Stories from the Barrio: Hispanic Heritage

For kids growing up in the big city, there is a new adventure just around the corner every day. Perhaps it is a good kind of adventure, like getting some help from a neighbor or taking the subway to a concert downtown. And perhaps it is a scarier adventure, like losing your dog or seeing the tougher side of the city.

These books capture adventures of all kinds in el barrio (the neighborhood), celebrating the resilience and ingenuity of city kids and the loving communities who raise them.

A Box Full of Kittens

A young girl cuddling a kitten on a city street
Age Level: 3-6, 6-9

Ruthie loves Superman. Ruthie wants to be Superman. And when Ruthie is asked to go spend the afternoon with her aunt, who is about to have a baby any day day now and may need some help., Ruthie seizes the opportunity. It could be her chance to be a hero, should the baby come while she's visiting!

Alicia's Happy Day

By: Meg Starr
Illustrated by: Ying-Hwa Hu
Age Level: 6-9

"Alicia's mother guides her through streets where she is greeted by neighbors, shopkeepers, street vendors, and even taxi drivers. Expanding on the fantasy quality of the day, airplanes write a salutation in the sky and pigeons bow to the birthday girl. Finally, this perfect interlude is rounded out by a huge ice-cream cone from the Icey man and a party with her loving extended family." — School Library Journal

América Is Her Name

"Nine-year-old América Soliz is an undocumented immigrant of Mexican-Indian heritage living in the violence-ravaged Pilsen barrio of Chicago. Feeling unwelcome in her new country, she yearns to return to her native Oaxaca. Then one day, a Puerto Rican poet visits America's ESL class and tells the students that 'There's poetry in everyone…and poets belong to the whole world.' Soon, America begins to express herself through poetry, eventually coming to realize that as a poet, she is a citizen of the world with a bright future ahead of her." — School Library Journal

An Island Like You

neighborhood image
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)
Language: English, Spanish vocabulary featured

Product Description: Judith Ortiz Cofer's award-winning collection of short stories focuses on life in the barrio. Rita is exiled to Puerto Rico for a summer with her grandparents after her parents catch her with a boy. Luis sits atop a six-foot mountain of hubcaps in his father's junkyard, working off a sentence for breaking and entering. Sandra tries to reconcile her looks to the conventional Latino notion of beauty. And Arturo, different from his macho classmates, fantasizes about escaping his community.

Any Small Goodness: A Novel of the Barrio

Meet Arturo and his spirited family as they integrate themselves into a tough L.A. neighborhood. Their story is sprinkled with the good and bad, from the former NBA star that shows up at basketball practice to the menacing gang that keeps appearing on the sidewalks of the neighborhood. Arturo and his family (including feisty Abuelita and their cat, Huitlacoche) meet each moment with resilience, warmth, and humor as they each learn to appreciate "any small goodness" that they find.

Barrio: José's Neighborhood/Barrio: El barrio de José

Age Level: 6-9
Language: English, Spanish vocabulary featured

José lives in a diverse neighborhood where he's just as likely to hear Spanish, English, or Chinese. The appealing photographs in this book document José's life at home, at school, and on the streets of his colorful barrio in San Francisco, a city that is a dynamic mosaic of different cultures. Available in a Spanish.

Chato's Kitchen

By: Gary Soto
Illustrated by: Susan Guevara
Age Level: 3-6

Chato and Novio Boy are the coolest cats in their East Los Angeles barrio. When a family of mice moves next door to Chato, he invites them to dinner. He's going to eat them for dinner, but the mice bring a friend along to surprise Chato and foil his plans. The text and pictures show the funny situation and the satisfying solution. In English sprinkled with Spanish.

Clara and the Curandera

Illustrated by: Thelma Muraida
Age Level: 6-9

Meet Clara, a little girl who is very, very grumpy. Mami is tired of Clara's grumpy face, so she sends her daughter to the curandera — or healer — down the hall. The curandera knows just what Clara needs — to help her neighbors! Readers will cheer for Clara as she learns to focus on others rather than herself in this charming story.

El Barrio

Illustrated by: David Diaz
Age Level: 3-6

Product Description: Join a young boy as he explores his vibrant neighborhood. El Barrio is his sister preparing for her quinceañera, his grandfather singing about the past, and his cousins' stories from other lands. The city is alive with the rhythms of the street. Told in lyrical language and through bold, colorful illustrations, this celebration of Hispanic culture and urban life is sure to fire children's curiosity about where they live and what they can discover in their own neighborhoods.


Product Description: Felita's parents promise she will love their new neighborhood. Only Abuelita, her grandmother, understands how much Felita will miss her old block, and her best friend Gigi. But her new neighbors taunt and tease Felita and her family because they are from Puerto Rico. First published twenty years ago, Felita's compelling story has resonance for kids today.

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey

Illustrated by: Joe Cepeda
Age Level: 3-6

In this warm holiday story, a young Puerto Rican boy saves the life of his pet turkey on Thanksgiving with help from his close-knit New York City family and neighborhood. Spanish vocabulary is woven into the text. Spanish version available.

Grandma's Gift

Illustration of grandmother hugging grandson
Age Level: 6-9
Language: English, Spanish vocabulary featured

It's Christmastime, and Eric has a special assignment — he has to write a report about a new painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eric's grandmother makes a deal with him: if he will help her make traditional Puerto Rican pasteles, she will take him to the museum. Together they leave the familiar neighborhoods of Spanish Harlem and venture out to the Met, where Eric encounters a painting that changes his life. A note from author and illustrator Eric Velasquez provides some background to this quiet yet profound story from his childhood.

Grandma's Records

Boy dancing with grandmother at home
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Every summer, Eric goes to live with his grandmother in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) while his parents work. Through the long hot days, Grandma fills her apartment with the blaring horns and conga drums of Bomba y Plena, salsa, and merengüe — the music she grew up with in Puerto Rico — sharing her memories and passions with Eric. Join Eric Velasquez on a magical journey through time and across cultures, as a young boy's passion for music and art is forged by a powerful bond between generations.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Girl imagining drawing
Illustrated by: Rafael López
Age Level: 6-9

What good can a splash of color do in a town that is gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation—and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration! 

My Dog Is Lost

Age Level: 3-6

Juanito is miserable — his family has just moved to New York, and because he only speaks Spanish, he has no one to talk to. What's more, his dog, Pepito, is lost! Juanito knows that most of his neighbors won't understand "Mi perro se ha perdido," so he asks a man at the bank to help him make a sign in English. Suddenly, people all over the city want to help Juanito find Pepito…and the search is on!

Neighborhood Odes

By: Gary Soto
Illustrated by: David Diaz
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

"The Hispanic neighborhood in Soto's 21 poems is brought sharply into focus by the care with which he records images of everyday life: the music of an ice cream vendor's truck, the top of a refrigerator where old bread lies in plastic, dust released into the air when a boy strums a guitar…Diaz's woodcuts complement the poems perfectly: the silhouettes are fanciful and dynamic but do not draw attention from the words on the page." — Publishers Weekly

Quinito's Neighborhood

Illustration of a young boy standing in front of his house
Illustrated by: José Ramírez
Age Level: 3-6
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

Young Quinito takes us on a tour of his neighborhood, where his relatives and friends are doing important jobs and helping each other. Children and grown-ups will appreciate the community spirit pervading the text, as well as the colorful pictures of Quinito's neighborhood. Ideal for young children learning new English and Spanish vocabulary.

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx

Illustration of young Sonia Sotomayor sitting on steps
Illustrated by: Christina Rodriguez
Age Level: 6-9
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

This bilingual picture book tells the story of Sotomayor's childhood in the Bronx, her time at Princeton, and her confirmation on the Supreme Court, with a special focus on her mother's unwavering support throughout her life. Lovely illustrations capture the warmth and joy of Sotomayor's family and story. Note: The biography includes a discussion of the racial undertones of her nomination and confirmation hearing.

The Bakery Lady

By: Pat Mora
Illustrated by: Pablo Torecilla
Age Level: 3-6

Monica enjoys spending time at her grandparents' bakery not only because of sweet treats but because they have a special relationship. The story, told in both Spanish and English, is imbued with details about Mexican traditions.

The Runaway Piggy

Illustrated by: Laura Lacamara
Age Level: 3-6

Product Description: In the classic tradition of "The Gingerbread Man," James Luna's piggy cookie leaps off the baking tray and takes the reader on a mad dash through the barrio. The cochinito fugitivo avoids being eaten by the long line of people chasing him through the neighborhood streets…until he meets a crafty little girl named Rosa! Children — and adults too — will delight in the clever piggy's escape from Martha's Panaderia in this entertaining re-telling of a familiar story set in a colorful Latino neighborhood.

The Streets are Free

By: Kurusa
Illustrated by: Monika Doppert
Age Level: 6-9

The Streets are Free is based on the true story of the children of the Caracas barrio of San José de la Urbina, who wanted a place to play. They still don't have it, but continue dreaming and fighting for their playground. — Author's note

Welcome To My Neighborhood! A Barrio ABC

Illustration of two children in front of city buildings
Illustrated by: Shino Arihara
Age Level: 6-9

Ava is exploring her neighborhood from top to bottom and A to Z! Whether it's "C" for the Chino-Latino corner store or "V" for the vegetable plot that used to be a vacant lot, young city dwellers will see their neighborhood through a new set of eyes after joining Ava on her journey. Based on the author's memories of growing up within the Puerto Rican community in Philadelphia, the story is told in rhyme with Spanish words sprinkled throughout the text. Detailed paintings bring the neighborhood as seen through a child's eyes to life. Spanish version available.

Xochitl and the Flowers

Illustrated by: Carl Angel
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Though Xochitl and her family have put down new roots in the United States, Xochitl still misses the garden and flower shop they left behind in El Salvador. But when Xochitl's family decides to start a nursery and sell their flowers on the street, the sense of community they find makes them feel connected to their neighbors, and their decision to start a nursery and flower shop in their backyard helps the Flores family finally feels at home in its adopted country.

¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance That Crossed Color Lines

¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance That Crossed Color Lines
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Age Level: 6-9

Millie danced to jazz in her Italian neighborhood. Pedro danced to Latin songs in his Puerto Rican neighborhood. It was the 1940s in New York City, and they were forbidden to dance together . . . until first a band and then a ballroom broke the rules. Illustrated with verve and told through real-life characters who feature in an afterword, ¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! portrays the power of music and dance to transcend racial, religious, and ethnic boundaries.