Spanish/English Novels for Teens and Tweens

~posted by Ruth

If you are a bilingual, or emergent bilingual teen, a wonderful way to increase your language is by reading.  Meeting vocabulary in the midst of a real story helps you learn new words, and also immerse yourself in a different way of thinking through the eyes and ears of a the characters in a story.  There are so many books written in English, with decent Spanish translations that I didn’t include them on this list.  Instead, I went for books written in Spanish so readers can delight in the original words of terrific authors.  And the good news is that all are available in both languages.

The Dreamer  (El Sonador) by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis

A talented author and illustrator team up to  create a delicious fictional autobiography of the renown Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.   Neftali (Pablo Neruda’s true birth name) has an intense sensitivity to the poetry in the world around him from an early age. He finds support for his craft from his step-mother and his aunt, but must hide his poems and his sensitivity from his stern father. The text weaves poetry, striking visual images, and a compelling story, creating an ode to the power of imagination.  While the novel is easily accessible for upper elementary and middle school kids, readers of all ages will be inspired by this magical tale.

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House on Mango Street   (La Casa en Mango Street) by Sandra Cisneros

This funny, poignant, moving book is deservedly a classic–read by teens in school and college, as well as adults who just love the voice and honesty and connection that Sandra Cisneros’ vignettes bring to their readers.  Each short story could stand on its own, but can also be read to create a rich and varied narrative of a young Mexican girl growing up in Chicago.  Poverty, child-abuse, the importance of education, family, and many more themes are ripe for discussion in this lyrical little  book.

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Senderos Fronterizos (Breaking Through) by Francisco Jimenez

In this  moving  memoir, Francisco Jimenez tells the story of his family being caught by la migra (immigration officers) and having to leave their home in California at the age of 14, finding their way back, and the struggles they endure.  It’s a sequel to The Circuit:  Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, and explores not only their hard life, but Francisco’s (now called Frankie)  coming of age.  We see the world of the 1950′s and 1960′s through the eyes of an immigrant teen–and the clash of cultures as he rebels against old-world values and struggles to make his way through humiliation and poverty.  There are also moments of inspiration and bravery that draw the reader in as well.  I love the addition of the photos at the end of the book, too.

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Cuando Era Puertorriquena  (When I was Puerto Rican:  A Memoir) by Esmeralda Santiago

Another compelling memoir, this time of a young  girl who grows up in a rural Puerto Rican village.  She learns the culture of her community–the tropical sounds and sights of her village, the “proper” way to eat a guava, the sounds of tree frogs–and the pain of poverty and domestic strife.  When her family moves to New York, she must adapt to a whole new world and culture.  As the oldest of eleven children, she must learn to navigate navigate Yankee culture–and take on a a new identity herself.  Lyrical writing and storytelling make this a compelling read in both languages.

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