Enhancing Children’s ABCs and Vocabulary Through 9 Alphabet Books

By Sujei Lugo

ABC… We must not forget how important the introduction of the alphabet is to children, from the shape and name of each letter, to their different sounds and functions in the construction of words. The alphabet is one of the first things you see on a classroom wall during thoY para Yacs (ABC de Puerto Rico)se early years of our school life, usually above the chalkboard. The alphabet comes in different sizes, is printed on flash cards, banners, pop-up books, felt books, board books, and even as plastic toys.

The alphabet is so basic that we might think any book can help us teach it to our young ones, but there are some qualities we should be looking for when choosing a good alphabet book. It should present an easily recognizable version of each letter; it should use illustrations and images to increase the understanding of the alphabet; words chosen to represent each letter should enhance children’s vocabulary and literacy skills; and the presentation of the alphabet in the context of a story or theme should contribute to critical thinking and story comprehension. Other issues to keep in mind: If there is a story, is it inclusive and diverse? Is the story easy to comprehend? Is the material suitable for read-alouds or early readers? Are alliteration and rhymes used effectively or are they distracting?

I want to recommend some diverse and useful alphabet books that fulfill the basic needs of this kind of text and give us the opportunity to teach something else. They carry good links between letters and sounds and depict a strong connection between words and images of everyday life and multicultural communities. This list looks at titles that represent Latino or Latin American communities, portray themes relevant to these communities and are written or illustrated by Latinos/as. They are mostly bilingual books (Spanish/English), but I also included English titles that incorporate words in Spanish, and books completely written in Spanish. These books can serve to transmit and recognize our culture, language, and history, as well as our struggles and similarities to other communities. Different communities should see that no matter our differences, the alphabet is something we hold in common. It gives us the power to construct words and to use language as a tool to name, describe, connect, and challenge, and it forms the building blocks of communication.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A is for Activist

“A is for Activist” to “Z is for Zapatista of course”

This is a vibrant and powerful boardbook that introduces kids to social justice issues. The book includes alliteration, rhymes, and words such as ally, grassroots, indigenous, organize, and youth. Adults should read this book along with children, and provide assistance and context for words that are unfamiliar to them. A highlight in A is for Activist is its imagery of kids from different ethnic and racial backgrounds being active and advocating for their rights and their communities. The book is in English and includes some words in Spanish, but a Spanish edition comes out in October 2014.

ABC de Puerto Rico by Rubén del Rosario, Isabel Freire de Matos and Antonio Martorell

ABC de Puerto Rico

“Agua, acerola, alcapurria, alelaila, ardilla, atrecho” to “zapatero, zafacón, zigzag, zumbador”

The first published Puerto Rican alphabet book, ABC de Puerto Rico includes Spanish language words and Anglicisms characteristic of Puerto Rican vocabulary and poems celebrating our heritage and culture. Each page is covered with wonderful woodcut illustrations. Children are introduced to words such as alcapurria, boricua, mofongo, ñoco, and vegigante, words that are not traditionally found in alphabet books. This book was banned by the Puerto Rican government in 1968, due to its “anti-American” and “subversive” content and the use of images like the machete and the color red.

ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill, K. B. Basseches and Moisés and Armando Jiménez


“the Armadillo/el Armadillo” to “the Zedonk/el Zedonk”

This bilingual alphabet book focuses on animal names. Through its minimalistic design, each page includes an animal name that starts with one of the letters of the alphabet. Photographs of colorful wood sculptures accompany each name. The images will inspire children to create their own version of the folk art pieces. The book includes the letters Ch, Ll and Rr, and explains that although they are no longer letters in the Spanish language alphabet, the sounds are still in use.

Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book by Jeanette Winter

Calavera Abecedario

“A – Ángel” to “Z – Zapatero”

It starts off like a regular picture book, with a story (in English) about a Mexican family and how they are preparing to celebrate Día de los Muertos. Then the book shifts to a traditional alphabet book format, which illustrates each letter with a Spanish language word and an image of a skeleton. Each skeleton resembles a character such as a bruja or unicornio, or occupations such as doctor, ilustradora, químico, and xilofonista. The illustrations are wonderful and vibrant in color, resulting in pages that resemble trading cards or lotería cards.

Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English by Alma Flor Ada and Simón Silva (English translation by Rosa Zubizarreta)

Gathering the Sun

“Árboles” to “Zanahoria”

A 1998 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor book, Gathering the Sun is an alphabet book that tells a story–the story of migrant workers. While introducing children to the letters of the alphabet, the book talks about ancestors and the pride and honor of cultural heritage. Each word includes a poem in Spanish and an English translation, although the first letter of the translation is not the same as the original Spanish language version. The earthy and rich illustrations are a great complement to the short, rhyming poetry.

Idalia’s Project ABC: An Urban Alphabet Book in English and Spanish by Idalia Rosario

Idalia's Project ABC

“Aa is for asking. Asking Papo’s mother if he could come out to play” to “Zz is for zoo. Now I’d like to read about the zoo. Me too!”

This bilingual book centers around two friends who uses the alphabet to introduce us to their neighborhood and life in the city. Here is another example of an alphabet book in a context of a story that situates children in active roles in their community. The translation is not literal, and the author uses the opportunity to incorporate colloquial Spanish and anglicisms to reflect the vocabulary used by the characters, as well as issues that affect urban neighborhoods.

¡Marimba! Animales from A to Z by Pat Mora and Doug Cushman


“A Then the ting-tong of the marimba wakes all animales on cue” to “Z zigzagging through zebras and zebúes, zany keepers call, “Yoo-hoooooooo”

This is a playful and colorful alphabet book that sets its story around one night at a zoo. The story is in English and incorporates animal names in Spanish. Through movement and rhythm, the story mentions words related to instruments (marimba), dances (samba, salsa) and food (flan, enchiladas) of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean origin. It includes an author’s note and a translation and pronunciation guide at the end of the book.

P is for Piñata: A Mexico Alphabet by Tony Johnston and John Parra

P is for Piñata

“A is for Adobe” to “Z is for zero”

With the support of John Parra’s wonderful and characteristic illustrations, P is for Piñata is an A to Z journey through Mexico’s history. The book introduces the alphabet via short and rich poems with a historical and socio-cultural context. Extra information about the background of the word chosen to represent letters enriches  their meaning. The layout and colorful images bring this alphabet book to life.

Welcome to My Neighborhood! A Barrio ABC by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Shino Arihara

Welcome to my Neighborhood

“A is for abuela. And abandoned car” to “Z street’s loud with zooming cars.”

This one feels like an updated version of Idalia’s Project ABC alphabet book (it was published in 1981), since we have two friends who are also introducing us to the alphabet while walking around their neighborhood. Children will not only learn new words, but also more about life in a big city, including the sense of community. The book is written in English and incorporates some words in Spanish such as abuela, jíbaros and muralistas. One of the sentences that caught my attention was: “S for all the Spanish words I somehow still forget!”, an issue that some second and third generation Latino/as and Chicano/as will relate to.


Just as I was finishing this list a new and notable alphabet book was announced. I didn’t include it officially on the list because I haven’t had the opportunity to read it. The book comes out in April 2015. It’s called Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, and it focuses on important women across U.S. America who have contributed to politics, science, activism and popular culture. Preview: D is for Dolores Huerta. Really looking forward to this children’s book!


Scholastic Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month With Some Favorite Books

By Concetta Gleason
Editorial & Creative Coordinator for Scholastic’s Club Leo

Hispanic Heritage Month officially kicked off Monday – September 15th – and lasts until October 15th. To celebrate, we compiled some of our favorite characters and stories from all over Latin America in a Colección Herencia Hispana / Hispanic Heritage Collection. Each book is rich with beautiful language, stories, myths, art, and foods.


Award winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales does it again with her captivating children’s book, Niño Wrestles the World. Niño, the unstoppable masked child wrestler, contends against a series of abnormal opponents. Niño defeats them all with ease, but it isn’t until the clock chimes that he is faced with his most difficult challenge, Las Hermanitas (the little sisters). Morales is able to incorporate traditional Mexican beliefs and relate them to the country’s famous form of wrestling, commonly known as Lucha Libre, which requires wrestlers to mask their face to protect their identity. Her vibrant illustrations keep true to the classic pop-art style associated with Lucha Libre on posters and trading cards.  Mixed with the engrossing text, the combination of both storyline and artwork engages any reader. The tale is exciting and uses basic vocabulary for its young readers to follow along. From the uncommon opponents to the energetic fearlessness of Niño, Niño Wrestles the World depicts the story of an intelligent entertaining little boy who is able to teach its readers common Spanish words and phrases. Winning the Pura Belpré Award (2014), Yuyi Morales taps into both her creative power as an author and illustrator to create this delightful story.


Sabores De América is a new way to learn and look at the foods we eat. Written by Ana María Pavez and Constanza Recart, Sabores , originally published in Chile, has been distributed all over the world and is the winner of the Skipping Stone Award and the White Ravens Award (2010). The text is appealing to reader’s grades 4 and up but the book is an amazingly useful as a reference for readers of all ages. The book’s sophisticated water color art work, designed by Isabel Hojas, makes it friendly and relatable to a younger audience. This non-fiction book can also be used as an excellent classroom resource for any teacher looking to inspire cultural curiosity in the classroom. Students will learn about Latin America’s contribution to the world through the use of intriguing historical facts and recipes. A glossary about Mesoamerican culture and a map of the region are included.


The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred makes vocabulary building fun with its tribute to the nursery rhyme, “The House That Jack Built.” Written by Samantha R. Vamos and illustrated by Rafael López, each page engages the audience into wanting to help the farm maiden stir the cazuela (stewpot). Once she begins the task, all the farm animals desire to contribute in some way. Whether, it’s the cow that produces the milk or the donkey that give the duck a ride to the market to buy sugar, each animal participates in creating the final tasty dish. The cooking process becomes a festive event when everyone begins to sing and dance. Distracted by the joy of the party, the animals and the farm maiden forget to keep an eye on the cazuela and it begins to bubble over. Who will be the one to notice? Vamos and López’s combined efforts creates a delicious educational cultural celebration. An added bonus is the Arroz Con Leche recipe, better known as Rice Pudding, towards the final pages of the book. The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, is an enjoyable read that can get any tummy rumbling.


La difunta familia Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle and illustrated by Polly Bernatene is a playful and humorous tale that explores the two side of Día de los Muertos – the living and the dead. The story revolves around Angelito, a sweet little boy – a dead little boy— living happily with his dead family. They have a well-kept home strewn with family portraits, a skeleton dog, and their whole neighborhood is “dead” – the birds, butterflies, the flowers on the dining room table, and the moon in the sky. In short, the afterlife is good. However, Angelito is anxious about Día de los Muertos and all the horrors of the living! However, an unexpected friendship will soon alter his point of view.  La difunta familia Diaz’s is a fantastic book that lightheartedly introduce children to this famous holiday.


In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, finish the following sentence and you could win a FREE Hispanic Heritage Poster and 25 Spanish and bilingual books.  “In Latin America, I would like to travel to ____ and taste ____.”  Click HERE and then post your answer in the comments. You have until Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 11:59pm EST to post your answer. Remember, your answer must include the answer to the question “In Latin America, I would like to travel to ____ and taste ____.”  For the official rules, click here.

Stay tuned for more exciting Hispanic Heritage Special Features from Club Leo en Español throughout the next 30 days!

Club Leo en Español supports your classroom with fun and affordable books that connect children’s home language and learning. Our books include amazing series, original titles, and winners of the Pura Belpré Award, which celebrates the remarkable contributions of artists who give voice to the Latino community through children’s literature.

Club Leo en Español apoya tu salón de clases con libros divertidos y asequibles que conectan la lengua materna y el aprendizaje de los niños. Nuestra colección incluye increíbles series, títulos originales y ganadores del Premio Pura Belpré, que celebra los extraordinarios aportes de artistas que dan voz a la comunidad latina a través de la literatura infantil.

Libros Latin@s: Lowriders in Space

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiResBy Lila Quintero Weaver

This book talk is based on an advance review copy. Quotes and details may vary in the final version.

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash for the best car around—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raúl the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provides definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.

MY TWO CENTS: Look in the children’s section for graphic novels from the Latino perspective and you’ll find precious few choices. Look there for books about lowriders and your choices will be still slimmer. Here is Lowriders in Space, ready to fill both spots with a joyous, celebratory tale. You don’t need deep knowledge of the lowrider culture to appreciate this middle-grade graphic novel, brought to you by the author-illustrator team of Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third.

Lowriders In Space_Int_3In the opening pages, we meet three animal characters with Spanish names, all of whom work for a car-repair shop. The shop is called Cartinflas, and this is just one of many playful allusions and verbal jokes in this book. (Cartinflas plays on the name of the famous Mexican comic actor, Cantinflas.) Lupe Impala, (a wolf) busts gender stereotypes as a female lead who knows her way around car engines. Her sidekicks, the octopus El Chavo Flapjack and the mosquito Elirio Malaria, each specialize in key aspects of automobile revamping in the lowrider style. Elirio’s fine-tip proboscis doubles as a paintbrush that turns out the sweetest racing stripes and airbrushed scenes you could imagine. El Chavo’s eight tentacles go to work washing, polishing and buffing cars to a high sheen.

The trio dream of going into business for themselves, but where will they find start-up money? A car competition with a hefty cash prize gives them hope, but there are tough challenges to meet. First, they must find a car to work their magic on. They settle for a rusty heap sitting on cinder blocks. Now for car parts. At an abandoned airplane factory, they pick up mini air compressors and a box of rocket equipment. After attaching the parts, they’re in for a surprise when Lupe cranks the engine and it launches the car into the stratosphere. High above the earth, the car gears down into bajito-y-suavecito mode, low and slow: this is the cruising speed that lets low riders see and be seen. While the transformed auto travels outer space, it takes on loads of flash and bling borrowed from stars, asteroids and others elements of the galactic realm.

There’s much to love in this kid-friendly graphic novel. The story arc follows a familiar trajectory: the protagonists meet every challenge successfully and win the sought-after prize. Kid readers will be cheering. But my hat’s off to Cathy Camper for elevating the storyline above the predictable. She does this through original settings and characters, including the lowrider car itself, and with the inventive twists of space travel and comical astronomy. Her text engages the ear with musical language that includes alliteration, onomatopoeia, and bursts of G-rated street slang in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.

Kids will eat up the comics-style art. Every page offers levels of visual puns and charming details that invite readers to study panels closely. The color scheme and the drawings give off a retro historieta vibe, fitting for a story about lowrider culture, which was born in the 1950s and is rooted in the Mexican American community. I’m not familiar with the ballpoint-pen doodle style that Raúl the Third credits as his inspiration, but I dig it!

TEACHING TIPS: The back of the book contains a glossary of Spanish phrases, factual information on the tongue-in-cheek astronomy that appears in the story, and a thumbnail summary of lowrider history.

One bonus of graphic novels is their appeal to devoted bookworms and reluctant readers. Kids seem to instinctively grasp the multiple levels of interaction offered through their blend of text and images. Teachers may want to approach Lowriders in Space—and any graphic novel—in two steps. Read through it once purely for the story. Revisit it at a slower pace to more fully absorb the images. Raúl the Third’s art is rich with details, charming secondary characters, and visual puns that sharp-eyed kids will relish hunting down. These may not be central to the story, but they sure contribute to the fun. For example, it’s one thing to read that there’s a fast-food joint called Sapo Bell in the background of one scene—it’s another to spy the goofy sapo sitting out front. Middle-grade readers are sure to love such hidden gems.

Lowriders in Space encourages kids to celebrate a fun aspect of Mexican American culture that should be respected, not ridiculed or stigmatized. Too often when lowriders appear in popular culture, they’re thrown in for kitsch points. This usually results in stereotyping and negative connotations. Teachers can use this text to combat the lazy disregard involved in stereotypical usage and replace it with the dignity that comes with cross-cultural appreciation.

If you’d like to learn more about lowrider history culture, here are some suggested resources:

“Lowriding: This Culture is About More Than Cars.”

“Low and Slow: The History of Lowriders.” 

Be sure to read Cathy’s guest post on Latin@s in Kid Lit!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smCathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Raúl the Third teaches classes on  drawing and comics for kids at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.          

   Raul the Third (credit Elaine Bay)








And now for a big treat, the official book trailer for Lowriders in Space!


Seven Things I’m Looking Forward to at Comadres & Compadres Writers Conference

Count on Me

by Lila Quintero Weaver

Soon, I’m jetting off to New York for the 3rd Annual Comadres y Compadres Writers Conference, held at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn on Saturday, September 27. Will you join me?  It’s going to be fabuloso! It’s not too late to register. Here’s where you can learn more.

And now a quick list of seven things I’m looking forward to at the conference.

  1. Meeting Latin@ writers, readers, librarians, agents, editors and mover-shakers from all over! Exchanging contact info.
  2. Hearing the maravillosa Esmeralda Santiago deliver a keynote!
  3. Sharing a lunch table with up-and-coming Latin@ writers, lending encouragement and tips wherever I can.
  4. Attending Meg Medina’s craft workshop on children’s books.
  5. Learning about the work of other Latin@ writers, because there are always gems waiting to be discovered.
  6. Exchanging abrazos with readers of Latin@s in Kid Lit and meeting Cindy L. Rodriguez, the blog’s founder, at long last!
  7. Gathering inspiration for future creative projects and blog posts.




Guest Post by Author Cathy Camper: Lowriders in Space Blast Off!

Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_smBy Cathy Camper

Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Flapjack Octopus and Lupe Impala work at a car dealership six days a week. Lupe’s the mechanic, Flapjack washes and buffs the cars, and Elirio details the cars with his beak. Their dream is to have a garage and a lowrider of their own:

            They’d seen some cars blast by fast,

             And others that could shift and drift,

            But they wanted a car that would go low and slow.

            Bajito y suavecito.

            A universal car contest gives them that opportunity. But not until their car gets customized by outer space! Pinstripes from Saturn, pompom asteroids, and star-capped hubcaps make their car an interstellar phenomena!

That’s how I pitched my graphic novel Lowriders in Space at Pitchapalooza in Portland, Oregon. Back when the book was just a manuscript and a vision in my head, I’d exhausted the list of graphic novel agents, and so winning this contest was like a dream come true. The prize was the advice of The Book Doctors, a husband-wife team who connected my project with an agent and eventually, an editor and publisher.

I’m a writer, artist and a youth services outreach librarian. I wrote Lowriders in Space because as an Arab American, I was fed up with the inability of mainstream comics and books to represent the diversity of kids I see everyday, kids who like me, don’t see themselves in books. When I first sent the script to the book’s artist, Raúl III, who is Latino, he told me, “This is the book I wanted to read as a child,” and he was as excited as I was to create it, and for the same reasons. Our editor at Chronicle Books, Ginee Seo, is Korean American, and she gets it too—like us she wants to give kids a book that meets them where they are.

I’d been working on the book since 2006, and was thrilled when the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign launched in May 2014. We’re hoping that when Lowriders comes out this fall, it kicks a big hole in the wall of racism of kids’ books, welcoming kids of all backgrounds to read it. We hope it encourages publishers to create more books by new authors and illustrators of color, and to inspire kids via reading our book, to become creators, too.

By 2050, one third of the US will live in English-Spanish speaking households—that’s our audience! The book’s also aimed at boys, because the literacy rate of boys is dropping, and like Jon Scieszka (who sponsors the Guys Read website), we want boys to read. We also envision that kids struggling to read, for whatever reasons, might find our book inviting. And it looks like adults are loving it, too, from all the reviews that have been popping up online.

Since I’m not Latina, it was crucial to me that our book was culturally correct. I did tons of research, read books, watched films, went to the Lowrider Magazine’s car show, and interviewed people. I’m also fortunate and forever grateful to have the help of many Latino friends and library co-workers, who read the manuscript, offered suggestions, and helped fine-tune the Spanish. One of the cartoonists I admire most is cartoon journalist Joe Sacco. His ability to go into places of high conflict, like Palestine and the Bosnian war and create detailed drawn and written records out of chaos humbles me. When I heard him speak, he mentioned that one of the things he tries to do is set his ego aside, and put the stories of those he’s writing about, up front. When I wrote Lowriders, I tried my best to emulate this goal, and to fight for, as best I could, what would make the story culturally relevant.

This goal included having the right illustrations. Traditionally in children’s books, the writer doesn’t choose an illustrator for the manuscript (though this is different in comics creation). I was warned along the way, “Choosing your own illustrator may work against you.” However, I felt it was crucial that Raúl illustrate this book, not only because he’s a brilliant artist (and if we’re saying we need more diverse kids books, we also need more diverse creators), but because his art added just the right touch of both cultural relevancy and the retro-nuevo feel the text demanded. Raúl told me that much of the setting and landscape is based on his childhood in El Paso, Texas. When he started sketching Flapjack Octopus, he said he couldn’t help but think of him in his pail as El Chavo del Ocho, sitting in his barrel—and so we changed Flappy’s name and look to reflect that.

Lowriders In Space_Int_2

Just as Raúl was able to make contributions to the text, I sometimes added context to the drawings. For example, it was important to me that our lowriders’ car had the Big Dipper on it. For the lowrider diaspora of Latinos and African Americans whom the book celebrates, the Big Dipper represents the path north, and more broadly, the path to freedom. What better symbol to have on a flying car’s license plate? Our book celebrates the influence of older comics, art, pop culture and car references that Raúl and I both love and wanted to share, including George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, the Hernandez BrothersLove and Rockets, Mad Magazine and Big Daddy Roth’s cars.

And then there’s the science – I love science! My first book Bugs Before Time was about giant prehistoric insects – including a sea scorpion as big as your mom. Why wouldn’t our graphic novel include science, when there really are things as wondrous as flapjack octopuses and braided rings of Saturn? The technology of cars is part of science, too, whether it’s learning how cars are buffed and painted, how air compressors make lowriders hop, or what vulcanizing does to make rubber tires strong.

We think Lowriders is going to read like something brand new, because of the unique, aligned intent of author, illustrator, and publisher and because of the crazy mix of culture, comics, and science our combined imaginations dreamed up. We hope you love it and it makes you laugh, and that you share your excitement with all the kids out there that might love it, too. When Lowriders in Space blasts off this fall, our real destination isn’t the outer galaxies, it’s to land in the hands of kids who deserve to see themselves in what they read, and to be read by everyone else so they experience how rich a culture of color can be.

Cathy Camper is a librarian focusing on outreach to schools and children in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow the book’s Facebook page for more news.

Coming soon on Latin@s in Kid Lit: A book talk on Lowriders in Space with more story details and more peeks at interior pages!