The year 2016 has already been an interesting year for Caribbean children's and young adult books. The spring release cycle brought us breakout books like Malaika's Costume by Jamaican-Canadian writer Nadia L. Hohn with illustrations by Irene Luxbacher and the YA novel A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. Another YA debut, Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay, marks the Jamaican's author's first crossover into writing for younger audiences.
There have also been some noteworthy new works from veteran authors, of which Eric Velasquez's picturebook Looking for Bongo and Full Moon Night in Silk Cotton Village: A Collection of Caribbean Folk Tales by John Agard and Grace Nichols with illustrations by Rosie Woods stand out particularly. In February, Agard's typically quirky chapter book Going Batty was also released. Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina already looks to be another triumph for the award-winning Cuban-American author.
With Puerto Rican-American author Daniel Jose Older's YA novel Shadowshaper recently named a New York Times bestseller and Trinidadian John Lyon's children's poetry collection Dancing in the Rain shortlisted for the 2016 CLPE Children's Poetry Award (CLiPPA) last month, there is much to be excited about in regional children's and YA literature right now. Check out our seasonal listing of highly-touted new titles to be released later this year.
*All book synopses from the publisher's website.
by Margarita Engle
YA novel. Pub date: August 2016
In a haunting yet hopeful novel in verse, award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who became a champion of civil rights.
Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. Yet for most Cubans in the nineteenth century, life is anything but beautiful. The country is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and nearly-enslaved Chinese indentured servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields.
So Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger, where his richly blended cultural background is an asset. Through his work he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. With injustice all around them, the three friends are determined that violence will not be the only way to gain liberty.
by Olive Senior (Author) and Laura James (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: November 2016
In this beautifully illustrated picture book written by Commonwealth Prize-winning author Olive Senior and illustrated by the much-acclaimed artist of Anna Carries Water a little girl learns to love her difficult-to-manage curly hair.
Where Do They Go?
by Julia Alvarez (Author) and Sabra Field (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: September 2016
Bestselling novelist (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and children's (The Tia Lola Stories) author Julia Alvarez's new picture book is a beautifully crafted poem for children that gently addresses the emotional side of death. The book asks, "When somebody dies, where do they go? / Do they go where the wind goes when it blows? ... Do they wink back at me when I wish on a star? Do they whisper, 'You're perfect, just as you are'? ..." Illustrated by Vermont woodcut artist, Sabra Field, Where Do They Go? is a beautiful and comforting meditation on death, asking questions young readers might have about what happens to those they love after they die.
The Sun is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
YA novel. Pub date: November 2016
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
Plus Don't Miss These Titles from Indie Publishers!
Children of the Spider
by Imam Baksh
YA novel. Pub date: July 2016
Mayali is a girl on the run. Driven by desperation and the search for her father, Mayali leaves behind everything she has ever known on her home world of Zolpash, a land of sulphur and harsh weather, and journeys to Guyana. There she meets Joseph, a boy without the gift of speech but with much to say. Together they go on a daring, cross-country adventure to save earth from the invading Spider gods and their armies. Will their warning come too late? Will anyone even believe them? And will Mayali be able to find her father?
Children of the Spider is a fast-paced adventure. The story moves from the lush hinterlands of Guyana through to the bustling city of Georgetown where the colonial past continues to rub shoulders with the gritty, contemporary world. It is a refreshing take on Caribbean myth and mythology from an interesting new voice.
Children of the Spider won first place in the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.
The Flaca Files 2: The Case of the Three Kings
by Alidis Vicente
Chapter book. Pub date: May 2016
Flaca, or Detective Flaca as she prefers to be called, is pleased with her Christmas gifts. Finally, she has the tools needed to do her job: a fingerprint-taking kit, a police-quality mini flashlight, and most exciting of all, police tape to block off crime scenes! However, she is not at all pleased with the airline tickets to Puerto Rico she and her sister La Bruja are given. She has case deadlines to meet! La Bruja isn’t very happy either since their grandmother’s house doesn’t have air conditioning, cable TV or Wi-Fi.
Their parents are sure the girls will enjoy celebrating Three Kings Day, a huge holiday in Latin America that takes place on January 6 and involves putting grass in a box under the bed for the wise men’s camels. Three men on flying camels sounds very suspicious to Detective Flaca, who once again is faced with a case begging to be solved. Where do the Three Kings get the gifts to put in the boxes? Do they steal presents from Santa Claus? Or do they take them from under Christmas trees around the world?
The skinny second grader first introduced in The Case of the Missing Chancleta and Other Top-Secret Cases / La chancleta perdida y otros casos secretos is back on the case in the second installment of the bilingual series, The Flaca Files / Los expedientes de Flaca. Narrated by Detective Flaca in hard-boiled detective style, this short, bilingual novel for intermediate readers will appeal to seasoned and reluctant readers alike.
Dancing in the Rain
by Lynn Joseph
YA novel. Pub date: July 2016
Twelve year-old Elizabeth is no normal girl. With an imagination that makes room for mermaids and magic in everyday life, she lives every moment to the fullest. Yet her joyful world crumbles around her when two planes bring down the Twin Towers and tear her family apart. Thousands of miles away, yet still touched by this tragedy, Elizabeth is swimming in a sea of loss. She finally finds hope when she meets her kindred spirit in 8 year-old Brandt and his 13 year-old brother, Jared.
Brandt and Jared, two boys as different as Oreo and milk and just as inseparable, arrive on the island to escape the mushroom of sorrow that bloomed above their lives in the wake of the tragedy. Elizabeth shows them a new way to look at the world and they help her to laugh again. But can Elizabeth and Brandt help their families see that when life brings showers of sadness, it’s okay to dance in the rain?
Set against the dazzling beauty of the Dominican Republic, Dancing in the Rain explores the impact of the tragic fall of the Twin Towers on two Caribbean families. It is a lyrical, well-crafted tale about finding joy in the face of loss.
Dancing in the Rain won a Burt Award for Caribbean Literature (2015) prize.
by Phillis Gershator
YA novel. Pub date: Summer, 2016.
Is this a Cinderella story? Caribel’s stepmother treats her cruelly. But in Caribel’s story, there are also people who care for her: an uncle, who is now her pen pal, a spritely old lady who lives hidden away in the bush, and a devoted school teacher. Caribel hopes that someday she’ll become a real, “inside” member of her family, if only she can be good enough. She tries her best. She does her chores. She wins the school spelling bee.
But what does good enough mean? Can she be good and keep secrets, too? Or speak her mind? Or break a promise? Or, when the time comes, save her own life?
Broo 'Nansi and the Tar Baby
Collected and written by Dr. Lois Hassell-Habtes. Story as told by Ector Roebuck
Picture storybook. Pub date: Summer, 2016.
This Broo ‘Nansi story is the first in a new book series by Little Bell Caribbean appropriately titled Under the Big Tree: Traditional Tales of the Caribbean and Beyond. Our goal is to help preserve and continue the storytelling tradition for many generations to come.
Broo Tukuma knows better, but as the good brother that he is, he can’t watch his nephews starve. So, much against his better judgment, he takes Broo ‘Nansi (that good for nothing fellow) to get food from his secret garden. The trip turns into a disaster when Broo ‘Nansi disobeys his brother’s strict orders.
Another great Broo ‘Nansi story filled with the humor and wisdom that only this ancient little spider can impart. A must-read for all Virgin Islanders, and for anyone who loves a good tale.
by Mario Picayo
Picturebook. Pub date: Summer 2016.
The first book in a new series of books about Caribbean nature.
Whether it flies, runs, crawls, swims, or just sways in the wind, Close to Nature will bring you a book about it. We dedicate our first volume to the brown pelican, a bird that most of us know by sight, but probably have learned little about. Did you know that pelicans have the longest bill of any bird in the world, and that it is one of the few land animals that can drink salt water?
Fully illustrated with stunning photographs taken in the Virgin Islands, Brown Pelicans will educate and delight readers of all ages.
We are Pirates / Somos Pirates
by Adrián Guerra (Author) and Angel Velazoo (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: Summer 2016
Two young readers decide to imitate their favorite book and follow the ways of the pirates by wearing handkerchiefs on their head, patches over one eye, and even making scary faces. But when it comes to having a parrot on their shoulder, things get a little tricky. The only parrot they know belongs to the neighbor. Can they be pirates without a parrot? Or will they have to become real pirates and steal the parrot? A very different children’s pirate book with a funny, surprising, and happy ending.
El Torneo de Trabalenguas / The Tonge Twister Tournament
by Nicolás Kanellos (Author) and Anne Vega (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: October 2016
“Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, doggies, kitties and mousies: Welcome to the grand Tongue Twister Tournament!” And so begins this championship in which the best tongue torturer will win the tongue twister trophy.
The competitors include a variety of quirky characters, including Lengua de Lagarto, or Lizard Tongue, whose tongue is tied “just so.” There’s Grumpy Granny, who raps about a raggedy cat, and El Chupacabras, who loves to eat critters, “even insects are for me / cows and cats and doggies too / chupa chupa chupa cabras, BOO!”
Many of the tongue twisters included in this picture book will be familiar to Spanish-speaking children—and their parents too! But the book also includes tried-and-true tongue twisters familiar to English speakers, like “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” With colorful illustrations depicting the unique contestants, this bilingual collection of phrases that are difficult to say quickly will challenge children to excel in both English and Spanish.
Where Did the Baby Go?
by David Gershator (Author) and Phillis Gershator (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: Summer 2016
Oh, no! Is the baby missing? Or hiding in plain sight? The noisy rooster knows where the baby is. Do you?
A dreamy mystery that the reader solves, visually, from the first page. The end of the book includes an added counting element with the sea and shore creatures pictured in the beautiful, vibrant illustrations.
Calling the Water Drum
by LaTisha Redding (Author) and Aaron Boyd (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: October 2016
Henri and his parents leave their homeland, Haiti, after they receive an invitation from an uncle to come to New York City. Only able to afford a small, rickety boat, the family sets out in the middle of the night in search of a better life. Out at sea Henri dreams of what life will be like across the great waters. Then the small boat overturns, and Henri is placed on top of the boat as his parents drift further out at sea. Overcome with grief, Henri retreats into himself and is no longer able to speak once he reaches land.
Encouraged by his uncle and neighbor, Henri takes a bucket and plays on it like a drum. The drumming becomes a link to his past and a conduit for his emotions. Slowly, through his drumming and the kindness of his uncle and friend, Henri learns to navigate this new and foreign world without his parents. Calling the Water Drum is a tender and timely tribute to the bravery of immigrants and refugees, and the resiliency of the human spirit.
Indie Titles That Don't Yet Have Covers
A Surprise for Teresita / Una sorpresa para Teresita
by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Author) and Carolyn Dee Flores (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Pub date: November 2016
When Teresita opens her eyes that morning, she knows it’s a special day. It’s her birthday, and now she’s a big girl. She’s seven! And her Tío Ramón has promised her a surprise. She can’t wait to find out what it is!
“Is it time for Tío Ramón to come to our block?” she asks her mamá excitedly as she sits down for breakfast. But it’s too early. Her uncle has to take his snow cone cart to the other blocks before he comes to theirs. All day, Teresita watches for the green and white cart. She listens for Tío Ramón calling, “Snow cones, cold snow cones. ¡Piraguas! ¡Piraguas frías!”
While she waits for her uncle, she jumps rope, plays games with her friends and watches the goings-on in her neighborhood. Mothers hold their young children’s hands as they walk to the corner bodega to buy groceries. Boys and girls ride bikes and play stickball. Older people sit at their windows and enjoy the sights and sounds of their community. And coming from far up the block where water sprays from an open fire hydrant, Teresita finally hears the sound of her uncle’s voice. What will her surprise be?!?
Set in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City, this bilingual picture book for children ages 4 – 8 captures both the daily life of an urban community and a child’s excitement about her birthday surprise. Children will be inspired to look at—and maybe even write about—their own neighborhoods with new eyes.
About the Author
Summer Edward is the Managing Editor and Kids Editor here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.