6 powerful books to read during Hispanic Heritage Month — for yourself and your kids

Make some room on your bookshelf and crack open a fresh read this Hispanic Heritage Month.

The month-long celebration, which kicked off in the U.S. on Wednesday and ends on October 15, is meant to recognize Hispanic Americans for their year-round contributions. As with all community-based observances — from Black History Month to Pride Month — it's a chance to learn the history and stories of a culture, and how its struggles and successes still resonate today.

For this year's iteration, online bookstore Bookshop.org asked a group of self-identified Latinx booksellers for must-read recommendations. Together, they compiled a compelling list of books by, about and for Hispanic people whose stories are shaping today's culture.

From the writing desk of "Me Too" movement founder Tarana Burke to the story of one Afro-Latino man gathering the world's largest collection of research on Black culture, here's what you should read over the next few weeks and beyond:

Books for you

1. 'Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement'

By Tarana Burke

A debut memoir from the activist who launched the Me Too movement, 'Unbound' shares the personal story of how Burke first spoke those two now-familiar words.

The new book, published on Tuesday, details Burke's journey processing her childhood sexual assault, working as a teenage community organizer, finding the courage to talk about her trauma and launching a global movement to help other women heal.

While Burke, a Black woman, is largely influenced in her work by the Civil Rights Movement, her message in 'Unbound' is written to resonate with all women — especially the Black and Hispanic girls her advocacy work has already supported.

In July, Oprah Winfrey — who presumably received an advance copy of the book — tweeted her praise of the memoir, writing: "Searing. Powerful. Needed."

2. 'When We Make It'

By Elisabet Velasquez

This upcoming novel, set to publish on Sept. 21, tackles a simple question: Who is allowed to "make it" in the world?

Centered around the fictional life of a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth grader in Brooklyn, N.Y., "When We Make It" investigates the strain of family traumas and systemic pressures — touching on themes of mental illness, sexual assault, food insecurity and gentrification.

The recommendation comes from Saraciea Fennell, an author and editor who owns The Bronx is Reading, a pop-up and online bookstore in the Bronx, N.Y. In redefining what it really means to "make it," you might find yourself rethinking how you measure success, both personally and for others.

3. 'For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts: A Love Letter to Women of Color'

By Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez

This book, written by the founder of social media-based activism group Latina Rebels, is meant to help women fight together — but anyone who has ever felt stepped on or pushed aside could benefit from reading it.

In her manual for fighting generations of sexism, racism and classism, published on Sept. 7, Mojica Rodriguez pushes readers to step outside their comfort zone, sit in someone else's seat and understand the struggle of being a Brown girl today. Its value comes from that harsh dose of empathy — which, neuroscientists say, is a marker for long-term success.

One Goodreads review recently called it "the book I always knew I needed but couldn't find."

Books for your children

4. 'Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics/Poemas Sobre Hispanos Extraordinarios'

By Margarita Engle, Rafael López (Illustrator)

Need a way to teach your children about some of the world's most influential leaders? This book of poems and portraits published last year could expand their canon of historical figures.

Celebrating the lives and accomplishments of Hispanic people throughout history, "Bravo!" can motivate young readers to see themselves reflected in leadership roles. Biographical poems include: César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Tito Puente and more.

The book comes recommended by Booklandia, a pop-up and online bookstore in Oakland, Calif. Owner Maceo Cabrera Estevez told Bookshop.org that as a homeschooling mom of two bilingual children, she wanted to help families of all kinds find anti-racist, representative Spanish and Bilingual books for children.

"Every baby should receive this bilingual board book to start their home library," said Cabrera Estevez.

5. 'Latinitas: Celebrating 40 Big Dreamers'

By Juliet Menéndez 

Another valuable read for children: "Latinitas," published in February, focuses on 40 different influential Latina women, from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and singer Selena Quintanilla to NASA's first virtual reality engineers, Evelyn Miralles

Regardless of your background, you and your child are likely to learn something you didn't know about the Hispanic community. "My kids and I learned so much when we read about these 40 Latina big dreamers before bedtime," said Cabrera Estevez. "I definitely wish I had a book like this when I was a child."

6. 'Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library'

By Carole Baston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (Illustrator)

Roughly a century ago, a New York City-based law clerk named Arturo Alfonso Schomburg embarked on a mission: collect as many books, letters, sheets of music and works of art from Africa and the African diaspora as possible.

Schomburg grew up in Puerto Rico with a Black mother, and constantly wondered why he wasn't learning about African history in the classroom. Eventually, his collection grew so large that he drew the attention of the New York Public Library who purchased his collection in 1926 for $10,000 — the equivalent of around $150,000 in today's money.

A century later, his curated materials have become a beacon to scholars known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. And in 'Schomburg,' a 2019 picture book about the man and his mission, parents and children alike can learn more about the Hispanic contribution to American history.

"Schomburg's passion for research and books is inspiring," said Cabrera Estevez. "He gave us so much through his collection."

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