Caribbean Fiction: Three great Latinx young adult and children's book authors who are more than an island
From Julia Alvarez to Tere Marichal-Lugo and Kacen Callender, these Caribbean-born writers should be on every reading list for kids and young adults.
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Often, mostly when we talk about children's literature, we tend to think of J.K Rowling, James Dashner, and his Maze Runner or, if we go to the classics, Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland and James Barry's Peter Pan.
Imagination is infinite, but English-speaking titles have had the same privilege as their authors until suddenly one reaches for a spyglass and looks in another direction to decolonize the fantasy of children and young adult literature. Suddenly, some fabulous Caribbean authors who are not an island, but write from their island legacy, appear on the radar.
With a bird's eye view, these are some of the wonderful and diverse voices in children's and young adult literature:
A native of the Dominican Republic, and despite hits in adult fiction such as Afterlife and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Álvarez's repertoire is vast. She moves like a fish in water through non-fiction, poetry, and, yes, children's literature, albeit focused on stories exploring immigration and female characters.
One of her great children's gems is Return To Sender, illustrated by Rafael López and with which Álvarez won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award in 2010. It's an immigration story Álvarez wrote while working as a translator in Vermont schools assisting the children of Mexican migrants working on farms. The title is based on one of the massive raids orchestrated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2006 to deport undocumented migrants and separate them from their kids.
"It seems that a kind of literary amnesia has fallen upon the land of children's book readers...," Álvarez said on that occasion, referring to the need to bring the significant issues that affect them to the children's imagination.
In 2013, Álvarez was awarded the National Medal of Arts by former President Obama.
Actress, illustrator, storyteller, and children's book author, Puerto Rican Tere Marichal-Lugo first rose to fame on her native island as the host of a popular television show.
In most of her stories, always starring children and animals, she develops some of the myths and cultural heritage of the Taino people. She also addresses some of the traumas that Puerto Rico has gone through in recent years.
As in El Terrible Huracán, El Sol Taíno, La Cucarachita Martina and the wonderful, El Jardín de las Abejitas.
The latest novel by this St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands)-born author, Felix Ever After, was published to great acclaim in May 2020, and tells the story of a transgender teenager who discovers the world and discovers himself as he falls in love for the first time.
Aside from the change of perspective needed for a young adult work with a trans protagonist, the author also confronts transphobia and its many youthful expressions, such as 'catfish.'
Months after its release in bookstores, Deadline announced that Callender's novel would be adapted for television by Amazon Studios.
Callender, who also writes adult fiction, has other interesting juvenile and children's stories, such as Dragonflies, which won the National Book Award for young adult literature in 2020.