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As I mentioned in my last post, our family has been preparing for an exciting trip: this August, we’ll be worldschooling our two boys in Mexico!
One of the most important things that we are doing to prepare them for the trip has been to introduce them to Mexico’s rich cultural heritage--including Mexican literature, Mexican cuisine, and Mexican art. In large part, we've been doing this through our local library, which has supplied us with many delightful picture books to introduce our boys to the authentic Mexico.
Here are our favorite books so far--some of which are new to our family, and some of which we've owned for years. If your children are studying Spanish or are interested in more learning about Mexico, we hope you'll enjoy them too!
I am a huge fan of Tomie DePaola--Strega Nona was a foundational text of my childhood--so when I saw that he had written a Mexican Cinderella story, of course I had to buy it for my boys! DePaola's version of the story replaces a glass slipper with a rebozo, and Prince Charming with a boy named Javier (which was a big plus for us, since that's also the name of my oldest son). It also adapts DePaola's signature aesthetic to reflect the influences of Mexican art, and the illustrations are wonderful to enjoy. The book is written in English with a smattering of Spanish words (most of them glossed) thrown in, so it is accessible to any family.
This book is a great way to introduce Frida Kahlo to children—it captures the artist’s incredible perseverance and charming eccentricity without veering too far into the realm of the weird (which, let’s face it, is a distinct possibility when we’re dealing with Frida). I used this to prepare my son for a visit to Kahlo’s childhood home, known as La Casa Azul, which features prominently in the book. Also available in Spanish as Frida y sus animalitos.
This was one of the first books that we ever bought about Mexico, back when my older son was a Spanish-hating toddler. Originally, we bought it as a conversation starter, and we’d use the book to reminisce about our time spent in Mexico City and try to rekindle his desire to speak Spanish. And I’m happy to say that it worked! Each page of the book is full of fascinating illustrations: from historical landmarks--like the Ángel de la Independencia--to cultural traditions such as Mexican Independence Day parades. Though the text is simple, even young children can learn much by studying the illustrations (and making meaningful cultural comparisons). Also available in Spanish as ¡Nos vamos a México!
Paletas, or popsicles, are a very important part of Mexican culture. Enter any ice cream store and you will find at least 20 varieties of paletas for sale--anything from traditional fruit flavors to the luscious chocolate-covered strawberry. In this bilingual book, however, a paleta is not just a paleta--it is whatever you can imagine it to be. While the narrative in this story isn't particularly strong, my 4 yo and I really enjoyed its playful re-imagining of this common dessert. It's inspired lots of creative play in our own home! See also its companion book, What Can You Do With a Rebozo?, which just might have your kids playing make-believe with scarves for hours!
And here are two other books that I've mentioned before on the site in my round-up of new read-alouds about Latin America:
Okay, this is my toddler'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. If you'd like to explore more about this vibrant style of Mexican sculpture, you can start here with this article on alebrijes (their official name).
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!
Do you have any more recommendations of picture books about Mexico? I'd love to hear which books your family has enjoyed!