Books Set in Latin America

Learn more about Latin American culture with these picture books set in Latin America, including fiction and nonfiction books for kids.

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Fiction

Esperanza Rising by Pam Ryan

Wealthy and privileged, Esperanza believes that her cushy home in Mexico will always be hers.  But soon, tragedy strikes, and Esperanza and her mother must trek north to California. Soon they find themselves trying to scrape out a living as migrant workers during the Great Depression. Having lost nearly everything, Esperanza learns that when all hope is lost, her family is still her saving grace. 

The Dreamer by Pam Ryan

Neftali has always been a bit different. His speech impediment and his imaginative mind keep others from understanding him fully. When he hears a call that no one else does, Neftali begins a journey of self-discovery within the beautiful Chilean rain forest. Based on the life of poet Pablo Neruda. 

Silver People: Voices of the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle

Mateo wants more for his life and sees no future in his native Cuba. When he hears that a canal is being constructed in Panama, he decides to sign up, intending to make a living there. What he experiences, however, is much different than what he expected to find. Subjected to harsh conditions, little pay, and cruel taskmasters, Mateo finds his only refuge in the kindness of his new friends. 

All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle

A picture-book poem adventure of a family car trip through Cuba, full of the sights, sounds, and smells all along the way. 

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

In Cuba, music swirls all around. The only rule: girls cannot be drummers. One girl practices quietly, secretly, and when she is ready, shares her music with her city. In doing so, she opens up a new world in which everyone is allowed to share the music that they make. Inspired by a true story. 

Jabuti the Tortoise: a Trickster Tale from the Amazon by Gerald McDermott

Jabuti makes a friend, a tricky bird who betrays him and causes his shell to crack on the rain forest floor. His shell needs mending, and when his new friends help him out, he ends up more colorful than he was before!

Along the Tapajos by Fernando Vilela

Readers are introduced to life along the beautiful Tapajos River in this colorful tale. During the dry season, Caua and Inae live on the banks of the river. But when the rainy season begins, it’s time to move. The two race back to rescue their pet tortoise as the drops start to fall. 

Barrilete: A Kite for the Day of the Dead by Elisa Amado and Joya Hairs

In a small Guatemalan city, the dead are honored each year with a homemade kite. Juan and his siblings usually make their kites with the help of their grandfather, but this year, they must blunder through the kite-making on their own since their grandfather has passed away.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma’s full name is long. Too long, she thinks. Why would anyone want to be called Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela? She asks her dad about this, and he explains how each part of her name honors someone special in their family. 

The Only Road by Alexander Diaz

Jaime and his sister Angela find themselves pressured to join their village’s Guatemalan gang after the group murders their cousin. The two have no choice but to travel north in order to escape. Thus begins their harrowing journey through Central America and to the U.S. border. But once they get to the detention center, the two start to realize that their journey might not be quite over. Recommended for ages 12 and up. 

Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Ixchel wants to be a weaver just like her Mayan mama and Mayan grandma before her. The problem is, her mama can’t spare any extra thread for her to practice on. All of it must be expertly woven and sold in the market to allow Ixchel a chance to go to school. Not to be deterred, Ixchel finds some plastic bags and begins to weave. 

Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez

The old nursery rhyme is re-imagined in this delightful story set in Peru. When Maria’s llama follows her to school one day, her classmates are thrilled! Maria’s teacher, however, is not as amused. 

Mama and Papa Have a Store by Amelia Lau Carling

An immigrant family living in Guatemala in the 1950s opens a store, selling fabrics and notions for sewing beautiful garments. Several cultures weave together in colors as vibrant as the store’s textiles. 

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

In 1960s Dominican Republic, Anita begins to notice the world around her changing. Many of her family members are making new lives for themselves in the United States, and her uncle mysteriously goes missing. The secret police are threatening her family, and fear begins to grip Anita de la Torre. Soon Anita will be forced to make a difficult choice: live under the grip of terror or make the dangerous escape to freedom? 

Abuela’s Weave by Omar S. Castaneda and Enrique O. Sanchez

Esperanza’s abuela is one of the few textile weavers left in Guatemala. Most people are buying machine-made cloth these days, so granddaughter and grandmother have to make the journey to Guatemala city in order to sell their wares. But when Abuela’s birthmark causes scorn among some of the children in the city and they begin to spread rumors, Esperanza must sell the cloth on her own. 

The Race of Toad and Deer by Pat Mora and Domi

In this Mayan folktale, Sapo the frog challenges Venado the deer to a race. Only some clever ingenuity on his part will help him win against the speedy deer. 

Popul Vuh: A Sacred Book of the Maya by Victor Montejo and Luis Garay

A collection of Mayan folktales, originally penned by a 16th century K’iche man who wrote the oral tales down in Latin script. 

The Honey Jar by Rigoberta Menchu, Dante Liano, and Domi

The Honey Jar tells stories about scientific mysteries, myths, and more as told to the author by her Mayan grandparents

I Remember Abueltio: A Day of the Dead Story by Janice Levy

In this bilingual picture book, a young girl and her family prepare for the Day of the Dead. This year, they have someone extra special to honor and remember, the girl’s recently deceased abuelito. 

Refugee by Alan Gratz

The stories of three child refugees are woven together in this tale that spans across space, oceans, and time. One is working to escape the horrors of Nazi-controlled Germany, another war-torn Aleppo, and still another the poverty-stricken and communist-controlled Cuba. Together their stories offer themes of perseverance, family, sacrifice, and courage. 

Manuel’s Murals by Jeaninne Escallier Kato

Inspired by the artist Diego Rivera, Manuel paints his own masterpiece on the wall of the apartment his family rents. They are forced to move, and thus begins Manuel’s journey to the capital city of Mexico where he further discovers the art of Rivera, as well as his own cultural roots. 

Non-Fiction

Where is the Amazon? by Sarah Fabiny

The long and winding Amazon River runs through the rain forest of the same name in the wilds of nine different South American countries. This remarkable biome is home to a diverse array of animals and plants. 

Get to Know Our Planet: Amazon Rain Forest by Vicky Franchino

Learn about the plants, animals, and weather of one of earth’s most mysterious and beautiful places. 

Pele, King of Soccer by Monica Brown

Trace one boy’s journey from poor village to world cup championship in this delightful bilingual tale about the man who changed the face of soccer forever. 

Aztec Warriors by Adrienne Lee

These legendary warriors became the eventual rulers of the empire in which they lived. Find out what weapons they fought with, how they prepared for battle, and how they became the conquerors of the land. 

Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play by Rachel Candell

Full-color photographs help readers understand village life for the Mayan people–from food making, to washing clothes, to planting and harvesting. 

Who Was Che Guevara? by Ellen Labrecque

Argentinan-born Che grew up to become a doctor who traveled all throughout Latin America. Later, he became the face of the Cuban rebellion and an advocate for communism. 

Who is Pele? by James Buckley Jr. 

Born to a poor family in Brazil, Pele couldn’t even afford soccer cleats to play on his first team. But soon, his skills became evident and his talent earned him a spot on the Santos team at age 15. From there, this athletic prodigy further rose to fame when he became a player on the national team and helped the team win three World Cup titles. 

Where is Machu Picchu? by Megan Stine

Machu Picchu was constructed in the 1400s, high up in the mountains of Peru. After the conquest by Spain, the area was hidden until its re-discovery in 1911. Today the ruins still stand, and thousands flock to hike up the stairs every year and experience the majesty of Machu Picchu. 

Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Wilder

Little Luis loves to read. When his house begins to fill from top to bottom with books, Luis decides to load up his burros and take the books to his neighbors and friends. Together Luis, Alfa, and Beto create a traveling library, sharing the love of books throughout the villages of Colombia.

The Sad Night: The Story of an Aztec Victory and a Spanish Loss by Sally Schofer Mathews

In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes stepped off a boat and entered modern-day Mexico City. The Aztecs mistook him for a god, and the favor they bestowed upon him allowed Cortes to later return with a Spanish fleet, aiming to abscond all of the gold from the area for Spain. But on the “Sad Night”, the Spaniards were driven out and soundly defeated by the Aztec warriors. However, this was only a temporary victory as the Aztecs were soon to be defeated themselves, this time forever. 

Pancho Villa: Rebel of the Mexican Revolution by Mary Englar

The true story of Pancho Villa, a Mexican reform fighter who led the charge in the development of a new Mexican government in 1910. 

More Historical Book and Movie Lists

Teach history through books and movies with these comprehensive book lists from Learn in Color. Check out the full list here!

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