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It'll Be Irie - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

There's a strong, natural desire in humans and animals to belong, to be part of a pod, a pack, a colony, a clan, or a flock. Collective nouns abound for mammals, birds, fish , and insects, whether predator or prey. This is a wonderful book about remaining true to ourselves while making new friends.

Cover image of It'll be Irie: Staying True to Yourself

It'll be Irie: Staying True to Yourself

Author: Donn Swaby

Illustrator: Alejandra Barajas

Publisher: Cardinal Rule Press (2023)

Ages: 5 - 7



Immigration, Jamaica, staying true to ourselves, friendship, and culture.

Synopsis: (from the publisher)

What's wrong with Jamaican Christmas Cake? Everything, if it's not American!

Raymond is moving with his family from Kingston, Jamaica to Queens, New York and he can’t wait to show everyone how American he can be! Whether it’s through books, magazines, music videos and movies, he learns about America in any way he can, even if some of his sources of information are out-dated. However, on Raymond’s first day of school in America, his every attempt to impress everyone with his “American-ness” backfires. What’s worse, his new classmates doubt if he’s Jamaican at all. It’s not until Raymond remembers what he loves most about being Jamaican – making Jamaican Christmas cake – and shares it with his new classmates, that he gains the courage to be himself.

It'll Be Irie will captivate young readers’ hearts with the story of a head-strong immigrant child's humorous attempt to embrace a new cultural environment. In addition, it also offers readers a figurative taste of the underrepresented culture of Jamaica.

Opening Lines:

I am moving to America!

When Pops and Muma tell

me, I know right away

what to do.

Just wait until everyone see

how American I can be!

What I LOVED about this book:

What a joyous, perfectly simple, childlike expectation for what will happen with his move to America. I love the bright colors, textures, and expressive characters in Alejandra Barajas' illustrations. And I personally enjoyed the inclusion of that adorable hummingbird.

Internal spread - boy, Mom & Dad outside their house in Jamaica.

Text © Donn Swaby, 2023. Image © Alejandra Barajas. 2023.

Excited, Raymond proceeds like a scientist to research and learn everything about America's culture, clothes, and foods. Donn Swaby seamlessly uses Raymond's Patois dialect in the narrative creating a wonderful voice and exposing readers to a bit of Jamaican . Which he intersperses with great moments of humor for both the kid and adult reader. [How many kids these days will know what a VHS or a cassette tape is?] It may only be predictable for adults; I mean when has learning a language or customs from old TV shows ever caused problems? [Stan Lee's character in Princess Diaries II & 3 Stooges movies ring a bell with anyone?] And I couldn't help chuckle over the "old-fashioned Internet."

Internal spread -of Raymong watching videos (on left) and reading books in a library (on right).

Text © Donn Swaby, 2023. Image © Alejandra Barajas. 2023.

Then I use what Muma call

the old-fashioned Internet

Next Raymond goes "into the field," observing and taking notes. I love this subtle nod to STEM. We get a humorous peek at just how far Raymond is willing to take his goal of acclimation, or Americanization, when he cuts apart a pair of new jeans to mimic what he's seen as American fashion. Muma is not impressed. [Check out this funny image in Donn Swaby's interview.] Convinced he's mastered being "an American," Raymond heads to his new school. But the first day of school doesn't go as planned, with one humorous misadventure or misstep after another.

An interesting showdown occurs where Raymond is sure he's "nailed" being American and is offended when his classmates, comparing Raymond to what they know of Jamaicans, question if he's actual from Jamaica.

Internal spread- three classmates (two girls, one boy) on left and Raymond, arms crossed, on right standing in front of lockers.

Text © Donn Swaby, 2023. Image © Alejandra Barajas. 2023.

I get so mad I forget to speak like them.


Me done with all a’you

Talk about a dark moment, after all his study and hard work and the kids question if he's even "a real Jamaican." Poor kid. I love Pops' gentle moment of guidance, "Where you from will always be part of you. When you think of Jamaica, what memories make you most happy." As much as we want to belong, we have to sure to celebrate what makes us each unique and special. And especially those things (or people) that bring us joy.

So Raymond cooks up a way to show his classmates what's special to him about Jamaica. The feel-good ending and the diverse class definitely opens the door for a discussion about what is "an American." There are few, if any, areas in the U.S. that are not an amalgamation of many cultures, traditions, and languages; irrespective of politics, this 'melting pot' is what makes America amazing. We should embrace our individual uniquenesses and enjoy the richness of ideas and experiences of all Americans.

The lively end papers have a reading guide and a map in the front and an Author's Note on the family inspirations for the book and information on Jamaican Patois. I love the incorporation of Raymond's flight path and the country's flags on the front pages and the ingredients on the back pages. This is terrific book for reminding us all to celebrate our heritage, stay true to ourselves, and accept others for who they are.


- what food makes you happy? Is it associated with a holiday or other special event something you all the time? What is special about it? Ask an adult to help you make it.

- what does being "an American" mean to you? Write a description or draw a picture of what you think is "American."

- if you were assigned as Raymond's buddy, on his first day, what would you tell him about making friends in your class and school?

- try making a Jamaican Christmas Cake yourself (with adult help).

- the publisher also has a reader's guide and coloring pages.

If you missed the interview with Donn Swaby on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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