This list of Hispanic and Latin American folktales includes both indigenous tales and stories with post-colonial influence. These folktale picture books feature legends, trickster tales, pourquoi stories and myths from present day countries like Mexico, Cuba and Brazil as well as geographical areas like the Amazon, the Andes Mountains and Mesoamerica.
Because folktales are descendants of generations-long oral storytelling traditions, they are excellent read aloud choices. After all, a trickster tale never fails to please!
This list prioritizes (but is not exclusively populated by) books from authors and/or illustrators of Hispanic or Latino descent.
For more good folktale picture book check out our list of 50 best folktales from around the world.
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FEATHERED SERPENT AND THE FIVE SUNS (Mesoamerica) by Duncan Tonatiuh
Tonatiuh's retelling of a Mesoamerican creation myth is surpassed only by his amazing illustrations. Four gods set out to create humans, but their attempts result in turning the humans first into mountains, then fish and finally, in frustration, the gods turn them into monkeys. The gods are discouraged and want to give up–except for Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent. Quetzalcóatl travels to the underworld and during his journey must undergo trials of strength and bravery. A mesmerizing story–and I'm guessing, as you are here on Earth, reading this, you can predict how it all turns out. Ages 6 and up.
ANCIENT NIGHT (Mesoamerica) written by David Bowles, story and illustrations by David Álvarez
Álvarez has created the most marvelous illustrations for a tale which draws upon traditional stories from the Nahuatl. Rabbit tends to moon pouring aguamiel, a glowing nectar, into it in order to maintain the moon's beautiful light. However, Yaushu, an opossum who once stole fire to create the sun, cracks open the moon to slurp up the aguamiel. Be sure to read the creators' end notes to learn more about the stories and traditions that inspired the book. Also available in Spanish. Ages 4 and up.
THE LIZARD AND THE SUN/LA LAGARTIJA Y EL SOL (Mexico) by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Felipe Dávalos
Have you ever wondered why lizards like to laze about in the sun? (Hint: it's not because they are cold-blooded!) It all started when the sun disappeared and the lizard went in search of it. With a little help from an Aztec emperor, a woodpecker and a great feast, he is able to bring the sun back from its slumber. With lots of detail, the illustrations really bring the Aztec culture to life. Ages 5 and up.
THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR: A TALE OF TWO VOLCANOES (Aztec/Mexico) by Duncan Tonatiuh
Tonatiuh's folktale picture book is based on an Aztec folk story about the formation of the volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl, and Popocatépet. Princess Izta falls in love with the warrior, Popoca but her father objects and he sets out to prove his worth and defeat a neighboring ruler, Jaguar Claw. Popoca defeats Jaguar Claw, but not before his foe plays a devious trick that ends up with the lovers changed into the iconic volcanoes. Tonatiuh incorporates words from the Nahuatl language (glossary included) and his signature illustrations capture the dynamism of the story. Ages 6 and up.
THE ROOSTER WHO WOULD NOT BE QUIET by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Who says there can be no new folktales? This original folktale is a must read. The village of La Paz is too noisy so the new mayor outlaws singing. However, the rooster defies this decree and so begins a hilarious standoff with the mayor. Terrific! Ages 4 and up.
JUAN BOBO GOES TO WORK (Puerto Rico) by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Juan Bobo carries on the tradition of stories about well-meaning but rather dim heroes who come by their rewards purely by accident. Juan Bobo carries out a series of tasks for the local farmer and merchant in an effort to earn some money for his mother. Fortunately, both his mother and his employers are extremely patient. When Juan inadvertently cures a local rich girl of her blues, all is well and he and his mother can look forward to a good ham dinner at least once a week (and isn't that all what we really want, anyway?). Also available in Spanish. Ages 4 and up.
THE COURAGE OF THE LITTLE HUMMINGBIRD (Quecha/Ecuador) by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Magaly Morales
No doubt children will be inspired by this gorgeously illustrated fable from the Quecha people about a little hummingbird who steps up to the plate when help is most needed. After a forest fire forces the animals to flee the flames, the small but mighty hummingbird asks the bigger animals to help quench the blaze. None of them are willing, and they question the wisdom of the hummingbird's determination. But the little bird replies that he must do all he can. The story reminds me of Aesop's quote, "Not act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted." Ages 4 and up.
MARTINA THE BEAUTIFUL COCKROACH: A CUBAN FOLKTALE by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin
Martina, having reached the ripe old age of 21 days is ready to get married. As her suitors line up, her grandmother gives her a bit of advice: spill coffee on their shoes because the only way to discern their true character is to see them when they are angry (good advice for humans, too). One by one, each suitor fails the test, until no one but a sweet little mouse is left. Ages 5 and up.
LOVE AND ROAST CHICKEN: A TRICKSTER TALE FROM THE ANDES MOUNTAINS (Andes) by Barbara Knutson
This is a hilarious trickster tale featuring a wily guinea pig named Cuy. In an effort to avoid being eaten by Tío Antonio the fox, Cuy manages to convince him that he needs to brace himself under a rock in order to keep the sky from falling. Thus, Cuy sets into motion a series of tricks until Tío Antonio decides the only way he can avoid Cuy's tricks is to keep far away from him. Ages 4 and up.
THE RACE OF TOAD AND DEER (Maya) by Pat Mora, illustrated by Domi
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Many cultures have a local version of the well-known "The Tortoise and the Hare." In the Mayan version of the tale, it is the deer who is undone by his boasting and vanity. Instead of being slow and steady, the crafty toad enlists the help of his fellow toads to help him win the race. Domi's vibrant watercolors are a wonderful addition. Ages 4 and up.
MARIANA AND THE MERCHILD (Chile) by Caroline Pitcher, illustrated by Jackie Morris
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In this retelling of a Chilean folktale, Old Mariana longs to play with the village children, but they tease her and express fear of the sea wolves that live near her home. One day, Mariana finds a shell and when it splits in two it reveals a mer-child. The mer-child’s mother asks Mariana to take care of the child until the sea is safe again. Watching Mariana and her new charge, the village children overcome their fear of the old woman and even offer comfort when the mother returns to claim her child. The illustrations are lovely and the text conjures up wonderful imagery, especially of the sea-wolves and sea spirits. Ages 5 and up.
MORE: Mermaid Picture Books
THE BOSSY GALLITO (Cuba) by Lucía M. González, illustrated by Lulu Delacre.
This is cumulative folktale from Cuba makes a great read aloud. El Gallito (the Rooster) is on his way to a wedding and after he stops to eat two muddy kernels of corn he tries to convince the grass to clean his beak. The grass refuses and so El Gallito requests help from a goat, a stick, fire, and a stream but to no avail. Finally, he gets the relief he needs from the sun. Ages 4 and up.
THE DRAGON SLAYER: FOLKTALES FROM LATIN AMERICA by Jaime Hernandez
This collection of three Latin American folktales is another superb offering from the TOON series publishers. The title character is a young girl who, in the first story, displays intelligence and courage. The second two tales reveal the heroism and clever wits of an old woman and a young boy. Ages 5 and up.
BLANCAFLOR, THE HERO WITH SECRET POWERS by Nadja Spiegelman, illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez
Blancaflor is no damsel in distress; she is the fearless rescuer of others! Inspired by Latin American folktales, this exciting graphic novel takes readers on a rollicking adventure as Blancaflor completes a series of challenges in order to save the prince from an ogre. Ages 8 and up.
DOÑA FLOR: A TALL TALE ABOUT A GIANT WOMAN WITH A GREAT BIG HEART by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raul Colón
In the southwest, Doña Flor has a heart to match her height. When the villagers hear a strange and frightening sound, Doña Flor decides if she can help her neighbors and friends, she will. So she sets out to find the source of the noise. Following the whispered directions of her animal friends, she heads to the mesa where she finds an unexpected surprise. I loved the kind-hearted heroine of this tale and the Spanish words sprinkled throughout the text add a a wonderful texture to the story. Ages 5 and up.
MEDIO POLLITO/HALF-CHICKEN by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Kim Howard
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If there's one pourquoi tale you hadn't thought to search out, it's the story of how the weather-vane came to be. But, boy is it a tale worth telling! This bilingual folktale from Mexico is about Half-Chicken, so called because he was born with only one eye, one leg and one wing. He heads off to the city, performs a few good deeds, and escapes the stew pot before finding the view from the top of a building just to his liking. Ages 5 and up.
JUST IN CASE: A TRICKSTER TALE AND SPANISH ALPHABET BOOK by Yuyi Morales
When you need a non-boring alphabet book, pick up one that is inspired by folk lore! This book is great fun! Señor Calvera, a Día de los Muertos skeleton needs a gift for Grandma Beetle. He decides to get her a gift for every letter of the alphabet. The text is written primarily in English, but each alphabetized gift is written in Spanish. Ages 5 and up.
JABUTÍ THE TORTOISE: A TRICKSTER TALE FROM THE AMAZON (Brazil) by Gerald McDermott
McDermott has a large oeuvre of folktales from around the world, and his retelling of trickster tales are particularly enjoyable. Jabutí loves to play his flute. However, as the music wafts through the rainforest, it reminds the other animals of how he has tricked them in the past. Vulture is envious of Jabutí's musical talent and concocts a plan, but the outcome is not what he'd hoped!