9 Books for Tweens That Weave Spanish Into Their Narratives
by Wesley Salazar
I feel delighted when I stumble upon Spanish words or phrases in children’s books — it always sparks memories of growing up in a bilingual household where we seamlessly alternated between Spanish and English to communicate.
These five books deftly weave Spanish into their storylines. They’re perfect for tweens looking to discover a small piece of home in their next read or who simply want to learn some Spanish as they flip the pages.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
Arturo, a 13-year-old boy who lives in Miami, is pretty close with his abuela and he plans on spending his summer working at her restaurant called La Cocina — when he’s not playing basketball and hanging out with his mom’s super-cool goddaughter, Carmen, that is. But his plans change when a real estate developer seeks out to change the neighborhood as they know it. Can Arturo’s family keep their business alive?
Cartaya is a master at writing relatable characters and plots for tweens, and readers should check out his new novel, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish.
Lucky Broken Girl
Ruthie and her family just moved from Cuba to New York City, and all she’s thinking about is having to learn a new language, settle into a new home, and make new friends. Then a car accident leaves her with a cast covering half of her body and she is completely and utterly stuck, unable to leave her bed for nearly a year. As the days, weeks, and months drag on, she must find ways to both entertain herself independently and connect with other people. This 2018 Pura Belpré Award winner is a tween-friendly meditation on life, forgiveness, resilience, and self-expression.
Return to Sender
Return to Sender follows Mari Cruz and Tyler Paquette, two tweens who meet when Mari’s father and uncles are hired as migrant workers on the Paquettes’ struggling dairy farm. Mari desperately wants to find her mom, who went missing one day without a trace, and fears deportation. Meanwhile, Tyler is worried that his family will get in trouble for hiring undocumented immigrants. As the two families interact on the farm, empathy-building friendships begin to form, and Mari and Tyler become close confidantes who support each other through hardships.
When Miata leaves something valuable — the folklórico skirt she borrowed from her mom, who wore it when she was a kid herself — on the bus, she begins to panic. Not only is the skirt irreplaceable, but she needs to wear it to perform a traditional folk dance in just days. Eager to avoid her parents finding out she lost the skirt, Miata sets out on a mission to track it down. Will she find it in time for the dance? A brief yet delightful tale that young readers will surely relate to.
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish
After Marcus gets into a fight at school, his mom takes him and his brother on a trip to Puerto Rico to visit family. While he’s there, Marcus decides to look for his estranged father. As he travels the island, he learns more about himself and his heritage. This heartfelt journey of self-discovery is an excellent read.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Kids that enjoy realistic fiction will like this slice-of-life story about a young Latina girl growing up in Florida. Merci navigates life at a private middle school with mean girls in addition to her growing concerns about her grandfather’s health. This Newbery award-winning novel tackles the complex, messy, and beautiful stage of life that tweens experience.
They Call Me Güero
Tweens with their feet on both sides of the US-Mexico border will find much in common with Güero. He lives in a border town, has friends on both sides, and is bilingual. This novel-in-verse follows Güero as he explores middle school, poetry, first crushes, and friendships.
Get ready for a breathtaking adventure, unlike anything you’ve read before! When Life and Death start a new game of la Lotería, they choose 12-year-old Clara as their victim. Then, as Clara ventures into a mythical realm to search for her missing cousin, Life and Death play the game to determine whether Clara will live or die. It’s an unforgettable and fast-paced novel for kids that like magic and mythology.
Letters From Cuba
Fans of historical fiction will love this epistolary novel based on the author’s family history. As the danger for Jewish people in Poland grows, Esther goes to Cuba to live with her father. Although she is safe in Cuba, she misses her sister, and the girls write letters to each other across the ocean. Both heart-wrenching and hopeful, this novel will keep young readers glued to the page.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2021.