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Alyssa Reynoso-Morris on Her Debut Picture Book, ‘Plátanos Are Love,’ and the Power of Storytelling

By Amaris Castillo


Alyssa Reynoso-Morris’ debut picture book begins one morning in an open-air mercado. Vendors stand behind a long table lined with carrots and other vegetables. Wooden crates line the floors below. A young girl named Esme is with her grandmother in search of a few items to make breakfast. It’s here where Abuela tells Esme: “Plátanos are love.”


Her declaration is simple but begs for answers. In what way are plátanos love? Esme, for one, admits that she thought they were food. But Abuela signals that they’re much more than that.


From there, Esme stands on her tippy-toes to reach for the biggest plátanos. She’s fully open to Abuela’s teachings. In Plátanos Are Love – the title of Reynoso-Morris’ Spanglish picture book – Abuela embarks Esme on a journey to understand the ways in which plantains shape Latinx culture. Out on April 11 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, the book is told with great affection and a keen nod to the past and the resilience of ancestors.


Plátanos Are Love is about plátanos and it’s about food, but at its core core, it’s about love and family and the power of storytelling,” Reynoso-Morris told the Dominican Writers Association.


Reynoso-Morris – a queer storyteller who shares Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage – positions Abuela, Esme and Esme’s little sister in the kitchen as they prepare plátano dishes at home. Readers can almost hear the “crack crack!” as Abuela splits open the green plantains to make mangú and fufú. And later, the “pop pop!” of tostones y patacones frying in the pan. Those are Abuela’s favorite.


But Plátanos Are Love is as much a history lesson as it is a savory story because of flashbacks to the family’s ancestors. The book’s illustrator, Trinidad and Tobago-born Mariyah Rahman, helped breathe a deeper sense of connection to the past through sepia-toned renderings of women preparing plátanos outside. “I had no idea that that’s what she was going to do, but it was magic,” Reynoso-Morris said of Rahman’s illustrations. “It just felt right, to see how she uses color in the way that she did to show the difference between the present and the past. I love it.”


Whenever Abuela cooks with Esme, she reminds her granddaughter that plantains are the food of their ancestors. Reynoso-Morris’ nod to this past was intentional. In college, she studied political science, and said she’s “always been interested in history and how the decisions that people make, and the things that happen, how they affect the future.” That’s always in the back of her mind, she added.


The idea behind Plátanos Are Love took root in 2019. Reynoso-Morris recalled growing excited after reading Freedom Soup by Tami Charles and Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard. She began researching. She noticed many picture books about chicken noodle soup and about potatoes. But she wondered: where were the picture books about plátanos – a major food staple in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America?


“I saw a space in the market. I saw an opportunity there. And now fortunately, I wasn’t the only one thinking that way because now we have multiple books about plátanos,” said Reynoso-Morris, referring to Lissette Norman’s Plátanos Go With Everything and Luz Maria Mack’s The Secret of the Plátano – both of which were published over the past seven months. “We all wrote about plátanos, and I think we all just did it in such different and wonderful and unique ways. I think of them as like Pokemon cards, right? You gotta collect them all, because they’re all pieces of the narrative that work so beautifully together.”


One central focus in Plátanos Are Love is the importance of storytelling – the handing down of knowledge and recipes through generations. It helps breathe longevity into culture and traditions. The abuela in Reynoso-Morris’ picture book is a profound storyteller, sharing at one moment that recipes were once passed down in secret because their ancestors weren’t allowed to read or write like Esme can. Asked if this was a signal to readers that these particular ancestors were enslaved, Reynoso-Morris said yes. Growing up, her abuela taught her about pieces of history such as the Parsley massacre, during which more than 20,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic were killed by order of then-dictator Rafael Trujillo.


Reynoso-Morris said it’s important for young children to learn about concepts such as slavery or other parts of history, even if they’re uncomfortable. “If we never talk about these subjects ever, when are they going to learn?” she asked.


In her book, Reynoso-Morris also made a conscious decision when it came to Esme’s family background. “I was very intentional in keeping it a little bit ambivalent because I wanted other cultures – everyone else that’s part of the diaspora that loves plátanos – to feel seen,” she explained.


Given that Plátanos Are Love centers around intergenerational love, it’s fitting to learn who Reynoso-Morris dedicated her book to: her three abuelas, Gloria, Ana Luisa, and Esmeralda. Esme is short for Esmeralda.


“When you look up what Esme means, it means love,” she said. “It means beloved.”


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About the Author: Alyssa Reynoso-Morris is a queer Afro-Latine/x Dominican and Puerto Rican storyteller. Her ability to weave compelling stories has opened many doors for her as an author, speaker, and resume writer. She is also a mother and community organizer. During the day she works with community members, non-profit organizations, and government officials to make the world a better place. Then she puts her writer’s hat on to craft heartfelt stories about home, family, food, and the fun places she has been. Alyssa was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, and currently lives in Philadelphia, PA with her partner and daughter. She is the author of Plátanos Are Love, The Bronx Is My Home, and Gloriana Presente: A First Day of School Book. She hopes you enjoy her stories.


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Amaris Castillo is a journalist, writer, and the creator of Bodega Stories, a series featuring real stories from the corner store. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, the Lowell Sun, the Bradenton Herald, Remezcla, Latina Magazine, Parents Latina Magazine, and elsewhere. Her creative writing has appeared in La Galería Magazine, Spanglish Voces, PALABRITAS, Dominican Moms be Like..., and Quislaona: A Dominican Fantasy Anthology. Her short story, "El Don," was a finalist for the 2022 Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writers’ Prize by the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival.


Amaris lives in Florida with her family. You can follow her work at amariscastillo.com and read her stories from the colmado at bodegastories.com.

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