National Hispanic and Latine Heritage Month honors the cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans beginning September 15 and continuing to October 15 continuing this year (2021) as it has since 1989. It’s an opportunity, just like Black History Month or Asian American Pacific Islander Month, to intentionally celebrate and learn more about the Hispanic and Latine cultures from 21 Spanish-speaking countries.
If you’re a teacher, librarian, or parent of an elementary school-age kid or preschool-age child, what activities can you do to celebrate your own culture or teach your children more about the rich cultures of the Spanish-speaking countries? Here’s a list of ideas to get you started.
1. Start with a Book
Use the book list below to get started sharing stories about characters who have Latine heritage and some of these stories, include words in Spanish which kids love.
Don’t worry if you’re not a Spanish speaker, just do your best phonetically. You can always look up pronunciation on apps like SpanishDict.
2. Watch a movie or TV show in Spanish or with Spanish-speaking characters.
3. Play music in Spanish.
4. Play games that teach Spanish words.
5. Learn about Hispanic and Latine artists.
Picture Books for Hispanic and Latine Heritage Month
Ten Little Birds Diez Pajaritos by 123 Andres, illustrated by Sara Palacios
I really love the Spanish version of this dual language book as it’s lyrical and fun to read out loud. Starting with ten birds on a roof, subtract two each time a cat tries to get them and figure out how many are left afterward. When all the birds have flown away, they’ll come back for you to count starting with one up to ten. “Ocho pajaritos sobre un tejado. Dos see marcharon. Cuantos quedaron?“
A young girl shows us her world, specifically what things are close to other things. She does this by connecting things together. “The door is close to the apple tree. The daisies are close to the apple tree.” What will be close to the apple tree? The horses! Read it in Spanish or English or both! “Mi amigo esta cerca de mi. My friend is close to me.” Earthy colors, an important concept (close), and enchanting illustrations.
Lejos / Far by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Blanca Gomez
Like the book Cerca / Close, this bilingual English Spanish book shows things in a young boy’s world that are far apart from each other. “The lemon tree is far from my house. My house is far from the city.” It’s a lovely story that develops the concept while showing geographical features and a kid that the readers can relate to.
Pin Pon (Canticos) by Susie Jaramillo
Depending on the way you hold this bilingual English-Spanish children’s book, you’ll read this catchy song in either English or Spanish about a darling little cardboard boy named Pin Pon who cleans and eats and goes to bed just like a regular boy. As you learn about manners and hygiene, lift the flaps to see more to the story and nouns. Watch the Pin Pon video and hear the song in Spanish on NickJr. (So cute, right?)
Marta! Big & Small by Jen Arena, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Little Sunny Sunshine / Sol Solecito by Canticos and Susie Jaramillo
Learn the days of the week in English and Spanish with this darling lyrical book asking the sun to warm you up– every day of the week — illustrated with the adorable Canticos chicks.
Sing with Me, Canta Conmigo by Jose-Luis Orozco, illustrated by Sara Palacios
Read and sing along with your preschoolers to favorite familiar children’s songs from the United States in both English and Spanish. For example, “The Wheels on the Bus” in Spanish is “Las Ruedas Del Camión” and “Old McDonald” in Spanish is “Juancho Pancho”. Use these songs for older kids to when teaching them either English or Spanish because music helps children learn all sorts of things, languages included. Exciting, cheerful illustrations from the talented Sara Palacios.
Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri
A boy named Federico rides his bike to the marketplace to buy ingredients for his abuelo’s pico de gallo. In the woods, a wolf asks for spare food. Rico declines and continues on to his abuelo’s tienda. Of course, instead of the abuelo, it’s el lobo in disguise. Quick-thinking Rico tosses chili powder into the wolf’s snout and a habanero into his mouth. El lobo runs away and Rico saves his Abuelo. A spicy retelling of Red Riding Hood!
My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, illustrated by Erika Meza
Oh, my heart adores this warm-hearted story with lyrical writing and vibrant illustrations about a boy and his father’s trip to El Otro Lado; a border town on the Mexico side that mirrors their own little town on the U.S. side. It’s a wonderful day of traveling the streets, stopping for savory food, chatting with friendly vendors, playing with primos, and buying a checklist of items including medicine. Before they leave the Other Side, they stop at the refugee encampment and share a bag of supplies with some new friends. As they wave goodbye and travel across the border, Dad agrees that the refugee situation is not fair and reminds the boy that when their new friends eventually are allowed across, their family can welcome them with open arms.
El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Chas McCreery
Wacky and fun, written in sentences that mix English and Spanish and Spanish and English, this modern folktale explores the chupacabra in a way that isn’t scary but more light-hearted. A farmer and daughter discover the goatsucker (chupacabra) has sucked one of their precious goats. So, the father asks the flower seller for help. She gives him magic powder which, when overused, makes a herd of gigantic goats! Now, they need the chupacabra’s help to suck out some of the air! Beautiful, earthy illustrations. “Hector had to fix everything, pero la dama de las floras lo ayudo.”
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
When Sofia’s abuela gets hurt from a mountain of trash, Sofia wants it to be removed and replaced with safe, beautiful community spaces. Her neighbors like the idea and want benches, fountains, place spaces, a pond, and more. But who will do the work? She’s only a kid. She bravely asks for the city’s help at a city hall meeting and soon, her efforts encourage others to help transform their neighborhood.
Paletero Man by Lucky Diaz, illustrated by Micah Player
In this exceptionally written and colorfully illustrated story, follow a boy as he takes a savory trip around the neighborhood searching for Paletero José and a refreshing Mexican frozen treat. As he searches, a familiar refrain repeats, “Can you hear his call? Paletas for one! Paletas for all!” When he finally finds Paletero José, the boy realizes that his money is gone! But his neighborhood friends help –and to honor their kindness, José makes all the paletas free for all. I LOVE this book– the Spanish words, the value of community and kindness, and the festive illustrations.
Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios
Celebrate Cuban culture and a loving grandparent relationship in this lyrical story about a little girl’s visit with her fruit-selling Abuelo. When the little visits her Abuelo in Cuba, she loves helping him sell frutas, singing the names of each fruit as they walk with his cart. They fill baskets lowered down on ropes. Other vendors sing their own melodies and rhymes about tamales, yerbas, and dulces so Abuelo must sing even louder. As her trip wraps up on New Year’s Eve, the girl eats twelve grapes at midnight, making a wish for each month, especially wishing for more visits and open borders. When she returns home, she feels happy that she can send Abuelo letters “back and forth, verses on paper, all our hopeful poems flying like songbirds who glide and soar through wild sky, each syllable un abrazo, a hug made of words.”
The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Inspired by This is the House that Jack Built, Vamos writes a cumulative tale about making arroz con leche (rice pudding.) Throughout the story, she introduces nouns in Spanish, which, because of her format, repeat as she adds on. A fun and festive read aloud picture book!
Pacho Nacho by Silvia Lopez, illustrated by Pablo Pino
This hilarious story begs to be read aloud. It’s about a family that has two sons, the oldest son has a VERY long name that his parents insist everyone use, Pacho-Nacho-Nico-Tico-Melo-Felo-Kiko-Rico. This name appeased the family who suggested all the names but when he falls into the river, it takes so long for his brother Juan to say his name and get help that the parents decided to shorten his name. Based on an old Japanese folktale, you’ll love the retelling set in Mexico interspersed with Spanish words. I LOVE this picture book!!
The Piñata That the Farm Maiden Hung by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Sebastia Serra
You’ll have a blast reading this cheerful, lyrical bilingual story! The farm maiden hangs the piñata. Who is it for? How did it get to be ready? You will see in this clever cumulative tale how the farmer, his family, and the animals helped to prepare the piñata and the birthday party festivities. Spanish words are in bolded capital letters and supported with lively illustrations so readers can infer what each word means. The repetition will help reinforce each new word. You’ll learn the piñata song at the end of this story, too — in English and in Spanish and directions to make your own piñata. A glossary of Spanish words at the ending should also help for any clarification.
Between Us and Abulea A Family Story From the Border by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Sara Palacios
This small moment focuses on the trip to the U.S./Mexico border that a Latine family takes in order to reunite for las posadas. They arrive at the border fence where you’ll see the fence, see the regular people, and see the kids and their mama talking to their abuela between the fence slats. In a sweet resolution, when the boy can’t give his abuela his drawing, the little girl helps make it into a kite to fly it over the top of the fence.
IslandBorn by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Lola’s longs to remember the island of her birthplace for a school assignment. She left the island as a baby so she can’t remember. Lola interviews her family and friends, listening to their snap-shot, detailed stories of the island’s bats, music, agua de coco, heat, and the Devil Monster. Through their stories, she creates her own tapestry of island memories that will always be in her heart. Stunning illustrations explode in colorful exuberance on every page of this picture book.
Run, Little Chaski! An Inka Trail Adventure by Mariana Llanos, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
Set in ancient Peru, a young Inka boy named Chaski gets to be the newest messenger for the queen. His task is to run fast and deliver a khipu to the temple. Run, run, Little Chaski, phaway! Along the way, he stops to help animals in need — and tries to run even faster because of the delay. At the end, he realizes he doesn’t have the khipu! Luckily, his animal friends bring it to him and the King explains that by helping the animals, Chaski has passed the test and has earned the name Big Hearted. Gorgeous, colorful illustrations!
Imagine! by Raúl Colón
A celebration of New York City and the magic of artwork! The illustrations say everything in this wordless picture book…When a skateboarding boy visits the Museum of Modern Art, the paintings come to life. Painted people and animals step out of their frames to exuberantly explore New York City with the boy. They visit a roller coaster, the Statue of Liberty, a hot dog stand, Central Park, and then return to the museum and their canvases. But that’s not the end of the story! The boy finds an empty building wall where he paints a large mural about his joyful day. Colon’s richly textured, earth-colored illustrations sparkle with energy.
Isabel and Her Colores Go to School by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Courtney Dawson
Isabel doesn’t want to go to school. She experiences languages in COLORES –her native language of Spanish feels like pink, yellow, and purple while the INGLES she’s learning seems like stormy blues and blizzard whites. And at school, the colors swirl all around her as she tries to follow along even when she doesn’t understand. Ultimately, Isabel uses her COLORES to bridge the language barrier and make a new friend.
Bird House by Blanca Gomez
Simply told and illustrated, this is a warm-hearted grandmother-granddaughter relationship story showing how the abuela helps the little girl learn about caring for nature. A girl and her abuela rescue and nurse an injured bird. When the bird is healthy again, the abuela explains to the girl that they need to let it be free. Later in the spring, the bird visits but doesn’t stay because it’s not theirs to keep.
Green Is a Chile Pepper A Book of Colors by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra
Oh, I adore this picture book so much! The illustrations, the small poems of colors, I love it all. We read about orange marigolds for Day of the Dead, yellow masa for tamales and tortillas, pink adornos, brown churros, and more special unique Mexican cultural elements.
Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra
“Round are sombreros. Round is the moon. Round are the trumpets that blare out a tune” begins this colorful Latine-flavored shape book. As we journey through the day, we find the shapes all around us. “Triangles are crunchy chips for guacamole and other dips.” I absolutely love this book. I’m so glad to see a book of shapes that stands out from the crowd and celebrates Latin culture.
One is a Piñata A Book of Numbers by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra
The rhyming text counts Spanish objects and words. I love that these aren’t necessarily words that non-Spanish speaking kids will know. They (and you) can use the illustrations and context clues to figure out what the words mean. “Four are bolillos just waiting to dip in four cups of chocolate but first take a sip.” For kids that do speak both English and Spanish, this book celebrates bilingualism and culture! It’s fun, festive, and affirming and perfect for Hispanic Heritage Month.
Areli is a Dreamer by Areli Morales, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Areli Morales grows up in Mexico with her abuela until age six when she leaves Mexico to join her parents and brother where they live and work in New York. Life in New York takes some getting used to — but she learns English and becomes comfortable in her new home with a big future filled with possibilities. An inspiring personal narrative story based on the author’s life.
Across the Bay by Carlos Aponte
Based on the author/illustrator’s childhood, this is a tender story about little Carlitos who leaves his family’s home to travel across the bay to San Juan and search for his father. His experiences give readers the flavors of Puerto Rico with the old men playing dominoes, a parade with singing and guitars, and kite flying near the castle. Tired from his unproductive search, a park ranger reminds Carlitos that his father will be forever in his memory whether he’s found or not. And Carlitos goes back home to his mama, abuela, and cat. Whimsical, colorful illustrations create a festive yet gentle ambiance.
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Hair / Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros
I love this descriptive bilingual book that uses the senses to celebrate the different kinds of hair in her family.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
The narration takes you on a journey of a mom and child together going to a new place to live, celebrating their loving bond and how books helped them develop their voices in a new country. Exquisite illustrations!
La Frontera El Viaje con papa My Journey with Papa by Debora Mills, Alfredo Alva, Claudia Navarro
Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raul the Third
We like that this book is written in a mix of Spanish and English words and labels objects in Spanish. If you don’t mind that the pages are crowded with illustrations and smallish text, you can follow along with Little Lobo and his dog Bernabe delivering supplies to vendors in the market.
Martina: The Beautiful Cockroach / Martina, la hermosa cucaracha by Berta de Llano, illustrated by Jaime Rivera Contreras
Doña Julia wanted to help Martina find a suitable groom. So she devised a tricky test for prospective suitors. Anyone who would drink the disgusting tembleque with added salt would show that they really liked being with Martina. Eventually, she meets Perez, a kind mouse, who passes the test and they get married in a big ceremony. A wise and entertaining Puerto Rican folktale in English and Spanish.
From My Window by Otavio Junior, illustrated by Vanina Starkoff
This slice of life in Brazil is filled with amazing illustrations! Read about what a boy sees, dreams, and does from his favela window like talking to friends, seeing people patching roofs, and imagining soccer (football) games.
Rudas: Niño’s Horrendous Hermanitas by Yuyi Morales
A companion book to Niño Wrestles the World, this is a new action-packed wrestling adventure about the Niño’s badly behaved (rudas) little sisters. Farting, biting, fighting, . . . how will these rude sisters be defeated? Maybe their brother can distract them with a book!? You’ll read lots of Spanish words throughout whose meanings, if not inferred, are explained on the jacket covers. Vibrant artwork makes the antics of these sisters that much more exciting.
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios
You’ll adore Marisol because she’s a spunky girl with a unique Peruvian-Scottish-American background. To her, this means that she doesn’t match. She doesn’t fit into a box or to a label and– that’s okay! A fun story about self-acceptance!
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto, illustrated by Ed Martinez
Christmas Eve is for family and tamales. But this time when they’re preparing the tamales, Maria accidentally buries her mother’s diamond ring in the batch of tamales. Now, what will she do?
Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda
Ava Gabriela’s shyness makes the words stick in her throat. Mama says, “What you’re ready, your voice will come out and play.” Her large extended family is welcoming and understanding that Ava Gabriel doesn’t speak much, they invite her to join them in preparing for the new year with decorations and food. At night, the family has a wonderful celebration of dancing, food, and fun. A perfect celebration of being yourself and of Latin culture.
Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares para cada dia de la semana by Francisco X. Alcaron, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Poems celebrate the days of the week as well as a Latine cultural experience based on the author’s own life. Sunday is the day for family. Monday is named for the moon. Wednesday celebrates Mercury and is for the farmer’s market. Vibrant folkloric illustrations catch your eye as the poems travel through the week.
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Lyrical text matched with beautiful illustrations transport readers into the atmospheric world of a young boy whose life is filled with nature, moving, and hard work, eventually leading him to become the poet Laurette of the United States. What an inspiring accomplishment, especially since English was his second language! As the boy shares about his childhood, each page ends with the repetition of “imagine”. What a great way for children to reflect on their own future possibilities.
Abuela by Arthur Dorros
Abeula and Rosalba fly over New York City, seeing the sites and sounds from above with Spanish words peppered throughout.
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
Mexican artist Don Lupe published short funny poems about skeletons and drew lithographs and skeleton etchings or engravings. His calaveras (skeleton pictures) showed all people types of people and usually had a message, political or social, and which are now iconic images for el Dia de Los Muertos. The artwork and graphic layouts perfectly complement this informative history.
Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
As a little girl, Teresa started playing the piano in her home country of Venezuela. She moved with her family to the United States during the Civil War where she used music to bring hope to people, even President Abraham Lincoln, earning the nickname “Piano Girl”. Evocative imagery in the writing paired with Lopez’s gorgeous, colorful illustrations make this a lovely sensory experience.