10 Exciting New Middle Grade Books with Latinx Main Characters
by Cindy L. Rodriguez
As a middle school educator, author, and blogger at Latinxs in Kid Lit, I am always seeking out books by Latinx authors and about Latinx characters, especially those for middle grade readers. I teach struggling students, almost all students of color and the majority Latinx, in grades 6–8, so these books are of particular interest. Each year, Latinx middle grade titles seem much fewer in number compared to books for older and younger readers. They seem to suffer from middle child syndrome — overlooked by the edgier older sibling, the young adult novel, and the fun, visually-stunning younger sibling, the picture book. This year, however, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of middle grade novels with Latinx characters! Here are ten titles that I plan to buy, read, and share with my students.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen
Estefania “Stef” Soto wants nothing to do with her family’s taco truck, which gets her labeled “Taco Queen” at school. She wants her dad to get a normal job, but when her family’s livelihood is threatened, Stef will become the truck’s unlikely champion. I think any middle grade reader will relate to Stef being generally mortified by her parents, even when they are acting “normal.” Learning not to be “so embarrassed” and to be proud of family is an important and relatable theme for middle schoolers.
BRAVO! Poems About Amazing Hispanics
Engle and López are award-winning, consistently excellent creators, so this was on my buy-and-read list as soon as I heard about it. The Latinxs featured in this collection are from different countries and backgrounds, which is important to note because Latin American Culture can be misperceived as a monolith. Biographical poems celebrate the accomplishments of Aida de Acosta, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, José Martí, Julia de Burgos, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, and Tomás Rivera, among others.
Lucky Broken Girl
Based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, Behar’s novel is a story about strength and resilience when faced with adversity. Ruthie Mizrahi and her family emigrate from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when Ruthie starts to feel settled, a car accident leaves her in a body cast. Ruthie faces a long physical recovery that affects her mentally and emotionally. My students are instantly attracted to real stories, so I’m sure they will want to read this one. A plus for me is that Ruthie is Latinx and Jewish, an underrepresented part of the Latinx community in children’s literature. I’m curious to see how her faith and culture do or don’t play a part in her experiences.
(On Sale: 4/11/17)
Rooting for Rafael Rosales
Rafael has dreams of playing Major League Baseball. Maya has concerns about bees dying all over the world and how her father’s company contributes to it. This story follows both Rafael and Maya, shifting back and forth in time and from Rafael’s neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to present-day Minnesota, where Maya and her sister are following Rafael’s first year in the minor leagues. Struggling readers may find the shifts in time and place more complex than a linear narrative, but this novel looks to be a great example of how the past influences the present and how people from different countries are connected.
(On Sale: 4/25/17)
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh
I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of this one, and I can’t wait to start reading it! Set in the spring of 1945, 9-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls team forming in Yuba City, California. Meanwhile, Maria’s parents — Papi, from India, and Mama, from Mexico — can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land. I’m not usually a huge fan of historical fiction, but I’m thrilled about this novel. I mean, how many middle grade sports novels do we have about an intercultural, interracial family, set during one of the most important times in world history? Sounds like a home run to me!
(On Sale: 5/1/17)
Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook
Another sports book! About a girl playing baseball! And she’s an all-star pitcher! Yay! Just as Gabby Garcia is about to have her best season ever, she is suddenly sent to another school and her winning streak is about to disappear. Never a quitter, Gabby creates an illustrated playbook to help her keep her champion status. Early reviews mention that Gabby joins her school’s field hockey team and explores poetry. I like that Gabby expands her horizons! The novel is billed as perfect for fans of Dork Diaries and Kirkus, a notoriously tough reviewer, called it “hilarious and joyful.”
(On Sale: 5/9/17)
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
This debut novel received a starred review from Kirkus and is getting lots of advanced praise from other Latinx writers, including Matt de la Peña and Christina Diaz Gonzalez. Set during a Miami summer, Arturo spends his time playing basketball, sipping mango smoothies, keeping cool under banyan trees, and working a few shifts as a dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute girl who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex, the poetry of José Martí, and a shady land developer. This novel sounds like a great mix of family, first romance, and community involvement set in a city steeped in Cuban culture. My students and I will surely root for Arturo to not fail epically.
(On Sale: 5/16/17)
The First Rule of Punk
I am so excited for this book because the author is centering on a Latinx subculture rarely highlighted. I love that Malú is a punk rocker and that this story’s main theme is also the first rule of punk: be yourself. The main character — full name María Luisa — loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo, minus the cilantro. When she starts a band with a group of like-minded misfits at school, she finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration. The themes of non-conformity and social protest are perfect for middle grade readers.
(On Sale: 8/22/17)
Us, In Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos
Puerto Rican author Lulu Delacre writes 12 short stories about what it means to be Latinx in the U.S. today. Readers will meet a young girl who spends the day on her father’s burrito truck, two sisters working together to change the older sister’s immigration status, and more. Short stories are often the just-right thing for reluctant readers who have low reading stamina. Plus, I think middle grade readers will appreciate reading stories that reflect their lives, not their parents’ or grandparents’ stories.
(On Sale: 8/29/17)
Flying Lessons & Other Stories
This must-have anthology is a collaboration between We Need Diverse Books and several award-winning, bestselling children’s authors, including Matt de la Peña and Meg Medina. Topics range from basketball dreams and family fiascos to first crushes and new neighborhoods. The collection emphasizes the uniqueness and universality in all of us. Like Delacre’s new book, this one allows tweens to read shorter works by the biggest children’s authors today with main characters who look and act like them.
Note: The term Latinx is the gender-neutral alternative to Latino, Latina, or Latin@. For a more detailed explanation, check out this article from The Huffington Post.