Award-winning books teach kids about Hispanic heritage, common human bonds

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with an award-winning book! Each year the Pura Belpré awards celebrate outstanding literature for children created by Latino authors and illustrators. There is one narrative and one illustration award each year, and usually two or three Honor Books in each category.

The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos

By Lucía González; illustrated by Lulu Delacre

Children's Book Press, 2008

For ages: 4-8

This 2009 Honor Book for narrative is a fitting tribute to the enduring legacy of Pura Belpré.

This book introduces the reader to Belpré, the first Latina librarian in New York City and the inspiration for the award bearing her name. One December morning in 1929, Hildamar and her cousin Santiago pass by the New York Public Library on their way to school. They do not go in. Their Titi Maria says that the library is only for adults, and the people there do not speak Spanish. However, that afternoon, they get a wonderful treat in their classroom. A lady from the library has come to tell stories in two languages, and she assures the children that la biblioteca es para todos -- for everyone. Pura Belpré then organizes a Three Kings Day celebration at the library, and the entire local Puerto Rican community gets involved.

Return to Sender

By Julia Alvarez

Alfred A. Knopf, 2009

For ages: 9-12

Alvarez won the 2010 award for narrative with this sympathetic look at a pressing social issue.

After Tyler's father is badly injured in a tractor accident, the members of the Paquette family fear that they will lose their farm. Help comes in the form of the Cruz family, migrant workers who move into a trailer on the property and begin to help farm the land. Tyler becomes friends with Mari, a girl about his own age. The Cruz family is in the United States illegally, and they live in constant fear of being deported. Furthermore, there is bad news from Mexico -- Mari's mother has been kidnapped. The story is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Tyler and Mari.

My Abuelita

By Tony Johnston; illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Harcourt Children's Books, 2009

For ages: 4-8

My Abuelita was a 2010 Honor Book for the intensely colorful and innovative illustrations by Yuyi Morales, who created scenes with sculptures made from clay, wire, wood, metal and fabric and then got Tim O'Meara to photograph them.

A little boy and his grandmother are getting ready for their day. He tells us that his Abuelita is round as a pumpkin, or a calabaza, and she replies that her round figure gives her a good, round voice -- just the voice she needs for her work. They continue to get ready, in passages lovingly sprinkled with vibrant descriptions and Spanish words, until the pair have bathed, eaten, dressed and arrived at Abuelita's place of work -- a building where she tells stories to children.

Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!

By Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

Marshall Cavendish Children, 2007

For ages: Young adult

Carmen T. Bernier-Grand's poetry made this an Honor Book in 2008.

The life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was marred by illness, personal betrayal and crippling pain. It also inspired some magnificent artwork. Now Bernier-Grand uses 22 of Kahlo's paintings as the framework for this remarkable biography made entirely of short poems that explore the life of the troubled artist. The paintings touch on some of the most tragic and dramatic events in Kahlo's life, and the accompanying poems comment on her emotional journey in terms that are haunting and thought-provoking, yet easy enough for young readers to understand.

Claire Abraham is a children's librarian at the Fort Worth Public Library. These books are available at most library branches.