11 Standout Caribbean Picture Books of 2024

Conveying a range of experiences, these stories of family, love, humor, and loss will engage children during Caribbean American Heritage Month and beyond. 

In 2023, with relatively little fanfare, Anglophone Caribbean children’s and YA literature broke new ground with University Press of Mississippi's publication of a dedicated scholarly anthology. Edited by Betsy Nies and Melissa García Vega, the two-volume work, Caribbean Children's Literature, Volume 1: History, Pedagogy, and Publishing and Volume 2: Critical Approaches, confects a sprawling tapestry of contemporary and historical concerns surrounding these books arising from the islands and their diaspora. For my chapter, I conducted a comprehensive survey of Caribbean children’s and YA writing to date, the fruit of a decade of reading. It is a literary record that has been slowly but steadily growing as more writers are granted latitude by the publishing world to protagonize Caribbean young people with the kind of nuance that any good literary work demands. In 2024, these 11 picture books will join what is, if not yet a panoply of Caribbean books for young readers, then surely a progression.

Back Home: Story Time with My Father by Arlène Elizabeth Casimir, illustrated by Ken Daley. Candlewick. Apr. 2024.
PreS–Gr 3–Lune, a young Afro-Haitian American girl, describes the wonder and wisdom gleaned from her father’s reminiscences about his childhood in the Haitian countryside. Her heartfelt first-person narration is interspersed with Daddy’s direct speech as he relays his anecdotes, the emotional tenor of which varies from mirthful and magical to melancholy and moralizing. “Everyone has stories,” Lune’s mother avers, inspiring Lune to conjure up a fiction of her own, one that will help her father reimagine a difficult aspect of his past. With their preponderance of warm colors, Daley’s illustrations convey the glow of familial love and blur the lines between past and present. Includes a glossary of Haitian Kreyòl words.

[Also read: 3 Powerful Novels with Puerto Rican Protagonists | Middle Grade Spotlight]

Best Believe: The Tres Hermanas, a Sisterhood for the Common Good by Nonieqa Ramos, illus. by Nicole Medina. Carolrhoda. Feb. 2024.
Gr 2-5–Born in the 1920s and 30s in the poor fishing village of Salinas, Puerto Rico, sisters Evelina, Lillian, and Elba were destined for lives of service and leadership. Determined to lift her children out of penury, their mother transplanted the family to Harlem, where the close-knit community and guidance of elders shaped the siblings’ formative years. They grow up, marry, pursue higher education, and dedicate their energies to the uplift of Puerto Ricans through bold, relentless advocacy of such causes as bilingual education, educational reform, Spanish-language library services, and the promotion of Latino arts and culture in the face of anti-immigrant discrimination. This picture book biography’s bold Illustrations in tropical colors drive home the themes of resilience, resistance, and renewal. Backmatter includes a biographical timeline and glossary.

Love, Lah Lah by Nailah Blackman, illus. by Jade Orlando. Knopf. Jan. 2024.
PreS-Gr 2–In her first foray into children’s writing, noted Trinbagonian soca singer and songwriter Nailah Blackman follows a young Black girl and her grandpa (who looks like the late Ras Shorty I, Blackman’s iconic musician grandfather) as they participate in Trinidad’s Carnival procession. The thumbnail sketch of the Carnival experience conveys the liberating energy of soca—the official music of Carnival—with large-font onomatopoeia and ebullient visuals adding excitement. Backmatter includes a pictorial glossary and a touching letter addressed to Ras Shorty I, often regarded as the inventor of soca music.

The Blue Pickup by Natasha Tripplett, illus. by Monica Mikai. HarperCollins. Jan. 2024
PreS-Gr 3–Ju-Girl is her grandfather’s right hand, regularly assisting him in his work as an auto mechanic on the island of Jamaica. Thanks to Grandad’s affectionate tutelage, she knows her way around vehicles and can perform an impressive array of car maintenance and repair tasks in Grandad’s garage. During a break, the pair lolls in the back of his disused blue pickup as he shares memories of its former days of glory. Her interest reminds him of the importance of preserving the past and inspires him to restore the truck then bequeath it to a new owner who will cherish it. Tripplett’s narrative builds on her experience of inheriting a blue Ford F-150 pickup from her grandfather. Sundrenched illustrations recall vintage Caribbean travel posters.

Old Clothes for Dinner!? by Nathalie Alonso, illus. by Natalia Rojas Castro. Barefoot. Mar. 2024.
PreS-Gr 3–Magaly loves the changes that have occurred in her family since her grandmother came from Cuba to stay, not least the novelty of Abuela’s unmatched Cuban cooking. But when clothing goes missing from the kids’ bedroom one afternoon and Abuela announces she is preparing ropa vieja for dinner, Magaly, unfamiliar with the Cuban dish, concludes that it’s exactly what its Spanish name says: old clothes. She warns her brother, but he dismisses her concern. When the ropa vieja is served, it tastes scrumptious, and then they learn what it really is: slow-cooked shredded beef said to resemble tattered rags. Castro’s colorful, busy illustrations convey the zaniness of Alonso’s narrative.

Angélica and la Güira by Angie Cruz, illus. by Luz Batista. Penguin/Kokila. Jul. 2024
PreS-Gr 3–As Angélica leaves the Dominican Republic after a summer with family, her abuelo gives her a family heirloom—his prized güira, a handheld idiophone instrument native to the island. He exalts it as possessing the power to set the tempo in a musical gathering and draw people together. But when Angélica returns to Washington Heights, her attempts to wield that power get her into scrapes. Then she remembers what Abuelito told her—"When you play this güira, you are playing with everyone that came before you”—and channels her love for the island into a song that coalesces her community. With a ring of nostalgia, Cruz’s narrative explores the sense of continuity and tribal feeling created when music is passed down through the generations, and gently honors the saudade many third culture children experience. Batista’s illustrations strike a harmony between traditional and digital painting and capture the vibrant spirit of Dominican culture and the racially diverse melting pot of the Heights.

Emergency Quarters by Carlos Matias, illus. by Gracey Zhang. Tegen/HarperCollins. May 2024.
PreS-Gr 3–When Ernesto starts walking to school by himself, his mother gives him a daily allowance of 25 cents—payphone money for emergencies. As his stash of “emergency quarters” grows, Ernesto manages to resist the tempting opportunities to spend it that arise as he socializes with friends at the bodega, video arcade, and Little League game. But a trip to the barbershop, where the greatest enticement of all awaits, proves a little too much for his willpower. Drawing from a boyhood memory of one of childhood’s important milestones—receiving and learning how to manage pocket money—Matias illuminates the humor in children’s solemn and failed attempts at self-control. Illustrations with a tea-stained look capture the essence of Matias’s childhood in ‘80s and ‘90s Queens, New York City.

The Mango Tree/La mata de mango by Edel Rodriguez. Abrams. June 2024.
PreS-Gr 3–In this wordless picture book allegorizing the traumatic childhood experience of being uprooted from Cuba to Florida on the Mariel boatlift of 1980, Rodriguez pays tribute to the best friend of his youth. In a rural village on a paradisical tropical island, two boys enjoy diversions together in a mango tree until their hog heaven abruptly comes crashing down. When a storm sweeps one boy out to sea, a lone mango and a bird accompany him on a perilous nighttime journey to a foreign land. There he grows a new mango tree and finds a new community of friends. With the help of the bird, the boy also remains connected to his old playmate across distance and time. Rodriguez uses a striking limited color palette that evokes intense emotions and keeps the narrative tightly focused. A recurring visual motif of snarling animals is enough to suggest dark forces at work, and a spread portraying fish flying through a starry firmament conveys the surrealness of displacement. A mythical take on the loss, longing, and liminality of the immigrant journey.

Gloriana, Presente: A First Day of School Story by Alyssa Reynoso-Morris, illus. by Doris M. Rodríguez-Graber. Little/Ottaviano. Jul. 2024.
PreS-Gr 3–As she starts elementary school in the Bronx, Gloriana, an Afro-Dominican girl, must conquer a paralyzing attack of first-day jitters. On the trek to school, Abuela inspirits Gloriana with stories of the Dominican Republic steeped in musical imagery: the island is a peaceful haven where dancing trees drop a feast of fruit, ocean waves sing your name, and the breeze whistles a song. Alas, these soothing reflections dissolve as soon as Gloriana, a native Spanish speaker, enters her new classroom and drowns in a sea of English words. To her chagrin, she becomes tongue-tied with fear and uncertainty, missing out on opportunities to connect with her teacher and classmates. But with Abuela’s gentle reassurance and honest self-disclosure about her own language barrier struggles to shore Gloriana up, she is able to find her voice, share her story, and forge a sense of belonging. Reynoso-Morris’s simple tale abounds with empathy for ESL/ESOL students and kids struggling with selective mutism and captures the intrapersonal drama of a child yearning to express themselves. Rodríguez-Graber’s hand-drawn acrylic illustrations depict multiple moments and settings within a single scene to effectively portray the intermediacy of diasporic/immigrant identity.

Into the Mighty Sea by Arlene Abundis, illus. by Cynthia Alonso. HarperCollins. June 2024.
PreS-Gr 3–Mariel, a mixed-race Cuban American girl, tries to cope when she becomes overstimulated by the loud merrymaking at her little brother Santiago’s birthday party. Her big, bouncy extended family makes a colorful hullabaloo, flooding Mariel with various hues of emotion. Mami suggests a breather in the garden, where Mariel and Papi—a fellow gentle, quiet soul—paint together, using soothing colors that restore a sense of inner harmony. But when Mariel presents her artwork to Santiago as a birthday gift, he impishly rips it up sending her adrift on an ocean of tears. She paints a boat that carries her on a dreamlike journey through kaleidoscopic waves to a tropical island where fruit trees and exotic animals help her process her fear of disconnection and need for belonging. Fortified, she sails home with renewed appreciation for her family who welcome her with an “offering” that mends what was torn. Abundis’s use of color synesthesia as a conceit is sensitively handled in this lyrical tale of a child going through the rigors of emotional self-regulation. Illustrations with a riot of colors create a sense of movement and comfort.

Abuelo, the Sea, and Me by Ismée Williams, illustrated by Tatiana Gardel. Roaring Brook. May 2024.
PreS-Gr 3–An unnamed Cuban American girl and her grandfather share an affinity for the ocean. Whenever she visits her grandparents’ house, the pair stroll the beach. Williams’s heartfelt, pensive narrative follows them through the four seasons as they contemplate the changing moods of the sea, dip in the water, and picnic. As Abuelo shares his memories of the sea in Havana, the girl senses his profound sadness at leaving the island behind. But Abuelo reassures her that both their bond and the ocean have the power to help him heal from the past. Gardel’s quiet illustrations feature choice details, including a recurring motif of dolphins. This picture book affirms intergenerational storytelling and memory-making while celebrating the immigrant undertaking of coming to terms with the past and living in the present.

Horn Book consulting editor Summer Edward is a Trinidadian American author, former children’s book editor, K-12 literacy specialist, and adjunct professor of children's literature at the Community College of Vermont. 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. Learn more about her work at summeredward.com.


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