Every year since 1988, Sept. 15-Oct. 15 has been observed as National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to honor “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” This year, young readers have an unusually rich bounty to choose from with recently or soon-to-be-released books covering a range of genres, formats, and cultural backgrounds. Here are just a few to begin with.
Coming Up Cuban by Puerto Rican actor Sonia Manzano (Scholastic, Aug. 2), known for playing Maria on Sesame Street, is a thoroughly researched, deeply authentic volume of historical fiction following four young people: Ana, Miguel, Zulema, and Juan. They each struggle in different ways during the early years of Castro’s Cuba, when families and friends are divided.
The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Knopf, Sept. 6) is a gut-wrenching novel that centers Héctor and his family, who have been torn apart by Castro’s authoritarian policies. It takes place during the Mariel boatlift of 1980, when tens of thousands of Cubans were permitted to leave the country, many in perilously overcrowded boats.
In Tumble by Celia C. Pérez (Kokila, Aug. 16), Mexican American seventh grader Adela, who has a loving mom and stepfather, discovers the identity of her birth father, who’s from a family of famous lucha libre wrestlers. Throughout this touching story, she builds deeper relationships as painful family history is revealed and healing bonds are built.
Alexandra V. Méndez’s What the Jaguar Told Her (Levine Querido, Oct. 11) is a thoughtful coming-of-age novel about Mexican and Irish American Jade, who grapples with many life changes in 2001 Atlanta—a new Catholic school, missing her abuela, puberty, and more. Art and stories shared by wise Mexican elder Itztli, who takes the form of a jaguar, help anchor her.
In the verse novel A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar (Dial, Oct. 25), Lula lives with her Mexican American migrant worker family in 1960s Delano, California. Living conditions are grueling and desperate, but Filipino and Mexican workers unite in striking, and readers learn from this vivid story about pivotal events in U.S. history.
Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez (Random House, Sept. 13), another novel in verse, follows a tween in contemporary Baltimore. Her grandmother from Puerto Rico is joining the family due to her worsening Alzheimer’s and devastating post–Hurricane María conditions. Meanwhile, Iveliz is dealing with mental health difficulties and friendship challenges that are sensitively explored.
Undercover Latina by Aya de León (Candlewick, Oct. 4) is a page-turning thriller that follows a Puerto Rican and Mexican 14-year-old who has grown up in a family of undercover agents in an organization working to protect people of color worldwide. Andréa’s first independent mission brings danger—and incredible opportunities to hone her skills and deepen her understanding.
The latest in the Horse Country series, Where There’s Smoke by Yamile Saied Méndez (Scholastic, Sept. 20), reunites readers with Carolina Aguasvivas, an Irish, Mexican, and Argentine girl growing up on an Idaho horse ranch. Compassionate Carolina wants to share horses with kids whose families can’t afford riding lessons. In this heartfelt third entry, she tries to protect a victim of bullying.
Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega, illustrated by Rose Bousamra (First Second, Oct. 18), is a celebratory graphic novel exploring negative messages girls absorb about natural, curly hair stemming from biased notions of beauty—and how they can be critically examined and overcome. Lively illustrations show Dominican American Marlene gaining strength through the support of those who love her.
Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.