En la Clase: “Literature for Young Bilingual Readers”

Many of our recent posts have mentioned the conversations around the lack of literature by and about Latinos being used in our classrooms.  But, as many of you already know, and have shared with us, there also seems to be a lack of quality literature in Spanish–a problem that is related to many of the same issues connected to the lack of literature about Latinos being taught in schools. I recently came across an article that addressed this very topic in the winter issue of Rethinking Schools Magazine–“Literature for Young Bilingual Readers” by Grace Cornell Gonzales. Click here to access the article.

As Gonzales writes, “Beneath the general tone of frustration, lay a deeper, unspoken issue: How can we hope to provide equitable educational opportunities for students in bilingual programs when we give them books and other materials that are often stilted, riddled with errors, or out of touch with their cultural and linguistic realities?” (p. 60)

Gonzales wrote the article after attending a districtwide meeting of bilingual educators.  During the meeting the following was concluded: “What we need, the teachers all agreed, are excellent quality books–written in Spanish–by Latina/o authors who can speak to the experiences of Spanish-speaking students living in the United States” (p. 60).

For those of you looking for materials like the ones described above, Gonzales has a suggestion: Juan Felipe Herrera.  She writes, “Herrera grew up as the child of migrant farmworkers.  His bilingual picture books exemplify the type of literature that the teachers in my district are calling for.  Written in fluent, vibrant Spanish, drawing upon the lived experiences of Latina/o children and families in the United States, they are full of engaging, lively stories with gorgeous illustrations that fascinate students.  And themes of social justice are always at the heart of his stories” (p. 60).

The article highlights two of Herrera’s books:

Featherless Desplumado

Featherless/Desplumado tells the story of Tomasito, a child with spina bifida: At his new school or on the soccer field, all everyone wants to know is why Tomasito is in a wheelchair. His father gives Tomasito a new pet to make him smile, but this bird is a little bit different. Can Tomasito’s featherless friend teach him that there’s more than one way to fly? Will the cheers Tomasito hears on the sidelines ever be for him? (from the publisher’s description) Gonzales writes that it “is a creative reminder for all students of how much you can have in common with someone who seems very different from you.  It is also a wonderful book to begin conversations about disabilities” (p. 60)

The Upside Down Boy

The Upside Down Boy/El niño de cabeza is a story based upon Herrera’s own life: Fresh from the country, Juanito is bewildered by his new school. Everything he does feels upside down: he eats lunch when it’s recess and goes out to play when it’s time for lunch, and his tongue feels like a rock when he tries to speak English. But a sensitive teacher and his loving family help Juanito find his voice through poetry, art, and music (from the publisher’s description). According to Gonzales, “This is an excellent book to use with English language learners because it eloquently describes the feelings that Juanito experiences as he struggles with English” (p. 60).

I hope you find the article and Gonzales’ suggestions useful.  These aren’t Herrera’s only books, so be sure to check out a complete list here.

If you liked Gonzales’ article, check out the many others available for free download in Rethinking Schools’ resource archives.

If you have any other suggestions for high-quality bilingual books, please share them in the comments sections.  We’ll start creating a list of these resources to share with all of our readers!



5 thoughts on “En la Clase: “Literature for Young Bilingual Readers”

  1. I like the concepts of The Upside Down Boy and will see if we have it or can request it for our library. One book I loved that has both English and Spanish is “A Cat and a Dog,” by Claire Masurel. It’s a great simple picture book and it just works so well.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I think the Upside Down Boy is wonderful–I hope you find a copy of it for your library. I’m not familiar with “A Cat and A Dog,” so I’ll have to check it out!

  2. Katrina, I will e-mail to you a list of bilingual picture books which have been successfully used with elementary students.

    • I got your email–thank you so much! I’m planning on putting together some kind of post around your list (giving you the credit for the book list, of course). Your books are such a great resource for teachers!

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