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Multicultural Literature

These books help kids experience the lives of people from many times and places.


Q: I am a reading tutor working with a 10-year-old who is having difficulty reading. She is Hispanic. Could you suggest books that are culturally appealing and have sensitive illustrations?

A: I'm so glad you asked about recommendations for Latino literature. You gave me the opportunity to comment on the importance of multicultural literature for all kids between the ages of 9 and 12. Students need to read well for two reasons — one is to read to learn about the world and the other is to read for enjoyment and to develop the reading habit. Multicultural literature provides kids with a window on the world and helps them understand their place in it.

While you asked about Latino books, I'm going to make suggestions about titles representing many cultures. It is so important for kids to see themselves in books and other media that represent their cultural experience. It is also a good idea to read about other cultures. These are my top picks in the multicultural category.

• Dragon's Gate, by Laurence Yep
• Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
• Hold Fast to Your Dreams, by Kimberly Colen and Carrie Boyko
• Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges
• Abiyoyo, by Pete Seeger
• Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
• Arroz Con Leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes From Latin America, by Lulu Delacre
• Aztec, Inca and Maya, by Elizabeth Baquedano
• Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino, edited by Lori M. Carlson
• Pacific Crossing, by Gary Soto

Here are some more favorites suggested by my colleagues.

• Cousins, by Virginia Hamilton. Hamilton is one of my favorite authors of all time. She left a wonderful legacy of multicultural literature that engages the hearts and minds of children. I would recommend any of her books.
•  Angel Child, Dragon Child, by Michele Maria Surat
•  Arctic Son, by Jean Craighead George
•  Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold
•  Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman, by Dorothy Sterling
•  Golden Tales: Myths, Legends, and Folktales From Latin America, by Lulu Delacre
•  Harlem, by Walter Dean Myers
•  Indian Chiefs, by Russell Freedman
•  Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell
•  Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
•  M.C. Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton
•  Marisol and Magdalena: The Sound of Our Sisterhood, by Veronica Chambers
•  Molly's Pilgrim, by Barbara Cohen
•  Pacific Crossing, by Gary Soto
•  Pocahontas and the Strangers, by Clyde Robert Bulla
•  Salsa Stories, by Lulu Delacre
•  The Spirit of Tio Fernando / El Espíritu de Tío Fernando, by Janice Levy
•  The Star Fisher, by Laurence Yep
•  The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
•  Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto

These books help kids experience the lives of people from many times and places. There are so many more! If some of them are too difficult for independent reading, use them as read-alouds to build background, listening comprehension, and motivation. Your school and local librarian will also have good ideas about books. Meryl Streep recently said that she acts because "I've always been curious to know what it's like to be you and everyone else."

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