Skip to main content

Children's Books to Learn About Puerto Rico and its People

February 25, 2020

If you are finding your knowledge about Puerto Rico lacking, and to want to introduce your children at home or in the classroom to the island and its people, the library is a great place to start.

If you will indulge me, let me begin this blog post about Puerto Rico with an anecdote about Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Apparently, the Nobel Prize winner and master expositor of magical realism—where the fantastical meets the everyday—was once asked why he had never written about Puerto Rico. "If I told the truth about Puerto Rico," he said, "everyone would say I was making it up."

As Garcia Marquez pithily captured, to be Puerto Rican, to be from that small island (100 miles long and 35 miles wide) in the Caribbean, is a surreal, paradoxical experience.

A few examples:

We are U.S. citizens (as have been all persons born on the island since 1917), yet too many Americans are not aware of that fact. The island is a territory, a colony of the United States, yet it is referred to as a commonwealth, or a "free associated state." Puerto Ricans living on the island cannot vote for the U.S. President, yet fellow Boricuas living in the United States are freely able to do so. We also serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, but those living on the island have no representation in Congress, save for a "Resident Commissioner" who speaks but cannot vote, even in matters pertaining directly to their lives.

The contradictions are dizzying, yet we live and even thrive within those contradictions. We are more than the natural disasters that befall us, more than our erasure from the larger story of the United States. We are here—even if you don't know it.

So if you are finding your own knowledge about Puerto Rico lacking, and want to introduce your children at home or in the classroom to lessons about Puerto Rico and its people, the library is a great place to start. Below are some good books to get you started.
 
 
I was very excited when I first learned of Across the Bay, and could not wait to see it, as well as give a copy to my nephews and nieces. It did not dissapoint. This gorgeous book is filled with color, music, love, and family in all its forms. 
 
Carlitos lives with his mom, his Abuela, and a cat named Coco. They're a loving family, but Carlitos can't help but notice that his family is not like the other families in the neighborhood. Armed with a photograph and the faint knowledge that his father lives across the bay in San Juan, Carlitos sets off on an intrepid solo journey. How will find his father in the midst of the bustling capital? Will Carlitos get into trouble with his mom and Abuela? Recently awarded a Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration, this special book is a meditation on the meaning of family and a love letter to the places and people of Puerto Rico.
 
 
Parrots over Puerto Rico is a standout nonfiction picture book title. Winner of the 2014 Americas Award, this book presents the history of Puerto Rico with a specific focus on its native parrot population. Once plentiful on the island, its population was less than 15 wild parrots by the 1970s. Authors Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore explain just how that came to be, and the efforts of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program to "conserve, protect and manage" both wild and captive parrot populations. These efforts increased the Puerto Rican parrot population to over 500 by 2016, but sadly Hurricane Maria took a great toll on the number of wild parrots, which scientists are working to address.
 
While very infomative, the illustrations are what really make this book stand out. They are done in a collage style, with paper and fabric. The feathers of the Puerto Rican parrot really jump out at the reader, with their iridescent green and blue colors. If you are a teacher or parent interested in activities related to this book, check out this guide from Reading is Fundamental's Literacy Central, with games, downloadable PDFs, and more.
 
 
Rafi and Rosi is the first installement of a lovely early reader book series with Puerto Rican roots. Rafi and Rosi are brother and sister, and they live in Puerto Rico. But they are also coquíes, or Puerto Rican tree frogs! Native to the island, the coquí is named for its distinctive call and is recognized as a national symbol.
 
In this series, big brother Rafi and little sister Rosi may sometimes get into tiffs with one another, but they always support one another in the end. They get into all sorts of adventures playing and exploring, while learning about Puerto Rican culture. The text contains Spanish words, and a glossary for teachers, parents, and readers. The series is also published in Spanish, for those beginning the work of learning to read in Spanish!
 

Further Resources

For good nonfiction "fact books" about Puerto Rico, see the titles under "You Might Also Like" below. Both of these were published within the last two years, and have been carefully vetted for accuracy and cultural competency (by me!).
 
One of the foremost online resources for Puerto Rican history, culture, and research is the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. There are Teaching Guides, Open Courseware, and more. This is a great site to find primary sources.
 
If you are looking for more picture books about Puerto Rico and some notable Puerto Ricans, check out the scroller below. There are both fiction and nonfiction books represented, including biographies, folk tales, Christmas stories, and more. Most of these books are also written by Puerto Rican authors.
 
 

//--> newWidth) { wasResized = true; return jQuery(iframe).width(newWidth); } if (wasResized && originalWidth + 2*padding < viewPortWidth){ wasResized = false; return jQuery(iframe).width(originalWidth); } }; //--> //-->

Klem-Mari headshot thumbnail

Klem-Marí Cajigas

In a former life, Klem-Marí was a Religious Studies scholar. She much prefers being the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life! She wants you to read and share books with the children in your life, and for those children to see you to read as well. Originally from Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí also enjoys her cat, baking, yoga, and the works of Octavia Butler.