A stack of books about Cuba

The best books about Cuba for Spanish heritage and immersion classes

Looking for good books about Cuba? Finding the perfect book for Spanish heritage speakers or immersion classes can be very difficult. While important, the Spanish “classics” like Don Quixote or Cien años de soledad that students would normally read at the high school level in Spanish-speaking countries are usually too difficult for heritage students and not something that teenagers living in the United States can relate to.

This series of posts is a mix of authentic resources (originally written in Spanish), books originally written by Latino authors in English but available translated into Spanish, and books written by Spanish teachers. I’ve included the Lexile reading level of the English version but you should expect the Lexile of the Spanish version to be slightly different. The interest level is based on content appropriateness, not grade reading level. I hope this post helps you find the perfect book for your students or for your own pleasure reading!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. I’ve read all these books and recommend them for classroom use. If you choose to make a purchase you will be helping to support my blog at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

Isla de leones: El guerrero cubano de las palabras

Author: Margarita Engle (Cuban-American)

Original Language: English

Lexile and Interest Level: 1110L ages 10 and up

Plot: This book tells the true story of the Afro-Chinese Cuban poet Antonio Chuffat, set during the fight for independence from Spain in 1870. Antonio is a young messenger boy when he meets Wing and his sister Fan, who have come from California. Together the three use their connections, bilingualism, and ability to write to fight injustice and slavery in Cuba in their own way.

Literary Analysis: The book is written in verse, and each page or two is a different poem “chapter”. The language is simple enough that one of these could be used with students in elementary school. 

Themes and Controversial Issues: Identity, being multi-racial, Chinese diaspora, fighting oppression, the importance of literacy and being multilingual

Also check out: Also by Engle and in verse, La Selva tells of a boy from Miami whose mother sends him to meet his Cuban father and sister after the Cold War.

Aire encantado: Dos culturas, dos alas

Author: Margarita Engle (Cuban-American)

Original language: English

Lexile and Interest Level: 1120L for ages 12 and up

Plot: A moving memoir, this Pura Belpré award-winner tells the story of the author’s childhood in Cuba and Los Angeles with a Cuban mother and an American father. When the Cuban Revolution breaks out, Margarita is forced to take a deeper look at her two identities and her changing relationship with Cuba and her mother.

Literary Analysis:  Like Isla de leones, this book is also written in verse and provides a great introduction to narrative poetry.

Themes and Controversial Issues: Identity, public opinion, US-Cuban relations, Cuban Revolution, growing up bicultural in the U.S.

Also check out: The sequel to Aire Encantado, Soaring Earth, is out in English and will be available in Spanish for Fall 2020.

Cartas a mi mamá

Author: Teresa Cárdenas

Original Language: Spanish

Lexile and Interest Level: N/A, ages 14 and up

Plot: Through short and simple letters, a young Afro-Cuban girl writes to her recently deceased mother over a number of years. The book starts when the girl has been sent to live with her grandmother and aunt’s family, where she receives a hostile welcome but eventually finds support outside of her home and comes to terms with her family history. The narrator’s matter-of-fact letters show great insight into more complex issues like being black in Cuba and the struggle to be accepted and loved.

Literary Analysis: Indirect v. direct characterization, character growth, first person narration

Themes and Controversial Issues: Religión and Santería, race and anti-blackness in Cuba, family relations, physical and sexual abuse, processing death, coming of age

La niña alemana

Author: Armando Lucas Correa

Original Language: Spanish

Lexile and Interest Level: N/A, ages 16 and up

Plot: Spanning 1939 Germany, Cuba, post 9-11 New York, and in between, this story provides an unsettling look at what it’s like to be unwanted everywhere as a young Jewish girl and her family try to escape Nazi Germany on the St. Louis. Although fictional, the story of the St. Louis cruise ship and its passengers fate really occurred.

Literary Analysis: Multiple storylines, dialogue, incorporating historical facts

Themes and Controversial Issues: The Holocaust, religion, refugees, Jewish heritage

Also check out: The author’s second novel, La hija olvidada, has a similar story line and also briefly features Cuba.

Soñar en cubano

Author: Cristina García

Original Language: English

Lexile and Interest Level: 940L ages 16 and up

Plot: This book tells the bittersweet story of Celia del Pino and her children and grandchildren. Short chapters focus on different family members at different times over the span of nearly a century as the story weaves between Cuba and the United States and back and forth throughout time.

Literary Analysis: This book would be excellent for analyzing non-linear narration and multiple story lines, plus character development and change over time. Magical realism is also prevalent throughout.

Themes and Controversial Issues: The role of women, family life, Cuban history, masturbation, sex, rape, suicide, mental health, immigration

Also check out: Garcia has written a number of other books taking place in Cuba or with Cuban characters, including Las caras de la suerte, Las hermanas Agüero, and El cazador de monos about a Chinese family that immigrates to Cuba.

Bajo las palmas reales

Author: Alma Flor Ada

Original language: English

Lexile and interest level: 1070L ages 10 and up

Plot: This collection of stories from the author’s childhood provides a glimpse of what it was like to grow up on a plantation in Cuba.

Literary analysis: These short stories would be easy to use with an elementary or middle school class as mentor texts for writing personal narratives.

Themes and controversial issues: Childhood, loss of innocence, family, death of a loved one

Supplementary materials: This book along with a number of other stories from the author’s childhood in Cuba is available as part of a larger book in English called Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba. Alma Flor Ada has a number of other great books in Spanish for children like Me llamo María Isabel.

Books about Cuba by teacher authors

These books are written by teacher authors, and can be good options for heritage students just learning to read in Spanish because they have simple sentences and lots of English cognates. There are generally online and audio options to accompany these titles.

Casa dividida

Author: Chris Mercer

Lexile and interest level: N/A, ages 12+

Plot: This story starts in 1957 and follows two different cubans, José, the son of a wealthy tobacco plantation owner, and Luisa, who works in the sugar cane fields. The Cuban Revolution and the choices they make affect their lives in very different ways.


Author: Rita Barrett

Lexile and interest level: N/A, ages 12+

Plot: A true story in first-person narration of a Cuban man’s search for freedom. The author tells of his time in prison, multiple attempts to escape, time at U.S. camps in Guantanamo Bay, and finally arriving in the United States.

El escape cubano

Author: Mira Canion

Lexile and interest level: N/A (ACTFL Novice High), ages 9+

Plot: Inspired by a true story, 13-year-old Miguel is forced to leave his mother behind and escape Cuba in a homemade raft over shark-infested waters.

Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto

Author: Mira Canion

Lexile and interest level: N/A (ACTFL Novice High), ages 8+

Plot: This simple reader is my all-time favorite because, well, pirates. A Spanish captain is sailing to Spain with his fiancée when they find a treasure map and are attacked by pirates in Cuba. A love triangle, sword fights, and bits of history make for a great story considering how simple the language is.

Read about the best books that take place in the Dominican Republic here

What other Spanish books about Cuba would you add to this list? Leave me a comment and I’ll put it on my reading list!

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