Since I’ve dreamed of having a family, I’ve planned on teaching my children Spanish. The language captured my heart after I started learning it in seventh grade, and I went on to study in Madrid and earn a minor in Spanish in college. But here’s the kicker: learning language starting in middle school is much too late. In America, we’ve got our language learning priorities flipped. The longer you wait to expose a child to language, the more difficult it becomes to learn. We should be immersing our babies and children in language right away, instead of waiting to teach them with grammar books in a 7th-grade classroom.
According to a book Alex and I have been reading called Brain Rules for Baby, babies are born with the capacity to speak any language. But by age one, they can only distinguish sounds they’ve been exposed to within the past six months of their lives. So, the earlier as you can expose your child to multiple languages, the better! Interestingly, simply exposing a baby to a foreign language DVDs during this critical window does not cut it. The only way a child learns language is through real live people and social interaction. Per the book’s author, “human learning is primarily a relational exercise”. What does that mean? Instead of sitting your child in front of Youtube videos or DVDs, we’ve got to start reading.
When our son Larson came along, we started reading to him promptly at one month. One month! Babies can see books in high contrast black and white (we started with this one). I remember the delight we both had of being able to interact with Larson doing an activity outside of eating and diaper changing. Around two months, we started with full color books, both English and Spanish books for kids. It’s been incredible to be able to share my passion for the language with Larson already, and it also ties into his Mexican heritage.
With that, here are a few of my favorite Spanish books for kids. They’re specifically for babies since Larson is currently 6 months, but kids of any age can enjoy them. This list is by not an exhaustive list of “the best” Spanish books for kids. It’s simply a selection of some highlights out of the books Larson has been given, based on the ones he and I gravitate towards most. Each book is rated on language difficulty: Very Easy and Easy books can be read with no prior background in Spanish; Fairly Easy and Medium require some background in Spanish language. As we continue to collect books and as Larson gets older, we’ll follow up with new recommendations. There are plenty of other fabulous Spanish books for kids out there, and we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Why we like it: This is Larson and my favorite Spanish book, and I’ve been reading it to him since he was 2 months old. Why? To me it uses the perfect simple sentence structure for learning Spanish, with words that are easy to pronounce. For example: Es la hora de dormir de Clifford. Su mamá lo lleva a la cama. | Per Clifford no está listo. Necesita su osito. It’s a very sweet story about Clifford getting ready for bed that’s told in just a few pages. To me, this type of clean simplicity is hard to pull off in a children’s book. This is one of our few bilingual books, so the English sentences flow directly after the Spanish sentences.
Difficulty level: Fairly Easy (Alex can read it perfectly after taking high school Spanish)
2) ¿Dices Mu?
Why we like it: This is another of our favorite Spanish books for kids, both because of the rhythm and cadence of the words and the sweet story. While it’s nice to have books that teach words for objects, I think it’s essential to start reading story books with sentences as early as possible. Hearing the cadence of the sentences describing a story and the context of the words is something that kids can catch on to very quickly. This story is about a boy who is trying to find cows by finding all sorts of animals and asking them whether they say moo. At 6 months, Larson can follow along with the story and is very interested in the animal sounds and the suspense of finally finding who says moo. An excerpt: ¿Tú dices mu? | ¿Yo digo mu? ¡Qué despistado! Soy un perrito y solo ladro. ¡Guau!
Difficulty level: Medium (As a Spanish minor, I still had to look up a few words: despistado, gruño, hocico, rebaño)
Why we like it: According to my parents, I had this book memorized as a child—the English version, Goodnight, moon. To this day, the pictures and rhythm of the sentences feel like old friends, making it endlessly fun to be able to read it to my own child. We were given a few versions of this book, including one paperback, but I’m partial to the board book bilingual version of it. This way, Larson can chew the heck out of it and also hear both languages at once. After you get through the first few pages in Spanish, it’s a pretty easy read: Buenas noches, peine. Buenas noches, cepillo. I must say, though, that I’m a little disappointed in the Spanish translation of “little old lady whispering hushhhhh”. Viejecita que tejes tan calladita just doesn’t have the same ring!
Difficulty level: Medium (A few of the words might trip you up at first, but Alex’s high school Spanish can make it through)
Why we like it: In our collection of Spanish books for kids, we have several “object naming” books (books with pictures of objects and their names). This one is my favorite, though I prefer more story oriented books. Larson seems to prefer stories as well—he stays much more engaged with them than books that list objects. However, this book is fun because it has two-page spreads related to each color, and then shows two different objects related to that color. So at the same time that baby is learning the objects, he’s learning his colors too. The colors and objects that have been selected are creative too (my favorite page is gold, which has estrellas and monedas. This book is also bilingual and shows both Spanish and English translations.
Difficulty level: Very easy
5) Don Quixote
Why we like it: This one is another object naming book like Colores, but it’s incredibly creative and well done! The BabyLit series is a sweet series of baby books that tell the great stories of literature through age-appropriate books for kids. This one is the story of Don Quixote, told through colorful pictures. Imagine pages like El caballo | Los molinos de viento with their English counterparts. Larson has liked looking at this book since about 2 months, since the pictures themselves are very high contrast. Though my mom argues why would Larson ever need to know the Spanish word for “armor” (la armadura), it’s a sweet and entertaining read that works with limited Spanish knowledge.
Difficulty level: Easy (and if you took high school Spanish, you’ll know the “story”!)
Why we like it: In the realm of Spanish books for kids this one has a few harder words, but it’s worth it for the rhythm of the poetry and the call and response. An owl says goodnight to all of his friends with a cute little poem, then the refrain: Buenas noches, gallina. ¡Buenas noches, búho! The poems can be difficult if you don’t have a Spanish background, but the refrains are so cute it’s worth it if you have nominal pronounciation skills. You’ll find yourself accidentally repeating it to your child: Buenas noches, Larson. ¡Buenas noches, búho!
Difficulty level: Medium (The poems can be a mouthful)
Why we like it: I hesitated on whether to put this one on the list, because it’s not Spanish but rather, Spanglish. It’s a cute English book about Mexican cuisine, a fun little rhyme that incorporates lots of Spanish words. For me, I find it a little odd to switch back and forth between a Spanish and English accent, and I find myself wanting the whole thing to be in Spanish. However, it’s cute and especially good for beginner Spanish mamas and papas.
Difficulty level: Very easy (it’s not even Spanish, but Spanglish)