Caribbean Heritage Language & Literacy Books- June 2021 Edition

During the month of June and throughout the year, it is important to use books that relate to Caribbean Heritage in speech/language therapy, the classroom, and/or during family literacy time. I reviewed several books recently and selected these six to recommend this year.

I AM a Promise by authors Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce & Ashley Rousseau, Illustrated by Rachel Moss

Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce is an amazing 34 year old track & field athlete from Kingston, Jamaica. She has won six Olympic medals for her athleticism and numerous other competitions. She participated in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England as well as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In this book, readers and listeners learn about Shelly Ann as a little girl who loved to run like a rocket. Her grandmother told her that she had a bright future ahead of her and that she was a promise. It wasn’t until she was older that she began training much harder as part of the Wolmer’s High School track team. During that time, she continued to excel in athletics and many people encouraged her. She was selected to run for the Jamaican Olympic Team. It was then that she realized that she was a promise to her country and all those who supported her along the way. This book is ideal for elementary school aged children to learn facts about Shelly Ann. At the back of the book, there are additional facts shared about her life and athletic achievements. The other contributors to this book, Ashley Rousseau and Rachel Moss are both Caribbean and reside in Jamaica.

Speech/Language Targets: listening comprehension/WH questions, story retell, language memory/recall of details

Malaika’s Surprise by author Nadia L. Hohn & Illustrator Irene Luxbacher

This is a realistic fiction story of a blended family of Caribbean heritage that actually reside in Quebec City, Canada. The author, Nadia Hohn, is a Jamaican-Canadian who uses her life experiences to create vibrant stories for young readers to learn cultural appreciation. In this book, we are introduced to an interracial family who speaks Caribbean Creole and French. During the summer, two sisters, Malaika and Adele play dress up with carnival costumes. They dance to soca carnival music around the house imagining that they are in a real Caribbean carnival celebration. Later that evening at dinner, they learn that they their mom is expecting a baby that will be born around Malaika’s birthday. The girls are excited, yet Malaika wonders what it will be like when the new baby arrives. When school starts later that year, there is a new girl at school with a similar name, Malayka M., that is from a different country just like Malaika. She quickly bonds with the new student and enjoys playing with her at school. Several more months go by. One morning, there is another special surprise while the family is eating breakfast. Grandma arrives from overseas. Dad went to pick her up from the airport. She came to celebrate both granddaughters’ birthdays. She even brings Malaika a special peacock carnival costume and makes a special Caribbean dish. You’ll have to purchase this book or check it out from the library to see what else happens as the story unfolds.

Speech/Language Targets: verbal narrative, listening comprehension/WH Questions, vocabulary

Food in the Caribbean by Polly Goodman

This is a non-fiction book that provides information for children about Caribbean cuisine that is a blend of influences from Africa, Asia (e.g. India), and Europe (e.g. French) depending on the country. I like the text features (e.g. maps, photos) that accompany each section of the book that makes it easy for children to learn information. At the beginning of the book, children will see a map of the Caribbean islands and the Caribbean Sea. They will learn about Jamaican rice & peas, Trinidadian roti, popular spices like pimento and nutmeg, street food (e.g. roasted corn, peppered shrimp), as well as popular meat and seafood dishes. Food is a great way for families to bond and for others to experience different cultures. Each Caribbean country is unique and has their own distinct flavors in the various food. This book was published several years ago so I did notice some generalizations in the Festival Food section of the book that doesn’t apply to all families. However, I still recommend the book for young learners.

Speech/Language Targets: main idea/details, verbal expression, restate facts

Celia Cruz Queen of Salsa by author, Veronica Chambers and illustrator Julie Maren

Celia Cruz was an exceptional singer and entertainer. She was born in Havana, Cuba and then lived in the United States for many years. This children’s book does a great job of telling her life story in a way that is appealing to kids. As a child, she was a bit shy but she did not let that stop her. Her voice was described as sweet like sugar. She loved singing in school shows and for local businesses. Her father encouraged her to become a teacher, but she followed her passion instead with the encouragement of many others. After high school, Celia further developed her talent and studied piano, voice, and musical theory at Cuba’s National Music Conservatory. She later joined a popular 1950s Cuban band called La Sonora Matancera that recorded many popular Afro-Cuban music. This book is rich with figurative language and vibrant illustrations. I like the author’s note provided at the back of the book. It provides a great opportunity for children to learn more facts about the “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz who helped to create international excitement around Salsa music in the 1970s. Over the years, she collaborated with a variety of musical artists like Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and Haitian-American Wyclef Jean. The author was inspired to write her story because she said that Celia Cruz taught the world that Salsa had “la esencia de la vida” or the essence of life that connected people around the world. Celia Cruz inspired many people in Latin America, the Caribbean, and beyond.

Speech/Language Targets: listening comprehension/WH Questions, vocabulary, character traits, cause/effect

Caribbean Islands Facts and Figures by Romel Hernandez
This book provides a good overview of the Caribbean for children. They will learn how volcanic eruptions formed many of the Caribbean islands that we know today with the exception of the Bahamas and Trinidad. They will learn about the beautiful beaches, mountain ranges, and tropical wildlife. Children will learn about the Amerindian tribes of the Arawaks (e.g. Tainos) and the Caribs. They will learn about the Maroons who established their own settlements during the time of slavery. Children will learn bout Haiti, the first Caribbean nation to gain it’s independence during the time of colonial rule from France. This book provides a good opportunity to compare/contrast text with information from other more recent internet sources on the topics contained. I like the information about the capital cities of various islands and the calendar of Caribbean Festivals at the back of the book.

Speech/Language Targets- language memory/recall of details, main idea/supporting details, compare/contrast, inferential questions

Taino Tales The Secret of the Hummingbird Retold by Vicky Weber, Illustrator Olha Melnyk

This is an interesting story about two Amerindian characters from different tribes that often were in conflict with each other. Alida is Taino and Taroo is from the Carib tribe. These tribes really existed in the Caribbean and descendants remain today. Vicky Weber, the author, is from Puerto Rico, where indigenous tribes lived. In this fascinating story, Alida enjoyed nature and loved finding some quiet time by a natural pool where she met Taroo one day. He shared a guava fruit with her and they talked for quite a while. He lived near the pool after he was left behind during a dispute or attack between the two tribes. Alida’s father was a Taino chief and she knew that he would not be pleased about their friendship since he was from a different Amerindian tribe. One day her father found out about their secret meetings and their new relationship. He forbid her from seeing him and arranged for Alida to marry someone from her Taino tribe rather than a Carib. Alida was upset and cried out to the Taino Mother Goddess for help. Suprisingly, she was turned into a red flower. How will Taroo find his new love? Will they ever be reunited again?

Speech/Language Targets- verbal narratives, vocabulary-tier 1/tier 2, listening comprehension/Wh questions

Here are some other children’s literature selections that you may use throughout the school year. The setting of some of these books are in the Caribbean while others are written by Caribbean American authors:

All The Way to Havana by Margarita Engle and illustrator Mike Curato
Anya Goes to Jamaica by Nikko Fungchung and illustrator Fuuji Takashi
If Dominican Were A Color by Sili Recio and illustrator Brianna McCarthy
Islandborn by Junot Diaz and illustrator Leo Espinosa
J is for Jamaica by Benjamin Zephania and photographs by Prodeepta Das
Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris and illustrator Ana Ramirez Gonzalez
Malaika’s Costume by Nadia Hohn and illustrator Irene Luxbacher
Mango Abuela and Me by Meg Medina and illustrator Angela Dominguez
One Love adapted by Cedella Marley and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newtown
Sugar Cane A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace and illustrator Raul Colon
The Sky Painter Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle and Illustrator Aliona Bereghici

As a reminder, you may review my 2020 Caribbean Heritage Language & Literacy recommendations here.

Let me know your favorites in the comments.

Tamara Anderson, M.S., Ed.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Education Specialist & Consultant
Diversity & Equity Advocate

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