Featured Illustrators


[Book List] Caribbean Carnival in Books for Children

Illustration by Frané Lessac from DRUMMER BOY OF JOHN JOHN by Mark Greenwood

It's carnival season! Carnival, along with steel pan music, the traditional music of carnival, is one of the things our region is famous for. Although different islands have different carnival origin stories, carnival is a festival with both African and European origins.
Read More

[Book List] 2018 Releases- Caribbean Children's & YA Books

It's that time of the year! As usual, we're curating a list of Caribbean children's and young adult (YA) books expected to be published in the coming year. Keep visiting this space as we continue to discover and gradually add more 2018 reads. Also check out our 2017 list and leave a comment if you know of a book that needs to be added to either list.

*All book synopses from the publisher's website. Inclusion in the list below does not constitute an endorsement by Anansesem or its editors.

by Junot Díaz (Author) and Leo Espinosa (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Penguin Group. Pub date: March 13, 2018

From New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz comes a debut picture book about the magic of memory and the infinite power of the imagination.

Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places.

So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Gloriously illustrated and lyrically written, Islandborn is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and our imagination’s boundless ability to connect us—to our families, to our past and to ourselves.

Hurricane Child
by Kheryn Callender
Middle grade novel. Scholastic Press. Pub date: March 27, 2018

Caroline Murphy is a Hurricane Child. Being born during a hurricane is unlucky, and twelve-year-old Caroline has had her share of bad luck lately. She's hated and bullied by everyone in her small school on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, a spirit only she can see won't stop following her, and —worst of all— Caroline's mother left home one day and never came back.

But when a new student named Kalinda arrives, Caroline's luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, becomes Caroline's first and only friend— and the person for whom Caroline has begun to develop a crush. Now, Caroline must find the strength to confront her feelings for Kalinda, brave the spirit stalking her through the islands, and face the reason her mother abandoned her. Together, Caroline and Kalinda must set out in a hurricane to find Caroline's missing mother— before Caroline loses her forever.

Gone to Drft
by Diana McCaulay
YA novel. HarperCollins. Re-release edition. Pub date: April 3, 2018

From award-winning Jamaican author Diana McCaulay, Gone to Drift is a powerful voice-driven middle grade novel about family set in Jamaica.

Lloyd comes from a long line of fishermen. Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Lloyd feels most at home with the sea and his grandfather, Maas Conrad, at his side.

When his grandfather doesn’t return from a fishing trip, Lloyd fears he has gone to drift. The sea may be in Lloyd’s blood, but as he searches for his grandfather, he discovers a side of the ocean—and the people who use it—that he’s never known before.

Told in the alternating voices of Lloyd and Maas Conrad, Gone to Drift is a moving story of family, courage, and the wonders of the oceans we call home.

The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar
by Margarita Engle (Author) and Sara Palacios (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Atheneum Books for Young Readerss. Pub date: March 6, 2018

In this beautiful picture book filled with soaring words and buoyant illustrations, award-winners Margarita Engle and Sara Palacios tell the inspiring true story of Aída de Acosta, the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft.

On a lively street in the lovely city of Paris, a girl named Aída glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of an airship. Oh, how she wished she could soar through the sky like that! The inventor of the airship, Alberto, invited Aída to ride with him, but she didn’t want to be a passenger. She wanted to be the pilot.

Aída was just a teenager, and no woman or girl had ever flown before. She didn’t let that stop her, though. All she needed was courage and a chance to try.

The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
YA novel. Harper Collins. Pub date: March 6, 2018

Fans of Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Medina, and Jason Reynolds will fall hard for this astonishing #ownvoices novel-in-verse by an award-winning slam poet, about an Afro-Latina heroine who tells her story with blazing words and powerful truth.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

by Michelle Jana Chan
YA novel. Unbound/Penguin Random House. Pub date: June 24, 2018

Opening in the mid-nineteenth-century, this dazzling debut novel traces the voyage of Song, a boy who leaves his impoverished family in rural China to seek his fortune. Song may have survived the perilous journey to the colony of British Guiana in the Caribbean, but once there he discovers riches are hard to come by, as he finds himself working as an indentured plantation worker.

Between places, between peoples, and increasingly aware that circumstances of birth carry more weight than accomplishments or good deeds, Song fears he may live as an outsider forever. This is a far-reaching and atmospheric story spanning nearly half a century and half the globe, and though it is set in the past, Song’s story of emigration and the quest for opportunity is, in many ways, a very contemporary tale.

The Resolutions
by Mia Garcia
YA novel. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books. Pub date: Winter 2018

The book follows four friends who assign each other New Year's resolutions to try to change the course of their disastrous lives. *Full synopsis coming soon.

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish
by Pablo Cartaya
Middle grade novel. Viking Books for Young Readers. Pub date: August 21, 2018

One boy's search for his father leads him to Puerto Rico in this moving middle grade novel, for fans of Ghost and See You in the Cosmos.

Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target.

After a fight at school leaves Marcus facing suspension, Marcus's mom decides it's time for a change of environment. She takes Marcus and his younger brother to Puerto Rico to spend a week with relatives they don't remember or have never met. But Marcus can't focus knowing that his father —who walked out of their lives ten years ago— is somewhere on the island.

So begins Marcus's incredible journey, a series of misadventures that take him all over Puerto Rico in search of his elusive namesake. Marcus doesn't know if he'll ever find his father, but what he ultimately discovers changes his life. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

Learning to Breathe
by Janice Lynn Mather
YA novel. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Pub date: June 26, 2018

Sixteen-year-old Indy struggles to conceal her pregnancy while searching for a place to belong in this stunning debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Amber Smith and Sara Zarr.

Indira Ferguson has done her best to live by her Grammy’s rules—to study hard in school, be respectful, and to never let a boy take advantage of her. But it hasn’t always been easy, especially while living in her mother’s shadow.

When Indy is sent to live with distant relatives in Nassau, trouble follows her. Now she must hide an unwanted pregnancy from her aunt, who would rather throw Indy out onto the street than see the truth.

Completely broke with only a hand-me-down pregnancy book as a resource, Indy desperately looks for a safe space to call home. After stumbling upon a yoga retreat, she wonders if perhaps she’s found the place. But Indy is about to discover that home is much bigger than just four walls and a roof—it’s about the people she chooses to share it with.

by Ibi Zoboi
YA novel. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. Pub date: September 2017

A re-telling of Pride and Prejudice set in Bushwick, Brooklyn. *Full synopsis coming soon.

The Island in the Sky
by Tobias S. Buckell
YA novel. Tor Starscape/Macmillan. Pub date: September 2017

The book follows a Caribbean boy, Kadie, who gets the opportunity to travel to the stars when an enigmatic starship arrives on Earth offering lottery slots to volunteers in exchange for leaving alien diplomats behind; what starts as a means to escape to broader horizons quickly turns into a struggle as his parents die in a suspicious accident and governmental conspiracies start coming into play, trapping him in-between the humans and the aliens for survival. *Full synopsis coming soon.

Plus Don't Miss These Titles from Indie Publishers!

Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle
by Hilda Burgos
Middle grade novel. TU Books. Pub date: Fall 2018

About 11-year-old Anamay, who is upset to discover that she will be getting a new sibling until she travels to her parents’ native Dominican Republic and learns that family and community are more important than material possessions. *Full synopsis coming soon.

Boonoonoonous Hair
by Olive Senior (Author) and Laura James (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Tradewinds Books. Pub date: February 15, 2018

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. *Full synopsis coming soon.

Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings
by Francie Latour (Author) and Ken Daley (Illustrator)
Picturebook. Groundwood Books. Pub date: October 2, 2018

Every winter, a young girl flies to Haiti to visit her Auntie Luce, a painter.

The moment she steps off the plane, she feels a wall of heat, and familiar sights soon follow ― the boys selling water ice by the pink cathedral, the tap tap buses in the busy streets, the fog and steep winding road to her aunt’s home in the mountains.

The girl has always loved Auntie Luce’s paintings ― the houses tucked into the hillside, colorful fishing boats by the water, heroes who fought for and won the country’s independence. Through Haiti’s colors, the girl comes to understand this place her family calls home. And when the moment finally comes to have her own portrait painted for the first time, she begins to see herself in a new way, tracing her own history and identity through her aunt’s brush.

Includes an author’s note and a glossary.

The Season of Rebels and Roses
by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol
YA novel. Piñata Books/Arte Público Press. Pub date: May 31, 2018

At an assembly of liberals in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1887, Inocencia Martínez eagerly looks for Sotero Figueroa, a journalist and independence movement activist whose politics—and handsome visage—she finds extremely exciting. She is so intent on keeping him in her sights that, when he stops to speak to someone, she almost runs right into him!

Inocencia, the daughter of a Spanish bureaucrat, was 18 when she first heard Figueroa speak about freedom from colonial repression and an independent Puerto Rico. Hearing the speakers at the assembly fueled her dreams of becoming a leader in the movement.

Inocencia’s parents are initially horrified that a mulatto, someone of African descent, wants to court their daughter. Ultimately, just before the couple’s seditious activities force them into exile, her parents give approval for their marriage. While living in New York City, Inocencia starts her own women’s group to aid the revolutionaries.

Ranging from Puerto Rico to Cuba and the United States, this engaging novel for teens follows historical figures that were instrumental in the fight for self-determination in Puerto Rico. Addressing issues that remain relevant today—racism, women’s rights and Puerto Rico’s status—The Season of Rebels and Roses also sheds light on women’s involvement in their nations’ liberation—and their own.

Puerto Rico Strong
by various authors and illustrators
Comic book anthology. Lion Forge. Pub date: March 27, 2018

Puerto Rico Strong is a comics anthology that explores what it means to be Puerto Rican and the diversity that exists within that concept, from today's most exciting Puerto Rican comics creators. All proceeds go to UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico. Despite being a US territory, Puerto Rico is often thought of as a foreign land, if it's even a thought in the mind of the average American at all. Its people exist in all corners of America; some of them have parents who immigrated from the home island, others are a part of families that have been on the mainland for generations. Then there are those who have come to the states in search of a dream but struggle to integrate into an unfamiliar culture, while there are those who have lived in the United States all of their lives but still have the same struggle because of the color of their skin or their sexual identity.

These stories follow individuals from diverse walks of life but are all part of the culture that is Puerto Rico.Puerto Rico Strong features art and writing by Rosa Colon, Vita Ayala, Naomi Franquiz, Javier Cruz Winnick, Sabrina Cintron, Ronnie Garcia, Fabian Nicieza, Joamette Gil, and many more!

The Field
by Paul Baptiste (Author) and Jacqueline Alcántara (Illustrator)
Picturebook. NorthSouth Books. Pub date: March 6, 2018

A soccer story—for boy and girls alike—just in time for the World Cup!

Vini! Come! The field calls!” cries a girl as she and her younger brother rouse their community—family, friends, and the local fruit vendor—for a pickup soccer (futbol) game. Boys and girls, young and old, players and spectators come running—bearing balls, shoes, goals, and a love of the sport.

“Friends versus friends” teams are formed, the field is cleared of cows, and the game begins! But will a tropical rainstorm threaten their plans?

The world’s most popular and inclusive sport has found its spirited, poetic, and authentic voice in Baptiste Paul’s debut picture book—highlighting the joys of the game along with its universal themes: teamwork, leadership, diversity, and acceptance. Creole words (as spoken in St. Lucia, the author’s birthplace island in the Caribbean) add spice to the story and are a strong reminder of the sport’s world fame. Bright and brilliant illustrations by debut children’s book illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara—winner of the We Need Diverse Books Illustration Mentorship Award—capture the grit and glory of the game and the beauty of the island setting where this particular field was inspired.

Soccer fan or not, the call of The Field is irresistible.

The Disturbed Girl's Dictionary
by Nonieqa Ramos
YA novel. Carolrhoda Lab. Pub date: February 1, 2018

Macy's school officially classifies her as "disturbed," but Macy isn't interested in how others define her. She's got more pressing problems: her mom can't move off the couch, her dad's in prison, her brother's been kidnapped by Child Protective Services, and now her best friend isn't speaking to her. Writing in a dictionary format, Macy explains the world in her own termscomplete with gritty characters and outrageous endeavors. With an honesty that's both hilarious and fearsome, slowly Macy reveals why she acts out, why she can't tell her incarcerated father that her mom's cheating on him, and why her best friend needs protection . . . the kind of protection that involves Macy's machete.

Ti Koko and Kush Kush
by Patricia G. Turnbull (Author) and Reuben Vanterpoo (Illustrator)
Picturebook. House of Nehesi Publishers. Pub date: January 15, 2018

TI KOKO AND KUSH KUSH is a brilliantly crafted story about a happy little coconut tree and a friendly, wise yam and the power of friendship and camaraderie in a small community. *Full synopsis coming soon.

Home Home
by Lisa Allen-Agostini
YA novel. Papillote Press. Pub date: Spring 2018

A coming-of-age tale with a twist: a clinically depressed Trinidadian, who has attempted suicide, is banished by her mother to Canada to live with her aunt. She feels lonely and in exile. Adding to this estrangement is the fact that her aunt is a lesbian - which is deemed shameful in Trinidad. But with the help of a boy and her Skyping best friend "back home" in Trinidad, she beings to accept her new family and her illness. Then her mother arrives and threatens to take her back to Trinidad. Where then is home?

Trinidadian Lisa Allen-Agostini won third place in the 2017 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature with Home Home which looks at important and often unspoken themes: mental illness and sexuality. According to the Burt Award judges, “This story of a young woman’s journey to “home home” is a poignant tale for anyone who has ever felt displaced by family, illness or migration, and goes beyond the obvious issues of depression to examine carefully the concepts of home and family.”

The Art of White Roses
by Viviana Prado-Núñez
YA novel. Papillote Press. Pub date: Spring 2018

Set in a suburb of Havana in the last days of Batista's Cuba with Castro's revolution gathering momentum, this is the story of a 13-year-old girl's witness of violence as her country and family suffer from the fallout of repression and revolution. An insight into what it means to be young when the world is betraying you.

US-based Puerto Rican-Cuban author Viviana Prado-Núñez won first place in the 2017 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature with The Art of White Roses. The book is set in Cuba in 1957 and explores what it’s like to witness political and emotional upheaval when you are young and helpless. “In strong, evocative and emotional prose, Viviana tells the story of a girl discovering truths about her family, and her country, that force her to grow in unexpected ways,” said the Burt Award judges.

Dance Quadrille, Play Quelbe
by Opal Palmer Adisa

*Synopsis coming soon.

Black Beach
by Glynis Guevara
YA novel. Inanna Publications. Pub date: Fall 2018

*Synopsis coming soon.

Little Lenty
by Phillis Gershator (Author and Illustrator)
Picturebook. Little Bell Caribbean. Pub date: Spring 2018

In the Caribbean, all the frogs sing, all except one. He’s a tiny frog with a long name, Eleutherodactylus lentus, and he lives in the Virgin Islands. Lenty can’t sing like the other frogs, no matter how hard he tries. But when Señor Coquí shows up and leads the little frogs in song, Lenty discovers there is something he can do.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears
by Meg Medina
Middle grade novel. Candlewick Press. Pub date: September 11, 2018

Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. At home, Merci's grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately— forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing at all. No one in her family will tell Merci anything, so she's left to her own worries. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Med Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Tata and the Big Bad Bull
by Juleus Ghunta (Author) and Ann-Cathrine Loo (Illustrator)
Picturebook. CaribbeanReads. Pub date: May 2018

Tata loves going to school, but the only way he can get there is through Pellken Pasture, which is fiercely guarded by the Big Bad Bull. Can Tata figure out how to get past the angry bull and make it to school on time?

About the Author

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief 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.

Read More

Convivencia: Learning from the Latinx Children's Literature Community

Yesterday I noticed that the deadline for proposals for the 2018 National Latino Children's Literature Conference (NLCLC) has been extended to November 15th. Every time that conference rolls around, I'm reminded that there isn't a Caribbean Children's Literature Conference as yet, and that's a crying shame. To be fair, the Association D'un Livre à l'Autre's puts on an annual event called Salon du Livre Jeunesse Afro-Caribéene in France, but that's in France.

The kind of conference we need is one that takes place in the Caribbean. Perhaps we need one in the US as well; the lion's share of the Caribbean children's writing community is after all, whether we like it or not, based in North America. In the adult writing sphere, there are several literary festivals that bring Caribbean writers together in the US. Going back to the NLCLC though, obviously it didn't materialize over night and out of nowhere. As with all conferences, there's community behind the NLCLC and that community has a history.

Back in 2013, I recall the cultural landscape in the US was abuzz with discussion and debate about Latinx children's literature; along with the "mainstream" children's book trade magazines, it almost seemed like every major news outlet— The New York Times, NPR, Huffington Post— ran at least one article on the topic. Of course, Latinx folks had been talking about the need for more, and more nuanced, Latinx children's literature for decades, but it kind of hit a critical mass in 2012 when Motoko Rich wrote that New York Times article about the lack of Latinx children's literature in classrooms. The article created quite a stir and fanned the flames of a movement that saw Latinx children's lit. bloggers, librarians, and authors stepping forward to offer differing views (in her article in School Library Journal, Shelley Diaz asserted that there isn't a lack of Latinx children's literature, it's just under-promoted) and solutions, and banding together to promote great Latinx children's and YA books. A range of websites, groups and initiatives devoted to the edification of Latinx children's literature now exist.

We in the Caribbean can learn a lot from the Latinx children's literature community; we're a part of it anyway. The fact that so many took note of the conversation about Latinx children's literature in 2013, even at the national level, is significant. Looking at the explosion of dialogue that occurred, it seems to have happened because of the presence of the following elements:

1) An interconnected community of informed people— Latinx children's lit. bloggers, librarians, scholars, and authors who made a point of getting to know each other, and who speak to each other regularly about the issues. These individuals don't isolate themselves from each other and they aren't competing for "token famous Latin@" status. In the spirit of the collaborative economy, the Latinx children's literature community is bolstered by horizontal networks. Power and trust is distributed within the community. The community derives unity from a pan-identity (Latinx) rather than allowing nationalistic divides to splinter them.

2) The community understands the power of blogging, the Internet, and reposting/sharing/retweeting. Individuals in the community understand the importance of maintaining and increasing vocality and visibility through an emphasis on many voices. They also understand the importance of using their online platforms to support each other, and they don't just support people and authors in their own little clique. The community is into "equal opportunity sharing."

3) While the advocacy does speak out about the need to change "mainstream" children's publishing and book marketing, it is less focused on trying to control those resistant forces, and is instead more focused on reading, reviewing, promoting and celebrating Latinx books for young people, and encouraging others to do the same. In other words, the community directs most of its energy and resources inward, attending to the important work of talking among themselves and "doing for themselves."

4) The conversation emerging from and led by the community is:

  • Broad, allowing for different views and angles, i.e.. talking not only about the need to increase awareness about the books, but also paying attention to related issues like improving literacy and educational success among Latinx youth and creating more richly drawn characters in stories.

  • Sustained; the blogging, reviewing and conversation about Latinx children's lit. had been steadily going on for many years, it just had to reach a critical mass before the major news outlets acknowledged it as an issue worth shining the spotlight on.

I guarantee the Latinx children's literature community isn't perfect; I'm not an insider and will leave it to Latinx people to air their grievances about their own community. I'm not trying to pin "model minority" status on Latinx people in our field; I just think they're doing a good job in many ways and we in the English-speaking Caribbean can gain a lot from engaging their methods and spirit.

There's a tokenism that's imposed on underrepresented groups from the outside, but there's also a tokenism we can impose upon ourselves when we sit back and let one organization, or one individual in our group carry the weight of progress or representation, often criticizing or passive-aggressively ignoring that organization or individual in the process. These are the kinds of things we selectively genteel (read: still very British) Caribbean people don't discuss, but need to. There are now a number of literary festivals and journals for adult Caribbean writing. Caribbean children's literature still needs to get over the tokenism hurdle; Anansesem can't be the only Anglophone publication devoted to Caribbean children's literature. I was glad when Horn Book Magazinee reached out recently to ask if I could recommend qualified Caribbean children's book reviewers, which I happily did...although Horn Book is only able to use Caribbean reviewers based in the US— bummer.

Can folks in the Caribbean region follow the US Latinx community's lead and achieve the same type of high-profile children's literature dialogue they have? I think so. The key is more voices and hands. More bloggers, writers, authors, scholars, librarians and publishers participating in the conversation across different forums and media, but especially in person. Not to say Anglophone-Caribbean people haven't made such efforts in the past (check out this article in Anansesem's Decemmber 2016 issue about the stellar work done by Jamaica's Children's Writers Circle in past decades), but a new momentum is needed now. In the Spanish language there's a word, convivencia, which expresses the concept of living or working closely with other people with whom you share feelings, desires, or a common purpose. We could all do with a little more convivencia in our lives.

Speaking of Latinx children's literature, I've realized I want to read more children's and YA books by "own voices" Latinx authors and illustrators, even the ones written in Spanish. If you feel the same, this reading challenge hosted by the excellent Latinx in Kid Lit blog is worth a look. The goal is to read one children's book by a Latinx author per month. Latinx in Kid Lit also generously shares this list of other sites and resources geared toward Latinx children's lit.— gotta love that convivencia!

About the Author

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief 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.

Read More

Picturebook Love: 5 Caribbean Children's Authors on Helping Kids Choose Love Through Stories

For our September special Love issue, we reached out to a few of the Caribbean's noteworthy children's authors, some of whom are also children's book illustrators, to ask them about the message of love in their picturebooks. Here's what they had to say:

1. Joanne C. Hillhouse

Love wasn’t what was in my heart when I started writing With Grace. I was feeling beaten up by an encounter and confused as to why the encounter had gone sideways – even after reaching out to try to understand. It was this bad mojo and mixed-up-ness that had me picking up my pen because, so often, I’m trying to process and understand things when I write. Swirling in my mind, apart from the particulars of the situation, was the way it touched on issues of class and position…and what would become the central theme of the book, grace. In the book, a girl who has nothing approaches a woman who has an orchard of fruit trees for permission to pick something to eat; the woman directs her to the stingiest mango tree she has, expecting it to yield nothing. But she underestimates the girl and the persistence of hard work, music, and love.

Grace, in the context of With Grace, is the quality of being kind and generous not because of who the person is but, in spite of the person being nothing to you at all...just because. I’m as imperfect as the next person – and I have my days – but I do believe in trying (trying, though we fall short) to be carriers of grace, doing unto others as we would like done to us; not saying things pitched to hurt, not glorying in another’s misfortune, not being bad-minded… just because.

So, in trying to get to a better place after my encounter, I wrote about a girl not looking for handouts but a hand, and about a woman who, out of selfishness and better-than-ness, couldn’t find it in herself to be gracious. Yes, there may have been some projecting. I didn’t know it was going to be a fairytale but when the tree and its faerie responded to the girl’s tending, I went with it. My mother is a gardener so perhaps I took some inspiration from how she gets even the most reluctant plants to grow in unforgiving soil.

In the end, I believe writing this story helped me shoo some negative energy (creative expression is nothing if not cathartic) and reminded me of the power of love (and the pen) as a curative for (and a shield against) bad mind, bad energy, and bad soil.

About Joanne C. Hillhouse []
Joanne C. Hillhouse is an Antiguan and Barbudan writer. She writes in different genres and has authored six books, two of which are children's picturebooks. For more, visit jhohadli.wordpress.com.

2. Anika Denise

While reviewing the first round of sketches for Starring Carmen!, my picturebook about a one-girl sensación who loves to perform, my editor and I remarked on how perfectly Lorena Alvarez Gómez, our brilliant illustrator, had captured Eduardo—Carmen’s hermanito.

“He’s pure love,” we agreed.

And he is. Despite his big sister’s tendency to want to run the show, he adores her in that singularly precious way little ones look up to their older siblings.

Eduardo is based on my real life hermanito, Brandon. He’s all grown up now and towers over me. But when I look at him, I still see the sweet five-year-old boy with saucers for brown eyes and deep dimples, the boy who loved me and was always happy to see me, even when—because of our age difference—I was more interested in school and friends and boys, than Play-Doh and Pokémon.

Carmen may be the star of the book, but it was in writing the character of Eduardo that I came to the heart of the story. It’s about the unconditional love that exists in families. "La sangre llama, my Títi Rosie likes to say. Blood calls. It calls to Eduardo to forgive his sister, even when she makes him play a rock or a lamp in her elaborate living room stage productions. It calls to Carmen, and shows her that her pesky hermanito is actually her biggest fan. And it calls to Carmen’s parents, who handle her more theatrical moments with patience and humor.

It’s the call of our hearts—to the people who celebrate us for who we are, love us despite our flaws, and can be “the rock” when we need it most.

About Anika Denise []
Anika Denise is a Puerto Rican children's author based in Rhode Island, USA. She is the author of the picturebooks Starring Carmen!, Monster Trucks, Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and the forthcoming Pura Belpré, Planting Stories, a biography of pioneering Puerto Rican librarian, author and storyteller Pura Belpré. You can visit her online at anikadenise.com.

3. Matt Tavares

When I set out to write about Pedro Martinez, I didn’t think it was going to be a book about brotherhood, or about love. But once I got going, I realized that it was impossible to tell Pedro’s story without telling the story of his brother, Ramon. And maybe that is the message of love in Growing Up Pedro: all of our stories are intertwined, and it’s impossible to tell one person’s story without also telling the stories of their loved ones.

My original outline focused more on Pedro overcoming obstacles, like the poverty of his childhood and the fact that everyone thought he was too small to make it in the major leagues. But eventually the theme of brotherhood emerged.

Reading through Pedro’s interviews, I found so many quotes where Pedro said that everything he learned, both in baseball and in life, he learned from Ramon. When Pedro was young, Ramon was his idol. Pedro’s goal in life was not just to make it to the major leagues, but to make it to play in the major leagues with his big brother.

When Ramon struggled adjusting to life in the United States as a minor league baseball player, he made sure his little brother Pedro started studying English right away, so he would be ready. And when Pedro had reached the pinnacle of his profession and Ramon suffered a major shoulder injury, it was Pedro who offered encouragement, helping Ramon work his way back to the major leagues.

Pedro Martinez will be remembered as one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. But he did not do it alone. His big brother, Ramon, was there every step of the way. And together, they helped each other rise above their circumstances and live their shared dream of playing major league baseball.

About Matt Tavares []
Matt Tavares was born in Boston, and grew up surrounded by books and reading. Matt's first published picturebook, Zachary's Ball, won a Massachusetts Book Award Honor, and was named one of Yankee Magazine's “40 Classic New England Children's Books.” Since then, Matt has published eighteen more books and won several awards, including three Parents' Choice Gold Awards, an Orbis Pictus Honor, and two ALA Notable books. His artwork has been exhibited at the Museum of American Illustration, the Brandywine River Museum, and the Mazza Museum of PictureBook Art.

When Matt's not working in his studio on his latest book project, he travels the country speaking (and drawing) at schools, libraries, conferences and bookstores. He has presented at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Eric Carle Museum, the White House Easter Egg Roll, and he's even done a few book signings at Fenway Park. Matt lives in Maine with his wife, Sarah, and their two daughters.

4. Olive Senior

Boo-noo-noo-nous Hair is about a little girl learning to love her Black hair and, in the process, learning to love herself. She starts off hating her hair, as many Black kids do, and asks why she can’t have hair like her schoolmates who have hair that

long or short
. . . can swish as they wish.

Her wise and loving mother assures her that she has the best hair of all because it can do so many things that straight hair can’t do. The child is mesmerized by the long list of possible hairstyles and we witness her growing self-esteem. “Really?” she says and immediately conjures up a different style for every day of the week, every month of the year, starting with:

- Puffs on Monday
- Plaits on Tuesday
- Braids on Wednesday
- Cornrows Thursday
- Twist out Friday?

Her positive feelings are reinforced by big sister as a model of someone who has already gone through the process

With her electric, kinetic,
Bombastic, fantastic
Twirly, whirly, curly, fuzzy, snappy, nappy,
Wavy, crazy

My story is absolutely about love: a mother’s love for her child and her gracious way of healing the wounds of inferiority imposed by racial difference or images of “beauty” that don’t reflect who we are. Like all stories, it teaches by example – a good way to get a message across.

The onomatopoeic Jamaican word "boonoonoonous" is evocative of everything beautiful and sweet. It was once widely used to express admiration of everything from a girl’s sexy walk to a pretty baby, in a time before mass media and European models became the norm. The word is hardly used today, but I revived it because I thought children everywhere would enjoy its delicious sound – challenging but easily pronounced if broken into syllables.

About Olive Senior [Click here to read bio.−]
Olive Senior is the prizewinning author of 17 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature. Her picturebooks include Birthday Suit, Anna Carries Water and Boo-noo-noo-nous Hair (forthcoming). Anna Carries Water was nominated for the 2014 Rainforest of Reading Award, shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize 2014 (Young Reader’s Award), listed by Kirkus Reviews as “one of the best books of 2014”, selected as one of School’s Library Journal’s “100 Magnificent Children’s Books (ages 2-16) and New York Public Library’s “100 Tales for Reading and Sharing,” and won the Isabel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award.

5. Lulu Delacre

Love is the invisible current that connects us. It knows no boundaries, traveling through space and time. An unbreakable bond between child and parent, it transcends culture and religion, ethnicity and race. It is felt in all corners of the world. Not even death can break it.

I’ve always loved both my daughters; my love goes deep and far. But it wasn’t until my youngest daughter died, that I realized that I love her as much in death as I did in life. For me, this means that she still is. And as I struggled to describe this permanent and invisible bond I remembered a game we used to play when my girls were young. “¿Hasta dónde me amas? How far do you love me?,” either of them would ask. Back then, the game took us to the park, to the beach, to the school or all the way to the moon and sky. Each time we would try to outdo one another with words sprinkled with kisses and giggles.

I believe that the expansiveness of parental love is echoed in the many breathtaking places the earth has given us. With a simple question How Far Do You Love Me?, takes the reader on a journey through the 7 continents. It enables young readers to witness that this love is identical everywhere; it reaches far and deep. As the child flips to the last spread of the book, she finds the question posed in 23 different languages. In this way, I entice the young reader and her parent to embark on their own imaginary journey in the language of their choice. And I hope that in doing so, they’ll give voice to the permanent bond that not even death can erase.

About Lulu Delacre []
Three-time Pura Belpré Award honoree Lulu Delacre has been writing and illustrating children's books since 1980. Born and raised in Puerto Rico to Argentinean parents, Delacre's Latino heritage and her life experiences inform her work. Her 38 titles for children include Arroz con Leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes from Latin America, a Horn Book Fanfare Book in print for over 25 years, and Salsa Stories, an IRA Outstanding International Book. Her bilingual picture book ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! Descubriendo el bosque nublado/Olinguito, from A to Z! Unveiling the Cloud Forest has received 20 awards and honors including an NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor and an ALA Notable for All Ages. Her most recent title, starred twice, is Us, in Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos.

She has lectured internationally and served as a juror for the National Book Awards. She has exhibited at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, The Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators in New York, the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, and the Museum of Ponce in Puerto Rico among other venues. More at luludelacre.com.

Read More