As an early childhood literacy specialist, I read a lot of picture books. It is part of my job to know what kinds of books are out there for early readers, and how parents can share these books with their children. I am, of course, particularly interested in diverse and inclusive picture books, especially when they feature Puerto Rican children. I make it a point to give my nieces and nephews books that reflect their heritage, and to read books the young child I was never got to read.
It is only fitting, then, that we begin this World Kid Lit Month with some of my favorite Puerto Rican picture books. In the next few posts, I will introduce you to several great titles written and illustrated by Puerto Rican creators.
I was very excited when I first learned of Across the Bay, and could not wait to see it, as well as give a copy to my nephews and nieces. It did not disappoint. A semi-autobiographical account of author and illustrator Carlos Aponte’s own childhood in Puerto Rico, this gorgeous book is filled with color, music, love, and family in all its forms.
The book’s protagonist, Carlitos, lives with his mom, his Abuela, and a cat named Coco in the town of Cataño. They’re a loving family, but Carlitos can’t help but notice that his family is not like the other families in the neighborhood. His father doesn’t live at home, a loss he feels rather keenly when his mom drops him off at the barber shop, where he is surrounded by fathers and sons waiting to get their hair cut.
Carlitos decides to take action. Armed with a photograph and the faint knowledge that his father lives across the bay in San Juan, he sets off on an intrepid solo journey through the capital’s landmarks, experiencing the bustling city along the way. Will he able to find his father? Will Carlitos get into trouble with his mom and Abuela for running off by himself? And how will he get back home?
This boldly illustrated picture book is perfect for children in preschool and up. Librarians can use it in a storytime about families, or in one about voyages and journeys. If you are looking for picture books that sensitively deal with the theme of an absent parent, this is an ideal text. Recently awarded a Pura Belpré Honor for Illustration, this special book is a meditation on the meaning of family and a love letter to the places and people of Puerto Rico.
Written and Illustrated by Carlos Aponte
2019, Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
Awards: 2020 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor
Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.