The best books for Spanish immersion and heritage classes: The Dominican Republic


Finding the perfect book for heritage speakers or Spanish 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) and books originally written by Latino authors in English but available translated into Spanish. I’ve included the Lexile 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.

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!

En el tiempo de las Mariposas (In the Time of Butterflies)

Author: Julia Alvarez (Dominican-American)

Original language: English

Lexile and Interest Level: 910L Appropriate for High School

Plot: Based on the true story of the Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic, this book relates their relationships and their struggle against the Trujillo dictatorship in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Literary analysis: The book is told in chapters that alternate from one sister to another, so it would be a great book to use for teaching perspective and narration.

Themes and controversial issues: death, dictatorship, loyalty, romantic relationships, family

Supplementary materials: In the Time of Butterflies is the film based on the book. The 2010 film Trópico de Sangre follows the story of Minerva Mirabal. Note: I haven’t seen either film, please preview first.

Antes de ser libres (Before we were free)

Author: Julia Alvarez (Dominican-American)

Original language: English

Lexile and Grade: 760L Appropriate for Middle School and above

Plot: The coming of age story of 12-year-old Anita in the Dominican Republic. Her wealthy family grapples with rebelling against the Trujillo dictatorship in the 1960’s as she slowly understands more about the gravity of their situation.

Literary analysis: Suspense, character development, loss of innocence

Themes and controversial issues: death, dictatorship, loyalty, family, expatriation

Supplementary materials: De cómo las muchachas Garcia perdieron el acento (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), which is also by Alvarez, follows the cousins mentioned in this book on their journey to assimilate in New York.

Felipe Alou: Desde los valles a los montañas (From the valleys to the mountains)

Author: Carol Gaab (American)

Original language: Spanish (written by non-native speaker), also available in English and French

Reading Lexile and Interest Level: No Lexile (approximately intermediate low level) Appropriate for upper elementary and above

Plot: Felipe Alou is a Dominican baseball player who came to the U.S. in the 1950’s and went on to break barriers as a Major League player and later manager. He faced racism and discrimination as a black person in the United States and the book focuses on his life in the Dominican Republic and his early years navigating life in a new country. The author, Carol Gaab, worked with Alou and taught English to MLB players.

Literary analysis: The book is very basic, as it is for early Spanish learners but it is a good example of narrative non-fiction.

Themes and controversial issues: racism, discrimination, learning English, baseball, perseverance

Supplementary materials: A teachers guide, audio book, and online student model is available for purchase

La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao (The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao)

Book Oscar Wao

Author: Junot Díaz (Dominican-American)

Original language: English

Reading Lexile and Interest Level: 1010L, may be appropriate for 11th/12th graders (lots of adult issues)

Plot: Oscar Wao is a nerdy, overweight Dominican-American living in New Jersey and pining for his first love. The book also jumps around to his mother and grandmother’s past in the Dominican Republic.

Literary Analysis: The author weaves in hundreds of cultural “nerd” references and non-chronological narration. Beautifully written, it would be a great book to pull mentor writing texts from for more advanced classes.

Themes and controversial issues: Love, relationships, sex, machismo and sexism, nerd culture, abuse, family, immigration, superstition

El color de mis palabras (The Color of My Words)

Author: Lynn Joseph (Trinidadian-American)

Original language: English

Reading Lexile and Interest Level: 840L Appropriate for Middle School and above

Plot: 12-year-old Ana Rosa is an aspiring writer in the Dominican Republic where her family can’t afford to buy her a notebook and writing is heavily censored.

Literary analysis: The chapters are almost like a collection of short stories and you could choose one to read as a mentor text or short story.

Themes and controversial issues: Alcoholism, government land appropriation, family, writing

Taste of Salt (only in English)

Taste of Salt Book

Author: Francis Temple (American)

Original language: English. Unfortunately this book is only available in English, but I’m including it because it would be great for a biliteracy class to compare and contrast to other books about the DR.

Lexile and Grade: Appropriate for 7th grade and above

Plot: Narrated through the stories of two Haitian teenagers, Djo and Jerimie, the book tells the story of their struggles to overcome poverty and peer pressure and make their country a better place. Part of the book takes place in the Dominican Republic.

Literary analysis: Non-chronological narration, weaving in multiple narrators, multilingual writing

Themes and controversial issues: poverty, violence, orphans, political corruption, slavery

Depending on the level of your students, you pay want to use these books for choice reading, in lit circles or as a whole class read. Read about how to use these books as part of a literature circle unit here.

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