How to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in Your Library or Classroom

Books for Hispanic Heritage MonthSchool has just started and, if you’re like me, your mind is racing with possibility. You’ve met your students. You’ve started building a classroom culture. Your activities are providing a glimpse into what this school year will be like in your classroom. One not-to-miss celebration is Hispanic Heritage Month, and it can set the stage for a meaningful and inclusive school year.

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed every year from September 15 through October 15. From Wikipedia, “September 15 was chosen as the starting point for the celebration because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. All declared independence in 1821. In addition, Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence days on September 16, September 18 and September 21, respectively.” Hispanic Heritage Month was established through legislation in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was later expanded when the 30-day period was implemented in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan.

In 2018, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s use the momentum from this celebration to bring greater awareness of Hispanic heritage, culture, innovations, achievements, leaders, thinkers, artists and game changers. And as we do, let’s make sure our students see themselves and their classmates reflected throughout.

Books and Bookmakers

For some, books are windows into other lives and experiences. For others, they are mirrors. And for others still, they are maps for finding yourself and your way through life. A good book can be all of these things for the reader, and so it’s important that we as educators and librarians make sure that our readers have access to lots of exceptional literature at all reading levels. Identify or expand the presence of Hispanic and Latinx books in your classroom and school library by looking at award lists, book lists and blogs.

  • The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996 and named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. Past winners can be viewed on the ALSC website, and TeachingBooks.net has curated a list of past award winners and honor books along with supporting multimedia resources for each book. TeachingBooks.net also created this video in 2016 for the Pura Belpré Book Award 20th Anniversary celebration, which includes the beautiful covers of all award-winning books as well as audio tracks of more than a dozen recipients sharing brief insights into their creative process. 
  • Linda of the Hispanic Mama blog put together a list of the Top 40 Children’s Picture Books to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage. The list includes lots of great books both new and old that her family loves. Lists like these are great to take to the library when requesting book collections and making book displays.
  • But to stay on top of all of the latest and greatest books by Hispanic and Latinx authors and illustrators about Hispanic and Latinx experiences, I find there’s no better resource than the Latinxs in Kid Lit blog. The site features book reviews, interviews, award features and previews of upcoming books, and I always walk away with a few more books on my TBR (to-be-read) pile.
  • Listening to podcasts is another great way to enjoy these books, get to know new ones, and hear directly from the authors and illustrators who made them. Explore this list of Podcast Interviews with Hispanic and Latinx Bookmakers for more.

Lessons and Activities

Building awareness in the classroom can look different from class to class, and it’s important to be mindful of culturally responsive instructional strategies while engaging our learners in discussions about cultures outside of our own. That said, Scholastic has a list of 24 Great Ideas for Hispanic Heritage Month that is a great place to start for teachers of students in grades K–8. Some activities of note include playing “Color, Colorcito,” a variation on the game of tag; growing a “heritage garden”; and inviting ELL students and families to share photos of their hometowns, important cultural items and basic phrases in their native language.

For more in-depth teaching of the people, history and culture represented throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, these lessons, activities, videos and more curated by the National Education Association for National Hispanic Heritage Month are outstanding. Organized by resources for grades K–5, grades 6–8 and grades 9–12, this robust list of resources includes lessons such as “Tolerance: Comparing Cultural Holidays,” in which students in grades K–4 compare Halloween and El Día de los Muertos by looking at traditions, music and visual art, and “A History of Mexico” through 30+ videos and photos.

Additionally, Pinterest is a go-to source for educational resources for Hispanic Heritage Month. However, and holding true for all resources, educators should carefully consider how each activity is used and how it upholds and respects the culture and traditions of those it reflects. We must all work hard to ensure that our lessons and activities do not demonstrate ignorance or discrimination toward those we intend to honor. Communicate plans openly with colleagues both in person and online and be willing to accept your own biases and respond actively if necessary.

Community Events

Search event listings for concerts, parades and festivals happening in your area. These are great ways to get exposed to new cultures, foods, music and more. Many events are family-friendly and free. National Geographic published this list of 20 Ways to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month a few years ago, but finding out about upcoming events is often as easy as checking your city’s events page or conducting a quick Google search.  

Many also seek the help of volunteers in order to make an event a success. Check the event website or Facebook group to see if you can lend a hand.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES TO SHARE

While researching for this article I found a number of truly outstanding resources with ideas and activities to try throughout the month and year as well as to share with parents and families. Many focus on music, the arts and local business in order to make personal connections all month long.

Browse and enjoy:

As is often the case, there are far too many resources to do everything, so pick at least one new thing to try this year with your students (something that really stands out or excites you) and then expand each year.

Connect With Us Online

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in your class, library or school? Do you have favorite projects or activities? Or perhaps new things you’d like to try? Be sure to let us know in the comments below or by connecting with us on Twitter at @MatthewWinner and @demco. We’d love to spread the word about how you’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with your students, staff and school community!

Author

Matthew Winner

Matthew Winner

Library Media Specialist and Host of The Children’s Book Podcast
Matthew Winner is an elementary school librarian in Howard County, Maryland. He is the host of The Children's Book Podcast (formerly All The Wonders), a weekly podcast featuring insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf. He is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean, about a girl, her arctic fox companion and her magic bag. In 2013, Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Visit Matthew online at www.matthewcwinner.com/blog or on Twitter at @MatthewWinner.