During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy, and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos, and specials throughout the month of September and October. For more, head here.
Children's views begin to take shape on a parent's lap, reading stories that reflect their own experiences and expand their imaginations to the world beyond.
So it's important to seek out children's books representing the breadth of the Latino experience to engage and inspire readers throughout the year — and all years of childhood and adolescence.
We asked bestselling children's authors to choose their favorite books honoring Hispanic Heritage Month for all ages. Our panelists are Meg Medina, the Newbery award-winning author of "Merci Suárez Can't Dance"; Caldecott honoree Yuyi Morales, author of "Bright Star"; #DignidadLiteraria co-founder David Bowles, author of "My Two Border Towns"; and Pura Belpré Award-winning poet Margarita Engle, author of "A Song of Frutas."
"This is a celebration of the modern mother-daughter relationship. It’s poetry. It’s hiphop. It’s love and humor on every page that speaks to everything from making costumes for school plays to road trips and participating in marches together. A fabulous and intoxicating read," Medina says.
"There is a bilingual edition now of this book, and I could not be happier. Mario receives new shoes on Christmas. They are to bring Mario to Mamá, who lives in the USA. It is a long trip from El Salvador, but Mario trusts that his shoes will take him where he needs to go. Every time I read this book I keep cheering for the shoes to not give up, to be healed again and again so that Mario can make it to Mamá’s arms safe and sound. I have read 'My Shoes and I' to my friends many times, and every time my voice trembles with the emotions of such an uncertain and dangerous journey to reunite with people we love," Morales says.
"By far my favorite picture book of all time is 'Dreamers,' by Yuyi Morales, also published in Spanish as Soñadores. In a poetic voice that flows, she shows the arrival of an immigrant mother and child as they adapt to life in the U.S. by falling in love with the library. This book makes my mind sing," Engle says.
"Yuyi’s inimitable voice and art combine to tell a moving story about the borderlands: their flora, fauna, and people," Bowles says.
"Sandy is an artistic soul who attends a strict Catholic school in Bogotá, Colombia, where her sketching talents and daydreaming are usually seen as obstacles to her learning," Medina says. "This two-book series follows her into the reaches of her imagination to consider everything from who can cast power over your self-esteem to what your role is in protecting the environment. The illustrations are based in surrealism, and the plot lines are similarly dreamlike. I found them a blend of beautiful and slightly scary, perfect for older elementary school readers."
"Whenever I read one of the Lowrider stories, I find myself immersed in a world so fantastic, I wish it were real and I could live there. Characters El Chavo Flapjack (an octopus), Lupe Impala (an impala), and Elirio Malaria (a mosquito) are not only artists with very impressive talents, they are also friends! Bajito y suavecito—I love to ride my imagination low and slow with these books," Morales says.
"Red Panda and Moon Bear (available in Spanish as 'Panda Rojo y Osa Lunar') by Jared Roselló is unique, creative, fun, and Cuban-American in the most offbeat way imaginable. I will admit to having read fewer graphic novels than other types of books, but this one caught my attention," Engle says.
"A compelling look at the US immigration situation from the perspective of a future hero, drawing on Mesoamerican myth in stunning ways," Bowles says.
Chapter book or middle grade
"Angela Dominguez has created an irresistible heroine in Stella Díaz, a plucky girl who nurses her passions for art and for ocean creatures. She struggles with shyness, friends, schoolwork, and – most relatable to school-age readers – time management. The illustrations throughout add to the overall charm," Medina says.
"Juan Francisco Manzano was born enslaved, but that can't extinguish his fire for poetry. I first read this book some 15 years ago, and I have loved it since like no other. Margarita wrote this story in short and concise verses, and I often find myself caught in single words that punctuate the most telling sentiments of Manzano’s story," Morales says.
"I love 'Land of the Cranes,' by Aída Salazar. This verse novel, also published in Spanish as 'La Tierra de las Grullas,' offers a combination of beautiful poems, metaphors of in the form of bird legends, and a clear view of an undocumented family’s ordeal at the border. It is an honest, yet ultimately hopeful portrayal of life for children who live in constant fear of ICE and the detention camps," Engle says.
"This debut middle grade novel paints a beautiful picture of the loving relationship between mother and son, against the haunting realities of a mixed-status Mexican American family," Bowles says.
"This novel stayed with me for weeks. This lyrical and heart-wrenching story puts a lens on the difficult realities of young people attempt to migrate north from Central America. The writing is haunting, and the author makes no attempt to soften any blow. This is a novel that will open so much conversation, both about our continuing crisis at the border and about the craft of writing," Medina says.
"Such a magnificent book to tell the story of Gabriela Iturbide, one of the most iconic Mexican photographers (she is still alive). The story is a dynamic first person narrative, where photographs give place to scenes rendered in drawings with such a cinematic feeling. I love how this book illuminates the mind and heart of an artist," Morales says.
"As soon as I read 'The Poet X' by Elizabeth Acevedo, I started telling people that everything about verse novels would change from that point forwad. The poems are so beautiful, and the style so impactful, that I expect every Latinx/Latine teen who reads it will want to run out and join the Poetry Out Loud movement immediately, competing for college scholarships while portraying their own cultural backgrounds," Engle says.
"The odyssey of five Mexican American sisters into Mexico with a corpse is understandably creepy, but also poignant and funny," Bowles says. "Supernatural adventure of the very best kind!"
"This is a terrific title to highlight powerful Latinas from all walks of life, from science and the judiciary to the arts and social justice. Each single-page entry centers the woman as a child, which is such a powerful message to young readers. All leaders begin somewhere, and often the roots of their success were visible when they were kids," Medina says. "What achievements await today’s young Latinx readers?"
"In this book Reyna tells her own story starting with her childhood in Mexico, waiting for her parents (who are on a journey to “El Otro Lado”) to make good their promise to take her and her siblings to the US where the family will finally be together. Every page of this book made my heart ache, which made Reyna’s triumphs feel even more significant and inspiring," Morales says.
"Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello/ Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello," by Monica Brown and Elisa Chavarri
"'Sharuko' means Brave in Quechua. Available in Spanish under the same title, Monica Brown’s detailed biographical picture book about the Indigenous Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello makes us wonder why we haven’t heard of him before. This book offers an authentic historical marvel, both more interesting and more meaningful than the usual impersonal approach to archaeology," Engle says.
"Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua," by Gloria Amescua and Duncan Tonatiuh
"Gloria Amescua deftly reveals the life of an important Indigenous model and activist, exposing young readers along the way to the influential language, culture and history of the Nahua people of Mexico," Bowles says.
Books by our panelists
This follow-up to Medina's Newbery Medal-winning "Merci Suárez Changes Gears" finds Merci in seventh grade, faced with a boy she likes, a bossy classmate, and a looming school dance, despite her lack of rhythm. With her grandfather's memory problems worsening, she'll need new help finding her rhythm.
A boy and his father take a Saturday trip to the Other Side, across the Rio Grande, where they see favorite relatives and indulge in favorite foods, but also encounter refugees stuck between countries and dream of the day when friends from the Other Side can visit them, too.
Inspired by children crossing the U.S. border from Mexico, Morales wrote this story of a whitetail fawn following her mother in search of care. The simple text lets children know they are bright stars who will be loved and protected until they can imagine a better future.
On a family visit to Cuba, the girl at the heart of "A Song of Frutas" helps her Abuelo in a lively competition with other vendors to sell Frutas, and wishes he could visit her home.
For more of our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage, tune into TODAY All Day’s special, “Come with Us: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month,” hosted by Tom Llamas. Watch Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 12:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. EST at TODAY.com/allday.