Code-switching is becoming an increasingly popular practice in writing children’s literature. Code-switching happens when one moves fluidly between two languages within written or spoken dialogue. It is often used when a word cannot be directly translated or loses meaning in translation, or as a way of better illustrating themes where another language may describe something better or be more appropriate than English. Spanglish is a common word used when referring to the code-switching between English and Spanish.
Children’s books are an enjoyable way to introduce your child (or yourself) to another language. If you are looking to incorporate a second language into your daily life or to keep a language alive in the home, books that use two languages are a good place to begin. They often include a glossary with translations and use repetition to emphasize words that are in the language other than English. These books can be found in a variety of languages, but the most common are English to Spanish. Below are a selection of favorites from Mead Public Library’s children’s collection (descriptions provided are taken from the book publishers):
La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya
The Princess and the Pea gets a fresh twist in this charming bilingual retelling, winner of the Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration.
El príncipe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn’t agree.
The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa, but the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too . . .
Readers will be enchanted by this Latino twist on the classic story, and captivated by the vibrant art inspired by the culture of Peru.
Gazpacho for Nacho by Tracey Kyle
Nacho likes to eat only one thing—gazpacho! Gazpacho for breakfast, gazpacho for lunch, gazpacho for dinner, for snacks, and for brunch. Nacho won’t even try other dishes—until he discovers miles and piles of mouthwatering vegetables at the market. This lively rhyming story, sprinkled with Spanish, will delight little chefs. A recipe for Gazpacho and a Spanish glossary are included.
The Three Billy Goats Buenos by Susan Middleton Elya
Humor abounds in this masterfully-bilingual twist on “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” that dares to ask the question: why is that troll so grumpy anyway?
Three little cabritos have a clever plan to get past the grumpiest troll in the land. But then one of the billy goats wonders: Why is that gigante so grumpy, anyway?
This thoughtful question sends their plan in a new direction, and the results are better than they ever imagined.
Dashes of humor, empathy, and kindness make this modern twist on a classic tale a charming delight.
Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Thong
In this lively picture book, children discover shapes all around them: rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, while triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, and all are universal in appeal. With rich illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child’s day!
Besos for Baby by Jen Arena
Everyone has kisses for Baby, from Mami and Papi to perro and gato. Using simple Spanish words, this charming read-aloud proves that love is the same in every language! Parents won’t be able to resist giving baby muchos besos as they share this bilingual read aloud, filled with bold, graphic illustrations, with their little bébé!
Chato’s Kitchen by Gary Soto
Chato can’t believe his luck. Not only is he the coolest low-riding cat in East L.A., but his brand-new neighbors are the plumpest, juciest, tastiest-looking family of mice to move into the barrio in a long time. So Chato and his best friend, Novio Boy, get out the pots and pans, the tortillas and the beans–everything you’d need for a welcoming feast, except for the main dish, and the guests of honor. Of course, in Chato’s mind they are one and the same thing.
But the mice are bringing a surprise guest of their own, who may be more than a cool cat can swallow. This book also won the Pura Belpré Award for illustration in 1996.
¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl the Third
Bilingual in a new way, this paper over board book teaches readers simple words in Spanish as they experience the bustling life of a border town. Follow Little Lobo and his dog Bernabe as they deliver supplies to a variety of vendors, selling everything from sweets to sombreros, portraits to piñatas, carved masks to comic books! This is also a 2020 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book.
Marta! Big & Small by Jen Arena
Marta is una niña, an ordinary girl . . . with some extraordinary animal friends!
As Marta explores the jungle, she knows she’s bigger than a bug, smaller than an elephant, and faster than a turtle. But then she meets the snake, who thinks Marta is sabrosa―tasty, very tasty! But Marta is ingeniosa, a very clever girl, and she outsmarts the snake with hilarious results.
With simple Spanish and a glossary at the end, this fun read-aloud picture book, Marta! Big and Small, teaches little ones to identify opposites and animals and learn new words.
Mañana Iguana by Ann Whitford Paul
Iguana is planning a fiesta, but her lazy trio of friends loses out in this clever update of the story of the Little Red Hen, with a Mexican twist. A glossary of Spanish words is included.
A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle
From Pura Belpré Award–winning author Margarita Engle comes a lively, rhythmic picture book about a little girl visiting her grandfather who is a pregonero—a singing street vendor in Cuba—and helping him sell his frutas.
When we visit mi abuelo, I help him sell
frutas, singing the names of each fruit
as we walk, our footsteps like drumbeats,
our hands like maracas, shaking…
The little girl loves visiting her grandfather in Cuba and singing his special songs to sell all kinds of fruit: mango, limón, naranja, piña, and more! Even when they’re apart, grandfather and granddaughter can share rhymes between their countries like un abrazo—a hug—made of words carried on letters that soar across the distance like songbirds.
Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina
When a little girl’s far-away grandmother comes to stay, love and patience transcend language in a tender story written by acclaimed author Meg Medina. This is also a 2016 Pura Belpré Award Honor Book.
Mia’s abuela has left her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to live with Mia and her parents in the city. The night she arrives, Mia tries to share her favorite book with Abuela before they go to sleep and discovers that Abuela can’t read the words inside. So while they cook, Mia helps Abuela learn English (“Dough. Masa”), and Mia learns some Spanish too, but it’s still hard for Abuela to learn the words she needs to tell Mia all her stories. Then Mia sees a parrot in the pet-shop window and has the perfecto idea for how to help them all communicate a little better. An endearing tale from an award-winning duo that speaks loud and clear about learning new things and the love that bonds family members.
Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos by Susan Middleton Elya
At the station, sirens sound.
Corazones start to pound.
“House fire!” says el capitán.
“¡Fuego! Get your helmets on!”
So begins a rollicking race to save a burning casa from the roaring flames-and these bomberos are up to the task, with hoses ready and sirens blaring. Spanish words sprinkled throughout the lively text-plus a glossary at the end-will enrich young readers as they cheer for the firefighters to save the day.
*Thank you to Alison for your input on this post