As a Latina mom and author, I know the importance of having books in which our children can see themselves and their stories reflected. While the lack of diverse stories is evident, and we know this applies even more when it comes to Black Latino stories, that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. To continue the Black History Month celebration, I’ve curated a list of children’s books with Afro-Latino characters that are fun, positive and touch on a wide variety of topics.
When my daughter was born in 2009 I didn’t know how and where I would find books and music that will teach her about her roots and show her the beauty of being herself. So, I made a point to get my girl black dolls, like getting her Tiana as the first princess doll she ever had in and looking for other brown and black characters she could relate to. At the time, I didn’t even know if there were any children’s books with Afro-Latino characters available in the United States or if I’d ever find stories in Spanish that were relevant to my girl.
Little by little I started to discover books and stories that portrait either prominent Afro-Latinos like Celia Cruz, Roberto Clemente and Pelé, and other children’s books with Afro-Latino characters that were fictional with stories that were relevant, uplifting and fun. This was a journey that took time as my girl started growing and I had my second, the first one of my two boys in 2011. While I was actively looking for these types of stories, it was clear that there aren’t near enough of these books available to our children and a seed was implanted in my heart.
It became evident that I needed to take more action, and by the time my third child was born in 2014 I had already finished the manuscript of my first bilingual children’s book ‘La Familia Cool: The most valuable treasure / El tesoro más valioso’, which focuses not only on a Latino family, but also talks about the family having white, brown and black members. We need to support more children’s books with Afro-Latino characters for our children to read.
We are now in 2017 and there is still a huge gap between the amount of books published every year that show diverse characters and the ones that don’t show them. That being said, there are are options out there and we need to support them and make popular in order to have more diverse books each year. I’d love to see many more children’s books with Afro-Latino characters, and other diverse characters for that matter, and I think we can all contribute by supporting our authors and showing there is a demand for these stories and that we need them to keep coming.
Children’s Books with Afro-Latino Characters You Should Have at Home
Let’s continue to celebrate Afro-Latinos during Black History Month and let’s teach our kids their stories matter by showing them the world of books in which their stories live.
My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia by Monica Brown | Ages 5-8
This is a bilingual story for children ages 5 to 8 that immerse children in the life of Celia Cruz as she becomes a famous singer in Cuba and how she moves to New York City and Miami where she and others create a new type of music called salsa. Introducing your kids to the Afro-Cuban sensation will be not only colorful and fun, but a sweet experience to tell a story of an icon you got to experience during your lifetime. My Name is Celia gives young readers a look into her life and why she will be always be remembered for her rich contributions to society.
Drum Dream Girl By Margarita Engle | Ages 4-7
This cute story of a little girl’s courage to play instruments people keep telling her are only for boys. Millo is a young Chinese Afro-Cuban heroine who’s determined to prove to society that you can achieve your dreams, no matter your age or gender. It is a great way to show girls that they can achieve and at the same time show the diversity we often find within the Latino community. Great for your little music aficionados and to teach kids to be themselves and follow their dreams. Inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.
Clemente! By Willy Perdomo | Ages 5-12
The story of legendary Puerto Rican baseball player, Roberto Clemente is told from the perspective of a child who knows everything about his namesake. The kid narrates the story from his childhood to his great achievements on and off the field. It is a great story for children who are baseball fans or learning about the sport and don’t know the great stories of Afro-Latinos who have impacted the game.
El Paraíso de Abuelita by Carmen Santiago Nodar | Ages 5-9
A beautiful book with watercolor illustrations that tells a story of longing and the bond between a grandmother and her granddaughter. When the grandma passes, Margarita inherits her rocking chair and blanket with the word paradise in it. Margarita would sit and reminisce about her abuelita’s stories of growing up in Puerto Rico. Concurrent themes are family love and the bond with the grandparents typical in Latino family dynamics. (The original title is in English)
Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers | Ages 5-8
I have a confession to make: this is my favorite children’s book ever! When I say this I don’t mean I like it for my kids, which of course I do, what I mean is that I truly enjoy reading this beautiful book, time and time again. The main reason I love this book is because talks about a queen and how she wasn’t born in a castle nor was born a princess as it entices the readers (kids and adults alike!) with the beautiful image of a queen and the incognito fact that she wasn’t born one. The graphics for these book are gorgeous and my girl fell in love with the colorful dresses and wigs and she asked a lot of questions about Celia, I show them videos of Celia singing and my girl was impressed with how fancy la reina de la salsa was. This is a true gem of a book, one you need at home to share with your little ones.
Isabella’s Hair and How She Learned to Love It by Marshalla Soriano | Ages 5-8
Being an Afro-Puerto Rican girl living in Puerto Rico, our main character of this story, Isabella, struggles with not liking her hair and understanding its beauty and her own beauty. Her grandmother helps her understand, get inspired and through a journey of self love. Although the character is from Puerto Rico, this is a story many Afro-Latina girls can relate to and benefit from. It is a great book to start this kind of conversations early so we create confident girls that love themselves.
Pele, King of Soccer/Pele, El Rey del Futbol by Monica Brown | Ages 3-8
This is another favorite at home, a beautifully illustrated story about one of soccer’s greatest athlete. The book tells Afro-Brazilian futbol star Pelé’s amazing life story from the brazilian favelas to the world soccer stage. The author makes the story an exhilarating read that will make your child feel in the moment, chanting and cheering in the stadium.
La Familia Cool: El tesoro más valioso / The Most valuable treasure by Dania Santana | Ages 5-9
Yes, I’m including my own book in this list. The book celebrates diversity within a Latino family and teaches kids that Latino families come in all shades and color, like the members of La Familia Cool. The mom teaches the kid by sharing with them the family’s treasure and showing them that looks don’t matter. The Most Valuable treasure is a sweet story to read aloud for kids 6 to 9 years old. It is a great tool in the classroom to talk about heritage, cultural diversity, fitting in, preventing bullying and much more.
Bad Hair Does Not Exist/Pelo Malo No Existe by Sulma Arzu-Brown | Ages 3-8
Another gem to talk about self-love and acceptance that reinforces beauty comes in all colors, sizes and, of course, all kinds of beautiful hair! Afro-Honduran author Sulma Arzu wanted to create a book so her daughters will grow up knowing their hair is beautiful. We’ve all heard about “pelo malo” and “pelo bueno” and this book gets you on the right path to raise confident, beautiful Afro-Latinas. The book’s purpose is to empower children by giving them new terms to describe their hair, and teaching them the importance of respecting differences.
Niña Bonita by Ana Maria Machado | Ages 3-8
With an introduction to genetics and a cute and curious rabbit who is puzzled about a pretty dark black girl, the author explains the secret to the girl’s beauty, through her own and her mother’s. It touches how genetics work, being unique, appreciating diversity and affirming that “black is beautiful”. The girl in the story struggles with being the darkest in her family and the author takes the reader into the complexity of race, standards of beauty and what makes someone unique.
My Feet are Laughing by Lissette Norman | Ages 4-8
This fun and energetic story about a girl who moves to her grandma’s New York City home after she passes. She has many thoughts about her family and friends, and her laughing feet can’t keep still. It is a collection of sixteen poems in the voice of a young Dominican American girl and energetic, bright paintings celebrates Sadie’s family and the city around her.
Niñas Bellas by Dania Peguero | Ages 4-8
A book about differences that teach kids that what you see on the outside isn’t always what it seems. The story talks about four girls who look different but by getting to know each other discover they have a lot in common. It is a good story to explore differences and the value of acceptance.
Let's embrace diversity and create social change! © Dania Santana ~ Embracing Diversity
Multiculturalism, Diversity & Inclusion Expert | Author | Speaker