First, let me say that the librarian at my school rocks! A few years ago, I approached her about getting my students to read some novels to learn more about the Hispanic culture. She compiled over 60 titles from our school library and has since grown the list to over 90.
Here are a few titles that I recommend:
1. Esperanza Rising, Pam Muñoz Ryan
Available in Spanish as “Esperanza Renace”
“Ryan uses the experiences of her own Mexican grandmother as the basis for this compelling story of immigration and assimilation, not only to a new country but also into a different social class. Esperanza’s expectation that her 13th birthday will be celebrated with all the material pleasures and folk elements of her previous years is shattered when her father is murdered by bandits. His powerful stepbrothers then hold her mother as a social and economic hostage, wanting to force her remarriage to one of them, and go so far as to burn down the family home. Esperanza’s mother then decides to join the cook and gardener and their son as they move to the United States and work in California’s agricultural industry. They embark on a new way of life, away from the uncles, and Esperanza unwillingly enters a world where she is no longer a princess but a worker. Set against the multiethnic, labor-organizing era of the Depression, the story of Esperanza remaking herself is satisfyingly complete, including dire illness and a difficult romance. Except for the evil uncles, all of the characters are rounded, their motives genuine, with class issues honestly portrayed. Easy to booktalk, useful in classroom discussions, and accessible as pleasure reading, this well-written novel belongs in all collections.”
–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
2. The Disappeared, Gloria Whelan
“A story set in Buenos Aires in the late 1970s. Despite its peaceful facade, Argentina is rife with guerrilla warfare and run by malevolent generals. Told in alternating chapters by two teenage siblings, the novel relates how one young person decides to stand up for his political beliefs and ideals and ignores his parent’s cautions. Eduardo, in his first year of university, is impatient and intolerant of his father’s inaction to protest against the vengeful General Lopez. Silvia, his beautiful younger sister, dances from night to dawn. Her brother’s outspoken protests seem little more than another family quarrel. As a visible political activist, Eduardo ends up a target. Only when imprisoned, suffering cruel and calculating psychological torture, does he learn the dangers of what it means to be one of Los Desparecidos. Silvia, awakened to the reality of the situation, does everything in her power to free him. Strategically, she sets herself up as bait for the son of General Lopez, believing that she can win him over and secure her brother’s release. The deftly handled voices of Silvia and Eduardo follow the well-intentioned, but often grievous, mistakes of youth. Their compelling tale is a chilling account of the manipulative power of corruption.”—Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY
3. Journey of Dreams, Marge Pellegrino
This is the story of how one family survives the Guatemalan army’s ‘scorched earth’ campaign in the 1980s and how, in the midst of tragedy, suspicion and fear, their resilient love and loyalty – and Papa’s storytelling – keeps them going. On their harrowing journey as refugees to the United States, the dramatic ebb and flow of events are mirrored in the tapestries of one daughter’s dreams.
4. Return to Sender, Julia Alvarez
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?
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