Bilingual children’s books about spooky characters from Latin America

The spookiness of the Halloween season always brings memories of the urban legends of Ecuador like “La dama tapada“, “Mariangula” and many more that are typically read in middle school or told by our abuelas. I don’t feel that my kids are ready to hear about those urban legends yet, however, there are several bilingual children books about spooky characters from Latin America that are part of the Hispanic folktale.

Zulema and the Witch Owl/ Zulema y la bruja lechuza 


School Library Journal Review: “Grade 1-4–Nine-year-old Zulema is about to lose her reputation for being the meanest girl in the whole wide world. From throwing rocks at people who did not buy her Girl Scout cookies to making dogs and kittens swing around until they spin like airplane propellers, she is a terror. Then a visit from her grandmother changes her behavior. Sabina advises her that if she does not mend her ways, the Witch Owl will take her away. Garza effectively portrays this threat in his artwork by bringing the characters closer and closer to readers’ faces. His whimsical illustrations create a feeling of being inside the scenes. As in his other books, his passion for heroes, wrestling, and creepy creatures is in evidence. The transformation of Sabina into the Big Owl helps create suspense. The end of the story remains open: an owl feather is falling from Grandmother’s hair. Could she be the Witch Owl? This title offers suspense, fun, and surprise.”

La Llorona/ The Crying Woman

la llorona

Amazon review: “La Llorona, the Crying Woman, is the legendary creature who haunts rivers, lakes, and lonely roads. Said to seek out children who disobey their parents, she has become a “boogeyman,” terrorizing the imaginations of New Mexican children and inspiring them to behave. But there are other lessons her tragic history can demonstrate for children. In Rudolfo Anaya’s version Maya, a young woman in ancient Mexico, loses her children to Father Time’s cunning. This tragic and informative story serves as an accessible message of mortality for children. La Llorona, deftly translated by Enrique Lamadrid, is familiar and newly informative, while Amy Córdova’s rich illustrations illuminate the story. The legend as retold by Anaya, a man as integral to southwest tradition as La Llorona herself, is storytelling anchored in a very human experience. His book helps parents explain to children the reality of death and the loss of loved ones.”

Prietita and the Ghost Woman/Prietita y la Llorona


School Library Journal Review:  “Grade 3-6. In this bilingual (English/Spanish) tale, Prietita seeks a remedy for her mother’s illness. Doña Lola, the curandera or healer, sends her in search of the rue plant, but Prietita gets lost in the woods. She appeals to the various animals (deer, salamander, dove) that she meets for help, but in vain. Then La Llorona appears and guides the girl to the plant and out of the woods. La Llorona, the “Crying Woman,” is traditionally a bogey: frightening, unredeemable, she lures children away from their families and disappears with them. Anzaldua’s story, though, casts her as a helpful, benign figure. A source note explains the reason for this change. Whether readers can accept this version or not, this tale provides a fascinating context in which to introduce and discuss folktales…”

La mujer que brillaba aún más que el sol / The Woman Who Outshone the Sun


Publishers Weekly Review: “More beautiful than the sun, loved by the whole of nature, purveyor of quiet goodwill, Lucia Zenteno is a part of the story-telling tradition of Mexico’s Zapotec Indians. In this English-Spanish retelling, Lucia’s fate at the hands of unkind strangers is captured in artwork glowing with color and vitality. When the dazzling girl arrives in a village, it is no surprise that the river falls in love with her, rising “from its bed . . . to flow through her shining black hair.” The villagers are less welcoming, however, and only on discovering the loss of their glorious river do they repent of their cruelty toward the mysterious Lucia. While the plot is somewhat limited and moralistic (the Golden Rule is heavily applied) and the writing occasionally plodding, much of the imagery is refreshing–“she combed out the fishes, she combed out the otters.” Surreal illustrations, calling to mind a stylistic mixture of William Joyce and Karen Barbour, highlight the richness of the folktale convention and perfectly capture a sense of place. Ages 7-up.”

Juan y el Cupacabras/Juan and the Chupacabras


School Library Journal Review: “Grade 2-4–Tall tales or true adventures? Cousins Luz and Juan can’t tell if the wild stories their grandfather tells them of his own life-and-death battles with the infamous Chupacabras are fact or fiction. So they arm themselves with a trusty slingshot and a bag of marbles (that have been soaked in holy water for good measure) and venture out into the night-shadowed cornfields in search of the legendary bloodsucking stealer of children. When the demon makes a frightening appearance, Luz shoots her slingshot directly at its forehead. Before the children can celebrate, the monster yells out their names in a strangely familiar voice. It turns out that they have mistaken Juan’s dad for the Chupacabras. When they explain that they were only trying to verify Abuelo’s stories, the father merely smiles and urges them to run along home. Besides, he says, theChupacabras only comes out when the moon is full. The English and Spanish texts appear on the same page, separated by a narrow illustration. The full-page illustration moves the action along nicely. An excellent choice for storytime and classroom sharing.”

El Cucuy


Amazon review: “So, you’ve been in trouble. Your -parents tell you they’re calling the bogeyman. You laugh. There’s no such thing! Then—you hear a sharp knock. Standing at the door is the oldest man you have ever seen. It’s el Cucuy (coo-COO-ee)! With that big red ear, he hears everything! In this cautionary tale, storyteller Joe Hayes tells about two girls who didn’t believe in el Cucuy until he snatched them up. Of course, the story has a happy ending.”


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