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.
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.
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 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.
Lupita’s family moved from Mexico to Texas several years ago, but she’s still trying to navigate her role in her family, with her friends, and at school. Then her mom is diagnosed with cancer. As the oldest sibling, she takes on the responsibility of raising her seven brothers and sisters, so that her dad can focus on Mami. Lupita’s thoughts and feelings are written as beautiful, emotion-filled free-verse poems.
Under the Mesquite is technically a young adult novel, but mature tween readers will find much to love in this coming-of-age story about love, loss, and hope.
What kids’ books that incorporate Spanish words and phrases into their narratives do you enjoy? Let us know your recommendations for tween readers in the comments below!