Twelve New Middle-Grade Novels with Caribbean Protagonists

Tweens are at the stage of cognitive development where their brains are beginning to gain a broader understanding of abstract ideas and predispose them to trying new things. Thus, the middle grades are a critical time for expanding young people’s reading palettes in order to form their literary tastes and get them attuned to different flavors of stories. Consuming a healthy diet of diverse books is intellectually nutritious and trains young readers to savor new perspectives of the world. With their recurring themes of self-discovery, navigating friendships and family, and gaining confidence, the books listed below speak directly to tweens while peeling back the curtain on Caribbean experiences and communities.

As middle graders settle into summer reading, these twelve recent and forthcoming titles (some published in the UK) can help countervail both narrow reading habits and the summer slide.

Nightmare Island
by Shakirah Bourne
Scholastic (June 2023)

Serenity, a twelve-year-old Afro-Barbadian girl, defies her name in every way, much to the chagrin of her soft-spoken parents. Loud and outspoken, she’s conquering her fear of the recurring nightmares she’s been having by filming a horror movie with the help of her gentle younger brother, Peace, the golden child of the family. When Peace grows fearful of the dark and begins to have trouble sleeping, their parents blame Serenity and take Peace to a silent retreat at a sanitarium led by the creepy Dr. Whisper on Duppy Island. Serenity follows her family to the spooky island where she discovers her brother is behaving oddly, realizes that her parents have no memory of her, and encounters the terrifying sound-erasing silver butterflies from her nightmares. With the help of the sanitorium’s caretaker and the spirits of people housed in the sanitarium in the 1850s, Serenity is able to foil Dr. Whisper’s evil ploy to turn the children at the facility into douens (faceless lost souls with backward-facing feet).

The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto
by Adrianna Cuevas
Farrar (April 2023)

As punishment for a prank he and his friends pull as part of their fantasy role-playing game, Rafa, a Cuban American boy living in Miami, is sent to New Mexico to spend the summer on a ranch for artists and scientists owned by his dad’s friend, an African American army vet with PTSD. On the isolated ranch, Rafa processes the harsh fact that his mother is dying from cancer and befriends Jennie, a Korean American boy whose father passed away. When supernatural going-ons keep afflicting the ranchers, the two boys get caught up in a time-travel mystery involving the strange, yet strangely familiar, man wearing a green sweater who keeps trying to kick Rafa off the ranch.

Mari and the Curse of El Cocodrillo
by Adrianna Cuevas
HarperCollins (October 2023)

Subject to much teasing by her bratty neighbor, Mykenzye, due to her family’s unfettered “Cubanness,” twelve-year-old Mari, a hockey-playing mariachi-band hopeful, wishes they would tone down their New Year’s Eve celebrations. When she refuses to participate in the Cuban tradition of burning an effigy of the past year to ward off bad luck, Mari incurs the wrath of a supernatural entity known as El Cocodrillo, and is plagued by ghostly activity that makes her life a misery. She soon discovers that she has inherited the ability to call forth dead relatives by writing about them. With the help of her ancestors and her school buddies Keisha and Juan Carlos, whose friendship with Mari El Cocodrillo seeks to destroy, Mari learns more about her cultural heritage, embraces her family’s Cuban pride, and ultimately breaks the curse.

Farewell Cuba, Mi Isla
by Alexandra Diaz
Wiseman/Simon (September 2023)

Twelve-year-old Victoria enjoys a privileged existence in 1960s Cuba where she lives in a walled upper-class compound with her tight-knit extended family and enjoys riding ponies on her grandparents’ farm with her cousin/best friend, Jackie. But Fidel Castro has recently risen to power, and with political tyranny mounting, Victoria’s parents flee the island, taking her and her two younger siblings. In Miami, they sink into hardship and privation, and Victoria has difficulty making friends at her new school. Back in Cuba, Jackie begins to fall apart emotionally as the communist regime further ruptures their family. After she escapes to Miami through the Operation Peter Pan evacuation, the cousins encounter bumps in their relationship and navigate family tensions as they work to get the rest of their relatives out of Cuba.

The Case of the Lighthouse Intruder [Di Island Crew Investigates Book #1] 
by Kereen Getten
Pushkin Children’s Books (June 2023)

In this first installment in a new Famous Five-esque mystery adventure series, Fayson, a gutsy, book-loving Afro-British girl, is invited to spend the summer with her rich cousins in Jamaica. Welcomed into their secret club, she helps them solve the mystery of the shadow in the lighthouse, although her cousins’ tendency to bicker poses quite a challenge. While on the island, Fayson learns how to embrace her leadership gifts, rise above class prejudices, and confront bullies, all while missing her time-strapped but loving mother, who is a nurse.

My Name Is Sunshine Simpson
by G. M. Linton
Usborne (May 2023)

Sunshine Simpson, a second-generation Afro-Jamaican British girl, is trying to find her voice and be her best self, but it’s hard when everything in her life seems to be going awry. Her wise and loving Grandpa Bobby is dying from cancer; preparing for the Golden Jubilee school showcase is more stressful than she bargained for; and her friendship with Evie Evans, a seemingly perfect new girl, has been going sour lately as the pair become increasingly competitive. Listening to Grandpa Bobby’s stories about Jamaica, and how he overcame racism after moving to Britian in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation, gives Sunshine perspective and helps her take pride in her heritage. She also has the support of her teacher, Miss Peach, and her friends Arun and Charley. But ultimately, it’s up to Sunshine to accept the things that make her special and embrace what Grandpa Bobby dubs “this adventure called Life.”

Aniana del Mar Jumps In
by Jasminne Mendez
Dial (March 2023)

Ani, a twelve-year-old Afro-Dominican American girl, feels most at home in the sea or a pool, but her mother forbids her children from participating in water sports, having lost her twin brother to drowning in the Dominican Republic when she was a child. Ani sneaks out to swim meets with her dad’s help, until the onset of a painful illness forces her to come clean to her mom and threatens to put the kibosh on her passion for swimming. Informed by Mendez’s own lived experiences as someone with scleroderma and lupus, this painfully candid but ultimately triumphant novel-in-verse recounts Ani’s difficult diagnosis journey — she eventually learns she has idiopathic arthritis — and follows her as she navigates the rough waters of learning how to live with chronic pain, advocate for her health, and confront her mother’s religious stigma regarding disease.

Saving Chupie
by Amparo Ortiz, illus. by Ronnie Garcia
HarperAlley (August 2023)

Violeta’s abuelita has been staying with Violeta, a brown-skinned girl, and her family in Florida since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and now they’re going back to the island to help Abuelita revive her beloved restaurant. Violeta discovers that the island — Abuelita's meat supplier included — is being plagued by livestock attacks attributed to the savage, blood-sucking monster of Latin American lore known as chupacabra. Violeta and her new friends Lorena and Diego, both STEM geeks, work together to capture the beast, whom even Lorena's uncle, Señor Soto, the island’s resident monster-hunter can’t manage to track down. But when chupacabra saves Violeta’s life and turns out to be as adorable and loyal as a puppy — i.e., more Chupie than chupacabra — her decision to keep him secret tears the trio apart. Then Chupie becomes a victim of mythological creature trafficking and the friends must repair their rift in order to rescue him in this fast-paced graphic novel.

Last Girl In: Kerry-Ann Fights to Stay in the Game
by Cheryl Diane Parkinson

Dinosaur Books (May 2023)

Kerry-Ann, an Afro-Jamaican British girl adores cricket, which her grandfather, SeeBee, taught her to play. She’s a devoted member of the local over-13s cricket club, until the elite older First XI players decide to ban girls. Devastated, Kerry-Ann finds solace in her grandmother’s stories of the struggles SeeBee overcame when they immigrated from Jamaica to England in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation. While Kerry-Ann is exploring her mother’s childhood bedroom, a time slip transports her back to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958. After learning about fighting for what you believe in from a younger SeeBee and his friends, she returns to the present and successfully leads her teammates in standing up for their right to play.

Pilar Ramirez and the Curse of San Zenon
by Julian Randall
Holt (February 2023)

The high-octane Pilar Ramirez duology closes off with more mythological mayhem. Twelve-year-old Pilar, a sarcastic first-generation Afro-Dominican American girl, is visiting the Dominican Republic for the first time a year after battling the demon El Cuco and rescuing her cousin Natasha from the magical island of Zafa in the first book. The ciguapa from Zafa and her friend Carmen track down Pilar seeking her help. El Baca, the burly dog-man demon who is El Cuco’s right-hand enforcer, has escaped and teamed up with a powerful bruja traitor intent on resurrecting the dictator Rafael Trujillo and unleashing unimaginable evil. Spurred on by visions and feeling the weight of her responsibility as one of the last brujas in the world, Pilar must learn to harness both her own powers and the power of teamwork in order to save her family and Zafa.

Paloma’s Song for Puerto Rico: A Diary from 1898
by Adriana Erin Rivera, illus. by Eugenia Mobati
Stone Arch Books (August 2023)

In this historical fiction novel created in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Latino, Rivera transports us to late-nineteenth-century Puerto Rico through the diary entries of twelve-year-old Paloma whose family’s coffee-farming way of life is threated by the Spanish-American War. Fearful of the changes happening in the island, Paloma is buoyed by the daily rituals of her tight-knit, small-town community, as well as her close relationships with her guitar-playing father and her friend-cum-tutor, Rosa. Beginning a few days before the arrival of American troops on July 25 and ending shortly before the August 12 armistice, the story educates young readers about the U.S invasion of Puerto Rico and underscores the role of literacy in bearing witness to social and personal history. Nobati’s spot art appears every few pages.

Doodles from the Boogie Down
by Stephanie Rodriguez; illus. by the author; color by Andrea Bell
Kokila/Penguin (April 2023)

In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, it’s the early 2000s in the Bronx, and white Dominican American eighth grader Steph is faced with the daunting task of applying to high schools. Noticing Steph’s talent for drawing, her art teacher, Ms. Santiago, kindly mentors her and urges her to consider applying to a public high school in Manhattan that specializes in the arts. Navigating the expectations of both her strict, embarrassingly overprotective Catholic mother and her two best friends, Steph comes up with an underhanded plan to pursue her dream of becoming an artist, but things get messier than she anticipated.

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


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

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