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If your homeschool student is studying Spanish, introducing them to Latin American or Spanish culture can be a great way to motivate their language learning and give it a real-life context.
After all, it’s really hard to feel passionate about vocabulary flash cards. It’s MUCH easier to fall in love with another culture and want to learn more about it. And to me, cultural learning is the whole point of learning a new language--because it let's us get to know (and by known by) new people.
So today, I’d like to share with you some of the English language and bilingual picture books that we’ve been enjoying with our sons lately. These have been the most recent favorites of our two boys, and they’ve given lots of great “teachable moments” to our family, including opportunities to talk about the many differences between the countries featured in these books and our home country of the U.S.
Animal Talk: Mexican Folk Art Animal Sounds in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill, Rubi Fuentes, and Efraín Broa (Mexico)
Okay, this is the baby’s contribution to this list—but I really like this book too! This large board book features traditional Mexican folk art: totally wild and beautiful sculptures of animals from tigers to dogs to cows. And since it’s bilingual, your child can compare the animal sounds in English to the animal sounds in Spanish. The pictures are so eye-catching that a child of any age can enjoy this quick read—and if you find yourself wanting more, you can also check out the other books in this series, including: Opposites, The Alphabet, and Colors.
All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle and Mike Curato (Cuba)
On the surface, All the Way to Havana is the story of a young boy who travels from the Cuban countryside to the big city to celebrate his new baby cousin’s “zero-year birthday.” Underneath all that, this book tells the story of the Cuban people’s incredible resiliency, and how they have developed resourcefulness, ingenuity, and determination in the face of deprivation and repression. Such resilience is symbolized by the beautiful antique cars that feature prominently in the story—children of all ages will admire their elegant designs and vibrant colors. What I loved most about this book was that it brought me right back to the month that I spent in Havana doing research for my dissertation. The landscapes and the characters are drawn with equal love and attention and are truly representative of what Cuba looks like today. For any family who would like to take a peek into life on “the island,” as Cubanists say, this is a great introduction.
Drum, Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael López (Cuba)
This gorgeously illustrated book was inspired by the true story of one of Cuba’s first female drum performers, a young Afro-Chinese Cuban woman named Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, when men still dominated Cuba's musical scene, the female protagonist of this book finds herself obsessed with playing the drums--except that she is forbidden to do so. But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and with the support of her father, she learns to play and eventually becomes a national treasure. Read this book to learn more about Cuba’s wonderful musical traditions, the racial diversity of the island (did you know approximately 10 percent of Cubans are of Chinese descent?), and to appreciate the special relationship between a girl and her father.
Martí’s Song for Freedom/ Martí y sus versos por la libertad by Emma Otheguy and Adriana Dominguez (Cuba)
For children aged elementary school and up, this picture book is an inspiring introduction to one of Cuba’s national heroes: José Martí. A renowned poet, soldier, and leader of Cuba’s war against Spain, Martí is to Cubans as George Washington is to Americans. Fittingly, his life story is told in this book through verse and is interspersed with some of his most famous poetry (some of whichyou may already be familiar with—the popular song Guantanamera is based on a poem by Martí).
Playing Lotería/ El juego de la Lotería by René Colato Laínez (Mexico)
This sweet book chronicles one American boy’s experience spending the summer in Mexico with his abuela (grandmother), who runs a Lotería (Mexican Bingo) booth at the local fair. Our family loved this book for its storyline of language exchange—whereas the main character is originally nervous about speaking Spanish, he gains confidence as his abuela patiently teaches him, and he teaches her some English in the process. Since children are often embarrassed about their speaking abilities when first starting to learn a language (as was my own son), this will be a highly relatable and relevant story for many families—and may even encourage your reluctant language learner! By the way, if you want to extend the fun of this book, you can get your very own authentic Lotería set or one inspired by the movie Coco and continue the learning with some #gameschooling!
Has your family read any new picture books about a different culture? Share your recommendations here!