Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month with Culturally Specific Books

Ellen WernerBooks, Diversity Initiatives

By Sara Martinez & Ellen Werner

National Hispanic Heritage Month occurs every year from September 15th-October 15th to celebrate the contributions, cultures, and histories of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. During these 30 days, several Latin American countries including Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days. This month encourages people from all cultures to learn more about the various achievements Hispanic Americans have made throughout history and how they are still contributing to society today. WITS is committed to encouraging our mentors, students, teachers, and donors to learn more about different cultures and communities through shared reading. Chicago Public Schools has a 46.6% Hispanic student population, and we are excited to lift up these voices through books our students and mentors read together. 

Hispanic Heritage Month does not only celebrate folks who speak Spanish or have Spanish-speaking roots. Latin Americans and Spanish people speak many, many languages including languages of former colonizers like Spanish, Portugese, French, and more; and hundreds of indigenous languages, including Quechua, Nahuatl, and Mayan languages. By far the largest language community in the U.S., however, is Spanish. One of the ways that WITS honors students’ heritage and home language is providing bilingual English/Spanish books in our programs – you’ll find some bilingual books listed below and highlighted by WITS throughout the year. 

At WITS we often refer to books that serve as “mirrors and windows” – a concept coined by Rudine Sims Bishop to describe books that reflect children’s own experiences and show different experiences, respectively. Bishop also describes books as being “culturally specific” – having to do with a particular cultural group’s experience, or “culturally neutral” – even if the characters appear “diverse,” the story itself does not have to do with a certain culture. Both play a valuable role in children seeing themselves and others depicted in books.

Latinx communities are not a monolith, so this Hispanic Heritage Month we are highlighting culturally specific books featuring kids who are multi-racial, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Peruvian and more. We hope that you and the young people in your lives have a chance to explore some of the books below during National Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond. 

Picture Books
Middle Grade
Young Adult