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

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

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

Share on Google Plus

About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
    Blogger Comment
    Facebook Comment


Post a Comment


This Month's Books