When people hear that I’m a Spanish teacher, or that we speak Spanish at home with our kids, I am immediately asked for resources that I recommend to introduce their kids to Spanish. When searching for bilingual stories, you will find millions of books written- or translated into- Spanish. The huge majority of these books are at a language level that only Spanish-speakers would benefit from. How could an English-speaking parent read “Curious George” in Spanish, if neither she nor her child understands the language?
You will also find thousands of picture dictionaries… and one word per page boardbooks… and textbooks. There are also terrible translations (Azul el sombrero, verde el sombrero being my biggest pet-peeve!). What my friends are looking for are none of the above. They would like simple stories that teach a little Spanish (but are not too advanced that the parents can’t read or understand them!): here are my best recommendations.
Most of the books I have found for beginning level Spanish are for the youngest crowd- they just don’t make “easy” Spanish books that are interesting/relevant to older students (unless it’s a textbook). Although many of the following bilingual stories have been written for ages 3-5, I think these that I have listed can be used to teach Spanish for ages 2-8 or even older?
The first series that I always recommend is the English and Spanish Foundations Series, by Gladys-Rosa Mendoza. Excellent grammar and translations, simple text made for non-native speakers with a very helpful pronunciation guide in the back, and colorful pictures to represent the basic vocabulary presented on each page. These are a step up from the one-word-per-page board books that I would use with infants and toddlers, though there isn’t exactly an engaging story. Language learners need a lot of repetition to acquire vocabulary, and these board books hold up.
The Alphabet/El alfabeto
Numbers 1 2 3/Los números 1 2 3
Colors and Shapes/Los colores y las figuras
My Family and I/Mi familia y yo
The Weather/El tiempo
What time is it?/¿Qué hora es?
My body/Mi cuerpo
Jobs Around My Neighborhood/Oficios en mi vecindario
Fruits and Vegetables/Frutas y vegetales
I can!/¡Yo puedo!
When I Am/Cuando estoy
Animals at the Farm/Animales de la granja
Cars, Trucks and Planes/Carros, camiones y aviones
My Clothes/Mi ropa
It’s My Birthday!/¡Es mi cumpleaños!
My House/Mi casa
I Live Here!/¡Yo vivo aquí!
The next set of books comes from author Lynn Reiser. When I am asked to read a Spanish book in my childrens’ classes, these are books I choose. They are bilingual (in a clever way), in that the 2 languages are presented on each page- but spoken by 2 different characters (Margaret, who speaks English, and Margarita, who speaks Spanish).
Me llamo Margarita. Mi gatita se llama Susana. Susana dice, Hello.
“Margaret and Margarita” and “My Way- A Mi Manera” alternate the Spanish and English prose throughout, and the reader understands through the text and pictures that the 2 girls begin to play and become friends. Lynn Reiser wrote a similar book called The Lost Ball- La Pelota Perdida that is worth checking out.
Another author that has several great bilingual titles to choose from is Pat Mora. I love her books: simple, repetitive phrases that use vocabulary and structures that early Spanish learners will know (and mostly in the present tense). She has a 4 book series (called “My Family- Mi Familia) that are particularly easy-to-read and feature a bilingual family: Isabel, Tina, Danny and their family and pets. Let’s Eat ¡A comer!, Sweet Dreams ¡Dulces Sueños!, Here Kitty, Kitty/¡Ven Gatita, Ven!, and Wiggling Pockets/Los Bolsillos Saltarines.
Ginger Foglesong Guy has written several bilingual books of simple stories, that can be used to introduce Spanish vocabulary: Siesta, Fiesta, ¡Bravo!, Perros! Perros! Dogs! Dogs!, My Grandma/Mi Abuelita, and My School/Mi Escuela. Like Pat Mora’s books, they present the simple story in English and Spanish, and are best for kids just learning Spanish.
Separate the languages.
For true beginners who know no Spanish, read the book first in English. Then read it in Spanish. Unfortunately, if you read each page English and then Spanish (or Spanish and then English) kids ears will only tune into the English and just ignore the Spanish. This is why in Spanish classes, teachers should not just say instructions in Spanish and then translate- the kids will be accustomed to tuning out what they don’t understand.
Use the illustrations to teach.
Once they begin to pick up a little bit of the vocab, you can read them only in Spanish- try pointing to the pictures to show them what you are talking about. Once the kids start to get the vocab, have them point to the correct pictures as you read.
Perro grande (point to large dog). Perro chico (point to the small dog).
Pull out vocabulary.
Pick a group of words (colors, adjectives, numbers) and try to incorporate them in other activities, such as counting toys, describing animals at the zoo, naming colors. If you practice the words in a variety of real contexts, you will find that when you read the books in Spanish, the kids will understand them better!
Bring me something ‘rojo’ (Tráeme algo rojo= TRAH-ay-may ALL-go RO-ho)
Once your engaged Spanish learners want to get to the next level, check out this list of great books from Kaplan. Most libraries have at least some Spanish titles- ask your librarian to show you the language section, and see what you can find!