Reading Roundup: 10 Books about Latin American and Latina Women


Reading Roundup March


¡Buenos días!

I hope everyone is having a great week! Beginning this month, we will be bringing you our Reading Roundup list at the beginning of the month, so that you’ll have more time to include them in your classroom themes. Nonetheless, we hope you are able to incorporate these books into your classes all year long! As Keira explained in her Sobre Marzo post, we are celebrating Women’s History Month and I therefore present to you books with strong Latin American and Latina female characters While this list cannot possibly encompass all of the wonderful books out there with positive women role models, we hope that it can be a start. In addition, if you have any relevant books to suggest, please comment and let us know! In this Reading Roundup, we aim at encompassing a mix of both well-known and everyday women’s narratives. In addition, all of the authors are women. While the majority of these books do not delve deeply into the complexity of gender, gender roles and expectations are addressed in a few of the young adult books listed, like in Gabi, A Girl in Pieces and Under the Mesquite. We hope that you enjoy these books and find them valuable for your classrooms!


Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

Written by Isabel Quintero
Published by Cinco Puntos Press 2014
ISBN: 1935955950
Age Level: 14 and up

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Our thoughts:
It would be impossible to omit this wonderful book from the list! Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, tells the story of Gabi, a high school senior going through issues which youth face growing up and which are often overlooked. According to a post by Katrina, “the book addresses so many important themes. It can act as a springboard to discuss any of the following in greater depth: gender roles, sexuality, rape, family and societal expectations, body image, self-esteem, ethnicity, race, identity, the power of writing, or addiction. So often we don’t make space for these important conversations in our classrooms, but these are issues that our students need to feel encouraged to discuss and process.” Gabi copes with and overcomes these fears and issues through poetry. Katrina wrote a detailed book review that I recommend reading, which includes our educator’s guide. In addition, Isabel Quintero was a Featured Author here at Vamos a Leer. A few months ago I created a visual quote by Quintero, also from this book, that you could check out.

The Color of My Words
Written by Lynn Joseph
Published by Harper Collins, 2001
ISBN: 9780064472043
Age Level: 8 and up

Twelve-year-old Ana Rosa is a blossoming writer growing up in the Dominican Republic, a country where words are feared. Yet there is so much inspiration all around her — watching her brother search for a future, learning to dance and to love, and finding out what it means to be part of a community — that Ana Rosa must write it all down. As she struggles to find her own voice and a way to make it heard, Ana Rosa realizes the power of her words to transform the world around her — and to transcend the most unthinkable of tragedies.

Our thoughts:
For those of you who read our February Reading Roundup about Afro-Caribbean narratives, you may have seen Lynn Joseph’s children’s book, Coconut Kind of Day. In case you’re still not convinced, today we’re bringing you Lynn Joseph’s young adult novel, The Color of My Words. This novel takes place in the Dominican Republic and features a twelve-year-old character, Ana Rosa, who works to make an impact in her community, which she fears losing. All of this takes place during a time in which Ana Rosa is growing and learning about herself and the world around her. Each chapter begins with a short story told from Ana’s point of view, simultaneously drawing the readers in and showing them the power of words. In Katrina’s Book Review, she goes into detail about how the book might be used in the classroom. In addition to Katrina’s post, we also have an educator’s guide for those who would like to use it. I hope you enjoy this book as much as we did!

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Written by Margarita Engle
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Illustrations by Edel Rodriguez
ISBN: 9781481435222
Age Leve: 12-17

In this poetic memoir, which won the Pura Belpré Author Award, acclaimed author Margarita Engle tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not.

Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

Our thoughts:
As huge Margarita Engle fans here at Vamos a Leer, we are so excited for this book! In fact, Enchanted Air is our featured book for this month. After already having reviewed various books of Engle’s, including The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck, Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, for which we have educator’s guides available, we are excited for this book, particularly because of its biographical nature. According to Lyn Miller-Lachmann with De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, “Enchanted Air offers a nuanced perspective on the conflict between the United States and Cuba that never loses sight of the personal, the perspective of a young girl seeking her voice and an understanding of who she is.” In addition, this book gives us insight into the personal stories behind Engle’s creativity and incredible literature. Alice recently wrote a post about Margarita Engle, which I urge readers to read. We hope you enjoy Engle’s new book! It’s definitely one to add to the library shelf. In addition, Katrina recently reviewed this book and we have an available educator’s guide.

Under the Mesquite

Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781600604294
Age Level: 9 and up

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience.

Our thoughts:
This is the beautiful story about the young Lupita coming of age while her family endures difficult circumstances. According to Katrina in her book review of Under the Mesquite, this is a story that refuses “to sugar-coat the reality of their protagonists who have to grow up too quickly, shouldering responsibilities not meant for teenagers.” As Lupita continues through high school, she must become the leader of her household, taking care of her brother while her parents are away for her mother’s cancer treatment. In addition she must stay strong for her mother, apart from dealing with everyday struggles involving race, identity, school and simply growing up. Lupita finds refuge and agency through her poetry, which simultaneously keeps her strong and heals her during this difficult time. Lupita is a strong female protagonist that we are excited to add to this book list of strong Latina women. If you’d like to add this book in the classroom, we have an educator’s guide for you to use.

Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrations by Raul Colón
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Age Level: 3-7

Doña Flor is a giant lady who lives in a tiny village in the American Southwest. Popular with her neighbors, she lets the children use her flowers as trumpets and her leftover tortillas as rafts. Flor loves to read, too, and she can often be found reading aloud to the children. One day, all the villagers hear a terrifying noise: it sounds like a huge animal bellowing just outside their village. Everyone is afraid, but not Flor. She wants to protect her beloved neighbors, so with the help of her animal friends, she sets off for the highest mesa to find the creature. Soon enough, though, the joke is on Flor and her friends, who come to rescue her, as she discovers the small secret behind that great big noise.

The creators of Tomás and the Library Lady, Pat Mora and Raul Colón, have once again joined together. This time they present a heartwarming and humorous original tall tale-peppered with Spanish words and phrases about a giant lady with a great big heart.

Our thoughts:
This is the story of a selfless giant woman who cares for everyone in her village. Despite the children making fun of her as a child, Doña Flor only shows love to the world and those around her – she even calms down the wind with her hugs! Since I recently moved to Albuquerque and I am enchanted with the Southwest, I really appreciated Colón’s depictions of the scenery. His watercolor washes, etching, and pencils come together to make truly breathtaking illustrations. Doña Flor is a strong woman who looks to protect her village in ways that nobody else can. Furthermore, she credits her mother for teaching her to grow tall plants. She is a smart, brave, and strong woman who cooks and grows food for her entire community. I highly recommend this beautiful story to people of all ages. You can also check you Alice’s review of this book for more info!

Prietita and the Ghost Woman/Prietita y la llorona
Written by Gloria Anzaldúa
Illustrations by Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press/Libros Para Niños
ISBN: 9780892391677
Age Level: 6 and up

Ever since she can remember, Prietita has heard frightening stories about la Llorona—the legendary ghost woman who steals children at night. One day, when Prietita goes in search of the missing herb that can help cure her mother’s illness, she becomes lost in the woods. Suddenly she hears a distant crying sound and sees flashes of white in the trees. Could it be the ghost woman from her grandmother’s stories?

In her second book for children, Gloria Anzaldúa reinterprets the famous Mexican legend of la Llorona, the ghost woman. Surrounded by the live oak and prickly pear of the Texas woods, Prietita discovers that la Llorona is not what people expect. In this magical story, Prietita’s search for the healing rue plant turns into a powerful journey of self-discovery.

Our thoughts:
I had been wanting to read this book for quite some time because I am a huge fan of Gloria Anzaldúa. I admire her inclusive feminism and the activism that comes across in both her life and writings. Throughout her life, Anzaldúa brought race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation to the forefront of feminism. This book is no exception, which her strong female characters make obvious. In our recent review of the book, Alice writes that, in this story, “Anzaldúa creates a feminist adaptation of the Hispanic legend by featuring strong, female protagonists, and portraying La Llorona as a benevolent spirit, rather than a haunting ghost.” In the process, she dispels the negative conceptions of the La Llorona traditions. She simultaneously offers remarkable role models and acknowledges women’s multiple roles in their communities by highlighting characters such as the curandera and Prietita, the protagonist. Alice goes into greater detail about this book in her post, where she shares interesting resources to accompany it.

That’s Not Fair!: Emma Tenayuca’s struggle for justice/¡No Es Justo!: La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia
Written by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca
Translations by Carmen Tafolla
Translation editors: Celina Marroquín, Amalia Mondríguez
Illustrations by Terry Ybáñez
Published by Wings Press
ISBN: 9780916727338
Age Level: 5-7

In the 1920s and 1930s, the pecan shellers of San Antonio, Texas, were some of the lowest-paid workers in the nation. They were all Mexican-Americans, who had fled the revolution in their home country. Pecan shellers worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as six cents a pound. In addition, they had to work in dusty, closed rooms. This made many of them ill. And then, in 1938, their wages were cut in half. They needed someone to be a voice for them, someone both brave and caring. They needed a hero. A young woman, barely twenty-one, answered their call. Her name was Emma.

But Emma Tenayuca was not born a hero of the poor. That’s Not Fair! / ¡No Es Justo! tells how the seeds of Emma’s awareness and activism were sown when she was very young.. This story of courage and compassion shows how each of us, no matter how young, can help to make the world more fair for everyone.

Our thoughts:
We could not omit this wonderful book from the list because of what an important figure Emma Tenayuca is in the Mexican-American rights movement. She was a strong woman who stood up for thousands of families during a time when Mexican and Mexican American women lacked a voice. Her example led many other women to fight for their rights. I personally like how the book starts with Emma Tenayuca as a child because it encourages young readers to see the positive impact that one person can make even as a child.. The translations are fluid and reflect the dialect of Spanish appropriate to Tenayuca’s biography. The short biography of Emma Tenayuca at the end of the book is equally informative and enjoyable. Alice wrote a detailed post about this book that highlights civil rights and child activism – I recommend checking it out!

Fiesta Feminina: Celebrating Women in Mexican Folktale
Written by Mary-Joan Gerson
Illustrations by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Barefoot Books
ISBN: 1841488070
Age Level: 8 and up

This is a beautiful collection of Mexican folktales. Drawing from Mexico’s rich cultural heritage, this book celebrates the courage and resilience of the feminine spirit through the stories of seven extraordinary Mexican women. Using radiant colours in a style reminiscent of famous Mexican muralists to capture the spark behind the stories, this folktale collection that will be enjoyed time and again, this is truly a fiesta for the eyes, the spirit and the heart.

My thoughts:
I absolutely loved reading each of the stories in this book. Fiesta Feminina celebrates the role of women in stories from Maya, Nahua/Aztec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Yaqui, and Mexican stories. I found the diverse origins of each story an important aspect of the book, because while they all originate in Mexico, they are each derived from distinct groups of indigenous peoples. All feature female characters with immense agency. Mary-Joan Gerson represents the women as strong, dynamic, and complex characters upon whom others rely. Maya Christina Gonzalez’s illustrations accompany the narratives perfectly, and have a Mexican flare reminiscent of Mexican muralism. In addition, Alice reviewed this book a few days ago.

Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa
Written by Veronica Chambers
Illustrations by Julie Maren
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9780142407790
Age Level: 5-8

Everyone knows the flamboyant, larger-than-life Celia Cruz, the extraordinary salsa singer who passed away in 2003, leaving millions of fans brokenhearted. Indeed, there was a magical vibrancy to the Cuban salsa singer. To hear her voice or to see her perform was to feel her life-affirming energy deep within you. Relish the sizzling sights and sounds of her legacy in this glimpse into Celia’s childhood and her inspiring rise to worldwide fame and recognition as the Queen of salsa. Her inspirational life story is sure to sweeten your soul.

Our thoughts:
This story begins with Celia as a child, showing her integral role in caring for her brothers, sisters and cousins by singing them lullabies. It also shows the struggle that Celia undergoes with the pressure from her father to study to become a teacher. In the end, Celia follows her dreams with her father’s advice in mind, by studying voice, piano and musical theory at Cuba’s National Music Conservatory. She was a strong woman who eventually left home to follow her dreams and could not return for political reasons, but was able to embody home and family through her music. This book shows Celia Cruz’s strength and will demonstrate to children the importance of believing in oneself. Julie Maren’s colorful illustrations are beautiful, and I think that children will appreciate them. Lorraine reviewed this book, and I hope you check out her post as well. Jake also wrote a WWW post about Celia Cruz, which includes a biography of Cruz and sites for listening to her music. Finally, if you can’t get enough azucar, Ailesha reviewed the book My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me llamo Celia: La vida de Celia Cruz, written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael López.

Mango, Abuela, and Me/Mango, Abuela, y yo
Written by Meg Medina
Illustrations by Angela Dominguez
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763669003
Age Level: 5-8

Mia’s abuela has left her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to live with Mia and her parents in the city. The night she arrives, Mia tries to share her favorite book with Abuela before they go to sleep and discovers that Abuela can’t read the words inside. So while they cook, Mia helps Abuela learn English (“Dough. Masa”), and Mia learns some Spanish too, but it’s still hard for Abuela to learn the words she needs to tell Mia all her stories. Then Mia sees a parrot in the pet-shop window and has the perfect idea for how to help them all communicate a little better. An endearing tale from an award-winning duo that speaks loud and clear about learning new things and the love that bonds family members.

Our thoughts:
This beautiful story teaches us about the importance of family, patience and understanding. I loved seeing the relationship between Mia and her abuela develop. The dynamic between these two main characters is atypical because of how much they rely on each other; rather than the adult being the primary figure to transfer knowledge, granddaughter and grandmother are portrayed more reciprocally. Mia helps her abuela learn English, while her abuela simultaneously teaches Mia Spanish. Furthermore, I find this story particularly important because the language gap between children and grandparents is a reality for many families. This story offers a compassionate and uplifting way to approach this subject, and I think it would be great for all children to read. Furthermore, it teaches that love has a language of its own, and that there exist points of commonality between everyone. Alice also reviewed this month in lieu of Women’s History Month, so I encourage you to take a look at her post to learn more!


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