Looking for good middle grade books featuring Hispanic and Latinx characters? I love sharing books that offer doors, windows, and mirrors for children to see others and themselves. This is why I love these books for ages 8 to 12 that have Latinx, Latine, and Hispanic representation. (I think you’ll love them, too!)
Dive into these books all year round — and feature them in your classrooms and libraries for Latine / Hispanic 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 and Latine seem more popular lately, but many people identify as Latino or Latina. Please know that I want to be respectful and help readers find books. Comment if you want to share which you prefer.
Middle Grade Books with Latinx 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.
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.
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!
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
Get ready for an exciting adventure filled with Hispanic mythology! This story is immediately engaging with the perfect balance of action, dialogue, & description interspersed with Spanish words and phrases. Charlie Hernández’s house burns down, his parents go missing, and he is sent to a foster home. But it’s when he grows HORNS, the WINGS, and meets the MYTHS in real life — like calacas, mukis, and El Justo Juez — that he’s really freaked out. Fortunately, a persistent classmate Violet Rey (also his crush) helps Charlie follow the clues to find out what happened to his parents — and what it has to do with La Mano Peluda and the prophesied Morphling, who is meant to save the world.
Tumble by Celia C. Pérez
Pulsating with longing and confusion about family relationships, this heartfelt story is about heritage, identity, and…Mexican wrestling. When Adela’s stepdad wants to adopt her, Adela secretly uncovers who her biological dad is — and finds out he’s from a famous luchador family. She contacts him with high hopes of connecting but those hopes are slowly are dashed when her bio dad, Manny, consistently drops her off with his family and leaves. Adela loves getting to know her extended family, especially her twin cousins, — but wishes Manny would want to spend time with her. Adela must figure out what it means to have Manny in her life or not.
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.
Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter by Zoraida Córdova
A marvelous middle grade novel with the perfect blend of action and adventure mixed with family tragedy, betrayal, magical creatures, and an amazing kid who saves the day! Val gets her two siblings to help her on one last mission to save the magical creature egg that a boy is live streaming so that no one gets hurt or learns about magical creatures. Her family used to be Monster Protectors until one killed her dad. Her nefarious Uncle and his Monster Hunters have lured one of her siblings to his hunter side, and they are chasing Val and her other siblings to get the egg first. I couldn’t put this one down — Val is one of my favorite Latinx characters!
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.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
You’ll love this page-turning coming-of-age story about a girl with divorced parents, Mexican on her mom’s side, and punk rock on her dad’s side. Malú’s unhappily forced to move to Chicago with her mother where she eventually finds her place after starting a Latin-flavored punk band. When their group doesn’t get into the talent show, they decide to play anyway. In the parking lot. (So punk!) We see Malú discover herself through life’s challenges and adventures and also learn what the first rule of punk actually is. I love how she is supported by both her parents!
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
Marcus is an entrepreneurial kid who uses his intimidating size to make money from other kids. He’s also very protective of his brother with Down syndrome, who faces prejudice at school. When Marcus gets suspended, his mother takes them to Puerto Rico, the home country of their father who abandoned them years ago. Even though they are only meant to visit relatives, Marcus hopes to find his father and reconnect. Instead, he finds a loving, extended family, the truth about his dad, and a growing sense of his own identity. Remarkable. I loved every moment of this story with a Hispanic main character.
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
Written in verse, this timely story of immigration and deportation about 9-year-old Betita. who lives in the United States but ends up in detention. When her Papi gets taken by ICE, Betita, her mom, and a neighbor try to meet him at the border, where they also get thrown into detention. Detention is traumatic for them, with horrible conditions and racist guards. Betita relies on her father’s story of cranes, using this overarching metaphor to talk about her clipped wings and her song, giving her letters and poems to a lawyer who tells her story. Ultimately, the family agrees to voluntary departure even though it’s not safe in Mexico because at least they’ll be together and not in prison. Powerful and important.
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 with a LatinX character, and an excellent choice for teaching children to write using sensory images.
Chupacarter by George Lopez and Ryan Calejo
Kids will love this fast-paced, exciting, well-written, and dynamically illustrated middle grade book about friendship and monsters. Jorge gets sent to New Mexico to live with his abuelos but he is miserable. Bullied at his school by other kids and a mean big-game-hunting principal, Jorge unexpectedly makes a friend outside of school –with a chupacabra named Carter. (Chupacabras are known in Mexico and other Latin American countries for draining the blood of goats from their bodies.) Jorge learns that Carter ISN’T a monster and that they have a lot in common. Now, Carter needs to reunite with his family plus, the school principal is trying to kill him. Jorge and his two school friends come up with an ingenious plan to get Carter to safety–but will they be too late?
Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Spanish-speaking kids are thrown together to complete before-school community service hours. When the kids notice the homeless mom and her child living in a van, they try to help with leftover food. But they get into trouble with the mean cafeteria lady who thinks they’re stealing and watches them like they’re delinquents. This is a story about kindness, racism, differences, and marginalized individuals — both non-English speakers and homeless individuals. It’s excellent, and I love the Spanish dialogue written first with English-translated text second. GREAT Latinx representation!
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.
A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar
A tender and poignant middle grade novel in verse showing an important time in history, the power of collective voices against injustices, and a girl finding her strength. Lula’s family are migrant workers. When Lula’s mom gets sick from pesticides, they can only get her medical care if they join the worker strikes started by Phillipino migrant workers. Eventually, her violent dad is convinced to join the strike which transforms their family, gives the girls hope, and helps Lula’s mom get health care. I loved this beautiful coming-of-age story.
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 historical fiction 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.
Twin Cities by Jose Pimienta (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Twins who live on the Mexico-US border make two different choices in middle school, separating for the first time. Fernando stays in Mexicali, Mexico and Teresa crosses the border every day to go to school in Calexico, United States. Their choices lead them down different paths with Fernando finding a friend who is a bad influence with prejudices and a drug business and Teresa commuting for hours and spending more hours doing homework. The story is interesting with appealing brightly colored artwork.
More Middle Grade Books with Latinx Characters
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 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.
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 cares for her siblings and herself. She doesn’t tell anyone her mom’s missing, fearing foster care or a holding center. She knows her mom would never leave them, but why are they alone? Minerva 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. 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.
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. There, 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.
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 middle grade book with a LatinX character with themes of 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 northbound speedy freight train and begins a long, awful, and beautiful journey.
Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit
This is National Geographic’s first fictional book series with full-color illustrations that hits the spot with an exciting mix of science, technology, adventure, and mystery. Newly accepted into the prestigious Explorer Academy for science and exploration, Cruz realizes that someone is trying to kill him; someone who doesn’t want him to find out about his mother’s mysterious research and untimely death. There’s tons of cool tech, amazing friendships, plot twists, plus an intriguing premise.
The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcarcel
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 in 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.
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
Based on the author’s own life experience, Ruthie’s entire body is in a cast after a terrible car accident. She’s stuck in bed for months, then more months, then over a year with no television (it’s 1960). It’s a time of hardship made easier by a vibrant, caring neighbor, a loving school tutor, and a determined physical therapist. Overall, Ruthie feels gratitude that she didn’t die, even on her hardest days, but it’s a challenging time, to say the least, one that I personally connected to because of a daughter with a long-term illness.
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.
Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti, illustrated by Dana SanMar
Life and Lady Death, Catrina play their yearly Lotería game; this time, for a little girl’s life and debate about free will, love, hope, and fate while a story unfolds about a girl named Clara who lives in Oaxaca City with her family. After Clara draws a cool dragon for her little cousin Esteban, he notices the exact dragon drawing on the gigantic El Arbol de Tule. Before she can figure out why it’s there, Esteban’s mother dies, and Esteban is lured into a mythical world called Aztlan by El Diablo. Clara embarks on a perilous journey to find and save Esteban. On her journey, she learns about the power of her drawings — and makes the ultimate sacrifice for love.
Maximilian: The Mystery of the Guardia Angel by Xavier Garza
Maximilian thinks Mexican wrestling (luchadores) are the best, especially the Guardian Angel. When his uncle takes him to see his hero wrestler, they discover that the secretive wrestler is a long-lost relative! Written with English on one side of the page and Spanish on the other, this is a cool reading experience, either to practice reading in both English and Spanish or to learn Spanish.
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
Each Tiny Spark is one of the best books about learning differences also adderssing PTSD and prejudice with a compelling Latinx main character. Emilia is a Cuban-American girl whose ADHD makes focusing on school and schoolwork a challenge. Her mom helps her stay on top of her assignments but her mom leaves for a work trip, leaving Emilia on her own. During this time, the community proposes to redraw the school district’s boundary lines, exposing prejudice and ongoing injustice. Emilia must decide if she’ll ignore the situation or fight for justice.
Solimar by Pam Munoz Ryan
Solimar is a princess blessed with monarch butterfly magic that settles in her rebozo. The shawl allows Solimar to answer questions with the truth about anything that will happen in the future and helps her protect the butterflies. Just before her Quinceañera and when her father and brother are out of town, a bad king arrives and takes everyone hostage. Solimar, her parrot, and her talking doll manage to escape with the help of her Abuela and a curandera. She travels by river toward where her brother and father will be and is rescued from a waterfall by an inventor boy named Berto, who joins her journey. This is a magical adventure about a strong girl coming into her own…and saving the kingdom as she does.
The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Cordova
In this middle grade novel with a Latino main character, Danny’s latest foster home is not good–particularly bad because he’s not with his beloved sister, who has 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, 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.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Harbor Me is a middle-grade novel that tackles some very big issues, including race, immigration, bullying, learning differences, friendship, and forgiveness. The story is about six diverse children with learning differences. They bond during a special kids-only time on Friday afternoons where they share their stories, many of which Haley records on a tape recorder. Even as she learns about the other kids who are, Haley is reluctant to share that her own dad is in jail for the car accident killing her mother. When she does eventually share, it’s beautiful to see the other kids support her. This incredible story deserves to be not just read but discussed deeply as it contains a wealth of ideas to ponder. Such as what does it mean to “harbor” someone? Amazing!!
My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope by Diane Guerrero with Erica Moroz
After a happy, hardworking life in the U.S., Guerrero’s parents are deported to Colombia, leaving Diane behind and forgotten just as she’s about to start high school. She survives by staying with different friends, moving when they don’t have space for her, trying to be invisible, and excelling in school. Her personal narrative story is an incredible journey of survival and strength and will profoundly affect readers.
Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros
Efrén’s mom gets deported back to Mexico, leaving his father to work two jobs and Efrén to care for his twin younger siblings, one who has intellectual disabilities. He’s trying desperately to keep up with school, cook, and…also, not to worry. His best friendship is tested, he develops a new awareness of social justice, and he bravely faces a solo trip to Mexico to deliver money to his mom. This is an emotionally compelling story of family, friendship, and resiliency that will be eye-opening, empathy-building for many readers, and affirming for others.
Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas
Based on Cuevas’s father’s life, this beautiful historical fiction novel captures a boy’s heartfelt longing for family and culture when he’s forced to leave his homeland. Cumba, a 12-years-old boy hates the secrets and fear since Fidel Castro took over, plus the government-controlled curriculum, no Coca-cola, and boys sent off to soldiers. It’s the forced army mandate that makes his family decide to send Cumba to the U.S. with fake documents. In Miami alone, he’s overwhelmed by the language, noise of the big city, and missing his family. As he makes friends and learns about this new country and freedom, he never stops thinking of his family and hoping that they’ll be reunited one day…
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera (ages 10+)
Había una vez… a girl named Petra journeyed on a spaceship towards a new home after the Earth was destroyed. Her story, with themes of humanity, storytelling, and survival, is mesmerizing and beautiful. When Petra wakes up, her parents have been killed, her brother is missing, and all the other humans’ memories have been erased. Except for hers. Since she’s the only person who knows the truth and remembers the past, Petra is determined to foil the sinister Collective leadership’s plans. She plays the part of a mind-controlled teenager but shares her family’s Mexican cuentos with the other Zetas. Her determination will save not only the Zetas but possibly an entire civilization of settlers. Petra is a brave, fierce girl who shows us that we are all less than human without art, music, and stories.