A range of factors are leading U.S. bookstores to expand their Spanish-language offerings. Driven by language-immersion schools and bilingual families, many stores are now specializing in bilingual books for young readers. Others serve heritage-language customers who want to practice their Spanish, as well as language learners seeking cultural immersion.
Booksellers often flag their Spanish-language selections with bilingual shelftalkers, encourage handselling and promotion on social media, and ask book clubs for buzzworthy bilingual picks. At Cellar Door Books in Riverside, Calif., a Latinx book club plans to read Desideria Mesa’s Bindle Punk Bruja and Tehlor Kay Meija’s We Set the Dark on Fire, and store owner Linda Sherman-Nurick sees potential in Spanish-language editions of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Not “a Nation of Immigrants”.
“Either because they are more comfortable reading in Spanish, or they want to read books in their original language as the author intended, or they are learning Spanish, people want access to good-quality Spanish-language books,” said Veronica Johnson, who operates Libros Bookmobile in Hutto, Tex. “Many Latinx folks are bilingual, and we want materials in both languages,” yet “even non-native speakers and non-Latinx folks ask for Spanish-language titles.”
While classics from Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda remain popular, readers are also gravitating toward Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros’s new Mujer sin vergüenza, and bestsellers like Erika Sánchez’s Yo no soy tu perfecta hija Mexicana. Several stores, including Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, Calif., reported strong sales of Los cuatro acuerdos by Don Miguel Ruiz.
At Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Phoenix, owner Chawa Magaña said readers love well-known authors Laura Esquivel, Elena Poniatowska, and Samanta Schweblin, along with “Latinx authors who consistently translate their work from English to Spanish and make it easily available here in the U.S.,” such as Julia Alvarez, Pat Mora, and Yung Pueblo.
General-interest bookstores are increasing their Spanish-language offerings, too. Claudia Vega of Whose Books in Dallas said she’s “looking to expand our adult section” because bilingual kids’ books do so well. And at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, general manager John Duvernoy called Spanish-language fiction “our most reliable selling foreign-language section.”
Curious customers may not have an author or a title in mind, yet “they want titles to peruse,” said Susan Post, co-owner of BookWoman in Austin. Post singled out local favorites: Liliana Valenzuela’s bilingual poetry book Codex of Love: Bendita ternura, as well as Honduran Colombian creator Kat Fajardo’s graphic novel Miss Quinces.
In Miami, Books and Books buyer Raquel Roque sees “a definite increase in demand for Spanish-language titles,” including books by Argentine, Colombian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan authors. Roque finds that immigrants seek out “Spanish translations of bestsellers, self-help books, reference books, and novels,” while Florida’s bilingual, biliterate customers read and write with ease across languages. She stocks work by Telemundo journalist Paola Ramos, Dominican American novelist Angie Cruz, Ecuadoran American Zoraida Cordóva, and Mexican Canadian novelist Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
Valeria Cerda, who with her sister Barbara Cerda launched La Revo Books in Milwaukee, Wis., credits a strong biracial community for supporting their Latinx- and BIPOC-focused pop-up shop. Cerda notices that her customers prefer motivational books, self-help, and the Magic Kids publication Mindfulness para niños. “We’ve been trying to dig in to get more progressive parenting books,” Cerda said.
Place-based and identity-specific literature matters, too. At La Revo, “95% of our books are written by people of color, and we have a large selection of children’s books solely in Spanish,” Cerda said. “We don’t get people asking for Spanish books from non-Latino authors,” she added, and other booksellers echo her sentiment.
Sherman-Nurick finds that Spanish translations of U.S. bestsellers’ works do not move. “We have Colleen Hoover’s Verity in Spanish sitting here. Never sold,” she said. She pushes for Spanish-language, Latin American originals instead: “Our customers specifically are saying, ‘Spain’s fine, but we really like to have authors from our hemisphere—Mexico in particular.’ ”
A call for children’s Spanish, bilingual titles
Board books and picture books for kids perform especially well among readers eager to learn Spanish and access authentic cultural information. Booksellers pointed to works by U.S.-based authors like Yuyi Morales and Matt de la Peña, along with those by Claudia Guadalupe Martínez, Juana Martinez-Neal, and Isabel Quintero. At La Revo, Cerda likes Roqui’s Pandero Beat, a story about a coqui frog by Delia Ruiz.
“When we came to the market in 2020, we met a significant pent-up demand for Spanish and bilingual books from families and dual-language educators,” said Nina Sánchez, owner of Chicago’s 51st Ward Books. With the rise of dual-language programs in public schools and the growth of Latinx populations, Sánchez sees no signs of this trend slowing. “Educators are particularly interested in obtaining mentor texts for their curriculum planning and design.”
Sánchez provides families with side-by-side Spanish and English texts, and meets schools’ demand for books on folklore and customs. Among her top picks are Diego Remussi’s Leyendas de los incas, mayas y aztecas contada para niños (La brújula y la veleta), David Bowles and Charlene Cosette Bowles’s graphic novel El Ascenso del rey enano, and Berta De Llano and Jaime Rivera Contreras’s picture book Citlali and the Day of the Dead.
In Austin, BookPeople, likewise, does brisk business in bilingual board books, notably Gibbs Smith’s Lil’ Libros titles like Counting with Frida/Contando con Frida and The Life of Jean-Michel Basquiat/La vida de Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Meghan Dietsche Goel, BookPeople’s children’s book buyer, shared statistics to demonstrate an ongoing call for Spanish-language beginner books, middle grade fiction, and graphic novels. “Children’s Spanish sales for these past 12 months have increased 27% over the previous 12, and bilingual books have increased 19%,” Goel said. And when BookPeople moved the adult Spanish section from a second-floor location to a busier first-floor space, she noted, “Spanish adult fiction sales increased 25% and adult nonfiction increased over 40%.”
Regional authors help drive sales, too: Cellar Door sold out of Isabel Quintero’s Mi papi tiene una moto thanks to visits from the Southern California picture book writer.
For all the enthusiasm around Spanish-original work, international books can be hard to procure. “It can be challenging to purchase books that are not translated but are written originally in Spanish,” said Karen Ugarte, bookstore manager at Tía Chucha’s. “We don’t receive too many catalogs with Spanish books. We do get some emails, and we also have staff researching as well as receiving recommendations from our community.”
The lack of comprehensive catalogs often forces booksellers to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations when ordering titles. “Not all Spanish book marketing is integrated into our primary marketing from reps and publisher catalogs,” explained BookPeople’s Goel. “We’re seeing more effort and more simultaneous Spanish-plus-English releases, but there’s still separation in how Spanish lists are promoted from publisher to publisher.”
Booksellers report seeing few Spanish-language titles at national and regional shows. 51st Ward’s Sánchez attended Children’s Institute in 2022 but encountered no reps with a Spanish or bilingual focus. Further, “the largest distributors of these books in the U.S. carry precious few Spanish and bilingual titles, and establishing accounts with international presses is a difficult and lengthy process,” she said. “For the most up-to-date information on new releases, I follow the social media accounts of publishing companies.”
Johnson of Libros Bookmobile concurred. At an unnamed U.S. trade show, she met “only a handful of vendors” offering Spanish-language options, she said, and reps “few and far between.” While Edelweiss makes searching much easier, she said she’d “like less me searching and more me being informed.”
Some booksellers go straight to the source, though this depends on stretching limited resources. Cerda of La Revo said she “went to Mexico last year, visited a few stores”—including El Sótano and Librerías Gonvill—“and opened up a wholesale account in Guadalajara. We brought back a shipment.” Customers snapped up the goods. “It’s so rewarding to see people choose books you can’t get around here,” she added—but the cost of a minimum order, to say nothing of the travel, is unsustainable.
Cerda has faith in reps who are good listeners. The first time she met IPG Midwest rep Chris Conti and asked for Spanish-language books, he only had a couple. “But when we saw him at Heartland Fall Forum,” she said, “he had a whole expanded collection.”
Magaña of Palabras successfully orders from “Ingram and a few very small-scale publishers that publish books in Spanish,” she said. For her, the biggest challenge is “accessing titles published in Latin American countries. We somehow have better access to titles from Spain than from Mexico.” Reflecting on La Revo’s bringing books across the border, Magaña joked that she could “open up a tiny shop in Mexico so I can open accounts with publishers and distributors there.... Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to do that, so here we are.”