Thursday, December 30, 2010

Caribbean children's books - As we enter 2011

One of my new year’s resolutions is to try to catch up on the technology as it relates to books, their promotion and sales. Thankfully, in 2010 Caribbean publishers began to be more aware of the possibilities of e-publishing and using the Internet for promotion and sales.  Frankly, as a writer, I am looking forward to increased royalties from this new thrust.

One of the ways of keeping up with the changes is to subscribe to newsletters and blogs which give information on what is happening. Everybody seems to have a blog these days  - publishers, agents, writers- you name it: OR/AND they are on Facebook and Twitter ( among other social media). Information overload!!!! One has to choose carefully which to follow.

A very useful newsletter I subscribed to in 2010 is publishing perspectives. com. The articles update the reader on activities and trends in the publishing industry - worldwide.

Here’s a teaser from this page
Imagine the future of books not as physical objects, but as relational databases…
  • Autobiographies, written in semi-real-time as the authors live their lives
  • Massively multi-reader “Choose Your Own Adventure”-like role-playing books where everyone’s choices shape the story
  • Serialized novels, like David Copperfield, only infinite and with alternate story lines
  • Recipe books that keep growing and puzzle books that always have more puzzles
  • Multimedia automobile manuals that self-update by pushing recall warnings and maintenance reminders out to you and to mechanics around the world, who then share their fix-it tips with each other and with everyone else
  • Textbooks where student annotations, highlights, and notes are more valuable than the original text, so much so that students can monetize their contributions
  • Series of technical books built with shared chapters: an update to a chapter in one book automatically updates every book in which that chapter appears
I am fascinated by the possibilities for the future of writing. What do you think?

Remember to vote for my book A Goatboy Never Cries at

Thanks for reading my blog in 2010A happy and prosperous new year to all

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas inspiration for children's story

In my latest book for children Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost, the protagonist and the other five children in the story are all physically handicapped in some way. This is not very common in Caribbean stories; we still have a way to go in accepting and nurturing our disabled people. I have been asked why I chose to make these children disabled.  As usual with the creative process, one is never really sure, but I think the following experience had something to do with it.

For a long time in my house, Christmas was always an anxious time, and I went through the motions but didn't really enjoy it all much. This Christmas, many years ago, changed things, a bit,

One of my daughters having graduated from Mico with a teaching diploma specializing in Special Education went to teach at a school which catered for the disabled.  As Christmas approached and I had my usual anxiety about how it would go, I had an idea to change things. I asked her if the matron of the home where most of the children lived would allow a few to come to us for Christmas day. She was given permission to take six of them home with her, (I think it was because she was a teacher at the school) and we set about preparing for the day. 

By Christmas day my attitude had changed. I realized that in thinking about how to make the children comfortable and give them a meaningful experience, I had forgotten my own fears and negative approach. With my other children we went shopping for presents for the children and took pleasure preparing the Christmas dinner adding things we thought they would specially enjoy.

Not having been around the disabled, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the day turned out to be very satisfying. We were all happy as we worked to make the children feel special, helping those who needed help and so on..  We enjoyed their laughter and pleasure in some of things we had organized for them, and forgot our petty jealousies, anxieties and other (to be truthful) quite selfish woes.

I think what struck me most was that in spite of their physical disabilities they were just - children.Many years later when I came to write Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost, I think it was those six children who ended up in the story having a wonderful adventure as they solved the mysteries at Green Valley  during a strange summer holiday.

P.S.  It would be nice if some good Samaritans would contact Carlong and purchase some books to give to Children's Homes. These kids don't often see themselves as heroes in stories.
Carlong contacts:
phone: 876 9609366
My thanks

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Caribbean children's fiction - A child's view of Christmas

For Daniel
I love Christmas. Presents!  I love Christmas. Presents! That’s mostly what I can think of. This last week of school is not nice. The days just seem so long, while I wait for Christmas. Presents!

Mrs. Chin says we have to practise for the Christmas concert.  Every December we have to practise songs and plays and stuff to amuse our parents. My class is doing the Nativity scene. Someone gets a dolly and puts it in a cradle, and there’s a Mary and Joseph and wisemen and shepherds and angels.

I want to be Joseph, but Mrs. Chin says I have to be an angel. The angels have to sing a whole lot of songs. I am not going to remember them.  I want to be Joseph to help Mary open the presents the wisemen bring for baby Jesus. We‘re not supposed to open  them but last year the girl who was Mary said she didn’t know what Franky sense and Myrth were, but she thought the gold would be a chain or a bangle she could wear.  I think she forgot that Jesus was a boy. Mrs. Chin warned this year’s Mary not to touch the presents, but since she didn’t warn Joseph, If I was Joseph, I would open them.

Anyway, only the bright sparks Melvin and Joanna know  the words of the songs we angels have to sing, so this morning I asked Mrs. Chin If I could be the angel Hark. 

“There’s no such angel.” she barks at me.She doesn't have much patience at this time of year.

“Oh yes,” I tell her.  “He’s the angel who sings, you know ‘Hark, the herald angel sings’” Jeez, you would think  Mrs Chin would know that. If I am Hark I only have to sing ‘Glory to the newborn king’.

Mrs. Chin looks at me with that look grownups have when they are trying not to laugh, then she runs out of the room.Maybe she needs to use the bathroom. Soon we hear laughter coming from the staffroom. Somebody is giving jokes. I guess they are happy. It’s Christmas. Presents!

 I wish Mrs Chin would hurry up and come back. I am ready to be Hark and sing my one line: ‘Glory to the new born king .’ over and over. I can do that real good.

Please vote for my chapter book A Goatboy Never Cries at

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Animals in our children’s books

Being an island, we don’t have a wide variety of animals in Jamaica. We inherited lions and tigers and other continental animals in our Anansi stories from Africa. The steady diet of books from foreign countries means that our children mostly see a lot of bears and wolves and elephants and giraffes and so on .

Once, some years ago my young daughter came home with an assignment from school; she had to draw an animal. When I asked her what kind of animal she wanted to draw, she said :”A squirrel, of course.”  I asked her why she didn’t pick one of our own animals since we don’t have squirrels in Jamaica. I could see her thinking about this with a kind of surprised look on her face. Then she said : “We don’t have any animals.” As far as she was concerned the only valid animals were those in books and on television.

The children are probably wiser now, but we still don’t see a lot of our own fauna in the children books. We could raise the children’s consciousness of our environment if more of our books featured our own animals.

Read some interesting findings on the value of animals in children’s stories in this article:
Animals and nature are top page-turners for children across generations, says new reader research At

The research is based in the UK but it certainly provides food for our own thoughts. Local research- anyone?  Here's an excerpt:
Booktime’s research, which polled over 1,500 parents and carers across the UK, also showed that reading books featuring animal characters motivates children to find out more about the natural world: 44% of children are inspired to want to go to a farm, zoo or safari park to see the animals for themselves. 90% of respondents stated that reading books about animals increases their child’s interest in the natural world and more than half of Britain’s parents report that their children are more inquisitive about animals and nature after reading a book on the subject.
One of the reasons for this enduring call of the wild was hinted at elsewhere in the research with parents and carers overwhelmingly agreeing that animal and nature themed books help their children to make sense of human feelings, relationships and the world around them.(my emphasis).

Generally, in our population, any animal not meant for food is considered more or less unimportant,or to be feared.  We fear lizards, snakes,crocodiles, toads and many of the creatures around us. Boys and dogs are natural enemies. A pet, apart from a dog or cat which might be useful for watching the home or catching mice would be considered a luxury in many households. 

Our folktales sometimes add to our discomfort with the animal kingdom. Take the galliwasp, for instance:  very ugly – looking. Folklore says if it bites you, whichever of you finds water first will live, the other will die. So, if bitten by a galliwasp, rush to the nearest pipe and put water on the spot. I don’t even know if it can bite and nobody knows what water has to do with surviving the bite, but we repeat the story for generations.
Here’s  a definition of the galliwasp: A large, harmless lizard found in marshes in the West Indies and Central America
And another:  A West Indian lizard (Celestus occiduus), about a foot long, imagined by the natives to be venomous.

Animals in our stories seem to be limited to donkeys and goats, and perhaps a cow or two, often  in the idyllic setting of the good old rural days. (I have a published story about a boy and a goat!! It's a modern story so I hope it passes muster. Also, Miss Bettina's House ( Carlong) features domestic and farm animals. ) There are only a few books featuring our wild life - lizards, birds, mongooses; and some domestic animals - cats and dogs etc.
I like to challenge my writing class to think about our environment for ideas for their children’s stories. Take fish, for instance. We have a number of interesting names for our fish – grouper, parrot, butter, king, snapper, and, more recently, the lion fish. What could a writer do in a fish story using those names!
Some years ago, deer escaped from a circus during a hurricane. I haven’t seen any, but people in the hills say they are multiplying. This is a new creature in our environment. What possibilities for stories! And it doesn’t have to be fiction only. Children, particularly boys, respond to non-fiction stories about the environment.

On her anansesem facebook page Summer Edward has been featuring children's book covers from different Caribbean countries. I have taken the liberty of copying a few relevant to this discussion. Check her pages. You will find that there aren't many books featuring animals

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why a Goatboy?

I have been asked why the name goatboy in the title of my latest chapter book for children which is A Goatboy Never Cries. Here's an extract from the story which explains it. Jillian is the story teller of that exceptional summer holiday when her family moves to the suburbs of Kingston and the children in the family find themselves with new daily chores. She has to help her mother take care of chickens and her brother Johnny has to take care of a goat. He dislikes the experience, at first, but grows to love the goat as a pet.
" At first, Johnny's new friends ridiculed him. His new name was 'goatboy'. I thought it was a stupid name, but, I suppose, if there were 'cowboys'to take care of cows, there could be 'goatboys' to take care of goats and 'pigboys' to take care of pigs and so on. However, I don't think I would like anybody to call me a 'chicken girl' OR WORSE, a 'fowl girl'.

available from LMH Publishing Ltd
Tel:876 938-0005
Fax: 876- 759-8752

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Importance of book covers

Summer Edward on her facebook pages has been posting book covers from various Caribbean Islands. So far she’s posted covers from Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Haiti and Grenada. I thought I had seen a post on her blog specifically on the importance of a book cover, but I couldn’t find it. Her comment below on illustrations for Caribbean children’s books might be relevant though, as the illustration is actually the most important component of a cover, especially for children's books. Check the covers she has posted and judge for yourself.


Looking at many of the illustrations in Caribbean picture books, I might be tempted to say that Caribbean artists are simply not that talented. This I know, is far from the truth. There is abundant, fantastic artistic talent in the Caribbean. What is missing in our region, is a sense of the importance of the role of the children's illustrator. Also, many of us do not yet understand that works of children's illustration are as much "fine art" as the creations we see displayed in Caribbean art galleries and museums. Caribbean artists fail to see children's illustration as the lucrative business and fine artform that it is, and we are decades behind continental children's illustrations (UK, Asia, USA, Africa) in this sense. So that is where we are right now in Caribbean children's illustration: abundant talent to choose from, but no cohesive, well-respected children's illustration field/industry with ties to an organized, professional and active Caribbean children's publishing mechanism with plenty and sustained work opportunities for illustrators

I may get some grief for this, but I am going to say it anyway: I simply don't think Caribbean children's illustration as it stands today is all that great. I mean the work that currently appears in published Caribbean children's books. To put it plainly, Caribbean children's illustration as it looks today, lacks versatility, seriousness (in the sense of professionalism) and sustained effort. Caribbean children's illustrators (who by the way, are a small group) simply haven't been inventing much, and we are waaaaaay behind our continental counterparts in this respect. Much― and that is not all, there is some great work out there― but again, much of the illustration currently appearing in Caribbean picture books is basically clich├ęd: cute, simplistic, uninventive, cartoony, and computer-generated. ( my emphasis)

Publishers sometimes consult, but do not  give authors control over/input into the design of their book covers. (My publishers are not adverse to a suggestion, but this is in the laid-back Caribbean) Self-publishers of course have that full control. Both need to pay very serious attention to cover design.  Here are some reasons why.
Importance of book covers
·           Shoppers in a bookstore spend an average of 8 seconds looking at the front cover of a book and 15 seconds looking at the back before deciding whether to buy it.
·           A survey of booksellers showed that 75% of them found the book cover to be the most important element of the book.
·          Sales teams often only take the book cover with them when they shop titles into stores.

What goes into the making of a design for a book cover?  Obviously the story itself - what it is about and the intended readership. Decisions about typeface, size – those technical details are taken on the basis of these considerations.The art brief from the editor will give the illustrator guidelines for the cover illustration. Judging what will make a book stand out on the shelf is not often easy. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Some people may like a cover, others may not – usually the detractors cannot give an objective reason for disliking a cover.

Another  consideration  for our books is also whether the illustrator is familiar with and understands the Caribbean origin of the story. We all have to be very careful not to fall into the category highlighted in the last sentence in Summer’s quote.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I love my hair

You've got to check this!

watch the video

The longing for silky, long hair is still a problem for black children!! What are we writers doing to consciously send the message that black hair is okay: that our hair was designed for us - whatever its texture, colour, length. and it doesn't have to be a book about hair  - just one of the many affirmative messages about ourselves that we need to interweave in our stories.And if anybody dares to comment on prejudice, reverse or otherwise - . I'll delete the comment. Read the reason it was made then just watch the video and ponder

Monday, November 8, 2010

BIAJ chapter book nominations

My chapter book A Goatboy Never Cries has been nominated for the People's Choice award by the Book Industry Association of Jamaica  (BIAJ)

What about it folks. Buy a copy from a bookstore in Jamaica or go to the LMH website

Read it and decide if you want to vote for me.

I am repeating an earlier post about it here

My new book A Goatboy Never Cries has been getting good reviews.
Here's an excerpt from the Sunday Gleaner of May 23
"A Goatboy Never Cries , a 13 chapter book, tells it all. Illustrations which appear in 10 chapters make the book fun to read and will help push the imagination, especially for those children whose knowledge of the countryside is limited. ....
Although a simple tale, Campbell uses the story to address themes such as family, friendship, love, loyalty and responsibility."

In the story Johnny, who has never owned a pet, is forced to take on the responsibility of looking after a young goat during his summer holidays. His initial rebellion changes as he learns to love the goat- which in turn presents new problems when the summer holidays end and there is no one to take care of it.

Traditional Christmas Entertainment - Jonkunnu in Jamaica

"Jonkunnu a Come"

In Jamaica, up to the fifties and sixties, at Christmastime masked Jonkunnu bands (masquerade) could be seen roaming the streets of towns all over the country playing their lively music, dancing and prancing to entertain the crowds which would quickly assemble, as a prelude to collecting money. 

Although a few straggling groups may still come out in the rural areas, sadly, Jonkunnu bands no longer roam the streets of our towns and they are now seen mainly as entertainment at cultural events. Today's children are missing out on the heady feeling which a Jonkunnu band could add to the already magical Christmas season. The fear inspired by Horsehead snapping at you or the Devil trying to jab you with his trident cannot adequately be described. Both adults and children would run when they started their antics. I don’t think anybody actually got hurt. It was great fun all around.

And the music !!!!  Fife and drum which immediately set your feet and body dancing . I have very fond memories of the excitement created when the first strains reached my ears and the cry of “Jonkunnu a come!” started up. 

My favourite character was Pitchy - Patchy. In his costume made of pieces of brightly coloured material, he would dance up a storm twirling and twisting every which way. I didn't like the 'policeman'
who would wield his baton in attempt to 'control' the band and the onlookers. and as for the Devil - "RUN!"

Incidentally the band was made up of all men, even bride and belly woman whose exaggerated pregnant belly seemed to have a dancing life of its own, separate from her body. All the characters wore a mask of some sort.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Author involvement in selling books

Nobody can deny that authors should help to promote and sell their books. This seems to be standard procedure in the big countries. I find though that the author/publisher situation in the Caribbean, especially for trade books, is sort of unknown territory.

Text books don't need author involvement in the same way, and most of our publishers - the bigger ones - specialize in text book publishing - it is, after all, their bread and butter

But for the trade books - take the business of authors getting copies of their books. If you have a good ongoing relationship with your publisher, chances are you can get copies on consignment. But here's the problem , you have to sell off what you take in a limited time, or return the books or pay for them.

Now, I am supposing that most Caribbean authors are like me with limited disposable income to wrap up in purchasing significant copies of their books, unless there is certainty of sales. It's usually a few books sold here and there, even at literary functions. But, one never knows when an opportunity might arise for a sale, and it is useful to have books at hand.

Personally, I have a good relationship with my publishers, but I know other writers who complain about the reluctance of publishers to give books on consignment. (In fairness some publishers have problems getting payment even for books on consignment to bookstores)  But, since the publisher is in charge of royalties and can withhold the payment for the books the author has taken, why the reluctance?

What do you think? (My comments section should be working now)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book review #1 - Little Island-Big Adventures

Here is a Caribbean children’s book which is immensely interesting as it gives a glimpse of life in the 1960s on one of the tiny Grenadine islands owned by Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean. (You may need to consult a map of the Caribbean) The author deliberately does not name the island which is the setting for the story, and it is my belief that the story is largely autobiographical. Life on this tiny island is both a pleasure and trial. There is no electricity, no police presence, one school, and one church. Children attend school barefooted, but there is no sense of deprivation.

The island is described by someone who is obviously fond of it, and wishes to preserve a bit of its history and the customs peculiar to its culture. In this first person story, Sara-Ann tells us about that last delightful year spent on her beloved island. She and her best friend, Ruben, get up to a lot of antics during a very busy school year filled with a witch, a bad bull, a giant cat, a graveyard adventure, a jealous school friend, a jilted bride and other exciting events. The language might seem sophisticated, in parts, for an eleven to twelve year old, but this protagonist is presented as being precocious, a very avid reader and a highly imaginative child.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my favourite incidents: Sara-Ann and Ruben are in an old crypt in the graveyard at midnight on All Saints' Night planning a prank against a very irritating fellow student – Elsie:
The darkness was complete. So complete it snatched away my breath, smothering me like a thick blanket. I gasped, struggling for breath. I had never been as afraid as I was of that dreadful place.
Suddenly , without warning, a light flickered on.I shrieked and turned to flee, but Ruben caught me by the arm. “It’s only my flashlight,” he said, holding up a small one.
Light … light… light …light

The style of this novel is episodic, that is, almost all the chapters can stand on their own as short stories. Therefore there is not the kind of cause and effect development of plot, building to a strong climax. Although there is action aplenty as Sara-Ann and Ruben get in and out of scrapes, the story is more character driven as we learn about several of the people who live on the island and their interaction one with another,
This story celebrates family, friendship and community. Its strengths are in descriptive language and characterization. It is a good introduction to the study of literature at grades 6 or 7.

There is a glossary which explains words and phrases which are peculiar to that part of the Eastern Caribbean in which the story is set

Author Maria Roberts-Squires was born in Petite Martinique, schooled in Grenada and now lives in Barbados. This is her second novel for children.

Book link here
Sorry I had to re-post this. Something went wrong with the first post and messed up viewing of the blog 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cultural Differences

When I was writing my last post ‘Humour in Children’s Books’, I realized that two of the situations I was talking about would present problems for some persons outside the Caribbean culture.

In  Naughty Eddie LaRue, most Caribbean children would know and anticipate that with that degree of naughtiness there could be only one outcome - he would have to get a well-deserved spanking. For many of us, spanking is still the accepted punishment for bad behaviour. One of the illustrations in the book shows Eddie being spanked on his bottom and usually raises an outcry from foreigners, who immediately classify this as child abuse. ( I will not post the illustration here)

Similarly, the little girl who insisted that the dog should not be in the house, would probably be thought strange by others not accustomed to our culture. Dogs are very often kept to guard the home. As such they need to be outside or in their dog house, so that they can warn the householder of intruders. Dogs are rarely the pampered pets we see on television.

These are broad generalizations, and they may not apply to all the Caribbean islands. I am not here getting into a discussion of right or wrong. The message for our writers is that if you want your children's book to travel, be sure that it doesn’t offend other people’s sensibilities especially in sensitive areas like these.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Humour in Children's Books

I am one of those who complain that there isn’t a lot of humour in Caribbean children’s books. I guess we think that children should be preached at and moralized as much as possible to keep them on the right path. 
In my youth, one of the sayings constantly thrown at me was ‘chicken merry, hawk de near’.  Words like ‘silly’  ‘stupid’  ‘maddy-maddy’ and 'scatter-brain' were often used to describe any child who laughed too easily or too much.  And yet, as a people we like to laugh. ( Ever heard a 'belly laugh' burst forth  from of a true-true Caribbean person?) So, why not put more humour into the children’s books? There are, of course, humourous situations here and there within some of the stories, but few books, that I know of, outrageous enough to cause a child to keep smiling broadly or giggle out loud. (The story-tellers can get that effect - but that's another story)

What makes children laugh?
It is not always easy to know what will make children laugh; so much depends on their individual view of life and their experiences. It is generally accepted that children respond with laughter to the unexpected, as well as the things that subvert order - things that turn the world upside down. 
I once attempted to read for a group of small children from one of my books Miss Bettina’s House. In the story, the animals - a dog, a cat and a parrot take over Miss Bettina’s house when circumstances force her to leave it and seemingly abandon them. Older children seem to enjoy the antics of the animals as they try to protect the house from the village ginnal who wants to take over what he regards as an empty house from which he can take things as he pleases. Miss Bettina's House - Book link

Usually, when I read, the children enjoy the session, but on this occasion, a young miss about four years old insisted that the dog should not be in the house. She wouldn’t allow me to continue the story as she kept repeating very loudly “The dog must not be in the house”. Obviously this was the rule in her home. I had to switch to another story.
A book with the title The Dog who shouldn’t be in the House or Do not go into the House! with a clever cover illustration might catch this little one’s interest. She might find it amusing if the story is about how the dog tries several ways of sneaking into the house and gets caught each time. (In another post I will talk about cultural differences and such a subject.

Fractured fairy tales – alternative versions of fairy tales are funny because we already know the story and so the new version, if clever, can be funny. See an example here. 
I am not sure, however, if children would find all of this funny – perhaps the older ones might.

Some years ago, LMH Publishing Ltd. in Jamaica put out a series of picture story books for children. The books all contained very good stories. However, feedback suggests that the most popular with the children was one entitled Naughty Eddie LaRue. As you can guess from the title Eddie LaRue got into a lot scrapes, (subverting the natural order of his environment).
Here’s an extract. The author and illustrator have painted damning pictures of the many naughty things Eddie has done, but this one takes the cake:

But the worst thing of all, the worst, by far,
Was the time Eddie painted the Pastor’s new car.
Pastor drove up one day in a car of dark blue,
So shiny and clean it clearly was new.
Mummy said it looked lovely, Sue said it looked great
Eddie wanted a ride, but was told he should wait
For Pastor was busy, he had things to do
The first of which was to see Mrs.LaRue.
He had come to their house to discuss with their mother
Eddie’s constant misdeeds of one kind or another
Mummy said,”Eddie, go do some painting for me.
Pastor, please come inside. Sue, please make us some tea.”
While Pastor is visiting with his Mom, Eddie ends up painting the Pastor’s new car a bright blue and yellow, and pleased with himself, he actually signs his name as the artist. You can guess the rest. (Maybe you can’t. I’ll discuss this also in the post about cultural differences.) When you read this story for children, they eagerly await the next naughty thing that Eddie gets up to, and think it quite funny.

Here’s some more food for thought: an extract from  
Laughing All the Way: Humor in Children's Books

“Thinking is stretched and interest in literature
is extended when children experience comic stories
that present a developmentally appropriate cognitive
challenge (Jalongo, 1985; McGhee, 1979). When a story
line or illustration does not turn out as expected or does
not fit into a standard conception of normality, youngsters
are amused. They may be even more delighted
when they realize where a funny story is taking them:
They love recognizing the "inside joke." With maturity
and experience, young primary-age children gradually
develop an appreciation of verbal humor. Riddles,
rhymes, and silly songs now give them great pleasure.
At the end of the early childhood years, the multiple
meanings of an illustration, a word, or an event become
food for a young child's humorous thought (Honig,
1988)”Pauline Davey Zeece, Department Editory
Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1995
Books for Children

So, Caribbean writers for children, what you think?Do we need more humour in the stories?How about a couple of wild and wacky tales to brighten a day for our children

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Additional comment on A WE Dis?

I think I need to add something to my comments ( a few posts ago) on Dr. Cherrell Shelley-Robinson’s talk - A We Dis?  It is obviously unacceptable for the books to be printed with wrong information, but when it comes to the images, we are probably as much at fault for perpetuating the stereotypes. Tourism is the main industry in some of our countries. All of us depend on it. In our advertising and entertainment packages we project the images we think the tourists want to see - quaintness, happy-go-lucky ‘natives’, carnival/ festivities, tropical paradise of sea and sun and fun etc. When the tourists arrive we often greet them with mento/calypso music with smiling singers dressed in colourful costumes and head-ties and broad- rimmed straw hats and so on and so on. It is probably therefore not surprising that these are the same images the books 'from foreign', project as our reality.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reading can be dangerous!!

As a child I read everything I could lay my hands on. Heaven was going to the library on a Saturday to change my book. It was there at the Junior Centre in Half-Way-Tree, that  I discovered William.

This is what Wikipedia says about the William series:
Just William is the first book of children's short stories about the young school boy William Brown, written by Richmal Crompton, and published in 1922. The book was the first in the series of William Brown books which was the basis for numerous television series, films and radio adaptations.
I spent many a happy hour in company with William and his pals, laughing at their hilarious antics. Recently, I re-read one of the books and wondered why  I found them so very funny.  But, I was a colonial child. The things that happened to British children in books were more real than the things that happened to me in Jamaica. I had no problem rambling over the English countryside with William and his friends. I happily had tea with scones (I didn't know what that was, but no matter), and other 'delicacies'.(There were probably cucumber sandwiches too.)  I wasn’t reading any books about Caribbean children anyway, except in the prescribed reading books for the colonies. 

Here’s how William got me into trouble. Every Sunday afternoon I had to take a nap after lunch, since I had to attend night service with my mother. The nap would prevent me falling asleep and not hearing the sermon - which could mean I was bound for hell. My mother was very strict.

One Sunday, an older cousin was visiting for the day and since she was bored and didn’t have to nap, I gave her a William book to read.  Very soon, she was laughing at William’s antics. My mother came into the room and sternly ordered me to go to sleep and stop giving Gwen jokes. I tried to tell her that I wasn’t giving jokes, but she would not listen. Gwen was probably ashamed to admit that a book could be so funny and didn’t support me. (Is laughing aloud while reading a book akin to a form of madness? - like talking aloud to oneself???)

After my mother left, Gwen continued reading. For a while she only giggled softly, but eventually, one of William’s outrageous antics caused her to snort very loudly. This time Mama brought in the strap and I got a licking for disobedience. My feelings hurt more than my flesh. Gwen quietly left the room, without the book. (She was probably afraid of the strap reaching her, too.)  She still didn’t confess that it was the book causing her to laugh.  My mother would not have believed her anyway. These were the days when a child was often sent to read a book as mild punishment for idleness or mischief.
The ‘good old days’ anyone?

Check this link for a relevant discussion

Caribbean Children's Lit - A We Dis?

I attended Dr. Cherrell Shelley-Robinson’s talk A We Dis? at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, yestereve (Thursday, Oct 14th) It was well attended, and quite stimulating.

She dealt mostly with the images and information in social studies/information books on the Caribbean written for children.  Using power point illustrations she showed how the images were often uncomplimentary and the information sometimes wrong, giving one-sided representations of just who we are in the Caribbean. The images tend to focus on the exotic and old-time situations – cane cutters, market scenes, broken - down houses (huts) zinc fences, the happy –go-lucky ‘native’ and so on. 

This, she said, has adverse influence both on the children in other lands who assimilate this misrepresentation as well as on our own children, who get distorted images of themselves as well as wrong information. She gave several examples of the wrong information in the books.

Most of these books, she said, are published in the UK and the USA to fill the demand for multi-cultural information for their schools. Many are not even distributed in the Caribbean. Sometimes the authors have never visited the Caribbean and obviously are perpetuating the stereotypes picked up elsewhere.

To change this, she recommended that persons can write to publishers and point out the errors. She also suggested that persons can publicly discuss the errors by reviewing books on sites like Amazon which allow reviews. If enough voices are raised, the publishers will have to begin to take notice and be more careful to get their information authenticated by ‘experts’ who really know the Caribbean. Also librarians should be careful not to place such books on their library shelves.

She seemed to have given the audience so much food for thought that very few comments were made or questions asked in the after period.

Some of what she said has implications for the fiction, as well, especially for the younger children, who haven’t yet reached the point of questioning what they read.  This makes it even more important for us to have a great body of literature about ourselves written from our point of view.  Fortunately, there seems to be growing interest among Caribbean writers and illustrators in publishing material for our children. If only we could solve the problems of high production costs, and distribution and access to this material.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Three Blind Mice and Me

The creative process is fascinating. Sometimes I can recognize the inspiration for a story, sometimes not; and a story might present itself at any hour- day or night.

So , here I am, it is 2 o’clock of a morning. I have been awake since 12 midnight with all sorts of thoughts running around in my head and keeping me awake. 
I don’t know why I am remembering something from my teen years – a very long time ago. I have always wanted to be a writer, and I started writing stories in my early teens. I soon realized that I needed guidance, and being too shy to ask my teachers for help, I nagged my poor mother ( and we were poor) into using some of her partner draw to pay the first installment  on a correspondence writing course out of England, advertised in a newspaper. She must have really believed in me and my ambitions.( I didn’t finish the course so she wasn’t much out of pocket).

I don’t recall much of what I wrote for that course except for this exercise. I was supposed to write a story using a nursery rhyme as reference point.  I chose Three Blind Mice and wrote what I thought was a funny story about the blind mice mistakenly eating soap thinking it was cheese.

My correspondence tutor’s response was that this was not a rational story – no mouse would mistake soap for cheese, their sense of smell would guide them.  It wasn’t only that comment but the mean tone of the other comments that made it the end of my writing career- for a time.

So, here I am thinking, at just past 2 o’clock in the morning, how to make that story rational.

I need a witch. Unfortunately we don’t have witches in my country. We have obeah women, but to use one in the story would frighten some parents into not buying the book since they fraid the word 'obeah' and others would complain that representing  an obeah woman as evil is to disparage our culture. So, I’ll import a witch-she is not ours so it doesn’t matter what I do with her. 
Back to the Story (BTTS) 
These three mice – they really should be rats - mice are so tiny, but  rhymes for mice are more fun.Example:
Three blind mice
Who lived in hice (plural of house!!!)
Had one dreadful vice
            FOOD- it was so nice  

So, one night, the three greedy mice crept into the witch’s cupboard and ate off the one dukunoo she was saving for her breakfast. They were so full that they fell asleep, same place. Next morning when the hungry witch went for her dukunoo, all she saw were three fat-belly sleeping mice.

She was so mad that she immediately cursed them and took away their eyesight. But, by evil law, one curse was not enough; she had to put a second curse on them. She allowed them to choose which other sense they would lose.

The three mice discussed this and decided that they could not live without the sense of touch/feeling; since they were blind they had to use this sense to guide them. They could not live without hearing, since they needed to hear when the witch started snoring so they could safely go into her cupboard and steal her food. They could not live without the sense of taste -  FOOD was too nice! So they chose to do without the sense of smell.

Ergo (I love that word), as the story progresses the mice can neither see nor smell.( So now they can mistake soap for cheese.)

Okay – for the soft-heart children, I might add that the curse was only temporary. The witch tells them that she will lift the curse if they complete a very difficult task. ( I haven’t decided what task yet.  Probably to stay away from her cupboard for twice months - I need my rhyme). To be continued ......

So, Mr/Ms Snarky- Correspondence-Writing Course- Tutor, would that now make it a rational story?

I started off talking about the creative process. Strange isn’t it? I just might write that story one day.

P.S  Over the years I have met two incidents of rats eating soap- one in a bathroom and one in a washroom.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Caribbean Children's Lit - Conversation with a Reluctant Reader of Fiction

One of the concerns of educators in the Caribbean is the fact that the children are so reluctant to read, especially the boys. As a writer of fiction for Caribbean children, I keep trying to discover what would be of interest to our children and give them joy in reading books. Following is a conversation I had with a boy in Jamaica.

Q. Bradley how old are you, and what grade are you in at school?
A.  I am nine and in Grade 5 at school.
Q.  What books do you like to read?
A.  Non-fiction books about science, animals, earth and the environment.
Q. What non-fiction books have you read recently? 
A.  One called Reptiles, and one about chameleons which
      change colour to match their environment or their moods.
      And one about hurricanes in the Caribbean
Q.   Do you read any fiction?
A.   Sometimes in library sessions at school. I prefer non-fiction.
Q.   Do you read fiction by Caribbean authors?
A.   Yes.
Q.   What stories have you read recently?
A.   Caesar and the 3 Robbers by Jean D’Costa and 
       Bernie and the Captain’s Ghost by Hazel D. Campbell
Q.   Why did you choose those books?
A.   My grandmother said I should read them.
Q.   What other fiction have you read recently?
A.   Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Q.   Apart from books, what else do you read?
A.   Stuff on the computer, like things about world 
       problems in the environment and strange animals, 
       and when there are disasters. I play games on the 
       computer and I watch things on YouTube. 
       I saw something about the White Witch of Rosehall,
       a Jamaican story, on YouTube
Q.   What do you watch on cable?
A.   National Geographic, Avatar, Johnny Test,
      The Suite Life on Deck and funny shows.    
Q.  What would you like Caribbean authors to write about
      in their stories.
A.  Stories with the sea and sea animals, scary stories, funny stories. 
     Stuff like that.

So, Caribbean writers of children's stories, what do you think?  Are we writing stories which will woo and excite our boys into reading for pleasure? 

Came across this relevant discussion.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Caribbean Children's Lit - The Gatekeepers

I begin with a quotation:
“It can easily be suggested that children’s literature is not about children at all.  Rather, it is about how adults define children. After all, it is adults who write the literature and illustrate it, they edit and publish it, sell and promote it, recommend and scaffold its reading. They are the ones who decide what is appropriate to be in it, and whether children should or should not read it. 
In other words, as they make all of these decisions, benevolently or paternally, acting as mediators, scaffolders, gatekeepers, facilitators, guardians or whatever they might be called, adults censor children’s literature.” From Introduction – Censorship in Children's Literature by David Beagley
Who are these adults censors ?  They are (not necessarily in order of influence):
Author, Publisher, Parent, Teacher, Librarian, Public opinion.  Do the children, the target audience, have censorship powers?
The author of children’s books knows that he(she) will only succeed if he manages to please himself, the children and the gatekeepers.
Appropriateness for children is always a major concern for the adult gatekeepers and woe be unto the author who singlehandedly decides to write outside of the conventions of his time. 
Despite the availability of world news (full of horror stories), questionable advertising, video games and films which seem to glorify violence and other wrongs, there is still a tendency to idealize childhood, to talk as if modern children live in a bubble - uncomplicated and predictable and without opinions and experiences of their own. Therefore, adults can project their interpretation of innocence, which the children are expected to soak up like a sponge.
How does this apply to the Caribbean? Some of the life experiences of too many of our children are as traumatic as the adults’.  Can the Caribbean writer of children’s literature be realistic and gain acceptance by the gatekeepers? Outside accepted folklore, can we write our own fantasies and adventures which the gatekeepers will accept? Are there subject areas and themes which we cannot explore in our writing? There seems to be a creeping outcry that Caribbean writers for children depend too much on the idealistic tales of yesteryear; childhood in former times – rural existence with simpler lifestyles.
In the Caribbean, who are our most influential gatekeepers? I would argue that it is the teacher, given the fact that for any book to get reasonable sales it needs to be recommended reading from the Ministry of Education - .in a context where many parents are non-readers, and rely on ‘teacher’ to make the right decision to turn their children into readers and scholars.

Every now and then there is public outcry against certain aspects of book lists especially for the older ones. Recently, in Jamaica, some literature texts were condemned for having ‘bad words’ (curse words). Some recently published YA books might not reach the schools’ reading lists because they contain (bad) supernatural content. In a recent parenting advice column in one of our daily papers a parent asked this question – “Where can I find books for my child which do not contain magic? It seems to me that the books I see all rely on magic.”( not an exact quote) The advice was to check the Christian book stores.
So, what are the children reading when they can make their own choices? Only the librarians can probably answer that question since book buying for pleasure reading is not an important item of expenditure for too many of our parents. 
Our libraries mainly stock foreign titles.  What Caribbean books are the children reading - for pleasure?  Outside of those used in schools, are they reading Caribbean stories? Research is needed to answer these questions. If there is research,  it is not readily available for consideration by editors and publishers.- a very unfortunate situation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Caribbean children's fiction - Anansi and the Magic Pot

Anansi jester pot by Shannon

Once upon a time there was a great famine in the land. People could hardly find anything to eat.

Anansi and his family were starving. One day Anansi was walking in the forest and his foot kicked over a pot which was just lying on the ground.

“What a pretty little pot!”Anansi exclaimed.

“Don’t call me pretty pot,” the pot replied.

“So what a must call you?”asked Anansi.

“Call me ‘Do mek mi see!’ ”

Anansi feel kinda foolish, but since him never had nothing better to do him call out, “Do mek mi see!”

Immediately the pot begin to cook up a delicious dinner of chicken and rice and peas. The smell nearly kill Anansi who was very hungry. Him eat an eat till him belly nearly burst. But as he was about to wash out the pot in the nearby river, the pot shouted, “No! No! You mus never wash me. Leave me same way you find me.”

So Anansi turn down the pot and hide it under some leaves and went home with a big bellyful. When he reached home his wife and children eagerly asked him if he had brought any food. He gave them two little wingy bananas he had found in the bushes and didn’t tell them his secret.

Next day Anansi returned to where he had found the pot. To his great delight, it was still there so he quickly said, “Do mek mi see!” And the pot boiled up another delicious dinner - yam and salt fish and mackerel and green bananas. Anansi had a feast. Everyday Anansi eat him belly full but him never share the secret with him family.

However, Anansi wife soon begin to notice that her husband seem to be getting quite round, and him was looking very well-fed in the midst of the famine. She couldn’t understand this because nowadays he never bothered to take any portion of the meagre food they could find for the family. He always generously declined to eat anything at home. So one day she decided to follow him when he left the home.

She follow Anansi and see when him tek out the pot and she hear him say ,”Do mek mi see,” And her eyes nearly pop out of her head when she see the big pot of food the pot boil up.. Anansi sit down and eat it all off, licked his lips and turned down the pot and covered it over with leaves.

As soon as he left, Mrs Anansi wasted no time. She ran home and fetched her starving children, then she turned over the pot and said, ‘Do, mek me see', just as she had heard Anansi say it.. The children were overjoyed as the food bubbled up in the pot - ackee and saltfish, dumpling and yam and coco, fry chicken! Food them never see for a very long time. Them eat an eat until there was nothing left.

Now, Mrs Anansi is a very tidy lady, so when the food finish, she tek the pot down to the riverside and even though the pot tell her not to wash it, she still give it a good wash, and then she put it back where Anansi leave it

Next day, Anansi arrive, turn over the magic pot and say,”Do mek mi see!” Nothing happen. “Do mek mi see!” Anansi shouted over and over, but the pot remained quiet. Then he examined it and discovered that it was quite clean. He quickly realize that somebody had found out his secret but had washed out the pot and washed away his luck. He was very vexed. He ranted and raved through the woods and as he walked along kicking everything out of his path he stumbled on a whip.

“What a pretty little whip!” he exclaimed.

“Don’t call me pretty whip,” the whip said.

“So what a mus call you,”Anansi asked

“Call me ‘Do mek me see,’” the whip replied.

So Anansi thinking he would get more good fortune cried out, “Do mek me see”.

Immediately the whip set upon him and give him a good beating.

Anansi plenty vex now, but him see a way to get him revenge ‘gainst the person who wash out him magic pot.

All along him had a suspicion that it was him wife. So him go home and announce how him find a present in the forest but him have to hide it cause somebody might want to take it away.

Mrs Anansi she just as greedy as Anansi so she hide and follow him and see where him hide the whip, but Anansi never do anything him just look pon the whip and go away.

Mrs Anansi she come out of hiding and tek up the whip.

“What a pretty little whip!” she said

“Don’t call me pretty whip," said the whip.

“So what a mus call you?” Mrs Anansi ask.

“Call me ‘Do mek me see’.”

Hear Mrs Anansi, “Do mek me see,”

The whip turn pon her and give her one piece a beating. And Anansi who was nearby laugh and laugh till him side nearly split.

Jack Mandora me no choose none!

(This disclaimer ends all Jamaican folk stories. The story teller wants none of the bad luck to follow him.)