Welcome to a summer edition of the Latinx Kid-Lit Corner. Written and illustrated by Carlos Aponte, Across the Bay transports readers to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. This award-winning picture book, based on the author’s childhood, is the story of a boy’s unwavering desire to meet his long absent father. For such a bold topic, the author does a fantastic job of balancing the story’s emotionally driven plot with colorful and exciting imagery. It’s a book that is as uniquely adventurous as it is heartwarming, as rich in culture as it is in personal experience.
The Setting and Themes
To read Across the Bay is to read into the hearts of many children and adults across the world. The book centers around a black boy from Puerto Rico, following him as he wanders across town in search of his father. The boy, who goes by Carlitos, lives with his single mother and grandmother. As he mentions in the story, his family is unlike the others in his neighborhood. Given the clues from the book, we can see Carlitos is referring to the idea that his family is without a father. Although this may seem like a unique family trait, a study released by Statista in 2020 marked the U.S. as having 3.29 million Latinx families with a single mother in 2019.
Published by Penguin Workshop
As the plot unfolds, Carlitos asks his mother where his father could be. She responds by suggesting that he’s somewhere across the bay and that Carlitos may never get a chance to see him. The conversation prompts the boy to dig up a lone picture of his father and embark on a secret journey across the bay. Once across, he uses the photo to ask strangers if they have seen his father. The search ends when he accidentally loses the picture before he can show it to a friendly park ranger. However, in the midst of Carlitos’ disappointment, the park ranger offers him some words of wisdom to ease his sorrows.
Despite the fact that Carlitos’ journey ends in heartbreak, the story’s overall outlook is optimistic. There is a unique sense of hope and comfort that is weaved into the plot and illustrations. If we focus on the artwork, it’s wildly colorful and refreshing, like a cold cup of fruit punch on a hot summer day. The pictures help ease the tension in the story and add depth to the characters and atmosphere.
In many ways, Carlos Aponte’s illustrations offer an alternative story to the one in the text. Through the pictures, we are able to experience Puerto Rico’s contemporary culture. It’s a place where life remains relatively modest compared to the average major city in the U.S. Its colonial style buildings and paved roads appear to be from a past era. However, what Puerto Rico lacks in modern structures, it makes up for in personality and breathtaking vistas. In my opinion, Carlos Aponte’s aesthetic style does wonders to bring about the natural beauty and positive spirit that is unique to Puerto Rico.
Across the Bay is not your typical coming of age story. It’s a book that will have you falling in love with the people and places on the island. At the same time, the book offers kids valuable perspectives on family, personal loss and identity. If I learned anything about Carlitos’ journey across the bay, it’s that we can all enrich our lives by appreciating and preserving the good things that surround us.
That concludes this addition of the Latinx Kid Lit Corner. Remember the simplest way to support our community of writers and illustrators is by following them on social media. Please send me your comments and book suggestions via instagram at @tropicsalvi. Thanks for reading.
About Carlos Aponte
Carlos Aponte: Originally from Puerto Rico, Carlos is an artist, designer and author. His work has been showcased at numerous art exhibits. He is currently a faculty member at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and has worked with major brands including The New Yorker, Coca-Cola, Target, and Esquire, among others. For more information about his life and career visit www.carlosaponteeditions.com.