Hispanic Heritage in California: Children’s Books
Living in California means inheriting a rich Hispanic heritage, from the state’s historic missions to modern day poets and activists. Below are wonderful children’s books we have discovered about Hispanics in California. As can be expected, many of them focus on struggles for equality and making sense of migration.
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Children’s Books about Hispanic Heritage in California
It is fitting to begin with a book from California’s own Juan Felipe Herrera, recently named US Poet Laureate, the first Latino to achieve this honor. Calling the Doves: El canto de las palomas and its sequel The Upside Down Boy: El niño de cabeza tell of Herrera’s childhood as the son of Mexican-American migrant farm workers in the fields of California. In Calling the Doves, Herrera pays tribute to his parents, who taught him a love for the earth and the magic of language itself.
Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet In Spanish And English, which I just accidentally came across in our library, was actually the book that inspired me to create this book list. It is a celebration of life working on California’s farms, through simple poems for each letter of the Spanish alphabet. Farm workers are still stigmatized today, so I love that the author shows us what is beautiful about this way of life. It is a wonderful way for all children to come to appreciate those that harvest our foods, and I can only imagine what an emotional boost this would be for migrant children to read.
In First Day In Grapes young readers learn about some of the difficulties of faced by children of migrant farm workers. As his family moves up and down California harvesting fruits and vegetables, Chico is forever starting at a new school, with teachers and classmates who often snub him. Third grade looks to be different, however, until a group of bullies confronts Chico and he learns to draw on his own inner strength and creativity to resolve the conflict.
Of course, no article about Hispanic heritage in California would be complete without mentioning César Chávez, the champion of migrant farm workers. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez is a beautiful tribute to Chávez and won the Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor. It tells of his early childhood on his family’s tranquil farm in Arizona and the drought that forced them and many others into a life in the farm labor camps in central California. It also shows his progression from a child in the fields to a full-time worker himself and finally a leader for change. It culminates in the historic march to Sacramento that resulted in the first labor contract for farm workers in the United States. A similar book is the more recent A Picture Book of Cesar Chavez, which incorporates Chávez’s own words into the text and includes a timeline of his life. For more on this topic, I also recommend Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers and Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez.
There has been a lot of buzz about Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, so I was glad to finally get a chance to read it for myself. This award-winning book is a real treasure, based on the author’s own interviews with Sylvia Mendez, as well as court files and news accounts. It tells of the not well known 1945 lawsuit against segregated schools in Orange County. In 1947, the court ruled in favor of the Mexican-American families and soon after the Governor of California Earl Warren signed desegregation into law. (Warren became Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and presided over the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, which desegregated schools throughout the US).
A more contemporary story of activism is ¡Si, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike in L.A., based on the successful Los Angeles strike in 2000. Told through the eyes of a worker’s young son, this award-winning book is a wonderful way of talking to children about current labor issues facing many Hispanic workers in California today.
From North to South: Del Norte al Sur tackles the difficult subject of family separation due to deportation. José misses his mother, who was deported to Mexico two weeks earlier for not having the proper papers. He is thrilled when he and his father are finally able to visit her at a shelter for women and children in Tijuana. The author, who is also an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, based the story on the experiences of many of his students and is donating a portion of his royalties to the refuge in Tijuana showcased in the book, where many women and children stay as they wait to be reunited with their families on the other side of the border.
I must admit that one of the reasons I love this book is that it is one of the few I found that does not focus on immigration or the plight of farm workers. Instead, Chato’s Kitchen introduces us to one of the coolest cats in East LA, who has his eye on a family of plump mice that have moved into his barrio. This lively book and its sequel Chato and the Party Animals are a fun way to explore contemporary life in East Los Angeles.
Many children will be able to relate to this story of a young Mexican-American girl who just wants a little space to herself. Based on the author’s own California childhood, it is a tale of the strength of family and a young girl’s need to stretch her wings.
Another wonderful book from this author-illustrator pair is My Diary from Here to There: Mi diario de aquí hasta allá, which relates a young girl’s journey with her family from Mexico to Los Angeles in search of better opportunities. Through her fears and uncertainties she learns the power of her family’s love and of her own belief in herself.
When Jorgito’s family moves to San Francisco from El Salvador, he eases his home sickness through creating “movies in his pillow” each night to remember his native country. Based on the author’s own childhood memories, A Movie in My Pillow: Una película en me almohada (English and Spanish Edition) is a lovely book of poetry about imagination, home, and family.
This post is part of the fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Month series and giveaway! Through the month (September 15 – October 15), you’ll find great resources to share Hispanic Heritage with kids!