Afro-Latinx stories don’t often make it into the mainstream and less so for children’s literature, so we wanted to celebrate these stories for and by Afro-Latinx and Black writers. Some of the most common themes found in these books include dismantling the idea of pelo malo, uplifting the beauty of dark skin, and instilling confidence en los chiquitos. Some of these books are all about fun and familia, while others work to tackle issues like race in a way that small kids can comprehend. Read on to discover 10 books worth sharing with the children in your life.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o’s debut children’s book Sulwe is a powerful story about colorism and self-esteem. The actress, who was born in Mexico and identifies as Kenyan-Mexican, told BNKids blog that her mother “is and was a guiding light for me, and throughout my life, she always reinforced the belief that beauty comes from within. However, the pervasiveness of colorism was difficult to ignore.” The New York Times bestseller is an ode to dark skin with beautiful illustrations to match and heartfelt truths that stem from her own experience growing up.
Bad Hair Does Not Exist! By Sulma Arzu-Brown
Garifuna writer Sulma Arzu-Brown wrote Bad Hair Does Not Exist after her then three-year-old daughter’s babysitter said that she had “pelo malo.” This comment led her on a mission to dispel that belief common in Afro-Latinx and African-American culture through this picture book. “The book is a tool of cultural solidarity and a tool of empowerment for all of our little girls,” Arzu-Brown told NBC. “The term ‘bad hair’ or ‘pelo malo’ is divisive to both community and family, and can contribute to low self-esteem.” The story highlights different kinds of hair and each time it falls back on a simple truth: pelo malo no existe!
I Am Enough by Grace Byers
Caymanian-American actress Grace Byers is known for her work on Empire but her best selling children’s book I Am Enough is proof of her storytelling skills. Inspired by the desire to empower young readers after enduring bullying as a child, Byers’ story is all about embracing everything that makes you who you are. “Like the trees, I’m here to grow. Like the mountains, here to stand” she writes alongside beautiful illustrations by African American artist Keturah A. Bobo.
My Feet Are Laughing by Lissette Norman
Sadie is an 8-year-old Dominican-American girl who loves her family, her hair, and her “laughing feet” which she talks about in this collection of 16 poems by Lissette Norman in My Feet are Laughing. She lives in Harlem with her mom and sister in her abuela’s house, so the poems reflect her life from “Heaven is Where Grandma Lives” to “Tooth Fairy” to “Something About my Hair.” Norman, who is also of Dominican descent, uses lyrical poems to bring to life the world through Sadie’s eyes with lines like “If you comb it straight and pull it tight,/ I’m afraid my hair can’t sing.”
Islandborn by Junot Díaz
Islandborn is an imaginative tale from Dominican writer Junot Díaz that brings to life memories in order to help young Lola remember her roots. Lola is about 6 years old and can’t recall her home on the island of the Dominican Republic and it is through her efforts to learn about her roots that she brings her homeland to life. The beautiful illustrations evoke the creativity of the poems with bats that look like blankets as her cousin recalls they were the size of blankets. Díaz was around the same age when he left the Dominican Republic and this is a beautiful ode to the island and the power of memories. The book was published before harassment allegations made against the author were made.
My Hair Is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera
In My Hair is a Garden Mackenzie learns about the beauty of natural hair with the help of her neighbor Miss Tillie who compares her tresses to a beautiful garden. After her classmates called her hair a mess, Mack seeks Miss Tillie’s guidance because she sees that she wears her hair like a crown, “like beauty wrapped in song.” Cozbi A. Cabrera‘s words and art uplift black beauty and goes a step further providing a guide and recipes for hair care.
Amarita’s Way by Amara La Negra
Afro-Latina singer/actress Amara La Negra grew up wishing she’d see herself reflected in mainstream media and now she’s giving that to young girls with the Amarita’s Way. This colorful book features a young girl named Amarita and her sense of self-confidence and empowerment broken up into three stories, “Self-Love,” “Mommy and Me,” and “Never Give Up.” It depicts sweet and real moments like she and her mom painting their nails and enjoying breakfast together, making it an endearing read perfect for bedtime.
My Mystical, Magical, Shrinking Hair by Sherry Smith
— Sherry Y. Smith (@sherryysmith) December 18, 2017
My Mystical, Magical, Shrinking Hair by Sherry Smith tells the journey of Crystal’s hair from the time she’s a baby as her hair develops and evolves to soft-coily curls. Her infectious positivity and sweet sentiments about her “magical hair” play into her innocence, while also sending a bigger message about the beauty of the various textures of her hair.
Niñas Bellas by Dania Peguero
Dania V. Peguero is an Afro-Dominican mother whose set out to make conversations about race and Latinidad a little easier with her book, Niñas Bellas. The main message is that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors and she delivers it through the friendship of four young girls who are physically different but discover they they have so much in common.
Down by the River: Afro-Caribbean Rhymes, Games and Songs for Children by Grace Hallworth
Trinidadian author Grace Hallworth and illustrator Caroline Binch bring to life Afro-Caribbean rhymes and songs in Down by the River. The authentic poems include “Wake Up Time” and “Rainy Day Rhymes” with beautifully playful illustrations. The book remains one of the most acclaimed collections of traditional Afro-Caribbean to this day since its release in 1996.