I love sharing books that offer doors, windows, and mirrors for children to see others and themselves. Today, I want to share wonderful middle grade books for ages 8 to 12 with Latine and Hispanic main characters.
Dive into these books all year round — and feature them in your classrooms and libraries for Hispanic and Latine Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15.
Before I share the middle-grade book list, let me admit that I’m confused about the best term to describe folks from Spanish-speaking countries or with heritage from Spanish-speaking countries because it seems to depend on who you talk to. Latinx is in vogue with mostly white folks, Latine seems more popular lately with more people from Spanish-speaking counries, and many people identify as Latino or Latina. Please know that want to be respectful and to help readers find books. Comment if you want to share which you prefer.
Middle Grade Books Featuring Latine and Hispanic Main Characters
Me, Frida, and the Secret is the Peacock Ring by Angela Cervantes
Mystery and adventure collide when Paloma visits Mexico, her deceased father’s homeland –and it becomes much more than a summer vacation. Her new Spanish tutor and his sister ask for Paloma’s help to find Frida Kahlo’s missing peacock ring. But they don’t tell her that their dad is in jail for stealing the ring! Filled with information about Kahlo and Mexican cultural richness from mariachis to paletas, this is an excellent, atmospheric middle grade mystery.
Star in the Forest by Laura Resau
Zitlally’s dad has been arrested and deported back to Mexico. As she waits anxiously for him to come back via an illegal “coyote,” she befriends a maltreated dog named Star. Her relationship with Star helps her as she waits for her dad — until the worst happens and Star disappears.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
When her father dies, Esperanza and her mother flee from Mexico to the United States where they must work as migrant farmworkers. This well-written, beautiful historical fiction story will stay with you so you can remember what it’s like for undocumented immigrants and migrant workers and be inspired by the resiliency of Esperanza and her mom.
Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes
A powerful and meaningful story about family and love. Gaby loves animals and hopes to one day adopt a cat. But that’s not possible now ever since her mom was deported to Honduras and Gaby had to live with her neglectful father who doesn’t notice her, let alone remember to buy her food. But she hopes that when her mom returns, everything will be better, and she can finally adopt her favorite shelter cat.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
In a sweet middle grade book about figuring out who you are and taking pride in your culture, Stef Soto is feeling embarrassed by her dad’s taco truck, especially when he picks her up at school. But that changes when she learns that new city regulations could force her dad to sell the truck and get a different job. Filled with relatable middle school angst, Spanish words, Hispanic and Latine culture, friendship troubles, and a loving family, this yummy read is a savory treat.
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau
Mexican-American Clara Luna doesn’t know anything about her father’s Mexican heritage until she spends the summer with her grandparents in rural Mexico. There, she discovers the beauty of her grandparents’ lives and culture and grows into her own identity. This is one of my all-time favorite books and an excellent choice for teaching children to write using sensory images.
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
When Mari’s parents are deported to Mexico, she and her sisters are stranded in the United States, desperately worried about what to do next. This is SUCH a powerful book — heartbreaking and wonderful and important — because you’ll see the human complexities of deportation policies that don’t consider children.
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
Cece’s town of Tierra del Sol fights against the criaturas, powerful, evil spirits that surround them in the desert, but Cece doesn’t believe the criaturas are all bad. When her sister is kidnapped, Cece decides to risk everything by becoming a forbidden bruja so she can capture a criatura and get her sister back. She’s helped by the legendary Coyote, but he’s just the first criatura who willingly helps Cece in her quest. If they work together, will she be able to rescue Juana?
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs
Based on the true history of the author’s great-grandmother, this is a beautiful and important story of hope, resiliency, and family set in historical Mexico, 1913. Petra Luna, her Abuela, her little sister, and her baby brother flee their home when Federales burn the village. Petra’s Abuelita calls reading and writing barefoot dreams, meaning they’re not meant to go far but when they’re helped by a female rebel captain, Petra reaffirms that she can be more than her Abuelita thinks — that she can keep her promise to save her family and realize her barefoot dreams, too. Their trials culminate in a harrowing and life-threatening experience as they wait with throngs of other people trying to cross the bridge into the United States before the Federales arrive on the Mexican side. Exciting, interesting, and inspiring.
Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes
Izzy’s life is a series of houses, sadness, and secrets. When her mom unexpectedly sends Izzy to her Nana’s in New Mexico, whom she barely knows, Izzy discovers her past, present, and future. While Izzy learns to make tortillas with practice and patience, she also learns the story of her dad, her mom, and ultimately, her own story. The wisdom mixed with grief mixed with love creates a beautiful coming-of-age story.
Santiago’s Road Home by Alexandra Diaz
Santiago is thrown out of his cruel tia’s home in rural Mexico with nowhere to go. He unexpectedly meets a kind woman and her daughter who let him join with on their journey to el Norte. Santiago is a keen survivor and helps them find a trustworthy coyote but when their group is attacked, they must find the route without the coyote’s help. The heat and lack of water almost kill them but he and his adopted little sister are rescued and taken to internment camps. This book is amazing — unflinchingly honest about the situation of illegal immigrants with a heroic main character whom you’ll love.
Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads
I couldn’t put this book down! It’s an eye-opening, powerful children’s chapter book about growing up, immigration, and courage. Missing his older brother, 12-year-old Manuel decides to leave his family’s farm in Mexico for the United States. He hitches a ride ON TOP of a north-bound speedy freight train and begins a long, awful, and beautiful journey.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
Newly living at the farm of her deceased great-uncle Jim, Sophie writes letters to her dead abuelita, her dead great-uncle Jim, and Agnes of the Extraordinary Chickens catalog. While her parents are figuring out their new lives, Sophie figures out the farm. Specifically, the magical chickens who seem to have telekinesis, invisibility, and carnivorous chicks. Unfortunately, a neighbor chicken thief is also interested in Jim’s magical chickens, too — and Sophie must use her wits to stop her. Exceptional writing, characterization, and plot with an endearing Latina main character!
In These Magic Shoes by Yamile Saied Mendez
A tenderhearted, beautiful story about a family, asking for help when you need it, racism, and grit. When their mom doesn’t return home from work, Minerva steps up to care for her siblings and herself. She doesn’t tell anyone that her mom’s missing so they won’t get sent to foster care or a holding center. She knows her mom would never leave them but she doesn’t know what to do. She bravely faces each day with strength but desperately wants to just be a kid again with no responsibilities — like pulling her little sister out of an abusive daycare. At school, Minerva tries out for the Peter Pan musical and speaks up against the play’s racism. At home, her sisters talk about the fairies they see just like the fairies from her mamá’s stories. Finally, Minerva contacts her mom’s estranged mother, their abuela, for help because the kids are out of food and money and desperately need help.
Quijana’s doesn’t fit with the other Latino kids because she doesn’t speak Spanish fluently. Not only that, she knows she won’t fit in with her father’s family in Guatemala and is planning on running away instead of visiting. The only place she knows she fits is with her scientist, Florida-living grandmother but she’s worried about her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. Meanwhile, her little brother seems to be adding more unusual behaviors besides not talking, he’s averse to lights, sounds, and touch. Heartfelt and relatable, this coming-of-age story will appeal to readers who like to read about complicated characters trying to figure out who they are.
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit
Maximilian: The Mystery of the Guardia Angel by Xavier Garza
The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Cordova
In this middle grade novel with a Latine main character, Danny’s latest foster home is not good–particularly bad because he’s not with his beloved sister who’s been missing for two years. Danny mostly still believes in magic and in his sister’s promise to be waiting for him in the land of Rio Luna. On a field trip to the New York Public Library, he sees magical arrows pointing him to the original Rio Luna book of fairy tales. With the help of a new friend, Glory and Glory’s aunt, they all set off on an epic adventure to follow the magical signs that only Danny can see– to find Rio Luna and hopefully, Danny’s sister. Mysteries, magic, magical creatures, monsters, stories, and betrayal, this heart-stopping fantasy adventure will keep you up all night reading.
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
Is it possible for the Latine main character, the daughter of a migrant farmworker, to be friends with a white town girl? And what about entering the local blueberry queen contest? Lord thoughtfully explores the topic of immigration and migrant workers in this middle grade book with a Latine and Hispanic main character.