5 New Picture Books Featuring Caribbean Boy Protagonists

Today we have a special guest post from Summer Edward; a Trinidadian American author, children’s book editor, educator, K-12 literacy specialist, and Caribbean children’s and young adult (YA) book activist.  Summer’s collection of 5 New Picture Books Featuring Caribbean Boy Protagonists highlights wonderful books that are being published in 2023. These books are a powerful window into Caribbean culture, food, art, as well as advocating for justice and acceptance. We hope you consider adding these books to your home or classroom library.

In 2020, I was invited to speak to a group of mid-teen Caribbean boys about the power of recognizing themselves in literature and writing their own stories. Their reading diets had included only a tiny morsel of books featuring Caribbean boy characters. I attempted to show them that they had a right to see themselves in the literary tradition and could make it their own.

I wish I could say they all left our interaction brimming with literary alacrity; in reality, only about 5 of the 35 teen boys present lingered afterward to leaf through my collection of Caribbean children’s and young adult books. It reinforced my belief that most male Caribbean people need to start developing a relationship with literature that’s simultaneously culturally-affirming and gender-affirming from early childhood if they’re even going to consider opening themselves to literature’s call and its boundless benefits.

In order for that to happen we need more picture books that help Caribbean boys of all types feel loved, valued, and seen, and that counteract the negative messaging they receive about masculinity. Such books help true up the wheels on the bus of social justice for a less bumpy, more balanced journey of progress. Here are five promising titles landing on shelves this year.

5 New Picture Books Featuring Caribbean Boy Protagonists

Faruq and the Wiri Wiri: A Celebration of Family and Food

British-Guyanese author Sophia Payne shares her love for Guyanese cooking through a heartwarming story starring the eponymous Faruq, an Indo-Guyanese boy who aspires to be a chef. Inspired by the delicious meals his grandmother Ajee prepares, and fascinated by the ingredients that come straight from their garden— especially the bright red wiri wiri chilli peppers—Faruq asks Ajee to teach him how to cook. She refuses, leaving him dejected and puzzled as to why boys don’t belong in kitchen. Fortunately, he finds an ally in his Afro-Guyanese neighbor, Mrs. Joseph, who becomes his secret cooking teacher.

When Ajee falls ill one Sunday and cannot prepare the big lunch that always brings their extended family together, Faruq decides to put his cooking chops to the test by preparing a feast of Guyanese dishes, including soup spiced with wriri wiri to help Ajee feel better. His grandmother’s admission of wrong at the end of the story, and the deep satisfaction he gleans from seeing his family savor his culinary creations, are testaments to the rewards of pursuing one’s passion and being true to oneself in the face of social pressures and expectations. The third-person narration unfolds in British English while the characters speak Guyanese English Creole. Indian-born, California-based illustrator Sandhya Prabhat’s expressive digital artwork is the perfect base for this fictional mix of culture, family, food, and acceptance.

Faruq and the Wiri Wiri: A Celebration of Family and Food
By Sophia Payne, Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
March 2023; Templar Publishing

It’ll be Irie: Staying True to Yourself

In preparation for his family’s relocation from Kingston, Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens, an enthusiastic Afro-Jamaican boy named Raymond practices ‘being American.’ Once in the United States, he seeks to impress the kids at his new school with his knowledge of American fashion, lingo, and games. Alas, his classmates think he’s acting weird and trying too hard; they even question if he’s really Jamaican, which understandably leaves him in high dudgeon.

Fortunately, Raymond’s mom and dad intervene, helping him consider all the things he loves about being Jamaican, an identity-affirming exercise that empowers him to be his authentic self and thereby find the acceptance he craves from others…and himself. Raymond’s first-person narration code-switches between Jamaican patois and American Standard English. Mexican illustrator Alejandra Barajas’ bright digital illustrations are a serviceable supplement to this humorous but instructive immigration story.

It’ll be Irie: Staying True to Yourself
By Donn Swaby, Illustrated by Alejandra Barajas
July 2023; Cardinal Rule Press

Patchwork Prince

In this story based on author Baptiste’s Paul childhood in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, a hopeful Black boy cultivates the internal qualities of a prince despite living in impoverished circumstances. The only thing he’s missing is a prince’s regal attire, but his mother cannot afford to buy him new clothing. Instead, she sews him a patchwork royal mantle using scraps of brightly colored cloth that the pair salvage from a factory’s dumping site-cum-burn pit, an exploit that calls for patience, courage, and dignity in the face of hostility.

Readers will cheer on mother and son as they overcome the odds and find joy, adventure, and community in a kingdom of their own making, proving that the most important thing about a home is the love inside it. Woven together with uplifting figurative language, the text conveys important messages about self-worth and resourcefulness, and can help children build empathy and understanding about class differences. Although the story’s setting is not specified, Kitt Thomas’ luminous digital artwork will transport readers to a rural Caribbean environment tinged with the sparkle of a young boy’s imagination. Both author and illustrator have St. Lucian roots, making this book a truly special collaboration.

Patchwork Prince
By Baptiste Paul, Illustrated by Kitt Thomas
October 2023; Dial Books

Big Tune: Rise of the Dancehall Prince

Shane, an Afro-Jamaican American boy, is too bashful to dance in front of the partygoers who crowd into his family’s basement for “Big Tune Saturday,” a summer bashment (i.e., party) series that weekly brings together his tightknit Caribbean American neighborhood. Determined to overcome his fear and ignore his brothers’ teasing, he sells empty cans for a year to earn money for a confidence-boosting pair of air pump sneakers and secretly practices iconic dancehall dances until he can replicate them to a tee.

When an unforeseen circumstance leads to the cancellation of Big Tune Saturday, Shane hits on a bright idea to save the day; but to do so, he must decide whether putting his community first is worth placing his dream in jeopardy. With many casual references to Caribbean foods, fashion, and music in the bouncy, rhyming text, the story’s cultural authenticity will affirm Jamaican/Caribbean readers and give non-Caribbean readers a window into an informal but important communal ritual in Caribbean communities. Shamar Knight-Justice’s creative paint and cut-paper collage illustrations move the story along with élan and help drive home the overarching themes of persistence, patience, and discipline.

Big Tune: Rise of the Dancehall Prince
By Alliah L. Agostini, illustrated by Shamar Knight-Justice
March 2023; Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Windrush Child: The Tale of a Caribbean Child Who Faced a New Horizon

A defining moment for both British and Caribbean children’s literature arrives with the publication of this picture book adaptation of Queen’s Medal for Poetry winner John Agard’s iconic poem “Windrush Child,” famously read on the BBC children’s program Blue Peter in 1998, and chosen for the BBC at 100 showcase in 2022.

With his trademark masterful lyricism, Agard traces the symbolic, emotional, and literal journeys of the Windrush Generation who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from various Caribbean countries. Readers experience the thrills, challenges, and discoveries of the epic adventure through the eyes of a young boy, and will gain an understanding of the ways in which memories and family bonds sustained those brave pioneers through times of change and uncertainty. The book’s gouache and pen illustrations incorporate elements of Caribbean folk-art paintings, add many details to the telling, and mark a promising picture book debut for Trinbagonian-British artist Sophie Bass.

Windrush Child: The Tale of a Caribbean Child Who Faced a New Horizon
By John Agard, Illustrated by Sophie Bass
April 2023; Candlewick Press

About the Author

Summer Edward is a Trinidadian American author, children’s book editor, educator, K-12 literacy specialist, and Caribbean children’s and young adult (YA) book activist. She holds a 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. Her reviews of books for young readers and critical essays on the same have been published in Horn Book Magazine, WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom, The Millions, Kirkus Reviews, on the Social Justice Children’s Books (Teaching for Change) website, on the Commonwealth Education Trust’s official blog, and more. Learn more about her work at www.summeredward.com.

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