If you’ve been reading our #WorldKitLit Month series on Puerto Rico thus far this month, you have already come across the term Boricua to refer to Puerto Ricans. The term is derived from the indigenous name for the island, Boríken (“the great land of the valiant and noble lord”), which was transliterated into Spanish as Borinquén. The indigenous inhabitants of Puerto Rico were the Taíno. Although common knowledge holds that the Taíno all died out due to disease and Spanish oppression, they live on in Puerto Rican memory, language, and its people. Kid Lit is an excellent way to start learning about this very important part of Puerto Rican heritage.
Written and illustrated by Edwin Fontánez, and published by his own company Exit Studio, On this Beautiful Island is a tour of Puerto Rico’s natural riches from the viewpoint of a Taíno child. Our guide is the book’s protagonist Guanín, a young boy. His “close-to-the-heart friend” is Tahite, a verdantly green Puerto Rican parrot. Together they lead the reader on day-long trek through their home.
Starting in the village fields where the people are gathering their crops of cassava (a traditional Taíno food), Guanín leads the reader to a secret place by the river, where he can eat ripe yellow guavas and listen to the song the running water sings. But there is more singing from another source: the coquí frogs calling ko-kee, ko-kee from their perches on top of large leaves. From there Guanín moves closer to another sound, this time the sound of the waves crashing on the shore of the sea, where the fishermen are casting their nets.
Guanín ends the day back home with his family in the village, listening to the sounds of the crickets and the coquís, praying for all the beautiful things on the island.
The brilliantly colored illustrations depict a lot of Puerto Rico’s flora and fauna: hibiscus flowers, hummingbirds, ferns, coquís, guavas, flamboyan and ceiba trees, as well as the aforementioned parrots. There is even a riddle at the end of the book asking how many coquís are depicted in the book’s pages! The text has loads of descriptive language, making it ideal for vocabulary enrichment. Its rhythmic, poetic text-with touches of onomatopoeia-make it an engaging read aloud. As the book’s action ends at Guanin’s bedtime, this might be the perfect book to read at bedtime.
Written and Illustrated by Edwin Fontánez
2004, Exit Studio
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.