10 Latino Books for Teens

10 Latino Books for Teens

I first discovered Latino literature when I was a teenager in high school taking a multicultural lit class. The experience was life changing for me. Since then so many more books by and about Latinos have been written and published for young adults. Here are just a few of our favorite Latino literature titles for teens. What titles would you add to our list?

Psst! Any of these would be ideal reads for our YA Challenge!

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My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults
by Pat Mora

a major selection of new and previously published poems chosen by Pat Mora herself with young-adult readers in mind. Using the cactus plant as her guiding metaphor for our existence, she presents more than sixty poems grouped variously into “Blooms,” “Thorns,” and “Roots.” Each section opens with a graceful line drawing from artist Anthony Accardo, and the whole is prefaced by a whimsical and intimate introduction, “Dear Fellow Writter.”

Names on a Map: A Novel
by Benjamin Alire Saenz

The Espejo family of El Paso, Texas, is like so many others in America in 1967, trying to make sense of a rapidly escalating war they feel does not concern them. But when the eldest son, Gustavo, a complex and errant rebel, receives a certified letter ordering him to report to basic training, he chooses to flee instead to Mexico. Retreating back to the land of his grandfather—a foreign country to which he is no longer culturally connected—Gustavo sets into motion a series of events that will have catastrophic consequences on the fragile bonds holding the family together.

My Name is Cool: 18 Stories from a Cuban-Irish-American Storyteller
by Antonio Sacre

Born in Boston to a Cuban father and an Irish-American mother, Antonio Sacre is one of the fewleprecanos on the national speaking circuit. Using his own personal history and telling the stories that audiences across the nation have found so captivating and wonderful, this  award-winning storyteller and author  weaves the Spanish language, Cuban and Mexican customs, and Irish humor into an unforgettable book of humor, inspiration, tradition, and family.

Caminar
by Skila Brown

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind
by Meg Medina

Sixteen-year-old Sonia Ocampo was born on the night of the worst storm Tres Montes had ever seen. And when the winds mercifully stopped, an unshakable belief in the girl’s protective powers began. All her life, Sonia has been asked to pray for sick mothers or missing sons, as worried parents and friends press silver milagros in her hands. Sonia knows she has no special powers, but how can she disappoint those who look to her for solace? Still, her conscience is heavy, so when she gets a chance to travel to the city and work in the home of a wealthy woman, she seizes it. At first, Sonia feels freedom in being treated like all the other girls. But when news arrives that her beloved brother has disappeared while looking for work, she learns to her sorrow that she can never truly leave the past or her family behind.

Under the Mesquite
by Guadalupe Garcia Mccall

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.

Esperanza Rising
by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child
by Francisco Jiménez

“The Circuit,” the story of young Panchito and his trumpet, is one of the most widely anthologized stories in Chicano literature. At long last, Jimenez offers more about the wise, sensitive little boy who has grown into a role model for subsequent generations of immigrants.

These independent but intertwined stories follow the family through their circuit, from picking cotton and strawberries to topping carrots–and back agai–over a number of years. As it moves from one labor camp to the next, the little family of four grows into ten. Impermanence and poverty define their lives. But with faith, hope, and back-breaking work, the family endures.

Baseball in April and Other Stories
by Gary Soto

The Mexican American author Gary Soto draws on his own experience of growing up in California’s Central Valley in this finely crafted collection of eleven short stories that reveal big themes in the small events of daily life. Crooked teeth, ponytailed girls, embarrassing grandfathers, imposter Barbies, annoying brothers, Little League tryouts, and karate lessons weave the colorful fabric of Soto’s world. The smart, tough, vulnerable kids in these stories are Latino, but their dreams and desires belong to all of us.

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal 
by Margarita Engle

One hundred years ago, the world celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, which connected the world’s two largest oceans and signaled America’s emergence as a global superpower. It was a miracle, this path of water where a mountain had stood—and creating a miracle is no easy thing. Thousands lost their lives, and those who survived worked under the harshest conditions for only a few silver coins a day.

From the young “silver people” whose back-breaking labor built the Canal to the denizens of the endangered rainforest itself, this is the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, as only Newbery Honor-winning author Margarita Engle could tell it.

How to Inspire Your Teen to Read

photo courtesy of Marta Darby

The following is a guest post by Latina blogger and homeschooling mami, Marta Verdes Darby of My Big Fat Cuban Family.

“Why do they always assign such boring books in school?”

The conversations around our dinner table are often lively and loud and usually start off with a pointed question. We recently had one such discussion about reading assignments and high school.
My daughter, Lucy, is 19 and just finished her second year of college. My son, Jonathan, is going to be a high school senior. They’re both home educated.

As a homeschooling family, we pretty much spent most of our days reading. Our educational philosophy started with the premise that as long as they were able to read and engaged in learning, they would be well prepared for life. That has definitely been the case.
Their high school experience has been through online classes at an accredited high school based on an Independent Study Program. In other words, they have to follow and meet the standards assigned to all other California high school students.
Back to the “boring book” question…

Jonathan pointed out that he loves to read. He enjoys fantasy and loves a well crafted story with a happy ending. It MUST have a happy ending. Most of his friends do, too. He and Lucy both love to get lost in a story.
The books assigned in school, he argued, meet none of their criteria. After the assigned reading come the “critical thinking” questions, which seem to start off with the assumption that the reader is not thinking at all as he or she reads and so must be prompted to think.

If you’ve ever listened to young adults discussing a book that they love with characters that they can relate to, you know there’s no need for prompting. They are naturally curious. They naturally question motivation. They love to discuss plot and details. They naturally make suggestions about what they might have done differently or how they would have taken a plot twist in a different direction. They will easily share disappointments and story successes. In other words, they must be engaged.

Find some honest and well told stories. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling immediately come to mind. Or the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. There are some fabulous Latino authors, as well. We recommend: Christina Diaz Gonzalez, who wrote The Red Umbrella and A Thunderous Whisper; Chantel Acevedo’s Song of the Red Cloak; Torrey Maldonado’s Secret Saturdays; and for Spanish readers, Paola B. Sur, who wrote the haunting El Lago de los Milagros.

The thing that keeps teen readers coming back for more is the same thing that keeps adults interested in a good book: a great story with unforgettable characters, a hero to relate to, excitement, tension, difficult questions, and, the most necessary ingredient in my son’s opinion…a happy ending.

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Marta Darby is an avid blogger, business owner, Cuban cook, graphic designer, scrapbooker, photographer and homemaker. She was born in Havana and left Cuba with her family when she was 5 years old. She likes to tell anecdotes and stories about her family (all 40 of them!), her passions (dulce de leche and red lipstick), and especially being Cuban. She is happily married to her fabulous gringo husband, Eric, and lives with him and their four children in a tiny house with a white picket fence. You can read more from Marta on her blog, My Big Fat Cuban Family.