. Exquisite, sensory details of outdoor cooking and home remedies, changing seasons and colors of the valley, fiestas with calling the doves illustration elly simmonstortillas that “tasted like licorice candy” and the poetry and musicality of his parents show us strands that emerged in his later work.

Simmons’ brilliantly colored paintings curve and radiate and sing of landscapes and faces and the warmth of family. It’s a sweet, simple story for children kindergarten and up.