ERIC Identifier: ED438150
Publication Date: 1999-12-00 
Author: Murray, Yvonne I. - Velazquez, Jose 
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV. 

Promoting Reading among Mexican American Children. ERIC Digest. 

Literature addresses the universal need for stories. Stories are most meaningful and best able to promote literacy when they speak to a student's world. Good books can help children develop pride in their ethnic identity, provide positive role models, develop knowledge about cultural history, and build self-esteem. However, Mexican American students in the United States often do not experience literature in this way. This Digest identifies key challenges, recommends classroom strategies, provides literature selection guidelines, and suggests reading lists for various grade levels. 


Literary works written for or by Mexican Americans were not represented in mainstream children's publications in the United States until the 1940s. Beginning in the 1940s, Mexican American literary characters were developed largely by European American writers who were removed from the cultural experience of the Mexican American minority. Consequently, portrayals of Mexican Americans reflected a rural existence and stereotypical images (Harris, 1993). 

Between 1940 and 1973 there were only four or five books a year published on Mexican American themes by the major publishers of children's literature. Analyses from the late 1980s and early 1990s showed even fewer-only one to three books a year (Schon, 1988; Cortes, 1992). Of the approximately 5,000 children's books published annually by major publishers in the United States, books about or by Mexican Americans made up one tenth of 1%. These statistics reveal the persistent dearth of children's literature by Mexican American authors through the early 1990s. The literary genres were limited, too. Most were folklore, legends, and protest pieces (Barrera, Liguori, & Salas, 1993; Harris, 1993; Tatum, 1990; Schon, 1988). 

In the early 1990s awareness of these issues resulted in the publication of growing numbers of books with Mexican American themes and authors. Small publishing houses such as Arte Publico, Pinata Books, and Bilingual Review Press have increased dissemination of minority literature and helped launch writers such as Tomas Rivera, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, and Sandra Cisneros to national recognition (Barrera, Liguori, & Salas, 1993). 


Using effective classroom strategies and selecting the best literature for particular groups of students are the two pivots for promoting reading among Mexican American children. The following strategies can help Mexican-origin and other teachers improve both their methods for promoting reading in the classroom and their students' cultural understanding (Murray, 1998a; Barrera, Liguori, & Salas, 1993; Escamilla, 1992; Galda, 1991; Diaz, Moll, & Mehan, 1986): 

* Explore Mexican American culture, history, and contemporary society through texts such as Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas 1836-1986 (Montejano, 1987), The Hispanic Americans (Meltzer, 1982), or The Mexicans in America (Pinchot, 1989). 

* Consult book reviews, such as those in Our Family, Our Friends, Our World: An Annotated Guide to Significant Multicultural Books for Children and Teenagers (Miller-Lachmann, 1992). 

* Take an ethnic literature course. From the 1960s to the present, a growing body of literature written by or for Mexican Americans has emerged. 

* Include multicultural readers in the secondary level curriculum, such as Mexican American Literature (Tatum, 1990) or Arrivals: Cross-cultural Experience in Literature (Huizenga, 1995). 

* Incorporate trade books whenever possible, using selection criteria (see Reviewing Literature and Selecting The Best, below). 

* When possible, invite local Mexican American authors to talk with or read to classes. Correspond with one or more authors located through Web sites. 

* Participate in school district committees that select curriculum materials. Make a case for including various U.S. minority group histories and literatures to be studied as serious literary works. 

* Request in-service seminars by university and school district experts on the use of Mexican American literature and interdisciplinary instruction. 

* Organize a committee of volunteer parents to suggest or review selections of readings for the class. 

* Invite minority parents or grandparents to present oral traditions by sharing family histories or experiences. Written collections of their stories could be included in the school library. 


The following checklist provides a few important guidelines for selecting appropriate classroom literature (Murray, 1998b; Escamilla, 1992; Diaz, Moll, & Mehan, 1986): 

* Does the selection present specific and accurate information about the culture? 

* Do the illustrations and/or text reflect the diversity of the people or do they reflect stereotypes? 

* Are Mexican-origin characters depicted in active (not passive or submissive) roles? 

* Does the story line and/or character development lend itself to a universal interpretation? 

* Does the narrative voice in the selection come from a perspective within the culture? 

* If the cultural elements were removed, would there be a developed plot structure?

* Is the culture presented in a positive way? Do the characters come to a constructive resolution of conflicts? Are the characters multidimensional? 

* Can mainstream works (i.e., literary canon) parallel the themes, issues, or characters of the selection? Identify them, then compare and discuss. 

* Are the Spanish words or phrases in the text understandable within the context of the sentences? Is there a glossary? 


The following authors and works have been reviewed (Murray, 1998a) and represent some of the authentic within-the-culture perspectives available today. 

Abuela by Arthur Dorros (Elisa Kleven, illustrator) 

A Birthday Basket for Tia by Pat Mora (Cecily Lang, illustrator) 

Arroz con Leche by Lulu Delacre (author and illustrator) 

Diego by Jonah Winter (Jeanette Winter, illustrator) 

Family Pictures: Cuadros de familia by Carmen Lomas Garza 

Hairs: Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros (Terry Ybanez, illustrator) 

I Speak English for My Mom by Muriel Stanek (Judith Friedman, illustrator) 

Juan Tuza and the Magic Pouch by Francisco X. Mora (author and illustrator) 

Listen to the Desert: Oye al desierto by Pat Mora (Francisco X. Mora, illustrator) 

Mr. Sugar Came to Town: La Vista del Sr. Azucar by Harriet Rohmer 

Pablo's Tree by Pat Mora (Cecily Lang, illustrator) 

Patchwork Colcha: A Children's Collection by Carmen Tafolla 

Pupurupu: Cuentos de Ninos by Larry Daste (Sabine Ulibarri, illustrator) 

The Wedding of Don Octavio by Patricia Zelver 

The Woman Who Knew the Language of the Animals by Denise Chavez 

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora (Raul Colon, illustrator) 

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto (Ed Martinez, illustrator) 


The Adventures of Connie and Diego by Maria Garcia (Malaquias Montoya, illustrator) 

Calor by Amado Pena (illustrator) & Juanita Alba 

Hector Lives in the United States Now: The Story of a Mexican-American Child by Joan Hewett 

How We Came to the Fifth World: A Creation Story from Ancient Mexico (Tales of the Americas) adapted by Harriet Rohmer, Mary Anchondo (Graciela Carrillo DeLopez, illustrator) 

Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead by Kathleen Krull (Enrique O. Sanchez, illustrator) 

Rosita's Christmas Wish by Mary Ann Smothers Bruni 

Saturday Market by Patricia Grossman (Enrique O. Sanchez, illustrator) 

Sonnets to Human Beings and Other Selected Works by Carmen Tafolla 

The Cat's Meow by Gary Soto (Joe Cepeda, illustrator) 

The Farolitos of Christmas by Rudolfo Anaya (Edward Gonzales, illustrator) 

The Maldonado Miracle by Theodore Taylor 

The Pinata Maker: El Pinatero by George Ancona 

The Woman Who Outshone the Sun: The Legend of Lucia Zenteno by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, Rosalma Zubizarreta (Fernando Olivera, illustrator) 

GRADES 7-9: 

Baseball in April by Gary Soto 

Cool Salsa by Lori Carlson

El Mago by Ron Arias 

Everybody Knows Tobie by Daniel Garza 

Friends from the Other Side by Gloria Anzaldua

I Can Hear the Cowbells Ring by Lionel Garcia 

Hispanic, Female and Young: An Anthology edited by Phyllis Tashlik 

Latino Voices by Frances Aparicio 

Mexican American Literature (anthology) edited by Charles Tatum 

Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto 

Quinceanera: A Latina's Journey to Womanhood by Mary Lankford 

Taking Sides by Gary Soto 

The Anaya Reader by Rudolfo Anaya 

The Challenge by Rudolfo Anaya 

GRADES 10-12: 

Barrio Boy by Ernesto Galarza 

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya 

Chicano by Richard Vasquez

Fair Gentlemen of Belken County by Rolando Hinojosa-Smith 

Get Your Tortillas Together by Carmen Tafolla 

Heart of Aztlan by Rudolfo A. Anaya 

Inheritance of Strangers by Nash Candelaria 

Latino Rainbow by Carlos Cumpian 

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel 

Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros: My Grandma Smoked Cigars by Sabine Ulibarri

New Chicana: Chicano Writing edited by Charles Tatum 

Oddsplayer by Joe Rodriguez 

Pieces of the Heart by Gary Soto 

Pocho by Jose Antonio Villarreal 

Rituals of Survival: A Woman's Portfolio by Nicholasa Mohr 

Schoolland: A Novel by Max Martinez 

The Day the Cisco Kid Shot John Wayne by Nash Candelaria 

The Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera 

The Heart of Aztlan by Rudolfo Anaya 

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The Iguana Killer by Alberto Rios 

The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Arias 

Tortuga by Rudolfo Anaya 


Barrera, R., Liguori, O., & Salas, L. (1993). Ideas a Literature Can Grow On. In V. J. Harris (Ed.), Teaching multicultural literature grades K thru 8 (pp. 203-241). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc. 

Cortes, O. G. de. (1992). United States: Hispanic Americans. In L. Miller-Lachmann, Our family, our friends, our world: An annotated guide to significant multicultural books for children and teenagers (pp. 112-154). New Providence, NJ: R. R. Bowker. 

Diaz, S., Moll, L., & Mehan, H. (1986). Sociocultural resources in instruction: A context-specific approach. In C. E. Cortes & California Office of Bilingual Education (Ed.), Beyond language: Social and cultural factors in schooling language minority students (pp. 299-343). Los Angeles: California State University, Evaluation, Dissemination, and Assessment Center. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 304 241) 

Escamilla, K. (1992). Integrating Mexican American history and culture into the social studies classroom (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 348 200) 

Galda, L. (1991). Literature for literacy: What research says about the benefits of using trade books in the classroom. In J. Flood, International Reading Association, & National Council of Teachers of English (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (pp. 529-534). New York: Macmillan. 

Harris, V. (Ed.) (1993). Teaching multicultural literature grades K thru 8. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc. 

Huizenga, J. (1995). Arrivals: Cross-cultural experiences in literature. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. 

Meltzer, M. (1982). The Hispanic Americans. New York: Crowell. 

Miller-Lachmann, L. (Ed.). (1992). Our family, our friends, our world: An annotated guide to significant multicultural books for children and teenagers. New Providence, NJ: R. R. Bowker. 

Montejano, D. (1987). Anglos and Mexicans in the making of Texas 1836-1986. Austin: University of Texas Press. 

Murray, Y. (1998a). How Mexican American children used Spanish to construct meaning for English text comprehension. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Texas Association of Bilingual Teachers, San Antonio, TX. 

Murray, Y. (1998b). Mexican American literature as instructional material. From roundtable forum conducted at the annual meeting of the National Reading Association, Austin, TX. 

Pinchot, J. (1989). The Mexicans in America. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications. 

Schon, I. (1988). A Hispanic heritage, series III: A guide to juvenile books about Hispanic people and cultures. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Publishers. 

Tatum, C. (Ed.). (1990). Mexican American literature. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 

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