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Ouachita Stories


Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic heritage month bannerSeptember 19, 2019 - Autumn Mortenson

Hispanic and Latino Americans have positively shaped our society, so it is only right to celebrate their accomplishments and contributions during Hispanic Heritage Month, held from September 15 to October 15.

But because I’m a librarian, I wanted to focus this blog about Hispanic Heritage Month on four great Hispanic and Latino novelists you should read in the next 30 days: Julia Alvarez, Daniel José Older, Pam Muñoz Ryan and Margarita Engle.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “These are all novelists, and I love non-fiction!” Well, lucky you! At the Riley-Hickingbotham Library, we also have books celebrating the lives (both real and imagined) of Hispanic and Latino persons that you may check out in addition to the books from the authors I mention below.

Hispanic Heritage Month  Hispanic Heritage Month  Hispanic Heritage Month  Hispanic Heritage Month

Julia Alvarez has won multiple awards for “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,” “In the Time of Butterflies,” “Before We Were Free” and “Return to Sender,” among her other books. Her novels reflect her own experiences in the Dominican Republic, being forced to flee her homeland because her father was involved in a plot to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo, and her assimilation into American urban life.

Why read her books? Alvarez’s novels feature compelling stories and characters that give voice to immigrants and their struggles of leaving their home country and finding a place in America.

“I believe stories have this power – they enter us, they transport us, they change things inside us … we come out of a great book as a different person from the person we were when we began reading it.”

- Julia Alvarez

Hispanic Heritage Month  Hispanic Heritage Month

A self-identified urban fantasy writer, Daniel José Older usually writes short stories, but his first novel in the “Shadowshaper Cypher Series,” follows Sierra, an Afro-Latina teen, as she unravels the mysteries of fading murals that cry, as well as her family’s connections to them.

Why should you read it? The spooky atmosphere (zombies anyone?!) that Older creates is perfect for getting in the mood for fall!

“Young people are dealing today – and have always dealt in America – with astonishing levels of racism and sexism. The job of books is to be there for them to provide some kind of map, or sense that they’re not alone in this – a language, even, to help them muddle through all the things that are happening.”

- Daniel José Older

Ryan Esperanza  Ryan Becoming Naomi  Ryan Echo  Ryan Dreamer

Prolific children’s and young adult author Pam Muñoz Ryan has won many awards for her books, but her most well know titles are “Esperanza Rising,” “Becoming Naomi Leόn” and “Echo,” her newest novel which won the Newbery Honor Award.

Why read her books? Besides being a favorite of critics and award committees, Ryan’s stories are poetic and passionate explorations of family life and young adults coming of age and finding their place in the world. They are must-reads!

“When I sit down to write, I don’t think about my ethnicity any more than I think about any of the things that I am – whether I’m a person who is half-Mexican, or a woman or a mother. All of those things are part of who I am. And they influence my writing, sometimes consciously more often unconsciously … When I sit down to write, my goal is to hopefully write a story in which the reader wants to turn the page. And, the best compliment is to write a story where the child will write me afterward and tell me that they read the story more than once.”

- Pam Muñoz Ryan

Hispanic Heritage Month  Hispanic Heritage Month  Hispanic Heritage Month  Hispanic Heritage Month

Margarita Engle, 2017-2019 National Young People’s Poet Laureate, is a Cuban-American author of many award-winning verse novels about historical figures like rebel and nurse Rosario Castellanos Castellanos (in “The Surrender Tree”), Juan Francisco Manzano (in “The Poet Slave of Cuba”), abolitionist Gertrudis Gόmez de Avellaneda (in “The Lightning Dreamer”) and women’s rights pioneer Fredrika Bremer (in “The Firefly Letters”).

Why read her books? Her books are fast-paced and accessible biographies, but it is her haunting poetry that brings these courageous and often forgotten figures to life and makes her books must-reads.

“I feel certain that words
can be as human
as people,
with the breath
of compassion.” 

- Margarita Engle


Autumn headshotBy Autumn Mortenson, Ouachita reference/circulation librarian




  1. Teekell, Anna. "Alvarez, Julia." Encyclopedia of American Literature, Inc. Manly, Facts On File, 3rd edition, 2013. Credo Reference, credoreference.com/content/topic/alvarez_julia?institutionId=5274. Accessed Sep. 2019.
  2. Holm, Katrina Niidas. “Q&A: Daniel José Older.” Publishers Weekly, Sept. 12, 2017, p. 44.  publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/74760-q-a-with-daniel-jos-older.html. Accessed Sep. 2019.
  3. Fabbi, Jennifer, and Amy Johnson. “Of Wondrous Places and ‘Benevolent Neglect’: An Interview with Pam Muñoz Ryan.” Journal of Children’s Literature, vol. 33, no. 2, Fall 2007, p. 52. EBSCOhost, ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=brb&AN=508009435&site=ehost-live. Accessed Sep. 2019.
  4. Engle, Margarita. The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. “Margarita Engle Quotes.” Goodreads goodreads.com/author/quotes/103963.Margarita_Engle. Accessed Sep. 2019.