You know what’s amazing about teaching a foreign language to children?
It’s not the flexible hours and the ability to work internationally—although those things are pretty awesome too.
It’s the ability to turn anything into a lesson.
One day you’re talking about Spanish grammar and shopping vocabulary, and the next, your class is head-first into an interesting story about holidays in Mexico or children’s games in Chile.
Adding stories to your Spanish lessons is a guaranteed way to get young students engaged in the language-learning experience. After all, it’s a chance for them to get a break from the usual dialogues and activities to learn about cool and unique aspects of other cultures.
Plus, stories make reading and writing practice fun.
7 Spanish Books for Kids That Can Improve Fluency and Encourage Cultural Awareness
Teaching with children’s books is a great way to build rapport with your students while also exposing them to Spanish-speaking cultures and building their language skills. By giving students the option to read in class, you’re helping them develop their literacy skills while adding some fun and excitement to your lessons.
Kids learning Spanish can greatly benefit from the titles mentioned in this post, all of which are written by Spanish-speaking authors. And as an added bonus, these books can also encourage cross-cultural communication and a truer understanding of what it’s like to grow up in a Spanish-speaking country.
Why Use Books by Spanish-speaking Authors?
This list of Spanish books for kids is special because they are all books written by Native Spanish-speaking authors. Some are written entirely in Spanish, while others are bilingual and present the stories in both English and Spanish.
Here are some reasons why Spanish children’s books will enrich your students’ learning experiences and help them become better Spanish speakers.
Students get exposed to different ideas and perspectives
All writers, no matter their language or audience, reveal a little bit of their own identity in their work.
The authentic voices of these Spanish-speaking authors reveal something personal not only about themselves, but also about the cultures represented in their books. Whether teachers choose to emphasize these revelations or not, the students are able to absorb some measure of the writers’ messages simply by reading and discussing the books in class.
And that’s the beauty of teaching young learners. Their impressionable nature and natural openness make them perfect for embracing new ideas.
If you want to give your students a truly authentic look into Spanish language and culture, add FluentU to the learning experience. FluentU helps you build off the authentic stories covered in your Spanish lessons by offering real dialogues, clips from television shows, news articles and more. As a result, students get an up-close-and-personal view of Spanish-speaking cultures around the world.
Exciting stories inspire students to learn more
Books written by Spanish-speaking writers are important for children because they provide them with an easy way to hear a cultural voice different from their own, an experience they may not enjoy very often outside the classroom.
The dominant language of these young learners is usually English, so reading books that are bilingual or in Spanish demonstrate to kids that their study of Spanish is important and relevant. Ideally, this will help inspire a lifelong interest in the language and culture.
It gives heritage learners something they can identify with
Spanish storybooks are incredibly valuable as teaching tools for children who come from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Not only do they help them learn the language, Spanish books also give them something tangible they can identify with. This enables them to learn through stories and experiences similar to their own.
Stories taught in a classroom setting show that customs, traditions and folk tales of Spanish-speaking cultures around the world are all important and relevant. And by extension, it tells the students that they are also important and relevant. This experience can be validating for heritage students who are constantly surrounded by English.
As well, lessons around these books offer teachers opportunities to invite youngsters who are heritage learners to share their own experiences if sharing is something the students actively show an interest in doing.
Seamlessly Incorporate Spanish Books for Kids into Your Upcoming Lessons
So, what’s the best way to involve Spanish books in your lesson plans?
You can do things the old-fashioned way and simply read out loud to your students during a break in grammar lessons, or you can try one of these fresh, new approaches.
Flipped classroom assignments
Assign students books to read in class or for homework and invite students to create their own vocabulary lists based on the topic of the book.
Depending on the age of your students, they could even design their own quizzes, which you can assess for suitability before distributing to the rest of the class. Or, ask students to create book report presentations, according to a clear rubric you provide in advance—provided they’re old enough to work independently on these kinds of projects.
In this activity, you’ll focus on a certain aspect of the story and have the students present on the topic. Presentation ideas include:
- What was the meaning of the story?
- What was the main character’s goal?
- What would you have done differently than the main character?
Begin this activity by dividing students into mixed-ability groups of three or four, then assign each group member an individual task.
One or two students can read the book out loud. Another can act as a scribe and take notes on the story. And finally, the remaining students can be in charge of presenting findings to the rest of the class.
Offer a participation grade or a completion grade to ensure all students engage with the activity, and supervise in-class group meetings closely to ensure everyone stays on task.
Individual tasks for more advanced students
Older and/or more advanced students can also benefit from working with these kids’ books if you assign them tasks that befit their advanced level of learning.
For example, you can ask students to take a turn being the teacher. Then they can create a lesson plan, either individually or in pairs, and teach the book to the rest of the class for a project or presentation grade. You can even extend the guidelines to include assessments and homework, which will be assigned by the student teachers to the rest of the class.
Now that we’ve looked at why Spanish children’s books are important and how you can teach with them effectively, let’s look at some books that will grab your learners’ attention.
7 Spanish Books for Kids Written by Spanish-speaking Authors
“La cenicienta” by Gabriela Mistral
Chilean author Gabriela Mistral is better known for her poetry than for her fiction writing. But this version of the Cinderella story will be a winner among readers of all ages, no matter what kind of literature they prefer. Mistral won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and her elegant and poetic style is unique and compelling.
The book is suitable for students ages 6-12, but older students who are studying literature and poetry will get a lot out of the gentle rhythms of the poetic language.
As an added bonus, be sure to show your students the book trailer beforehand to get them hooked!
“Juegos tradicionales” by María Angélica Ovalle
This collection of traditional games, written in Spanish and published in Chile, works great for students of all ages as the colors and drawings are attractive to younger kids and older kids alike. Teachers will likely need to work with students to explain the rules for each game, all of which make a welcome addition to cultural studies in the Spanish classroom. These games would make a great series of activities for an outdoor classroom day or practicing a unit on commands.
“Growing Up with Tamales” / “Los tamales de Ana” by Gwendolyn Zepeda
In this bilingual book for students between the ages of 4-8. After reading the story, they’ll learn about making tamales for a Mexican family’s Christmas celebration. Time the incorporation of this book for the days leading up to Christmas or in tandem with your study of food vocabulary. The book employs careful repetition of certain words that will prove to be useful for younger learners.
“Papelucho” by Marcela Paz
This Chilean classic is the first in a series of twelve books for children ages 6-12.
The original story, as well as the ones that follow, takes the form of diary entries by 8-year-old Papelucho, the title character who never ages throughout the whole series. Use this story as a way to inspire students to practice writing in Spanish with their own diary entries. Papelucho is available in its original Spanish or in a bilingual English-Spanish edition.
“René Has Two Last Names” / “René tiene dos apellidos” by René Colato Laínez
This is a bilingual book geared towards readers between the ages 4-8. The story is an ideal choice to use alongside your teaching of introductions and greetings in Spanish, and explains the Hispanic tradition of including both sides of a child’s parentage in his or her last name.
“El gallo de bodas“ by Lucía M. Gonzalez
This book is for kids ages 6-12 and is a bilingual version of a Cuban folktale.
Use it while teaching classroom etiquette, as the bossy chicken displays a series of impolite behaviors unwelcome in most classrooms. As well as providing students with discussion points around manners and customs, “El gallo de bodas” is a version of a story as familiar to Cubans as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is to Americans.
“Family Pictures” / “Cuadrados de familia” by Carmen Lomas Garza
This bilingual children’s book for readers aged 6-12 offers teachers a great starting point to discuss the art traditions of Mexico, from the use of papel picado to painters like the author herself. Teach this book alongside images of paintings by Mexican artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to make a memorable visual impression on your students.
So there you have it—a handful of great children’s books written by Spanish-speaking authors which will give the children in your classroom a colorful and lively glimpse into the Spanish-speaking world. Have fun sharing them with the youngsters in your classroom!
Lynn Ramsson is an educator who enjoys working with students of all ages. She has taught in Virginia and California, and now, she writes from the south coast of England where she lives with her family. She travels to Spain as often as she can, in search of the perfect gambas al ajillo.
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