Insight

The Latinx Authors Who Changed Our Lives

This Latinx Heritage Month, we’re taking a look at our shelves to celebrate books by Latinx authors that have shaped our lives—from the stories we read as kids to the ones we read to our kids today. One thing is clear: Our staff of Latinx heritage share a common experience of feeling under-represented in the literature they had access to as young readers. These days, the options are constantly growing. We hope to see schools and libraries continue to expand their offerings so more students are exposed to a rich and diverse array of Latinx voices.

To get started, here are some books our team holds dear:

For Younger Readers

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown (Preschool – Kindergarten)

“My toddler loves this book, which is written in both English and Spanish. I love the way the two languages that Marisol’s family speak are presented side-by-side, just like the different strands of her heritage. The author says her books are inspired by her Peruvian American heritage and a desire to share Latinx stories with young readers, and this book in particular celebrates her family’s mixedness. It’s important to me to surround my daughter with books representing voices and cultures that are different from hers, as well as those that represent who she is. In our family, we’re not of Latinx heritage, but we are multiracial, and I love that this book celebrates that with such joy.”

 – Kate McGovern, Editorial Director

Islandborn by Junot Díaz (Kindergarten – Grade 3) 

“Junot Díaz is a Dominican author who focuses on telling the stories of Latinx youth and the complexities of their coming of age. His raw writing makes it impossible to put his books down. Islandborn, written for young readers, tells the story of a young girl who explores the island of her birth through the memories and stories of her neighbors. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her, written for adults, are must-reads, too.”

– Arlene Sanchez, Boston Navigator

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (Grades 4 – 7)

“In Meg Medina’s newest book, which won the Newbery Medal this year, sixth grader Merci balances changes at home (where she lives with her multi-generational Cuban family) with the complexities of life at the private school she attends on scholarship. Medina is a master of capturing that sweet spot between childhood and adulthood that defines so much of middle school. This is a beautiful, funny, conversation-provoking read for the whole family, but especially middle schoolers who are just starting to figure out their place in the world.”

Kate

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez (Grades 7 – 12)

“Sánchez tells the beautifully woven story of Julia, a Latina young woman growing up in Chicago. She explores the complexities of coming of age in an immigrant family, testing boundaries of the independence Julia longs for, and living in the shadow of her older sister Olga, whose recent death has made Julia's Amá at once more protective and more distant. The mundane details Sánchez includes make the home and community feel familiar to teens growing up in a Latinx household, and allow a level of connection with Julia that no book available in my local library did when I was a teenager. It brings me joy to see my former students getting to see our cultures and experiences represented in this novel.”

– Elysa Severinghaus, Boston Master Navigator

For Older Readers

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez 

“This historical novel tells a narrative of resilience for a group of Dominican women who refused to live under the injustices of a dictatorship. This story is so important to the history of the island.”

– Victoria Paulino, Boston Navigator

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

“An essential read.”

Whitney Henderson, Navigator-in-Chief

“Julia Alvarez focuses on the stories of immigrants and the struggles they face, as both a product of a faraway motherland and a country that does not value their difference. She uses her literature to emphasize the historical aspects of her culture that have contributed to her identity as a product of the Dominican Republic. She’s a beast of a writer, thoughtful and captivating.”

Arlene 

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

“I didn't really have any kids’ books growing up. So I think the first author that really influenced me was Sandra Cisneros. I read The House on Mango Street in my junior year of high school, and I was able to connect with her writing about being stuck between two cultures and trying to develop an identity when those cultures collide. I probably didn't truly understand the depth of her writing until later on, but I think The House on Mango Street was the first book I read where I felt like someone understood what I was going through, at a time when I didn’t really know how to talk about it.”

– Chris Espinoza, Boston Navigator

Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

“Like Chris, I didn't really have any kids’ books that reflected my experience growing up. It was always frustrating because I was a very avid reader, but never saw myself reflected in anything I read. I'd peruse the aisles at Barnes & Noble but would always come up empty handed. When I was 14 years old, my mom found a book called Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. It was the first time I finally saw myself reflected in any literature. She bought it for me because we were in the middle of planning my Quinceñera, and it definitely changed my life. Much like Violet, the protagonist in the story, I've always felt like I was straddling two identities because I was born here in the States but would hear about the beautiful and complicated island of Cuba that my family came from. I also related to Violet because it pains her family to talk about certain traumas they faced when fleeing Cuba, which was something I had to deal with my whole life. Even as an adult, I still have to navigate that space carefully. When I visited Cuba for the first time this past May, it was a very emotional and complicated trip. When I got back to Miami and debriefed with my family, I had to be really intentional and cautious with how I approached the conversation because even several decades later, their pain feels so fresh. I would say shortly after reading Cuba 15, I truly began to own and be more proud of my Cuban identity. It was the first book I got to read that had characters that looked like me and names that sounded like mine.” 

– Ileana Ortiz, New Orleans Navigator

La casa de Asterión, El Aleph, El Zahir and other stories by Jorge Luis Borges 

“Borges has a theme that winds through all his stories: The world is so chaotic that we cannot see it directly or we will perish. We have to look at the world through a framework or structure that we manufacture to protect ourselves. So in that way, we each create our own reality. (Sounds a little eerily similar to Facebook, doesn't it? Not bad for a guy born in 1899.) So he writes a lot about labyrinths, minotaurs, mazes, and endless bookshelves in libraries. Once I read his stories, my view of what was real and what was filtered through a biased narrator changed fundamentally.” 

– Ari Rozman, Founding Partner

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

“The Alchemist is my favorite book ever. It is the perfect story for any teenager or adult experiencing change and self-doubt in their life. Coelho does a great job of captivating the reader through the coming of age story of his protagonist, Santiago, who experiences the challenges of growing up and discovering his purpose in life. It's a powerful story and message.”

– Arlene

The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez

“I first read Gabriel García Márquez in high school, when my English teacher assigned us his short story, “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” It introduced me to magical realism, and I found the tale haunting and beautiful. How do people act when something extraordinary happens? it seems to ask. And Márquez answers: Like ordinary people. Like we always do. Like it’s not extraordinary at all. At a time when every day seems crazier than yesterday and it’s harder and harder to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not, I often find myself thinking about it.”

– David Keeling, Founding Partner