10 Children’s and YA Books Celebrating Latinx Poetry and Verse

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Hello all –

I am thrilled to be celebrating National Poetry Month with you!  As with many of you, poetry holds a dear place in my heart.  As a young person, I recall writing poem after poem and finding such liberation in exploring my voice, playing with syntax and line breaks, and testing out vocabulary that had yet to find a place in my daily life.  Poetry allowed for a freedom and creativity that was unmatched in other mediums.  And because of this, I believe that writing poetry enables us to develop our own voice, author our own truths, and honor our own experiences; all of which play an integral part in a young person’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Needless to say, there is absolutely room for poetry in both formal and informal settings.  I was introduced to poetry in the classroom and not long after, I carried it with me into my home.  For this, I am entirely grateful to those teachers.  For those of you who are not sure how to introduce poetry into your classroom or simply would like new ideas, please check out the Academy of American Poets website.  You will find a wealth of resources, including: information about National Poetry Month, ideas for how to celebrate, as well as easily searchable lessons plans for elementary through high school aged students.  I also invite you to check out the work that Vamos a Leer has done around poetry.  For starters, you can find an excellent resource that Katrina has compiled in her En la Clase post titled, Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice.  Additionally, this month’s Reading Roundup will highlight several previous Vamos a Leer posts which both focus on poetry and provide information about authors, activity ideas, and other relevant content.  Here’s to making this month an extra special one for your students and/or children!

Happy reading and writing everyone!

Colleen

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera
Written by Francisco X. Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 978-0892391998
Age level: Ages 6-11

Description (from Good Reads):

Tomatoes laugh, chiles explode, and tortillas applaud the sun! With joy and tenderness, delight and sadness, Alarcón’s poems honor the wonders of life and nature: welcoming the morning sun, remembering his grandmother’s songs, paying tribute to children working in the fields, and sharing his dream of a world filled with gardens. Artist Maya Christina Gonzalez invites us to experience the poems with her lively cast of characters–including a spirited grandma, four vivacious children, and playful pets who tease and delight. Follow them from page to page as they bring each poem to colorful life. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems is a verbal and visual treat, giving us twenty opportunities to see everything for the first time.

My thoughts:

This is not the first time that Alarcón’s Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera has been featured on the Vamos blog.  In 2015, Lorraine wrote an excellent ¡Mira Look! post that offers a well-rounded overview of the book as well as thoughtful resources for the classroom!  Here, I would like to say that I am happy to re-feature this award-winning, bilingual work.  Not only are the themes of family and nature always in season, this is an excellent way to introduce poetry to young readers.  Happy (re)reading!

Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes
Written by Rosanne Thong
Illustrated by John Parra
Published by Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9781452106168
Age level: Ages 3-5

Description (from Good Reads):

Round are tortillas and tacos, too Round is a bowl of abuela’s stew. In this lively picture book, children discover a world of shapes all around them: Rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, but all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child’s day!

My thoughts:

Although Thong’s Round is a Tortilla does not fall within the “traditional” likeliness of a poetry book –its lyrical nature and playful use of words makes for a perfect fit to this month’s theme.  As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, the book “really inspire[s] the reader to be fully aware of all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around them;” skills that are essential for any developing poet.  Additionally, within Katrina’s post you will find some excellent ways to link this (and Thong’s other highly recommended book, Green is a Pepper) to poetry.  For an overview of both Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Pepper, head on over to Lorraine’s review!

Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Lucía Ángela Pérez
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-0888996268
Age level:  Ages 5-8

Description (from Good Reads):

Tetl’s skin is brown, his eyes are black, and his hair is long. He’s different from the other children, whose taunts wound him deeply, leaving him confused and afraid. But Tetl’s grandmother knows the ancient teachings of their Aztec ancestors, and how they viewed the earth as alive with sacred meaning. With her help, he learns to listen to the mountains, wind, corn, and stones. Tetl’s journey from self-doubt to proud acceptance of his Nahuatl heritage is told in a series of powerful poems, beautifully expressed in both English and Spanish. Vivid illustrations celebrate nature’s redemptive powers, offering a perfect complement to the poignant story.

My thoughts:

I am always a fan of Argueta’s work and Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra is no exception.  This masterfully written and colorfully illustrated bilingual book of poetry focuses on self-love and nature.  What I find to be particularly valuable about this book, however, is that it challenges dominant ideas of what is considered acceptable and ‘the norm.’  This books invites us to look within ourselves to discover who we are and love ourselves not despite this, but because of this!  This book is also a great way to explore the theme of (de)colonization.  For more ideas on how to incorporate this theme and get a general sense of the book, please see Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post.

Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Alfonso Ruano
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-1554988495
Age level: Ages 7-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.

This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.

Compelling, timely and eloquent, this book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano who also illustrated The Composition, considered one of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids by Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine.

My thoughts:

As mentioned above, I am a fan of Argueta!  In a time when migration and borders are the forefront of everyone’s minds, this book feels particularly salient.  Undoubtedly, it challenges much of the political rhetoric around those who make their way into the US by humanizing and articulating the realities of why people immigrate.  The verses are simple, yet extraordinarily powerful.  Additionally, Alfonso Ruano’s artwork is simply captivating.  For a more in depth review of Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds, head on over to the Kirkus Review.

Poesía eres tú
Written by F. Isabel Campoy
Illustrated by Marcela Calderón
Published by Santillana USA
ISBN: 978-1631139642
Age level: Ages 7-10

Description (from Amazon):

For decades, F. Isabel Campoy has been delighting us with her poetry in various publications. Here, we can enjoy all of it. An endless party!

My thoughts:

I am sure that many Vamos readers are familiar with the award winning author and educator, F. Isabel Campoy.   Being fairly new to the field of children’s literature, I am just beginning to familiarize myself with her work – and I am delighted to be doing so!  Campoy’s Spanish language poetry anthology, Poesía eres tú, is diverse in themes; playful in sound, cadence, and rhythm; and rich in colorful art!  You can find a sampling of some of the poems at the publisher’s, Santillana USA, website.  I also encourage you to explore Campoy’s website, where you will find a wealth of books that she has both written and co-written (with Alma Flor Ada, below) in English, Spanish, and both!

Todo es una canción
Written by Alma Flor Ada
Illustrated by Maria Jesus Alvarez
Published by Alfaguara Infantil
ISBN: 978-1616051730
Age level:  Ages 7 and up

Description (from Santillana USA):

This delightful book gathers a selection of the most notable poems written by Alma Flor Ada—Latina writer, teacher, and passionate advocate for bilingual and bicultural education in the U.S. Organized by curriculum themes, this anthology is a fundamental tool for teachers who rely on imagination, play, and creativity to expand concepts and to enrich students’ vocabulary. Some of the themes included in the anthology are the parts of the body, numbers, vowels, family, animals, the city and the countryside, food, nature, bilingualism, and much more.

My thoughts:

Similar to F. Isabel Campoy, I am just beginning to discover the prolific writings of author, poet, and educator Alma Flor Ada.  Todo es una canción, an anthology of Ada’s poems, has been a great way to get acquainted!  The Spanish language book offers educators a variety of themes to work with in the classroom and young readers a wealth of ideas for writing their own poems.  And in case you are in need of additional education resources (who isn’t?) please head over to her website and explore videos, activity pages, and learn about the other books she has authored, or co-authored (with F. Isabel Campoy)!

Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States
Edited by Lori Marie Carlson with Introduction by Oscar Hijuelos
Published by Square Fish
ISBN: 978-1250016782
Age level: Ages 8-12

 Description (from Good Reads):

Here are the sights, sounds, and smells of Latino culture in America in thirty-six vibrant, moving, angry, beautiful and varied voices, including Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Luis J. Rodríguez, Gary Soto, and Martín Espada.

Presented in both English and Spanish, each poem helps us to discover the stories behind the mangoes and memories, prejudice and fear, love and life–how it was and is to grow up Hispanic in America….

My thoughts:

For exploring poetry with older readers, educators will find Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States to be an invaluable collection.  This bilingual book of poetry brings together diverse voices from the Latin@ community with writings that invite adolescent and older readers to think about their own stories of growing up.  Overall, I really enjoyed the poetry within this book.  I do, however, think this book may be more appropriate for 12 and up, as some of the poems are more mature in content – despite the indicated age level of 8-12.  What are your thoughts?

CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse
Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Published by University of New Mexico Press
ISBN: 978-0826321145
Age level: Grades 9-12

Description (from Good Reads):

In this novel in verse–unprecedented in Chicano literature–renowned poet Juan Felipe Herrera illuminates the soul of a generation. Drawn from his own life as well as a lifetime of dedication to young people, CrashBoomLove helps readers understand what it is to be a teen, a migrant worker, and a boy wanting to be a boy.

Sixteen-year-old Cesar Garcia is careening. His father, Papi Cesar, has left the migrant circuit in California for his other wife and children in Denver. Sweet Mama Lucy tries to provide for her son with dichos and tales of her own misspent youth. But at Rambling West High School in Fowlerville, the sides are drawn: Hmongs vs. Chicanos vs. everybody vs. Cesar, the new kid on the block.

Precise and profound, CrashBoomLove will appeal to and resonate with high school readers across the country.

A California farmworker kid’s season in hell, told through fast-verse lines that careen to the beat of a fiery heart.

My thoughts:

As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, novel in verse is an excellent way to introduce young people to poetry.  Juan Felipe Herrera’s book, CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse, is a great option.  The narrative, featuring a male protagonist, offers a glimpse into the challenges of being a young person when there is a lot going on around you.  The themes – along with the element of grittiness – are certainly something that my younger self would have appreciated reading about.  Additionally, it is novels (in-verse) such as these that can further encourage young people to reflect on their own stories, their own experience, and their own surroundings; prompting their creative ability to think of their lives in poetic terms.  Consider including this one on shelves if it’s not already!

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics
Written by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael López
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805098761
Age level: Ages 8-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today!

Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia, Tomás Rivera

My thoughts:

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle is a unique look into the lives of influential and inspiring Latin@s.   Like many of the books on this list, Bravo! can serve multiple purposes.  Not only does it introduce poetry, it also teaches about people that are often overlooked in our school text books.  I certainly learned about several people that I did not know about, including botanist, Ynés Mexía, from Mexico and arms dealer, Juan de Miralles, from Cuba.  Rafael López’s artwork is also stunning!

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books
ISBN: 978-1600604294
Age level: Ages 14-17

Description (from Good Reads):

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.

My thoughts:

Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, has been highlighted several times on the Vamos blog throughout the years.  With good reason, too!  Winner of the Pura Belpré Award, this novel in verse is a riveting read and great way to introduce and encourage poetry with high school aged readers.  Here, I would like to turn to Katrina’s thoughts on the book from 2013, because they are just as applicable and meaningful today:

Under the Mesquite is a beautiful book.  While it was a quick read, it lingered in my mind.  I found myself continuing to think about it days after I’d finished it.  It’s a book that is certainly worth a second (or even third) read.  The first time through I was engrossed in the story, only subconsciously aware of the beauty and simplicity of McCall’s verse. When I returned to the  novel later, I found myself incredibly moved by the imagery and sentiments conveyed through McCall’s words.  I think Lyn Miller-Lachmann describes it best in her own review: “. . .one of the most achingly beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time. It is a story from the heart, not written to fit into a marketing category but to remember, to honor, and to bear witness.”