Importance of Reading

22 Vibrant Books Introducing Mexican Culture & Traditions

In our homeschool, we love reading aloud. In fact, every morning begins with read aloud time for at least thirty minutes during breakfast. The wiggly boys are somewhat of a captive audience while eating and their mouths are busy, so it’s quiet while I read! One thing I’m committed to is reading stories that reflect various cultural points of view. Mexico is our neighbor to the south, and so it seems reasonable to read stories that reflected the beauty of Mexican culture and the depth of Mexican traditions. Current events involving immigration also have me wanting my boys to see a more complete picture of the value of cultures different from our own.

image of Mexican folk art puppets and second image of a Mexican tradition celebration - suggestive of Mexican culture

I’m a researcher, through and through. It’s just what I do. I love combing the internet, bookstores, libraries, art festivals, whatever – for the best that I can find. So when we started homeschooling, I dove headlong into researching the best books, the best games, the best curricula, and homeschool room setup that I could find.

And now I share that with you. Finding these books started both with Cinco de Mayo and my research to find some awesome books for our summer reading.

Related Post You May Also Like: 12 Enchanting Read Aloud Books We’ve Chosen For Summer

Depending upon the age(s) of your children, there is something here in this list for you. If you choose any of these stories for reading aloud, I recommend that you choose books slightly above your child’s personal reading level. Remember, at any given point in time, a child’s listening level is higher than his reading level.

Early Elementary Selections With Mexican Characters

Yuyi Morales takes us on a new journey with Señor Calvera, the skeleton from Day of the Dead celebrations. Señor Calvera worries. He can’t figure out what to give Grandma Beetle for her birthday. Misunderstanding the advice of Zelmiro the Ghost, Señor Calvera decides not to get her one gift, but instead one gift for every letter of the alphabet, just in case.

One night, Amada overhears her parents whisper about moving from Mexico to Los Angeles, where greater opportunity awaits. As she and her family make the journey north, Amada records her fears, hopes, and dreams for their new life in her diary. What if she can’t learn English? How can she leave her best friend? In My Diary From Here to There, Amada learns that with her family’s love and her belief in herself, she can weather any change.

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s bilingual memoir paints a vivid picture of his migrant farmworker childhood. His rich, evocative prose re-creates the joy of eating under the open sky, celebrating at a fiesta with other farm families, and listening to his mother singing Mexican songs and his father calling the doves.

In, Book Fiesta, Mora encourages everyone to celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day. The book beautifully illustrates children reading in a variety of places and enjoying books. 

This is the story of two cousins, one in America and one in Mexico, and how their daily lives are different yet similar. Charlie takes the subway to school; Carlitos rides his bike. Charlie plays in fallen leaves; Carlitos plays among the local cacti. Dear Primo covers the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of two very different childhoods, while also emphasizing how alike Charlie and Carlitos are at heart.
In The Princess and the Warrior, Princess Izta had many wealthy suitors but dismissed them all. However, a mere warrior, Popoca, promises to be true to her and stay always by her side. Izta fell in love. The emperor promised Popoca if he could defeat their enemy Jaguar Claw, then Popoca and Izta could wed. When Popoca was near to defeating Jaguar Claw, his opponent sent a messenger to Izta saying Popoca was dead. Izta fell into a deep sleep and, upon his return, even Popoca could not wake her. As promised Popoca stayed by her side. So two volcanoes were formed. Iztaccíhuatl, who continues to sleep and Popocatépetl, who spews ash and smoke, trying to wake his love.
Just a Minute, the original trickster tale, with its vivacious illustrations and dynamic read-aloud text, is at once a spirited tribute to the rich traditions of Mexican culture and a perfect introduction to counting in both English and Spanish.
Undocumented is the story of immigrant workers who have come to the United States without papers. Every day, these men and women join the work force and contribute positively to society. The story is told via the ancient Mixtec codex—accordion fold—format. Juan grew up in Mexico working in the fields to help provide for his family. Struggling for money, Juan crosses over into the United States. He becomes an undocumented worker, living in a poor neighborhood, and working hard to survive. Though he is able to get a job as a busboy at a restaurant, he is severely undercompensated. He receives less than half of the minimum wage! He knows that his his boss could report him to the authorities for not having proper resident papers. But Juan risks everything and stands up for himself and the rest of the community.
Viva Frida, the story of Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most famous and unusual artists is revered around the world. Her life was filled with laughter, love, and tragedy, all of which influenced what she painted on her canvases.
photo of young girl in dia del muertos makeup and sombrero - also images of various book covers that reflect Mexican culture

Late Elementary Selections Depicting Mexican Culture

Nine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls’ team forming in Yuba City, California. It’s the spring of 1945, and World War II is dragging on. Babe Ruth and the All-American Girls’ League inspire Maria’s teacher, to start a girls’ softball team. Meanwhile, Maria’s parents–Papi from India and Mama from Mexico–can no longer protect their children from prejudice and discrimination. The family is on the brink of losing their farm. Now Maria must decide if she has what it takes to step up and find her voice in an unfair world.

Eight folk heroines of Mexican culture come to vibrant life in this fascinating anthology illustrated by Pura Belpr Award-winning artist, educator and activist Maya Gonzalez. Drawing on centuries of Mexican traditions, Fiesta Feminina celebrates brave young girls, clever mythological characters and ambitious historic women leaders.

In Until I Find Julian, Newbery Honor–winning author Patricia Reilly Giff tells a vivid, contemporary story about a remarkable boy who risks everything for his family and a bold girl who helps him. At home in Mexico, Mateo knows where he belongs: with Mami, Abuelita, little brother Lucas, and big brother Julian. When Julian leaves to work in el Norte, the United States, Mateo misses him. And when the family stops hearing from Julian, Mateo knows he has to find his beloved brother.

In Sylvia and Aki, young Sylvia Mendez never expected to be at the center of a landmark legal battle. Young Aki Munemitsu never expected to be sent away from her home and her life as she knew it. The two girls definitely never expected to know each other, until their lives intersected on a Southern California farm in a way that changed the country forever. Who are Sylvia and Aki? And why did their family stories matter then and still matter today? This book reveals the remarkable, never-before-told story—based on true events—of Mendez vs. Westminster School District, the California court case that desegregated schools for Latino children and set the stage for Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education at the national level.

In Return to Sender, after Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life. Her family fears being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?

In The Eagle and the Rainbow: Timeless Tales from Mexico, a collection of hard-to-find Mexican folktales, brilliant, robust illustrations highlight each of the indigenous cultures of Mexico. Brave Aztec warriors, artistic Tarascans, feet endurance runners of the Tarahumaras, and many other intriguing legends bring ancient Mexican culture alive.

Whiskers, Tales, and Wings retells animal folktales from five indigenous groups in Mexican culture–the Tarahumara, Seri, Huichol, Triqui, and Tseltal. Information about the featured culture follows each story. This enriches the readers’ understanding of the diverse peoples who make up Mexico as well as Mexican traditions.

In Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring, Paloma Marquez is traveling to Mexico City, birthplace of her deceased father, for the very first time. She’s hoping that spending time in Mexico will help her unlock memories of the too-brief time they spent together.

While in Mexico, Paloma meets Lizzie and Gael. They present her with an irresistible challenge. The siblings want her to help them find a valuable ring that once belonged to beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Finding the ring means a big reward — and the thanks of all Mexico. What better way to honor her father than returning a priceless piece of jewelry that once belonged to his favorite artist!

But the brother and sister have a secret. Do they really want to return the ring, or are they after something else entirely?

Middle Grade & YA Choices About Mexican Life and Tradition

Danny, A Mexican White Boy, is tall and skinny. He pitches so  powerfully that any college scout would sign him on the spot. Ninety-five mile an hour fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound, he loses it.

But at his private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny is brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blond hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged. But it works the other way too. And Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico.

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter perfectly following Mexican traditions.

Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Streetis the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.

Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.

Margarito acts like any other eleven-year-old aficionado of lucha libre. He worships all the players. But in the summer just before sixth grade, he tumbles over the railing at a match in San Antonio and makes a connection to the world of Mexican wrestling that will ultimately connect him—maybe by blood!—to the greatest hero of all time: the Guardian Angel.

Sofia comes from a family of storytellers. Here are her tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of Mexican traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, preparing for quincea–era, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm. An elite boarding school singles Sofia out to receive a scholarship, she longs to explore life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a strange world of rich, privileged kids. It’s a different mundo, but one where Sofia’s traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path.

More Resources for Learning About Mexican Traditions & Culture

This is a terrific resource choc full of fun information about Mexican culture and Mexican traditions. You’ll find resources for movies, activities, art projects, learning about the natural landscape of Mexico, the mysterious Mexican hat dance, Mexican cuisine, Mexican society, Mexican arts, traditional music, games, and the history of Cinco de Mayo.
Would you love for your child to learn another language, but you have no idea where to start? With an original storybook, accompanying audiobook, activity pack, flashcards and games One Third Story Boxes are the perfect introduction for little language learners. All stories start in English and end in Spanish, introducing vocabulary using the unique Clockwork Methodology™. (They are also available in French!)
Share the gift of binlingual reading with your kids! The Sol Book Box brings one beautifully illustrated hardcover book into your home each month. “Sol Book Box makes reading en español easy by bringing you a carefully curated Spanish or bilingual children’s book each month, sending you stories that celebrate bilingual/bicultural familias.”
If you’re looking for another option for bilingual children’s books, check out Booklandia. What I specifically love about Booklandia is that the service has subscriptions available for books from board books through young adult. It’s wonderful if you have children across a larger age span. Booklandia hand selects their books from Latin America, Spain and independent US publishers.

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photo of elderly woman preparing traditional Mexican food and sombrero and image of naturally dyed wool yarn - evocative of Mexican culture

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