7 Caribbean Picture Books

These seven picture books—whose themes encompass the vitalizing power of nature, the pride that comes from knowing one’s personal and cultural heritage, and the rewards of empathy—instill hope and self-confidence in young readers while widening the window of welcome for Caribbean stories.

Lawrence, Patrice Our Story Starts in Africa

40 pp. | Magic Cat | August, 2022 | Trade ISBN 978-1-4197-6022-8 $18.99

Illustrated by Jeanetta Gonzales. When a young girl named Paloma makes a trip with her mother to visit their family in Trinidad, she struggles to bridge the differences between herself and her cousins. But when her warm tante Janet tells her about their family’s ancestral history, tracing the ennobling story of the Caribbean’s African past, including Black people’s ongoing attempts to reunify after colonial partitions, Paloma feels reassured that fragile familial bonds can be strengthened with time and effort. With a rich, full-bodied text and inviting digital illustrations that incorporate many authentic, Afrocentric cultural details, this is an important story for instilling diasporic confidence, consciousness, and connection in Black Caribbean children, and for teaching all readers about the achievements of precolonial African civilization.

Mack, Luz Maria The Secret of the Plátano

32 pp. | Soaring Kite | September, 2022 | Trade ISBN 978-1-953859-23-5 $18.99

Illustrated by Stephany Mesa. On a full-moon night, an Afro-Latino boy yields to his grandmother’s hushed invitation to dance outdoors in a grove of plátano trees. The boy can detect the nocturnal chorus of singing insects and leaves rustling in the wind but not the mysterious secret of the plátano that Abuela hears. As she guides him to listen to the rhythm of his beating heart, he too discovers what the plátano teaches: “Love is the magic that helps everything grow.” More vignette than narrative, this lyrical picture book celebrates intergenerational relationships and champions love as the organizing principle of Creation. Textured digital illustrations awash with umbrous shades of blue and green usher readers into the “dance enchantment.”

Orenstein-Cardona, Anna The Tree of Hope: The Miraculous Rescue of Puerto Rico’s Beloved Banyan

40 pp. | Beaming | August, 2022 | Trade ISBN 978-1-5064-8409-9 $18.99

Illustrated by Juan Manuel Moreno. At the entrance to Old San Juan, a mighty banyan tree provided shelter, sanctuary, and solace to the people and wildlife of Puerto Rico for over a century. When Hurricane María razes the island, reducing the tree to a stump, a community marshals their spirits and resources to restore the beloved natural monument. Based on a true story, this gently told tale is a moving ode to the unity and resilience of the Puerto Rican people. The muted digital illustrations faithfully render the iconic, historic city, and center a young girl, who propels the action. The consistent use of double-page spreads creates a sense of expansiveness that mirrors the hopefulness of the narrative. Back matter provides added context and details about the tree rescue project.

Sacre, Antonio My Name Is Cool

32 pp. | Familius | August, 2022 | Trade ISBN 978-1-64170-657-5 $16.99

Illustrated by Sarah Demonteverde. During the first five years of his life, young Antonio accumulates ten Spanish names affectionately bestowed by his Cuban family members. Along with his surname, there are eponyms, as well as monikers born of special moments or amusing incidents. But on the first day of kindergarten, when Antonio proudly introduces himself to his English-speaking teacher and classmates, they are anything but amused by his tenfold name, to his chagrin, until the school principal empathetically intervenes. This autobiographical picture book (not to be confused with Sacre’s homonymous children's short story collection My Name Is Cool: Stories from a Cuban-Irish-American Storyteller) celebrates cultural naming conventions and affirms bilingual identity. The upbeat digital illustrations are as colorful as Antonio’s backstory.

Sanford, Adaiah The Legend of the Spirit Serpent

40 pp. | Reycraft | May, 2022 | Trade ISBN 978-1-4788-7517-8 $17.95

Illustrated by Ken Daley. In this legend set in precolonial Dominica, Natari, a plucky eight-year-old Kalinago girl, is fascinated by the Great Spirit Serpent, her tribe’s wish-granting tutelary deity who dwells in a treasure cave that only tribal leaders may enter. After Natari saves her clan from starvation, she feels emboldened to visit the fearsome Serpent. Surprised by her unusual request for his friendship, the creature transforms into a human boy who takes her on a magical journey through the fabric of time and reality and warns her of the impending arrival of European colonizers. This discussion-worthy picture book based on the myth of the snake king upholds courage, disrupts gender stereotypes, and helps fill the gaping need for children’s literature featuring indigenous Caribbean characters. Daley employs intense colors that underscore the vitality of indigenous communities and cosmology.

Smith, Sadé Granny's Kitchen: A Jamaican Story of Food and Family

32 pp. | Feiwel & Friends | July, 2022 | Trade ISBN 978-1-250-80633-8 $18.99

Illustrated by Ken Daley. On the island of Jamaica, Shelly-Ann lives with her grandmother who is not only her “most favorite person in the whole wide world” but also a prize-winning cook. Hungry after spells of outdoor play, Shelly-Ann periodically requests various Jamaican dishes, which Granny banteringly insists she learns to make herself. Her bungled first forays in the kitchen are a recipe for discouragement, and Granny’s reminders that practice makes progress don’t land until Shelly-Ann comes to understand that cooking can be an act of service to others. Structural repetition and the less-than-flawless outcomes undergird the text’s message that sustained effort and intention trump perfection. Vibrant illustrations bubble with the warm colors of rural Jamaica. Back matter includes fun facts about the island and recipes for dishes described in the story.

Zephaniah, Benjamin. We Sang Across the Sea: The Empire Windrush and Me

24 pp. | Scholastic | April, 2022 | Trade ISBN 978-0-7023-1116-1 $11.10

Illustrated by Onyinye Iwu. The real-life story of Mona Baptiste’s early years on the island of Trinidad, immigration to England aboard the historic HMT Empire Windrush ship at age twenty, and subsequent noteworthy career as a calypso and blues singer is stripped down to a vita in this rhyming picture book best suited for younger children. In lieu of providing many concrete details, Zephaniah focuses on Baptiste’s desire to use her vocal gifts to spread joy. Although the book takes a rather Panglossian view of Baptiste’s experience as a Black immigrant in post-war Europe, it is a welcome addition to the small but growing corpus of children’s books commemorating the Windrush Generation. Bright, cartoony illustrations project a celebratory mood.

June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month, which celebrates “the significance of Caribbean people and their descendants in the history and culture of the United States.” Find more from the Horn Book here and see Summer Edward's article "11 Standout Caribbean Picture Books of 2024" in School Library Journal.


Summer Edward

Horn Book Consulting Editor Summer Edward is a Trinidadian American author, children’s book editor, educator, K-12 literacy specialist, Caribbean children’s and YA literature advocate, and commentator on books for young readers. She holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and founded Anansesem, an online magazine that for 10 years covered Caribbean children’s and YA literature. She has written for Kirkus ReviewsSchool Library JournalThe Horn BookWOW Stories: Connections from the ClassroomLiteracy Dailysx salon, KidLit TV, the Commonwealth Education Trust, Social Justice Books, and more. Learn more about her work at www.summeredward.com.

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