Sonrisas Spanish Blog

Children’s Spanish Storybook Reviews

spanish story booksStarting a homeschool Spanish curriculum for kids is one of the best advantages you can give a young child. At a practical level, it’s been proven that bilingual employees earn, on average, 20% more per hour than monolingual employees. Aside from that, Spanish is the official language of 21 countries worldwide, so if you think there’s a chance they’re ever going to want to travel the world knowing some Spanish will be in their best interest.

Even if you don’t homeschool your child, helping them learn the language after school is a great idea considering most school districts in the United States don’t provide the opportunity for an elementary Spanish curriculum. One of the best ways to get children started is through Spanish story books. As is the case with any language it’s often better to teach through this more interactive way than simply giving them flash cards to memorize.

The earlier you introduce your child to a foreign language the better; it seems that before the age of 10 is ideal, or even before the age of five, if possible. Reading them Spanish story books is the perfect way to begin their bilingual journey. Here are three great options to get you started.

  1. Amigos: Amigos is a playful Spanish story book that helps kids learn about shapes, colors, sizes, and even to appreciate diversity in others. That’s something everyone in the family can benefit from in today’s day and age.
  2. Cali y Mona: Inspired by a true story that the author, Pepe Valle, once read about in a newspaper, Cali y Mona follows a heartwarming story about a blind girl and her guiding pony. The book is written in Spanish and Braille, providing you the added bonus of teaching your child about one of the world’s most common physical disabilities.
  3. Juegos Tradicionales: Not all Spanish story books have to be about morals and such. Juegos Tradicionales is not so much a story, but rather a collection of 34 of the most popular games played by children in Latin America. Learning about a society’s culture is one of the best ways to truly understand it and the games they play can be something every child can relate to and will probably be interested in.

What books would you recommend? Let us know in the comments.

Here at Sonrisas Spanish we are big fans of good books, and by “good books” we mean books that are effective at teaching Spanish to children. Quiero a los Animales, by Flora McDonnell, is a good book. It includes two important elements of an effective teaching book: illustrations that convey the meaning of the text and clear, thematic vocabulary that allows for multiple teaching opportunities.

Quiero a los animales has huge, gorgeous illustrations. The sheer size of each one, covering both the left and right-hand pages of the book, engages children’s imagination and draws them into the story. The illustrations are not only beautiful, but they are also effective teaching tools because they explicitly convey the meaning of the text on each page and enable multiple teaching opportunities. Take this page for example:

There is a simplicity to the illustrations that at the same time captures a vibrancy and vivaciousness of the animals that are portrayed. Part of this feeling comes from the expressions on the animals’ faces.

The vocabulary in Quiero a los animales is focused around the theme of animals, me gusta, and me encanta. Either of these themes is an obvious choice to teach using this book, but each page contains multiple teaching opportunities. After reading the this page to students, a teacher can draw students into the story and work with multiple language chunks such as:

—     Me gusta la cabra. ¿Te gusta la cabra a ti?

—     Mira la cara de la cabra. ¿Cómo está la cabra?

—     Mira el pelo de la cabra. ¿De qué color es? (los cuernos, los ojos, la nariz, etc.)

—     ¿La cabra camina, o la cabra corre?

—     Mira la correa de la cabra. ¿Está rota?

It is this combination of great illustrations, simplicity of text, and depth of teaching opportunities that makes Quiero a los animales so wonderful. I would highly recommend it if you are in need of a good book. Quiero a los animales is now available in the Sonrisas Bookstore.

Review by Brooks Lindner

Pinta ratones is the Spanish version of Ellen Stoll Walsh’s book Mouse Paint, first published in 1989 and translated by Gerardo Cabello, an editor with the Fondo de Cultura Económica of Mexico. A simple, fun, and engaging story, Pinta ratones is an excellent tool for teaching Spanish to children.

Pinta ratones tells the tale of three white mice who are able to hide from the cat by blending in with a white piece of paper. One day, as the cat sleeps, the mice find three jars of paint: one red, one yellow, and one blue. They think that it is mouse paint, and they jump into the jars, turning themselves into a red mouse, a yellow mouse, and a blue mouse. They splash the paint around and make puddles, and then they begin to dance in the puddles. As they mix the paint in the puddles with the paint on their feet, they make some amazing discoveries about what happens when you mix red and yellow, yellow and blue, and blue and red. After washing themselves in the cat’s water bowl, they then paint their white piece of paper using the primary colors and the new ones they have discovered. But, they leave a part white—in order to hide from the cat.

The great thing about Pinta ratones is how it uses good-natured playfulness to teach about colors and color combinations. Children love the characters of the mice, and they can imagine themselves jumping into the jars of paint, making puddles, and dancing in them to form new colors. The illustrations are simple and straightforward and do an excellent job of conveying the meaning of the Spanish text. The lesson of color combinations is reinforced as the mice first mix colors in the puddles and then later mix colors to paint the piece of paper. Using shared reading strategies such as building anticipation, checking for meaning, and educated guessing, teachers can illicit responses from students about what color is going to appear when the mice mix them.

Pinta ratones is an obvious choice for a Spanish lesson on colors. It is one of the book suggestions for Lesson 3 in Sonrisas Level I. Children love guessing what colors the mice are going to form, and the repetition of the colors vocabulary is very effective. The nature of the story also lends itself very well as a basis for different art projects using paint and mixing colors. Pinta ratones is one of those books that you can return to throughout the school year, and your students will always enjoy it.

Review by Brooks Lindner

¡A comer! has always been one of our favorite children’s Spanish books. The author, Ana Zamorano, was born in Madrid but resides in Sidney, Australia. ¡A comer! is her picture of Spanish life told through the eyes of Salvador, the youngest in a family of seven. The illustrator, Julie Vivas, uses beautiful watercolor illustrations to present the setting of a traditional, small Spanish town, and throughout the book she does a wonderful job of capturing the emotions of the different family members.

¡A comer! begins with Salvador telling the reader about his family and how every day, at 2:00 in the afternoon, they sit down to eat around the wood table that his father made. The story unfolds through the progression of the week—each day at meal time Salvador’s mom asks him to go and tell a different family member that it is time to eat. The meals she prepares are traditional Spanish dishes: garbanzo soup, empanadas, sardines, gazpacho, pollo asado, and paella. Each day, as Salvador goes to fetch a different family member, he finds them engaged in some activity where they are too busy to come and eat. These activities give the reader a vivid picture of the family’s life in their town: Salvador finds his father busy in his woodworking shop, his sister is practicing dancing Sevillanas with her friends, his brother is playing hide-n-seek in the ruins of a castle, his grandmother is picking tomatoes in her garden, and his grandfather is holding court in the local café. On Saturday his mom is not present at the meal as she has just given birth the night before. The following Sunday the family prepares a paella, and Salvador tells what everyone is doing around the table as they eat. The story ends with his mom exclaiming, “¡Qué maravilloso es comer todos juntos!”

¡A comer! is one of those books that just works. Through the simple, yet engaging story and the beautiful, informative illustrations, the reader is transported into the story—transported into the setting and life of the family. I really like the illustrations in this book. Vivas effectively presents the illustrations of the family’s mealtime from different perspectives: straight-on, from floor-level, from above, from outside the window looking in, close-up, and farther away. She does this very subtly, and it really makes the book come to life. Because the book comes to life so effectively, it engages children’s imaginations; making it a very effective tool for teaching Spanish to preschool and elementary students.

Most obviously ¡A comer! can support a cultural lesson on Spain. It is one of our suggested titles for Lesson 6, Tapas en España, in the Sonrisas Cultural Curriculum. There are many opportunities to gain knowledge and understanding of the Spanish culture in ¡A comer!: the different foods, the different customs and practices surrounding mealtime, the family structure, music and dance, the architecture and setting of the town, and Spanish daily life.

¡A comer! can also support a number of different themes: food, mealtime, family, and days of the week. It is a suggested book for several lessons in the Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum. In Level I it accompanies Lesson 6, ¿Qué día es hoy? and Lesson 12, Mi familia. In Level II it accompanies Lesson 11, Describe la familia. There are various vocabulary words that are repeated throughout the book that could be used as a springboard for instruction including: nos sentamos, encuentro a, ve, and dile. Whether you use it for one of these specific topics or simply as a beautiful and fun book to read to your students, I highly recommend ¡A comer! as a part of your children’s Spanish library.

Review by Brooks Lindner, Spanish teacher and co-author of the Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum

Arriba y abajo comes to us from Everest Editorial based in León, España. The Spanish in this book is rich and authentic with phrases such as, “Aquí arriba toco la corteza de los árboles y sus ramas que se inclinan con el viento.” The most remarkable thing though about Arriba y abajo are the colorful, captivating illustrations. In the book a father and son compare and contrast the different worlds of their senses “up here” and “down here.” The illustrations are done in pastels with broad brushstrokes, and they are all close-ups of the different worlds of “up here” and “down here.” Children love these illustrations and are instantly drawn into the story by them. The illustrations also do a wonderful job of conveying the meaning of the Spanish text. It is books like this that we look for to include in our Sonrisas Spanish School curriculum. The combination of a fun story, engaging illustrations, and authentic text makes a book like Arriba y abajo a very effective tool for teaching Spanish to children.

We use this book to teach the opposites arriba y abajo in Lesson 19 of Sonrisas Level I, and it is part of our Level I Storybook Set. The repeated phrases of “aquí arriba” and “aquí abajo” make it an easy choice for this theme. But Arriba y abajo lends itself to many other themes. It is an excellent book for teaching the five senses which are covered as the father and son ask each other:

Veo, veo. ¿Qué ves?

Huelo, huelo. ¿Qué hueles?

Gusto, gusto. ¿Qué gustas?

Oigo, oigo. ¿Qué oyes?

Toco, toco. ¿Qué tocas?

As mentioned, the book is also full of colors, and it would do well accompanying a lesson on colors with text that mentions “un cielo azul, hierba verde, hormigas negras, y las flores rojas.” You could also introduce the theme of flavors with phrases such as, “la piel ácida de las manzanas” and “las fresas dulces.”

I love this book and would recommend it to any Spanish teacher as a valuable part of her Spanish library. Arriba y abajo ends with the universal message of filial love as the father and son say, “Si me agacho en el suelo veré tu mundo,” and “Si me levantas en brazos veré el tuyo.” Arriba y abajo is also available for sale individually in the Sonrisas Bookstore.

Review by Brooks Lindner

Margarita y Margaret by Lynn Reiser has long been my go-to book for the beginning of the school year. It tells the story of two young girls whose mothers take them to the park even though they do not want to go because they each are worried that there will be no one to play with. In the park they meet and quickly realize that one of them speaks only English and the other only Spanish. After timidly introducing themselves, they begin to play together, learn some of each other’s language, and then become good friends.

The simple watercolor illustrations in the book do a great job of conveying the meaning of the Spanish text and drawing children into the experience the girls have in the story. Although the text in the book switches between English and Spanish, I think the value of the book lies in its theme of being able to meet new people and make new friends when you speak another language. I also think that the language switching actually provides a nice transition for new Spanish students and eases them into the experience of having a class all in Spanish and reading books all in Spanish. After reading the story I always ask my students, “What happened when Margaret began speaking Spanish with Margarita?” I want them to make the connection that when you speak another language you can make new friends and have new experiences, and that this is a good thing. This effectively gets the students excited about Spanish class.

Margarita y Margaret can support several different lesson themes. We use it in Lesson 1 of Sonrisas Level I to teach “Hola”, “Adiós”, and “Me llamo”. You can also use this book for a lesson on colors as the girls describe the colors of their dolls, shoes, dresses, ribbons, smiles, and eyes. The book is also effective for introducing the construction “Me gusta…”  I always like to have my students act out the part of the book where the girls meet each other for the first time and have to say hello to each other and then introduce themselves.

A great book for the beginning of the school year or for reviewing throughout the year, Margarita y Margaret is fun and engaging for your students and a useful resource for you. It is available in the Sonrisas Bookstore.

Authors: Stella Blackstone and Maria Carluccio

Review by Blue Lindner

Thank heavens Barefoot Publishing decided to keep this indispensable book in print. Very few children’s books run through every month of the year with such engaging, jam-packed illustrations.

I use this book with all of my elementary Spanish students (currently ranging 6-13), and it can certainly be used with preschool Spanish students as well. It is an excellent resource to accompany the calendar activities in the Sonrisas Spanish School Level I and Level II curricula. It is specifically recommended for Sonrisas Level II, Lesson 26.

Starting with January, each page brings a playful illustration of people and animals of all sizes and colors enjoying what the season has to offer. The text is simple: a repeating phrase that changes only the action verb and the name of the month, and then a sentence to describe the illustrated scene. I don’t read the book all at once. I bring it out for my students on the first class of each month, turning only to the page that illustrates the coming month.

A little game is also built into the text layout of the book. The text on each page ends with the phrase ¿Qué ves?, and at the bottom of the page are several nouns that can be found in the picture. I ask my students to try and find each noun: ¿Ves la casita de pájaros? If it’s an unfamiliar word I repeat it, and then mime it or act it out for them.

Another very useful language chunk that repeats on each page is ¡Ven conmigo! This phrase can be applied in many different settings and contexts, so it warrants a little mini lesson, and then a simple “come with me” hand gesture each time the phrase is spoken.

Living in Colorado, we have seasons that more or less correspond to the illustrations. However, while in the book March is brown and April is rainy spring, in Colorado we always have snow in March and April, so it provides an opportunity to talk about how seasons are different in different parts of the world. When I taught in Texas my students were mesmerized by even the idea of snowballs and snowmen. Even though they couldn’t relate to winter on a personal level, we always took time to learn winter phrases and vocabulary. This is also a fun book to utilize for Lesson 8 of the Sonrisas Cultural Curriculum, Las Pampas en Argentina. In Argentina, the seasons are exactly opposite to what the United States is experiencing, so it can be fun for students in February to look at the picture of August and imagine the people of Argentina swimming at the beach.

This book is also fabulous for parents to read to their bilingual children. It’s fun for all ages, and young children will pour over the illustrations. It is available in the Sonrisas Bookstore. If you are a bilingual parent, a preschool or elementary Spanish teacher, or both, Un recorrido por las estaciones is a great investment for your Spanish library.

De la cabeza a los pies by Eric Carle

Review by Blue Lindner

There are many reasons why Eric Carle is one of the most popular children’s literature authors in the world. His art is expressive, bright, and captivating. His stories are simple yet engaging. His themes are universal—speaking to children of any culture in any language. For a second language learner, the text is concise and repetitive—two fabulous qualities for a language teaching tool.

Throughout the years I have used many of Eric Carl’s books to teach Spanish to young children. De la cabeza a los pies might be my favorite book of his to use in a language lesson. It provides a really fun, interactive, kinesthetic context for teaching body parts, as well as three repetitive, fun, useful phrases: “¿Puedes hacerlo tu también?”, “Soy un…”, and “¡Claro que sí!”

The book provides a series of short, repetitive dialogues between children and animals. The animal states his name, says something he can do with his body, and then asks the child “¿Puedes hacerlo tu también?” The child replies: “¡Claro que sí!”

After reading through the book once, I read it a second time, but pretend like I am the animal, and then I do whatever the animal does. Then I point to a student and ask him or her the question “¿Puedes hacerlo tu también?” The student answers “¡Claro que sí!” or “no”, and if they answer “¡Claro que sí!” then they stand up and do the action. We go through all the animals in this way. Then if they are still engaged and wanting more, I’ll pretend to be other animals that aren’t in the book. I’ll follow the same language pattern as the book so that my students can follow me. For example: “Soy una rana y salto con los pies. ¿Puedes hacerlo tu también?”

This book may seem more conducive to early grades and preschool, but I have had a lot of success with this lesson in my 5th, 6th and 7th grade classes. They love the physical nature of this lesson and the opportunity to act silly in the context of the lesson. Because my upper elementary Spanish students can read Spanish fairly well, I made up a game for them to play. I wrote each phrase from the story on an index card. One student begins by reading the phrase aloud then performing the action. When the student gets to the part: “¿Puedes hacerlo tu también?” he points to one of his classmates and then that student performs the action, and then draws the next index card.

I recommend this book for Spanish teachers and bilingual parents of children from 1-14. We use this in Lesson 10 of Sonrisas Level II to teach the phrase Yo soy. Whether you use De la cabeza a los pies in the classroom or at home, it is a great addition to your children’s Spanish library.

Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum can be used to teach Spanish to children at the preschool and elementary level, as well as home school Spanish. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction. Sonrisas is a proud member of both Nnell and ACTFL.

La vaca que decía oink

By Bernard Most

Review by Blue Lindner

This is my all time favorite book for conveying the incredible advantages of knowing more than one language. I have never read this to a child that didn’t love it. It can be easily understood, even by a novice Spanish speaker, through the context of the expressive illustrations, and is effective for both preschool and elementary Spanish lessons.

Just as the title conveys, the book is about a cow that can oink, but cannot moo. All the farm animals make fun of her, but one day she hears a friendly moo. It turns out to be a pig that says moo (but cannot oink). The cow teaches the pig how to oink and the pig teaches the cow how to moo, and they become the only animals on the farm that know two languages.

Without moralizing about the benefits of learning a second language, your students will get it on a more fundamental level—it’s cool to master a second language. Like knowing how to do a round-off back flip or fly an airplane, it’s an incredible skill that takes dedication and time to master. Just as the friendship between the cow and the pig unfolds because of their “language skills,” learning a second language opens doors in our lives that we don’t even know exist.

This book has many applications for the bilingual parent and the preschool and elementary Spanish teacher. For bilingual parents it can reinforce and affirm the extra energy that a family puts into growing up with two languages. For the Spanish teacher, beyond the theme of promoting bilingualism, the text has lots of repetition of useful language like decía and decían. Also, phrases describing emotions can be taught or reviewed through the phrases se sentía muy triste, and estaban muy contentas. Further, it is an excellent book for making comparisons between Spanish and English onomatopoeia. Standard 4.1 of The National Standards for Foreign Language Learning states: “Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own.” Reading La vaca que decía oink supports this standard. Children enjoy learning the Spanish interpretation of sounds that farm animals make and comparing them to the English interpretations of the same sounds. This exercise can reveal and bring attention to very subtle similarities and differences between English and Spanish. If you are using the Sonrisas Spanish School curriculum, this book can be read as a part of lesson 6 in Sonrisas Level II or lesson 8 of Sonrisas Cultural Curriculum.

As a Spanish teacher I have used this book with children ages 2-12, although I can also see older students and adult learners appreciating the theme and the potential language learning. Every bilingual parent and teacher of Spanish should consider this book a vital part of their Spanish library. La vaca que decía oink can be purchased in the Sonrisas Bookstore.

Review by: Blue Lindner

Title: ¡Nos vamos a Mexico!

Authors: Laurie Krebs and Christopher Corr

I searched for a long time before I stumbled across this gem. This book can be shared with children of all ages and does not stereotype or simplify the rich, diverse culture and geography of Mexico. Parents and teachers that have the Sonrisas Spanish School Cultural Curriculum can use this book to take an imaginary journey to Mexico and can end up en la playa, en las montañas, en las piramides, en un mercado, or en el hogar de las mariposas monarcas. If you are teaching Cinco de Mayo or El Dieciséis, in their imaginary journey your students can attend un festival de la plaza con una banda mariachi, fuegos artificiales, y banderas de México. All of these traditional Mexican experiences are supported with beautiful, expressive illustrations that you can pore over with your students.

The homeschool cooperative group I teach was studying insects in science and symmetry in math, so in Spanish class we took an imaginary trip to Mexico to see the monarch migration, and we made symmetrical butterfly paintings after studying the pattern on monarch butterfly wings. We connected it to geography by mapping the butterflies’ migratory journey.

This book also provides the opportunity for a very simple and effective Spanish language lesson for preschool and elementary Spanish students, “¡Nos vamos, nos vamos, nos vamos a México!” repeats on each page. This can be chanted, stomped, clapped, or you can put a little tune to it. After you read the book to your students, you can act it out together. When you chant or sing the phrase you can move students physically around the room, clapping and stomping or skipping to the beat. Repeat it a couple times. When you sit down, open the book to the picture of the beach and say “¡Nos vamos a la playa!” Then mime the actions you would do as you say “Hacemos castillos de arena y nadamos.” Then stand up again and skip around the room as you repeat, “¡Nos vamos, nos vamos, nos vamos a Mexico!” Then sit down again and say “¡Nos vamos a las montanas!” Again, act out a few activities one might do in the mountains (Montamos un caballo, etc…). You don’t have to act out every page, and you can change your actions based on what your students are studying either in Spanish or elsewhere, but hopefully you get the idea of how to make this fun and kinetic for young learners. After this lesson, your students will know the phrase “Nos vamos” which you can use in many contexts.

The book ends with some interesting factual information about the geography, culture and history of Mexico. This is helpful for a teacher to read before a study of Mexico with her students.

As a homeschool cooperative teacher that values Spanish language learning as well as global cultural awareness, this book is as good as it gets. I recommend this book for any bilingual parent, homeschool parent, or Spanish teacher. You can purchase it in the Sonrisas Bookstore.

Sonrisas Spanish School creates, publishes, and sells preschool and elementary Spanish curriculum and Spanish music for children. The Sonrisas Spanish School Curriculum can be used to teach Spanish to children at the preschool and elementary level, as well as home school Spanish. The Sonrisas Curriculum consists of fun, effective, standards-based lessons for the most effective language-learning experience for kids—one based on human-to-human interaction. Sonrisas is a proud member of both Nnell and ACTFL.