Hispanic Heritage Month Books for the Music Room

by David Row

Reprinted with permission from the Make Moments Matter Blog found at MakeMomentsMatter.org.

I once had a professor say that it wasn’t enough to learn about a culture by reading facts, figures, and statistics. This professor assigned novels written by members of certain communities so that we could hear stories and see the culture through the author’s eyes, learning from their perspective.

Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15th-October 15th and I want to bring authentic connections to my music room through the use of children’s literature. As we read the stories we learn about unique cultures and see how life is different for different people.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite books to use for Hispanic Heritage month with links and short descriptions of each. There are books based on famous folk songs, biographies that retell the stories of famous Latinx musicians, and books with Latinx protagonists. If you have a favorite book and it’s not listed, shoot me an email or leave a comment on the post so that I can share it with others!

Books about Songs

One really easy way to make authentic connections in the music room is to share books that illustrate famous Spanish-language songs. The books below are wonderfully illustrated and bring famous folk songs to life. Several are board books- sturdy books made of strong cardboard that are meant to withstand young hands. These are great books to put in centers or free reading stations.

This book is based on “Los Pollitos Dicen”, one of the most popular songs in the Spanish speaking world. Kids will love the illustrations and “pop out” effects!
Inspired by one of the oldest and most beloved traditional Spanish folk songs, De Colores, this book introduces little ones to the beauty of life, joy, inclusivity, and their first English and Spanish words.
This children’s book is based on the song “Un elefante se balanceaba”, a traditional Mexican counting song. It teaches little ones how to count to five plus serves as the perfect bedtime story.

Books about Famous Musicians

Explore the lives of famous Latinx singers, instrumentalists, and dancers as you retell their stories and learn about their histories. These backstories include what inspired the artists as well as the hardships that helped to shape their journey. Many of these books include Spanish words and phrases and all of them include beautiful illustrations.

In this vibrant bilingual picture book biography of musician Tito Puente, readers will dance along to the beat of this mambo king’s life. From Spanish Harlem to the Grammy Awards—and all the beats in between—this is the true-life story of a boy whose passion for music turned him into the “King of Mambo.”
This bilingual book allows young readers to enter Celia Cruz’s life as she becomes a well-known singer in her homeland of Cuba, then moves to New York City and Miami where she and others create a new type of music called salsa.
As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her up, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals.
Carlos Santana loved to listen to his father play el violín. It was a sound that filled the world with magic and love and feeling and healing—a sound that made angels real. Carlos wanted to make angels real, too. So he started playing music.
Danza! is a celebration of Amelia Hernández’s life and of the rich history of dance in Mexico. As a child, Amalia always thought she would grow up to be a teacher until she saw a performance of dancers in her town square.
Richard Steven Valenzuela, better known as Ritchie Valens, was a Mexican-American singer, songwriter, and guitarist. To this day, Ritchie’s music continues to live in the hearts of many with songs like “Donna” and “La Bamba”!
Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music, no one questioned that rule—until the drum dream girl. Inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.
Juan Garcia Esquivel was born in Mexico and grew up to the sounds of mariachi bands. He loved music and became a musical explorer. Defying convention, he created music that made people laugh and planted images in their minds. Juan’s space-age lounge music–popular in the fifties and sixties–has found a new generation of listeners.
Some of the women highlighted include Antonia Novello (first female Surgeon General in the U.S.), Ellen Ochoa (first Latina to go to space), Sonia Sotomayor (first Latina Supreme Court Justice,) Rita Moreno (first Latina to win an Oscar), Selena, and Pura Belpre (first Latina to incorporate and promote bilingual literacy in Public Libraries).

Books with Stories

Sometimes there is nothing more powerful than seeing a main character who looks and sounds like you. These stories include Latinx protagonists who take us into their story and make us a part of their life.

It is El Carnaval Latino and Sebi is really excited. She loves the colorful clothes, the lively music but most of all she loves the dance. Her mother says she is a bit too young to take dance lessons. But when a beautiful Cotorra bird flies by and invites her and her friend, Keeke to follow, they are led on an exciting adventure to an enchanted land where the dancing fun has just begun!
Everyone in the family is in the band, except for Gustavo. He cannot play any of the instruments. Only after he finds his voice does he become part of the group.
Santiago’s biggest dream is to perform on stage.  But when he doesn’t get the lead role in the school play, he can’t help but doubt himself. Encouraged by his father’s inspiring words, Santiago rebuilds his confidence and finds that with passion and dedication, you can achieve amazing things beyond your wildest imagination. Written by singer Ricky Martin!

Where to Buy/Find Books

The list doesn’t stop here! I’ve identified quite a few other books that are great to use in the music room and I’ve pulled them all together in one list. Click here to see my Amazon Ideas list with great books for Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond! The great thing about this Amazon “Ideas List” is that I can pull together all my favorite books in one place.

However, you might find that some of these books are not available through Amazon or are out of print. Even so, the Amazon list is a place to bring all the books together and Amazon will usually share a preview picture, description of the book, helpful links to buying used books, and most importantly identifying information for each book. Go to Amazon to check it out and then use the ISBN number to go and search for the book elsewhere! Here are a few of my favorite places to shop for discount children’s books.

BetterWorldBooks.com is one of my favorite places to buy used books. This website has tons of library discard books and gently used books at truly amazing prices. The best part is that shipping is usually free!

ThriftBooks.com is another fabulous place to find gently used books at super-low prices. The only downside to this retailer is that you have to reach $35 for free shipping.

My newest favorite place to find cheap books is BookOutlet.com They have unused/NEW books for ridiculously low prices. They don’t have all titles, but the stock that they do have is amazing quality!

Where else can you get books? Check your local library, used bookstore, or school library. Sometimes schools will have grant money to use specifically on books and often that money can be used on YOUR classroom. Some music-specific books are only available through Music Websites so check out the booths at conferences and retailers like WestMusic. There are new titles everywhere, so keep an eye peeled!

Many More Books to Share!

There are so many wonderful books that could be used in the classroom for Hispanic Heritage Month and throughout the year. I’m always on the prowl for books with Latinx protagonists, Spanish-language songs and poems, or books written by Latinx authors. If you have a favorite book that’s not listed above, please leave a comment below so that I can check it out and add it to my list.

About the Author

I love teaching music to kids! This school year marks my 11th full year as an educator in public schools.  I make music with 500 brilliant, elementary school students on a daily basis at Prairie Ridge Elementary School in the DeSoto School District just outside of Kansas City.

David Row

I’m a Nebraska native and Midwesterner at heart.  I graduated from Greenville College (IL) in 2008 with a Bachelor’s Degree and then went to the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory where I earned my Master’s Degree studying Choral Conducting and Music Education (2011).  I completed my Orff Schulwerk certification at Baker University in KS and I can’t say enough about how happy I am to have taken all three Orff levels and a master class!

When not teaching or writing about teaching here on the blog, I do my best to connect with other music educators around the country.  I have presented clinics and workshops throughout the country at the local and state levels.  I am a past president of the Mid-Michigan Orff Schulwerk Association and am an active member of the American Orff Schulwerk Association.  Check out my newest adventure by looking in Apple Podcasts for “Make Moments Matter:  A Music Education Podcast!

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