Omaha Public Library wants to help readers find new books — or at least books new to them. Every month in this space, OPL employees will recommend reading based on different writing genres, themes or styles.
Sunday is the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month. This national observance celebrates histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson, and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
OPL staff have suggested some of their favorite books with ties to Hispanic heritage, history, authors or culture. Find these books and more at your local branch or omahalibrary.org.
Ali Bousquet, youth services librarian at South Omaha Library
”Where Are You From?” by Yamile Saied Méndez. In this book, also available in Spanish, a young Hispanic-American girl is asked, “Where are you from?” by her classmates. She assures them that she’s just like them, but they ask, “Where are you really from?” She asks her grandfather, and he gives her a beautiful, lyrical response about where she’s ancestrally from, and the illustrations take the reader on a beautiful journey through Latin America. This book is for any kid who has ever been made to feel different.
Jenna Garcia, executive secretary at Omaha Public Library
”The Devil’s Highway: A True Story,” by Luis Alberto Urrea. The author intertwines geographic and cultural histories regarding the Mexico-America border while describing a catastrophic event in May 2011 in which 26 Mexican men struggled to cross the border. Only 12 made it safely to the United States, with the others suffering excruciating deaths in the Arizona desert. It is eye-opening to see what humans will do to immigrate. I couldn’t put this book down!
Sam Greenfield, youth services specialist at South Omaha Library
”Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life,” by Catherine Reef. This young adult, nonfiction book delves into the personal lives of two famous Mexican artists, providing insight into the creation of some of their works. Those who are prone to asking how it’s made will enjoy seeing the how the artists’ health, politics and rocky marriages influenced their work and showed up in their paintings. Large color prints of referenced works are included with the text, making this biography an immersive experience for readers.
”Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring,” by Angela Cervantes. Paloma Marquez is not excited to be spending a month of her summer vacation in Mexico City, far from her friends in Kansas. However, after attending an event with her mother at The Blue House, which was turned into a museum after Frida Kahlo’s death, Paloma’s time in the city is far from boring. She meets two siblings who tell her about a missing ring of Kahlo’s, and they want Paloma to help find it. The book successfully blends suspense, history and art, leaving readers on the edge of their seat as Paloma takes up the search for the ring.
Russ Harper, youth services specialist at W. Clarke Swanson Branch
”Esperanza Rising,” by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This book tells the story of a young girl who has to emigrate from Mexico after the death of her grandfather to work in the California labor camps of the Depression. The expressiveness of the language, depth of Latino culture and moving relationships are highlights of this book. The book is also available in Spanish, as “Esperanza Renace.”
Theresa Jehlik, strategy and business intelligence manager at Omaha Public Library
”The Japanese Lover,” by Isabel Allende. Allende shares the lifelong love story between Alma Belasco and Ichimei Fukuda. They met as children when Alma is sent to San Francisco in 1939 while her parents remain in Poland. Ichimei is the son of Alma’s uncle’s gardener and becomes her playmate. From 1939 through 2010, their lives ebb and flow as the Fukudas are shipped to an internment camp and Alma takes her place in San Francisco society. This novel explores how changing societal mores challenge one’s own assumptions and beliefs in the face of peer pressure.
Colby Jenkins, senior clerk at Charles B. Washington Branch
”Tito Puente, Mambo King / Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo,” by Monica Brown. This is a delightful bilingual introduction to “The Musical Pope” himself. This children’s book pairs nicely with a CD of Latin jazz to experience the rhythms firsthand.
Evan Mantler, library aide at Millard Branch
”I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sànchez. After the death of her older sister in an accident, Julia has to deal with her own grief plus added pressure from her mother. Faced with expectations she feels she cannot meet, Julia begins to see that her sister might not have been what she appeared at all. Many people may relate to the themes and topics of this book, including familial expectation, culture, identity, loss, grief and depression.
Lauren May, adult services specialist at W. Dale Clark Main Library
”The Red Umbrella,” by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. This book is told from the perspective of Lucia, a 14-year-old Cuban woman coming of age in the middle of the Communist revolution under Fidel Castro. Changes brought by the revolution prompt Lucia’s parents to send her and her brother to the United States (Nebraska, actually!) in an attempt to keep them safe. Based on the true story of thousands of children sent away from Cuba to the U.S. during the early 1960s, and the author’s parents’ personal experiences, this story captures a young immigrant’s experience and the struggles of leaving family and adjusting to a new culture.
Miranda Morales, library specialist at Omaha Public Library
”The Poetry of Pablo Neruda,” by Pablo Neruda. This collection includes one of my favorite poems, “Every Day You Play.” The achingly romantic piece ends with the line, “I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees.” “The Sea and the Bells” also presents a surreal experience steeped in nature and dreams.
Jeff Pospisil, civic health librarian at Charles B. Washington Branch
”In the Midst of Winter,” by Isabel Allende. This is an unexpected love story between a 60-year-old human rights scholar and a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile that is set in motion by a car accident in the middle of a Brooklyn winter. The stories of these two very different people move through contemporary New York City, to Guatemala in the recent past, to 1970s Chile and Brazil. I was drawn to the magical realism of Allende’s earlier work, and continue to enjoy her engaging style.
Lynn Sullivan, library specialist at W. Dale Clark Main Library
”The Pearl,” by John Steinbeck. This is a tragic tale about a poor Amerindian couple in La Paz, Mexico, who find a beautiful pearl. They decide to sell it in order to have a better life, but soon realize that the pearl has brought nothing but evil. The novella illustrates how greed can destroy the love we have for one another.
Amy Wenzl, manager at Saddlebrook Branch
”Stef Soto, Taco Queen,” by Jennifer Torres. Stef Soto does not want to be defined by her father’s taco truck, Tia Perla. However, when Tia Perla is threatened by potential new regulations that could shut down her father’s business, Stef has to decide whether to step up and help her father, or continue to separate herself from the business that used to be their family dream. This book is recommended for fourth- through seventh-grade readers.
Anna Wilcoxon, diversity & inclusion librarian at South Omaha Library
”Fruit of the Drunken Tree,” by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Set in 1990s Colombia, during the chaotic last days of Pablo Escobar, this story is told from the perspective of two young girls, Chula and Petrona. Chula is privileged and sheltered from the ills befalling many in her country; Petrona has been hired as her maid. The girls traverse traditional coming-of-age experiences, such as first loves and disillusionment, with parental figures, while also navigating economic and political turbulence far beyond what one would expect for their ages. Simply and elegantly narrated by these young and searching voices, Fruit of the Drunken Tree provides a fresh perspective on a complicated historical time.