Reading for heritage learners

El libro de los americanos desconocidos

americanos2I am still feeling a little devastated after having finished reading this beautiful novel by Cristina Henríquez, the first novel of a group of sixteen that I am reading with a student as part of an independent study project. Okay, perhaps I am feeling a bit manipulated by the highly-emotional sequence in the last part of the novel, but at that point I was too deeply involved to break my pact with the characters. I had to finish reading this! Written in a very easy to read style (the language is never demanding, the author never steps forward to make herself too obvious), this was a good first book. A few times I have caught my student, sitting in the back of my room, engrossed in the book and not even distracted by the TPRS circus.

Knowing that we will be reading Chicano by Richard Vasquez later in the year, this will be a first run through the themes of alienation and belonging that run through literature written by Hispanics in the USA (the novel was originally published in English). These stories so often end tragically, they are so melodramatic, that I have to remind myself that melodrama is a common narrative structure in popular Mexican culture. Perhaps the over-the-top, brown versus white plot elements is helpfully alienating to the Anglo reader. In any case, El libro de los americanos desconocidos does not lead to an overtly political agenda like Chicano did in its day. Tightly wrapped into this novel is a love story that will enchant adolescents. It is a good choice for mature students.


  1. Do you happen to have any supplementary resources that you use when students are reading this independently? Such as questions, worksheets, etc.

    1. When I read for my own pleasure at home, I never do worksheets. I do enjoy finding people with whom I can talk about books that I am reading, but I would never complete a list of comprehension questions. Forcing kids to read is not the same as leading them to love reading. If you are looking for ways to hold students accountable for reading, please read my essay about the toxic culture of non-reading in our country:

    1. This is a book I use with heritage learners of Spanish. We have a two year independent reading course that they can take the year after AP, usually their junior and senior years. This is the first book we read together before students start choosing their own books.

  2. Thanks and please continue with any other recommendations for novels. I have some independent students, and reading is crucial (the best way for input in the absence of a teacher, right?)

  3. ¡Gracias! I just read the English original from my local public library a week ago and affirm your review. I didn’t know there was a Spanish translation, but will now seek it out.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.