Caribbean Culture

For about two years, my husband and I had delightful neighbors from the island of Curacao, a small island just north of Venezuela. They are native Papiamentu speakers (which they describe as a somewhat antiquated version of Dutch) and some of the most welcoming, warm people we have had the pleasure of knowing. And naturally, I thought of them when my children and I recently read the colorful book Island in the Sun by Harry Belafonte and Lord Burgess.

The book Island in the Sun contains the lyrics of Harry Belafonte’s song of the same title, released in 1957. Belafonte was born in Harlem, NY, with parents who were born in Jamaica. The beautiful imagery of the lyrics remind us all that we have a homeland, a place in our hearts that is dear to us. My children enjoyed seeing the bight colors and hearing the rhythmic language as we read this book aloud together. I liked the rich vocabulary and the cultural insight the text and illustrations provide of Caribbean culture.

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Ask your child what an island is. Make sure he/she understands it is land completely surrounded by water and explain that people use boats or bridges to get on and off islands. Then use blue construction paper and tan, orange, yellow or white to cut out an island and glue on the blue “water.” Decorate and add to the picture as you like to give your child a more concrete image of what an island is.
  • After reading Island in the Sun, look through the illustrations and talk about the things that you do on a regular basis in your community. Are there more similarities or differences between where you live and the island described in the book?

For Teachers:

  • Harry Belafonte, co-author of this book and the artist who performs the original song, is of Jamaican descent. Show students where Jamaica is on a world map and check for understanding of the geographical term “island.”
  • Give students pieces of blue construction paper and tan, orange, yellow or white papers to cut out an island and glue on the blue “water.” Allow them to decorate and add to the picture as they create a concrete image of an island.
  • Go back through the pictures in the book and ask what your students would like to do if they visited this island (ride on a boat, dance to drums, visit the market, fish, etc.). Ask what people enjoy doing in the geographic area you live and during different seasons, if applicable.
  • Follow the title link to play the song Island in the Sun as performed by Harry Belafonte on black and white television. Ask students what they thought of the song – was it slow or fast? How did they feel when they listened to it? Did they like it? Why or why not?