Hispanic and Latinx folks have been changing the world for centuries. However, there are many times where their contributions are minimized because of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry.
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When we look at the history and culture of the United States, we see how Latinx and Hispanic people and culture have influenced how our country has grown, and how we live today. Hispanic and Latinix heroes have made contributions in every area of society, from science to sports to music to food, and these leaders and their contributions should be celebrated!
These non-fiction picture books dive into the life and influence of some of the most important Latinx and Hispanic world-changers in history. No matter where you were born, what language you speak, or your family heritage, these books will teach you some amazing things about some amazing people, some of whom you may be hearing about for the first time!
Books About Latinx and Hispanic Heroes
Be Bold! Be Brave! 11 Latinas Who Made U.S. History by Naibe Reynoso
This bilingual book profiles Latinas who have shaped our culture and changed the world for the better. Written in rhyming text, this collection includes profiles of Selina, Ellen Ochoa, Rita Moreno, and other amazing women.
This bright and beautiful book is great for reading with kids ages 5 and up.
Fearless Trailblazers: 11 Latinos Who Made U.S. History by Naibe Reynoso
An excellent companion to Be Bold! Be Brave!, this bilingual book takes a look at 11 Latinos who have shaped our world. Young readers will learn more about leaders like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julian Castro, and more.
This rhyming book is an excellent choice for reading with kids ages 5 and up.
Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers by Juliet Menendez
This bright and bold collection celebrates the stories of 40 Latina women who have made the world a better place. Readers will explore the lives of women like Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez, Isabelle Allende, Frida Kahlo, and many more.
I recommend reading this book with kids ages 6 and up.
Activists and Political Leaders
Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor
This autobiographical picture book explores the life of the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, and shares her journey from a young girl in New York to a judge on the highest court in the United States. In this story, Sotomayor focuses on how her love of books and reading helped inspire her to purse her goals.
I recommend reading this book with kids with children ages 4 and up.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Did you know that segregated schools have a history in the United States that goes beyond the South? In the 1940s, Sylvia Mendez was turned away from her neighborhood school because her family was Mexican, even though Sylvia spoke English and was an American citizen.
This book follows the story of how the Mendez family fought back against this discrimination, ultimately winning their case against the state of California and desegregating California schools seven years before Brown v. Board of Education.
This compelling biography is great for children ages 6 and up.
Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/La Historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez by Monica Brown
This powerful bilingual biography explores the lives of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, two leaders who came together for the rights of farm workers. The story starts with their childhoods, and shows how their experiences growing up in the Southwest United States shaped their lives and their mission to help others. As adults, the two met and worked together to form the American Farm Workers Association.
This excellent story of compassion and bravery is great for reading with kids ages 3 and up.
A Picture Book of Cesar Chavez by David A. Adler and Micheal S. Adler
This book from David Adler’s fantastic series focuses on the life and impact of Cesar Chavez. Cesar grew up picking fruit and vegetables alongside his family in California. As a child, Cesar dealt with mistreatment, difficult work conditions, and homelessness as his family struggled to survive. All of these experiences led him to work toward better conditions for farm workers.
This info-packed picture book is perfect for sharing with kids ages 5 and up.
The ABCs of AOC by Jamia Wilson
Take an empowering walk through the alphabet with one of the nation’s most influential congresswomen! This book explores the life of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and how she serves the United States in the role of Representative. Each letter represents an aspect of the Congresswoman’s life, including her hometown, her enthusiasm, and her work in Congress.
This fun ABC adventure is a great choice for kids ages 4 and up.
Art, Music, Literature, and Entertainment
Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle
Teresa Carreño loved playing the piano from the time she was a little girl. Piano was her emotional release and escape, and she had a gift for making beautiful music.
When her family fled Venezuela for the United States during the U.S. Civil War, Teresa felt lost and alone. She poured herself into her music, and soon became so well known that President Abraham Lincoln invited her to play at the White House.
This inspiring story is recommended for reading with kids ages 4 and up.
Queen of Tejano Music: Selena by Silvia Lopez
From the time she was a young girl, Selena Quintanilla loved Tejano music. However, she was told she could never be a successful performer, because most Tejano stars were men. Still, Selena worked hard, performing and learning Spanish so that she could achieve her dream.
Selena ultimately reached her goal and became a star in the world of Tejano music, and later in mainstream American pop music.
This story avoids the sad details of Selena’s death, although it is mentioned in the supplemental info for parents at the end of the book. The goal is not to avoid what happened, but to share Selena’s story in a way that is appropriate for young readers.
I recommend sharing this book with children ages 5 and up.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
This gorgeous book explores what it means to start a new life in a new place. It chronicles the author’s own journey from Mexico to the United States with her infant son, Kelly. No matter where we come from, we all have dreams, hopes, fears, and people we love. We are all dreamers.
This book is wonderful for reading with kids of all ages.
Tito Puente, Mambo King/Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo by Monica Brown
Musician Tito Puente is probably best known as the “King of Mambo.” But before reaching these heights, he was a young child in Spanish Harlem who loved to bang on his mother’s pots and pans. Puente dreamed of one day having a band of his own.
This bright, bilingual book follows Puente’s journey from a small boy with a dream to a Grammy winning musician and bandleader.
I recommend reading this book with kids ages 4 and up.
My Name is Celia/Me llamo Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/la vida de Celia Cruz by Monica Brown
Celia Cruz grew up in Havana, where she loved spending time with her family and singing. Encouraged by a teacher to pursue her gift, Cruz soon became a well-know singer in Cuba, despite the challenges that stood in her way.
When the political climate in Cuba forced Cruz to move to the United States and pioneered Salsa music, taking audiences by storm with her talent.
This is another excellent bilingual picture book, and it’s perfect for children ages 4 and up.
A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno: Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer! by Anika Aldamuy Denise
Before she was Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno, she was a young girl called Rosita who loved to sing and dance. When Rosita moved to America from Puerto Rico, she didn’t know English and was often picked on by other children. Despite these challenges, she worked hard to learn a new language and continue to purse her dreams.
When she moved to Hollywood as an adult, her fight didn’t end. She worked hard to overcome prejudice and be taken seriously, and eventually she achieved her dream and received the highest honor in her industry.
I recommend this beautiful picture book for kids ages 4 and up.
Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood
Juan Esquivel grew up in Mexico loving mariachi music, but his own music took him in a new direction. Esquivel went on to create futuristic lounge music that broke new ground and inspired many musicians for years to come.
This book takes a look at Esquivel’s influential life and the impact he made on the world of music. I recommend reading it with kids ages 6 and up.
Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built by Angela Burke Kunkel
José Alberto Gutiérrez never planned on starting a library. He was doing his job as a garbage collector in Bogota, Colombia when he found a discarded book on his collection route. He begins looking for more and more books as he works, and he collects them in his home. On weekends, he opens his home and library to the local children so they can discover the joy of reading for themselves.
I loved learning more about this new-to-me hero and how his generosity transformed a community. I recommend sharing this book with children ages 4 and up.
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise
This gorgeous book tells the story of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. Belpré began her library journey as an assistant, where she shared bilingual stories and her love of Puerto Rican folklore with the children of her community. She went on to be a champion of bilingual literature for children, and her influence can still be felt today.
This book includes lots of supplemental information about Pura Belpré, and is also available in Spanish. I recommend reading it with kids ages 4 and up.
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera
This beautiful autobiographical poem, put into a picture book, explores the young life of Juan Felipe Herrera. Herrera uses his story as an inspirational example; he was a young boy who moved from place to place and taught himself how to speak English, and he grew up to become the Poet Laureate of the United States. Herrera encourages young readers to dream big and imagine all they could become.
I recommend sharing this poem with children ages 5 and up.
Science and Medicine
The Astronaut with a Song for the Stars: The Story of Dr. Ellen Ochoa by Julia Finley Mosca
Growing up, Ellen Ochoa didn’t dream of becoming a scientist; she dreamed of being a musician. Her world changed when she discovered engineering as a college student. She was discouraged from pursuing a career in science because it “wasn’t for girls,” but Ellen persisted and became an astronaut.
This book includes a note from Dr. Ochoa, and it’s perfect for children ages 5 and up.
Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet by Elizabeth Rusch
Mario Molina grew up in Mexico City, where he loved looking at the world through the lense of his microscope. This curiosity inspired Molina to study science and become a chemist. He went on to discover the dangerous damage CFCs were causing to the ozone layer, leading to sweeping reforms and a safer world.
I loved learning more about Mario Molina, and I think budding scientists will as well. I recommend sharing this book with children ages 6 and up.
Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo
Tragedy struck the life of the Acevedo family early, but young Sylvia Acevedo was able to find an outlet when she joined the local Brownie troop. Being a Girl Scout empowered Sylvia to to pursue her love of math, which she eventually turned into a career as a rocket scientist.
This powerful memoir is great for kids ages 9 and up.
Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Jonah Winter
Before he was a record-breaking professional baseball player, he was a young boy in Puerto Rico. He worked hard and practiced constantly, in the hopes of achieving his dream. Not only did he become one of the most successful players of all time, he also found ways to give back and help others, particularly children in his home of Puerto Rico.
This inspiring story of hard work and selflessness is recommended for reading with kids ages 4 and up.
She’s Got This by Laurie Hernandez
While this book isn’t a biography, I had to include this picture book written by Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez. The story follows a young girl named Zoe as she works to achieve her dream of being a successful gymnast. She is discouraged by early falls and failures, but she doesn’t give up and soon she feels like she’s flying.
I recommend this adorable picture book for children ages 4 and up.
Pele, King of Soccer/Pele, El Rey del Futbol by Monica Brown
Pelé is known as possibly the greatest soccer player of all time, but before he was a sports hero he was a little boy in Brazil who loved playing fútbol more than anything else. This bilingual picture book explores his exciting career and how Pelé rose to become a legend in the world of soccer.
This book is perfect for young sports fans, and I recommend reading it with kids ages 4 and up.