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Great Books To Inspire English Language Learners

Mayra Linares/NPR
Three great kids books for english language learners.
Mayra Linares/NPR

Part of our series, 5 Million Voices.

I grew up speaking Spanish, and I didn't start learning English until I was in preschool. When it came to books, I struggled — like many ELL students — to connect with characters that didn't look like me or speak my language.

To this day I have yet to pick up a copy of Anne of Green Gables.

It wasn't until Ms. Rueckert handed me a biography of Diego Rivera in the fourth grade that my relationship with books changed forever. I started to read for fun and not for a grade.

Research shows that reading comprehension in ELL students gets a boost when kids are exposed to culturally relevant books.

"Story is both individual and collective," says Candis Grover, director of literacy and Spanish development at ReadyRosie, an educational web site.

She says students need more than just a few scattered stories: "We need to give them a large literary room of characters to connect with."

So, in that spirit, we've reached out to experts and scoured the blogs and asked authors what books they'd put in that big room. Here are five great examples:

The Name Jar

Names are an important part of our identity. Unhei's classmates show their support as she decides whether to keep her Korean name or choose a completely new American one.

Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!

Body language helps overcome language barriers. Gabe's classmates learn how to communicate with him through sports, food, and play.

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match / Marisol McDonald No Combina

No one would dare stop Pippi Longstocking from being her own unique self. Marisol, like Pippi, owns her identity. She redefines what it means to be Peruvian-Scottish-American.

Jalapeno Bagels

Pablo spends quality time with his Mexican mom and Jewish father learning about their respective cultures through food. Instead of favoring one culture, Pablo chooses to celebrate both.

Maximilian & The Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller

Whether it's read in Spanish or English, Mexican traditions and pop culture shine in this book for older students.