Autobiography and Memoir: Hispanic Heritage

For a lot of teens, the best story is a true one. These autobiographies and memoirs don't disappoint. From a kid who grew up working in the fields and became a NASA astronaut to a young women who faked her own pregnancy, these books prove that sometimes all you need to do to find a good story is look around you. Recommended for grades 7-12.

90 Miles to Havana

90 Miles to Havana
Age Level: 9-12, Middle Grade
Language: Spanish vocabulary featured

"Drawing on his own experience as a child refugee from Cuba, Flores-Galbis offers a gripping historical novel about children who were evacuated from Cuba to the U.S. during Operation Pedro Pan in 1961. Julian, a young Cuban boy, experiences the violent revolution and watches mobs throw out his family's furniture and move into their home. For his safety, his parents send him to a refugee camp in Miami, but life there is no sweet haven…(T)his is a seldom-told refugee story that will move readers." — Booklist

A Summer Life

By: Gary Soto
Age Level: Middle Grade

Product Description: Gary Soto writes that when he was five "what I knew best was at ground level." In this lively collection of short essays, Soto takes his reader to a ground-level perspective, recreating in vivid detail the sights, sounds, smells, and textures he knew growing up in his Fresno, California, neighborhood. The "things" of his boyhood tie it all together: his Buddha "splotched with gold" and his worn tennies smelling of "summer grass, asphalt, the moist sock breathing the defeat of baseball."

Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

A photo of young Sonia Manzano coming down the stairs
Age Level: Young Adult

Set in the 1950s in the Bronx, the story of Emmy award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano ("Maria" from Sesame Street) plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving and troubled. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead.

Burro Genius: A Memoir

Product Description: Highly gifted and imaginative as a child, Villaseñor coped with an untreated learning disability (he was finally diagnosed, at the age of forty-four, with extreme dyslexia) and the frustration of growing up Latino in an English-only American school in the 1940s. Despite teachers who beat him because he could not speak English, Villaseñor clung to his dream of one day becoming a writer and is now considered one of the premier writers of our time.

East Side Dreams

Age Level: Young Adult

"East Side Dreams is the debut memoir of Art Rodriguez, a Latino American who survived growing up on the rough side of life, often at odds with his dictatorial father. Rodriguez spent time as an inmate of the California Youth Authority — a prison system for young lawbreakers. This book reflects on the happy and the miserable times of his childhood — growing up, maturing, and finally making a comfortable life for himself." — Google Books

House of Houses

By: Pat Mora
Age Level: Young Adult

"Pat Mora's House of Houses is an unconventional memoir that reads as if every member, death notwithstanding, is in one room talking, laughing, and crying. In a take-off on the Day of the Dead, the story begins with a visit to the cemetery in which all of her deceased relatives come alive to share stories of the family, literally bringing the food to their own funerals. From there the book covers a year in the life of her clan, revealing the personalities and events that Mora herself so desperately yearns to know and understand." —

How to Be a Chicana Role Model

"The story of Michele Serros' journey to becoming a writer, How to be a Chicana Role Model (2000), is structured around 13 rules for success, beginning with Rule Number 1: Never Give Up An Opportunity to Eat for Free, and ending with Rule Number 13: Answer All Fan Mail. Serros credits her own beginnings as a writer, in part, to a letter of despair she wrote to children's author Judy Blume when she was 11 years old.

If Only You Knew

If Only You Knew
Age Level: Young Adult

Emily Francis' memoir tells her story through a series of letters she writes to eight immigrant students in whom she sees pieces of herself. She shares memories from her childhood in Guatemala, where she worked in her mother’s fruit-selling business and helped raise her four younger siblings, through her journey into the United States as an undocumented, unaccompanied minor, and to her experience fulfilling her dream of becoming an award-winning educator of immigrant students and English learners.

Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro

"This is a rare look at Cuban life from 1959 to 1969, when Calcines' family managed to emigrate. The author was born into an exuberant extended family whose enjoyable lives changed abruptly after the revolution. Food became scarce, jobs disappeared, and harsh restrictions were imposed. Eventually, Calcines' parents made the difficult choice to apply for a visa to America. From then on, life became a daily nightmare…Calcines' book will captivate readers and open a door to a subject seldom written about for teens." — Booklist

Lost in the System

A foster child from the age of two, Charlotte Lopez bounced around foster homes until she went to live in a home that she expected to be permanent. But her foster parents wouldn't adopt her, and after eleven years of waiting, Charlotte moved to an emergency shelter for children in crisis. Charlotte kept up her grades, participated in sports and school activities, and even entered the Miss Vermont Teen USA pageant. In August 1992, she was crowned Miss Teen USA. It wasn't until she was legally adopted at age 17, however, that she finally found a place to call home.

My Havana

My Havana

Product Description: "You're always drawing in that notebook of yours," Dino's friend teases. To the small boy, 1950s Havana is alive with color, music, and glamour, and he itches to capture it on paper. When Fidel Castro and the Communist Party take over the Cuban government, Dino's family must move to New York, where the lonely boy pours his heart into making a model of Havana's archways and balconies, buildings and streets. Rosemary Wells composes a tender ode to an immigrant boy who grew up to be a U.S.

Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist

Young Sylvia Acevedo looking up at nighttime sky
Age Level: Middle Grade
Language: Spanish

This inspiring memoir for young readers tells the story of Sylvia Acevedo, a Latina rocket scientist whose early life was transformed by joining the Girl Scouts and who currently serves as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. A meningitis outbreak in their underprivileged neighborhood left Sylvia's family forever altered. As she struggled in the aftermath of loss, her life transformed when she joined the Brownies. The Girl Scouts taught her how to take control of her world and nourished her love of numbers and science.

Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut

Product Description: Born into a family of migrant workers, toiling in the fields by the age of six, Jose M. Hernàndez dreamed of traveling through the night skies on a rocket ship. Hernández didn't speak English till he was 12, and his peers often joined gangs, or skipped school. And yet, by his twenties he was part of an elite team helping develop technology for the early detection of breast cancer. He was turned down by NASA eleven times on his long journey to donning that famous orange space suit.

Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream

Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream
Age Level: Young Adult

Born in the picturesque town of Taxco, Mexico, Julissa Arce was brought to Texas at the age of eight to join her parents, who had already moved north. From then on, Julissa secretly lived as an undocumented immigrant, went on to become a scholarship winner and an honors college graduate, and climbed the ladder to become a vice president at Goldman Sachs. Julissa's story provides a deep look into the little-understood world of a new generation of undocumented immigrants in the United States today.

The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir

Product Description: A lyrical and authentic book that recounts the story of a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas in the 1980's, as each member of the family desperately tries to assimilate and escape life on the border to become "real" Americans, even at the expense of their shared family history. This is really un-mined territory in the memoir genre that gives in-depth insight into a previously unexplored corner of America. 2012 National Book Award Finalist.

The Circuit

"Francisco Jiménez was born in Mexico, entered California illegally as a very young child, and spent his boyhood alternating between migrant farm work and the classroom. This collection of autobiographical short stories was written years later, when Jiménez had become an established professor at Santa Clara University (CA), but they give immediate access to the feelings of the growing boy." — School Library Journal

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey

"Full of high drama and comedy, The Motorcycle Diaries is the story of a remarkable road journey in the words of a 23-year-old medical student known as 'Che.' There are fights, parties, and serious drinking. There are also moving examples of Guevara's idealism and solidarity with the oppressed, in this vivid record of what for others would have been the adventure of a lifetime. No biographical study or understanding of Che Guevara is complete without the reading of his diaries recording his thoughts as he journeyed around South America." — Midwest Book Review

The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir

Profile of a young woman

Product Description: Growing up, Gaby Rodriguez was often told she would end up a teen mom. Gaby had ambitions that didn't include teen motherhood. But she wondered: how would she be treated if she "lived down" to others' expectations? These questions sparked Gaby's school project: faking her own pregnancy as a high school senior to see how her family, friends, and community would react. What she learned changed her life forever, and made international headlines in the process.

The Queen of Water

Age Level: Middle Grade

Product Description: Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a stupid Indian by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds.

Thoughts without Cigarettes: A Memoir

Age Level: Young Adult

Product Description: Born in Manhattan's Morningside Heights to Cuban immigrants in 1951, Hijuelos introduces readers to the colorful circumstances of his upbringing. During a sojourn in pre-Castro Cuba with his mother, he catches a disease that sends him into a Dickensian home for terminally ill children. The yearlong stay estranges him from the very language and people he had so loved.

Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz

Product Description: This engrossing memoir charts Mona Ruiz's journey toward self-identity, tracing the tortuous path of her life — a life in which Ruiz assumed contradictory roles: gang chola, high school drop-out, disowned daughter, battered wife, welfare mother, student, and policewoman. At each step in the journey, Ruiz faces violence, ridicule, and skepticism. Nevertheless, she prevails in exchanging her badge of social defiance for one of protecting her community.

Under the Royal Palms: A Childhood in Cuba

girl holding book
Age Level: Middle Grade
Language: English, Spanish vocabulary featured

In writing about her childhood growing up in Camaguey, Cuba, Alma Flor Ada evokes all the senses. Readers will smell jasmine, coffee, and grandmother's perfume. They will see the bats flying overhead and hear adults share stories. Companion volume to Where the Flame Trees Bloom.

Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League

Dan-el Padilla Peralta has lived the American dream. As a boy, he came here legally with his family. Together they left Santo Domingo behind, but when their visas lapsed, Dan-el's courageous mother was determined to make a better life for her bright sons. While Dan-el was only in grade school, the family joined the ranks of the city's homeless. Dan-el, his mother, and brother lived in a downtown shelter where Dan-el's only refuge was the meager library.

When I Was Puerto Rican

When I Was Puerto Rican

Product Description: Esmeralda Santiago's story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven (soon to be eleven) children, Esmeralda as the oldest must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity.

Where the Flame Trees Bloom

Age Level: Middle Grade

"Telling of her childhood in Cuba, Ada begins with an introduction to her homeland followed by 11 episodes about her family and her community. One story tells of her grandfather Modesto's courage and loyalty in the face of the death of his beloved wife and the simultaneous collapse of the Cuban economy. Another tells of her great-grandmother Mina, who continued to make rag dolls for the village children even after she had lost her sight.