17 Notable Kid Lit Titles by Caribbean Americans

June is Caribbean American Heritage Month. Here are some picture books, middle grade, YA, and adult books for teens that you can share with your kids in June (and all yearlong).

June is Caribbean American Heritage month, and it has been celebrated since 2006. Recognizing the countless contributions Caribbeans have made to our country and culture, this observance offers an opportunity for children and teens who identify as Caribbean to see themselves in books. These 17 works represent only a fraction of the Caribbean experience—share them with your students and patrons all yearlong.

 

Book covers for Caribbean Heritage Month

 

Picture Books

Maxy Survives the Hurricane by Ricia Anne Chansky & Yaritza Marcial Acevedo. illus. by Olga Barinova. Piñata. ISBN 9781558859180.
PreS-Gr 2–An adorable brown dog experiences a hurricane in his country of Puerto Rico in this gently reassuring, bilingual picture book.This simple, straightforward tale will provide a window for kids who haven’t experienced a hurricane before and offer a mirror for kids who have. Cartoon-style illustrations reinforce the familiar, calming tone of the story.

My Day with the Panye by Tami Charles. illus. by Sara Palacios. Piñata. ISBN 9780763697495.
PreS-Gr 3–Manman is planning a special day for her daughter, Fallon, in the markets of Port-au-Prince, and little sister Naima will have to wait her turn. Charles sprinkles Haitian words into the text that give texture to this loving book, which is part interpersonal story and a part travelogue of sights and sounds.

A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno: Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer! by Anika Aldamuy Denise. illus. by Leo Espinosa. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062877703.
PreS-Gr 3–Bright colors enrich this biographical picture book about the early life of Rita Moreno, the award-winning Puerto Rican actor, dancer, and singer. An inspirational title for young elementary children, this energetic, illustrated biography honors her determined spirit with colorful exuberance.

Malaika's Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn. illus. by Irene Luxbacher. Groundwood. ISBN 9781773062648.
K-Gr 2–Stepsisters Malaika and Adèle love dressing up and listening to soca music as they play carnival in the summer sunshine. When Malaika learns a baby sibling is on the way, she is not sure she is ready for yet another change, and worries that her mother will forget her. Bright colors appear on every page, reminding readers of the visuals inherent to the time of carnival, and a blend of textures and smooth lines give the images depth. Woven into the story are a handful of Arabic and French words that add richness to the narrative and are defined at the beginning.

 

Middle Grade

Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338642087.
Publisher copy: Meet Josephine, the most lovable mischief-maker in Barbados, in a magical, heartfelt adventure inspired by Caribbean mythology. Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That's why she makes a habit of scaring his new girlfriends away. She's desperate to make it onto her school's cricket team because she'll get to play her favorite sport AND use the cricket matches to distract Daddy from dating. But when Coach Broomes announces that girls can't try out for the team, the frustrated Josephine cuts into a powerful silk cotton tree and accidentally summons a bigger problem into her life . . .

SLJ review is forthcoming.

Merci Suárez Can't Dance by Meg Medina. Candlewick. ISBN 9780763690502.
Gr 4-7–Now in seventh grade, Merci Suárez finds that a new school year means new responsibilities and challenges. In this sequel to Newbery winner Merci Suárez Changes Gears, the struggles with friendships,  school, crushes, and jealousy that Merci and her friends face will strike a chord with many readers. The plot moves along at a consistent and page-turning pace, and as usual Medina’s characters are excellently written and developed. Medina also touches on racism and how shared cultural heritage can bring people together unexpectedly.

Sonia Sotomayor by Meg Medina. Philomel. (She Persisted). ISBN 9780593116012.
Gr 1-4–This full-length biography of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is part of the “She Persisted” series, expanding on the original profiles in She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. Medina takes readers through the stages of Sotomayor’s life from learning to walk at the age of seven months to her appointment as the first Latinx Supreme Court Justice in 2009. An engaging read for elementary classrooms and a welcome addition to library biography sections.

 

Young Adult

Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield. St. Martin's/Wednesday. ISBN 9781250622235.
Gr 8 Up–Tilla is a Jamaican Canadian teen traveling to Jamaica with her younger sister to visit their father, whom she hasn’t seen for a year. The carefree vacation never materializes, as her father’s business obligations and a hurricane headed toward Jamaica throw her plans off course. Tilla finds herself in an unfamiliar world where her father has kinglike status in the family compound. This is an excellent examination of the ways wealth, gender, and color can create mental and emotional fractures.

Muted by Tami Charles. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338673524.
Gr 10 Up–Living in Shohola Falls, PA, Haitian American 17-year-old Denver and her friends Dalisay, who is Dominican, and Shakira, who is Black, sing in an R & B group called Angelic Voices. When they are noticed by popular singer and producer Sean “Mercury” Ellis, their world, which looks bright and promising, becomes full of deceit and isolation. Charles’s heartbreaking novel in verse shows the harsh realities of the music industry and runs parallel to the real-life #MuteRKelly and #MeToo movements.

Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780063018525.
Gr 8 Up–Seventeen-year-old Reyna has devoted her life to following her mother’s wishes and working at the Plumeria, their family hotel in Tobago. This meant giving up her first love, Aiden, two years ago when he moved to the United States. Now Aiden, who's become a famous musician, is back visiting Tobago with his band and celebrity friends while Reyna is stuck managing her late mother’s hotel. Dass, who is Tobagonian, gives Jane Austen’s Persuasion a Caribbean twist, drawing from her own experiences to create a rich, immersive atmosphere. 

Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. ISBN 9781534460713.
Gr 8 Up–Jamaican teen Frankie Green has been working hard to earn a scholarship that will allow him to move to the United States to attend college and become an engineer. He lives with his strict dad but is torn between what his dad wants and the Rastafarian posse life of his uncle, Joe. Gritty and full of detail about life in Jamaica, this eye-opening novel will allow readers to identify with a teen doing his best in a difficult situation.

One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite. Inkyard. ISBN 9781335145802.
Gr 9 Up–Keziah Leah Smith is a YouTube vlogger and activist. She’s just turned 18, and she’s excited about attending her first Black Lives Matter protest—but an interaction with police at the rally ends with Kezi losing her life. Her sisters Happi and Genny and her best friends Ximena and Derek decide to honor Kezi by taking a road trip on Route 66. The question of Blackness and acceptability is examined—the novel makes it clear that there are multiple ways to be a Black person in America and that acceptability doesn’t equal safety.

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823447176.
Gr 9 Up–Charlie Vega is struggling, and who can blame her? She’s bullied by her mother about her weight, resigned to being overshadowed by her thin and popular best friend Amelia, withdrawn from her Puerto Rican extended family after the death of her father, and tossed aside by her admittedly unworthy crush. When she meets a new coworker, Brian, it’s not easy to let go of her insecurities in pursuit of her own happiness. Charlie’s romantic journey is adorable, perfectly encompassing all the giddy hopes and insecurities of first love.

Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud Simone
Publisher copy: Simone Thibodeaux's life is sealed in a boy-proof container. Her strict Haitian immigrant parents enforce no-dating rules and curfews, and send Simone to an all-girls school. As for prom? Simone is allowed to go on one condition: her parents will select her date (a boy from a nice Haitian immigrant family, obviously). Simone is desperate to avoid the humiliation of the set up—especially since she's crushing on a boy she knows her parents wouldn't approve of. With senior year coming to a close, Simone makes a decision. She and her fellow late-bloomer friends will create a Senior Year Bucket List of all the things they haven't had a chance to do. 
SLJ review is forthcoming.

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart. HarperTeen. ISBN 9780062945983.
Gr 8 Up–Princess Jazmyne’s mother all but wiped out prisoner Iraya’s family, a former ruling faction on the island of Aicaya. While Ira seeks vengeance, Jazmyne herself realizes the unsettling cruelty of her mother and wishes to change the present way of ruling. Sorcery, spite, and superstitions: This Jamaican-inspired young adult fantasy novel is imbued with a complex magic system and, in the center of it all, two witches fighting a common enemy. 

 

Adult Books 4 Teens

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge. Algonquin. ISBN 9781616207014.
Gr 9 Up–The question of freedom weaves throughout this stunning historical novel. Libertie, a dark-skinned girl, was born free in post–Civil War Brooklyn. Her light-skinned mother (based on a real-life figure) became a doctor who also helps those escaping via the Underground Railroad, and she expects Libertie to take over her medical practice. But after spending time at an all-Black girls school, Libertie finds herself drawn away from science and toward music. This beautifully drawn novel brings to life lesser-known aspects of post–Civil War American history, such as Black women in medicine and the relationship between Haiti and the United States.

I'm a Wild Seed by Sharon Lee De la Cruz. Street Noise. ISBN 9781951491055. 
Gr 10 Up–A powerful coming out story done in the graphic memoir format. As a queer Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Black woman, De La Cruz came to embrace her identity not just by claiming it but by decolonizing it, which required an understanding that her shame arose from internalizing racist and sexist social norms. De La Cruz’s art is colorful and engaging. Her images, though generally soft-edged and rounded, express a range of emotion: confusion, anger, and happiness.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera. illus. by Celia Moscote. Boom!Box. ISBN 9781684156115.
Gr 11 Up–A stunning graphic novel adaptation of Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath. Juliet Milagros Palante just came out as a lesbian to her Puerto Rican family. The Bronx teen heads off to an internship in Oregon with a famous, white feminist author, hoping to further explore her queer identity. This comics version captures the intensity and brilliance of the source material and adds a layer of palpability to the coming-of-age tale. A strong choice for older teens.

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