Wednesday, December 28, 2011

new year wishes

My New Year resolution is to

What's Yours?

Best wishes for a really good year everyone

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Christmas

Have a Happy and Holy Christmas Season everyone.
Thanks for following my blog posts during the year.
Love to you all

Friday, December 2, 2011

Launch of Diane Browne's new 'tween' book

Carlong link
Congratulations to Diane Browne for the launch of her new book Island Princess in Brooklyn at the Tom Redcam library reading room- now the Joyce Robinson Room, yesterday (December 1). It was one of those warm, intimate gatherings where many people knew one another.

Readings from the book were done by 7th grade girls from St. Andrew High school to enthusiastic applause. A solo item on pan was given by a St.Andrew High past student, Bianca Welds. Diane herself is a proud past student/teacher of St. Andrew High, as she keeps reminding the rest of us.

It was an event, everyone agreed, which would have made Princess in the story (that's her real name) very proud.(This speaks to the strength of the characterization of Princess. Readers see  her as very real.)

Approval of the story was given in several forms- from the CEO of Carlong, Carl Carby admitting  that he had read it through twice and thoroughly enjoyed it; to the Director General of the Jamaica Library Service, Patricia Roberts, saying she intended to get a red coat just like Princess on the cover. (She emphasized that she was not joking).

The main address was given by  Dorothy Noel, Publishing Manager of Carlong in her usual scintillating style. She emphasized the importance of local literature for our children and the need for support from the public and the Ministry of Education..

Diane Browne's address 'Princess in her own Words' can be read on her blog at
From all the anecdotes coming  in, there's no doubt about it: the book is a hit. The main theme - how to fit into the new environment in Brooklyn, having been brought up by Granny in Jamaica for thirteen years - resonates with many Jamaicans. Its lively dialogue and presentation of teenage anxieties told in Princess's own words will be familiar to and entertain the 'tween' readers.

I add my exhortation to those of all the speakers. "Buy the book, nuh!"

See a review

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Memories of Christmas

What memories will today’s children have of Christmas? I wonder. Is it still such a special season for them?

I grew up in Kingston, and my memories of Christmas are still magical. So many things were special only to that season:
 – Getting up in the early morning darkness, getting dressed and running to catch the first bus to attend 5 o’clock Christmas morning service on Higholbourn Street  –  the air seemed to have a special coolness and tingle that it never had during the rest of the year
– The Christmas carols lustily sung by the congregation more casually dressed than it would be for Sunday service
– People greeting one another with seemingly real joy after the service  
– Walking to the down town area for the last of Grand Market on the streets and being mesmerized by the stretch of toys, people, excited children, the noises of fee-fees, bursting balloons, vendors calling attention to their wares, some crying from tired or disappointed small children who didn’t get the toy they wanted
–  drinking it all in with the knowledge that this wouldn’t happen again for another lo-o-o-o-ng time. (By the way, Santa figures were few and far between then, making it easier to believe in his magic, even if he didn’t visit us since we had no chimneys.)

I remember getting a small replica of a coal stove, a balloon and a fee-fee at Grand Market one year. Another year I got a new doll – priceless! Usually there would be a Christmas hat with streamers or pretty paper frills. Those were all the toys I might get as any extra money was spent on new curtains for our room (rooms as things got better financially) and special food for the day.

And what special food it was. Breakfast could be slices of ham, ackee and saltfish, maybe crisply fried fish, fried eggs, fried dumplings, special hard dough bread shaped like a bird –  I was allowed to break off and eat the head, washed down with orange juice or chocolate ‘tea’.

A quick tidying of the house would be followed by helping with the preparations for Christmas dinner – another feast of rice and gungo peas, ham, fried chicken  – I don’t remember the other meats as these were my favourites. There would be macaroni and cheese, fried plantain and, of course, sorrel (without rum for the children) and Christmas cake. People would drop in, either invited or not, and share the meal for there was always, just for this day, plenty to go around and be left over for supper. Some would be put in a container and sent for less fortunate persons in the area. Nobody had to go hungry on that day.

Afterwards, everybody would be slightly cross-eyed, the adults from the added rum in the sorrel or just from being overstuffed with food. I remember going to sleep until late afternoon, then getting up to play with my toys. I was an only child but usually there would be other children visiting and we would show off on one another, playing outdoors as there was no television to keep us locked up inside.

Sometimes we would visit other people. Nobody had expensive gifts to share, but people gave what they had. My mother reared chickens and ducks at one stage, and she would send me with one or the other – alive – to the home of some important person in her church who lived nearby. As I grew older, I got increasingly embarrassed about this. I am not sure that these important persons appreciated it either. But, generally, the day would be one of goodwill and friendliness, even for those who could be quite miserable the rest of the year.

A really good Christmas day would be topped up with a visit on the road by a jonkunnu band, mesmerizing us with the drum and fife music, colourful costumes, and sending most of us children scurrying away from the devil’s ‘fork’ or the policeman’s baton, or worse –  the horsehead figure which would snap in the most frightening way. So many things were special to Christmas.

At the end of one very good year, I got a wristwatch for Christmas. I didn’t need any other gift – that was really special because I had got into high school –quite an achievement in my community at the time. By that time we were beginning to put up a Christmas tree, complete with ‘snow’from a can  and blinking lights sent from  America by a cousin.

What does the modern child expect for Christmas? I guess some traditions remain –  the visits by family and friends, the extra special meals  – but so many things I would have regarded as out-of- this- world are now so commonplace that I wonder what is now special for Christmas? I hope, at least, the goodwill and extra friendliness remain a very strong part of our (new) traditions

Friday, November 4, 2011

Congrats - JCDC Medal winner

I am so proud of my student from my last writing class, Stephanie Lloyd. She won a gold medal and trophies in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's annual Literary Competition  for "outstanding writer" (2nd in JCDC's creative writing competition) and "best intermediate short story writer" with a story she started in the class. The course is too short (8 weeks - 4 for adults stories and four for children -2 hours twice weekly) to teach the basics of language use, so those who come in with a good command of English invariably gain more from the class.

Congrats, too, to three other past students who got certificates in the Merit and Honorable Mention categories. By next year they should be in the medal categories IF they continue practising writing.
Great job guys.

Senior Assistant Manager at Pelican Publishers, Latoya West-Blackwood (right), presents the Outstanding Writer trophy to Stephanie Lloyd, at the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) creative writing competition awards ceremony held on Wednesday (Nov.2) at the Knutsford Court Hotel.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Creole (patois/patwa) versus Standard English

Our Language Dilemma

Creole (patois/patwa) versus Standard English – the debate continues.

It spills over into writing stories for our children. Some persons, especially the educators, frown on the use of creole in the stories as the children have to learn to use Standard English to pass exams using Standard English.  (They speak it – don't let them have to read it, too )

But, more and more, it seems, the creole is the preferred form of speech for many Jamaicans and there are children coming from homes and communities where very little (if any) Standard English is spoken.

Here’s an anecdote. A friend brought her gardener’s two children to church one Sunday morning. They were visiting from a deep rural area. During the sermon the boy, about 10 years old, began to fidget and look distressed. When she asked him what was wrong, he answered, “Me nuh unnertan a wud de man a say.”
Translation, “I don’t understand one word the man is saying.” What are the implications for learning?

We do have two languages.

For the fiction writer, using the creole, or not, presents peculiar problems. Realistically, the writer cannot present a scene on a playfield, for example, and have the children speaking Standard English. They wouldn’t. So what to do? How to represent the reality without offending the gatekeepers?  Very often the writers take a sort of middle ground. What is written in the story is a sort of no man’s land with a mix of the Creole and Standard, keeping as close to the Standard as is feasible. Since there is no standard way of spelling the creole words, most use phonetic spelling, or use the Standard spelling of an English word supposing that the creole speaker will interpret correctly. (in the creole). It is sometimes very confused and confusing.

Another problem is that the creole is very fluid. There is a range of usage, some with words seemingly close to Standard English, which creates the impression that the creole is merely ‘broken’ English.

Also, usage differs from parish to parish and from speaker to speaker, so persons will complain that the written creole is not authentic because they are not familiar with a particular form.

I was struck by the language problem again just today when writing a story. I had written this piece of dialogue:
 “They all bringing flowers and laying it around the statues now.”

Deeper creole would change They to them(dem). But the problem with meaning is not the difference between them and they but with the word all. A standard speaker would be inclined to believe that the sentence should read – ‘They’re all bringing flowers ....’. A creole speaker would understand that all in the sentence I wrote does not mean all as in everybody, but they are now bringing flowers, or they’ve started bringing flowers...

Of course, the problem intensifies when we think of selling to the overseas market.

I was privileged some years ago to ghostwrite a story for the popular Beacon Street Girls series - Katani’s Jamaican Holiday by Annie Bryant

This is about a girl from Boston, USA, with Jamaican ancestors, visiting Jamaica with her grandmother. The series is meant for American ‘Tweens’. When I consulted the editor about using the creole, she agreed that the flavour would not be authentic if there was no creole usage on the streets and in experiences with the local people. I got around some of the problem, by having the American teen, Katani, ask for explanations. This had to be done judiciously, so that it didn’t become tedious or slow down the story.

When the book was published, some USA children commented that they found the creole difficult. Others were comfortable with it. A few who had Jamaican parentage were thrilled to see it in the story – but I was happy to see that even those who found the creole a bit difficult to understand still enjoyed the story.

I loved Charles Dickens’ stories and devoured them as a child. I didn’t understand all the Cockney speakers, but I could follow the stories.

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn presents similar language difficulties for children here, as teachers soon discover. The last time I taught Huck Finn in a school, I had the class dramatize parts of the story using our creole. They did a good job of it, showing that they understood the story. Children are remarkable people.We very often underestimate them.

An additional challenge is that how language is used often indicates social standing, an issue we might not want to emphasise in children’s stories.

I have no answers to the present situation with our language(s).I wish I could be here many years into the future to see how we resolve the issue. Probably then, Jamaicans will be regarded as truly bi-lingual, moving with ease between both languages and frowning on neither.

As I was about to post this, I read about this conference:
As part of its Conferencias Caribeñas 9 lecture series for the 2011-2012 academic year, the Institute of Caribbean Studies of the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras (UPR-RP), invites the academic community and the general public to the lecture “Research on Multi-Lingualism and Cultural Diversity in Small Island Societies: The Case of Aruba,” by Dr. Lydia Emerencia (Director, Center for Research and Development, University of Aruba).
Aruba is a smaller island than Jamaica where most people speak the four main languages: Papiamento, Spanish, English and Dutch.

There might be some lessons there for us in Jamaica.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My thanks to Peepal Tree Press for including the fact that I won a Silver Musgrave Medal in their latest newsletter. Adam Lowe also put in the page reference for reviews of Singerman, my collection of short stories published by Peepal Tree in 1991.And all of a sudden I am back into writing for adults. The creative process is really a strange one.


Purchase Singerman from Amazon or from Peepal Tree

Friday, October 28, 2011

Using story books to introduce Literature

When geocities closed down their free hosting of websites, I thought all the information would disappear. I am seeing now that they are restoring access to websites they hosted. Below is a link to a page from my former site, which gives basic information on how to assess literary quality in books for grades three to seven. Students in the lower grades in Jamaica do not study  'Literature', this being part of their Language Arts courses. From anecdotal evidence, however, it seems that teachers are sometimes at a disadvantage in helping their students to appreciate the literary quality of the books they recommend their students to read, so they can move beyond merely saying 'the book is interesting/nice etc'. The children, of course, do not have to be bombarded with all of this information. It is aimed at the teachers. Please make judicious use of it.

I hope that the information on this page will help It makes special reference to two books Little Island, Big Adventures by Maria Roberts Squires and The Ring and the Roaring Water by Diane Browne, both published in Jamaica, and for the upper end of this age group.

Please see this information now at

 I am making the article as a new post. Elements of a good story.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Musgrave plaque

My plaque from the Institute of Jamaica for the Silver Musgrave Medal of which I am very proud.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Silver Musgrave Medal award

I belong to a generation which often forgets to blow its own trumpet.
(Don't boast they used to warn)
So, I forgot to post my most recent shining moment – receiving  a 
Silver Musgrave Medal for literature from the Institute of Jamaica 
on October 12th,.until a friend asked me why I hadn’t done so.
The Silver Musgrave Medal
The Musgrave Medal is quite a prestigious honour.
Here’s a bit of its history from the IOJ’s website:

”The Musgrave Medals are awarded to selected
 persons for achievements in the fields of literature, 
art and science. According to the Institute of Jamaica’s
records, the  Musgrave Medal was first awarded in 1897,
as a memorial to Sir Anthony Musgrave, former Governor
of Jamaica who founded the Institute of Jamaica in 1879.
 Subsequent to his death in 1888, the decision was taken 
by the  Board of Governors of the Institute in 1889,
 to award medals annually in his honour. 
The Medals then were designed  by well-known 
British sculptor, Alfred Toft.”
Specifically, my award was for “contribution to children's literature
 and the encouragement of new writers”- which refers both to my
 published books/stories and my teaching of Writing Stories courses 
at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at UWI, Mona.
Me (left) receiving plaque from Minister of Culture Hon Babsy Grange
It was a proud moment for me.The Institute of Jamaica
 on East Street in Kingston was a place for school field trips
 to see scientific displays, the Jamaican iguana lizard
 ( before there was a zoo) and other fascinating displays.
 The auditorium was a place for musical recitals, 
speech festivals and so on. I never would have dreamed
 when I participated in these exercises that I would one day
 stand on that platform to receive a Musgrave Medal.

All Awardees with the Governor  General and Minister of Culture


My thanks to Carlong

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Snowman, anyone?

My granddaughter's computer generated art at 6 years of age. Just recently recovered it from my old geocities page. Think I will write an accompanying story. At the time she said it was a snowman melting in Jamaica. Hmm! Hope she doesn't read this page. She's turning into an accomplished artist, so this would embarrass her no end. But, I love it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who are we writing for?

This is a question I have asked before. When you are writing from a small country with specific cultural differences to the world’s leading countries, who are you writing for? Your own children or all the children of the world? A tutor once told me ­– when you write for everybody, you write for nobody.

Eventually, I interpreted that to mean, write from the heart about the things you know and feel and share with your own people. Write out of your culture for your culture. If your work is true, others will come to appreciate it, even if the gatekeepers try to keep you out.

As I like to tell my writing class, and this is my own viewpoint, when Bob Marley and his cronies started writing songs about the things they knew and felt, I don’t think they sat around saying  — ‘them gwine love this one in Germany or Japan. This one will wow them in England.‘  I suspect that if they had passed the lyrics of some of the songs by the international gatekeepers they would have been scoffed at – Who in the rest of the world wants to hear about cooking cornmeal porridge in a government yard in Trench Town? Of course, songs have the additional benefit of the music and the singer’s voice and personality to convince and woo, but the principle is the same. They were writing/composing out of their own experiences.

So, should we be unduly worried about the voices from abroad who say our writing and illustration styles are too ‘different’? Our language and illustrations too parochial? The work won’t attract anybody abroad, including our own migrant population ( who now judge us by 'big' world standards) OR, should we continue to write for our children, illustrate for our children, interpret even other people’s realities from our own unique way of looking at things, from our own experiences and most of all from our hearts. We don’t dance like North Americans. Our music is identifiably Caribbean, so too is our cuisine.. Shouldn’t our writing and art be also? Does this make our books inferior?

I don’t think any of our writers, at this point, especially the writers of children’s stories in the Caribbean, expect any of the great financial returns that being ‘accepted’ by the ‘big’ countries might bring. So what are our rewards?

For me, it is reading for a group of youngsters and watching them get excited as the story expands their imagination and reveals things about themselves and their environment they might never have thought of.

I once watched a little boy about eight years old sitting before me with his eyes literally opening wider and wider as the story drew him in and filled his mind with new possibilities. On another occasion, it was a mother saying that her daughter would not go to bed until she had finished reading one of my books. Fortunately, it was not a very long one.

So, to come back to my initial question - who are we (who should we be) writing for? My answer is — our own children. The rest of the world writes for theirs, who will write and illustrate for ours if not us?


Thursday, September 15, 2011


My very good friend and fellow writer of children's stories Diane Browne won
the special prize for children's story in the commonwealth short story competition 2011.
Congrats Diane. It's well deserved the story can be read here Diane's story

Diane Browne


Monday, September 5, 2011

Boys again!!

I hope this link to the New York Times article stays available for some time

Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?By ROBERT LIPSYTE Published: August 19, 2011 

Boys don't like to read

“The important question is why aren’t boys reading the good books being published?” 

As you will see in the article, there are several answers to this question

"Boys gravitate toward nonfiction. Schools favor classics over contemporary fiction to satisfy testing standards and avoid challenges from parents. And teachers don’t always know what’s out there for boys."


"Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.”

"Schools favor classics over contemporary fiction to satisfy testing standards and avoid challenges from parents"  Should we be asking  -  What is wrong with contemporary fiction to make teachers nervous about recommendations?

Positive male role models  -: When was the last time you saw a man walking with a novel he intended to read at the first available spare time? If you did, chances are he was a lecturer; or a student forced to read a novel to pass a course. Even the reading of newspapers in the home might soon be a scarce sight as many subscribe to online news instead of an actual paper.

Boys gravitate towards non-fiction.  This suggests that boys are reading, but not fiction.
In my own experience with my grandsons, this is true. Both are good readers but decidedly prefer non-fiction. I have tried to get them to explain why this is so, but they can't give a coherent answer. Just that non-fiction is more interesting. So perhaps what we should be looking at is subject matter.

Boys prefer action  and are less inclined to read books which emphasize feelings - what my elder grandson calls  "chick books". He was curious about Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, because so many of the teenage girls at his school were walking around reading it at the slightest opportunity. He took a look at it and was quite puzzled. What is so interesting? he wondered. I, being female, couldn't explain it so that it made sense to him.

So, another challenge might be that so many of the writers today are female and we are not producing the sort of fiction that will attract male readers. Is it worth the while for our female writers to research the areas which would attract boys and use these in their fiction? Seems we wouldn't lose our female readers since it is generally agreed that whereas boys do not want to read "chick books" girls will read any interesting story - boy or girl oriented.

Another question we have to settle is why is it so important for boys to be reading fiction. if there is enough non-fiction available isn't it enough that they are reading these?

I really would like to see a Caribbean discussion on these ideas.

As to teachers not always knowing what is available for boys - I don't know who is responsible for that.
Here are a few  recent titles (some not so recent) from Jamaica featuring boy protagonists or situations which might attract boys  from the 8-12 age group. And there are more



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Recovering our history through fiction

With reference to Freedom Come by Jean Goulbourne 

Carlong Publishers (Caribbean) Ltd.

History textbooks usually just give facts and information which many children find boring.  Historical fiction, on the other hand, can make those facts come alive and be quite entertaining.

Hidden behind the scenes in the history texts are events ranging from fascinating and awe inspiring to scary, depressing and sometimes comedic. Wars and conquests, romance, inventions, crusades, slavery and so many other topics provide rich material for the storyteller. It’s people who make history. Authors of historical fiction make those hidden scenes come alive. A single incident or experience could be expanded into a novel by building up the background of events leading to it, and the resulting consequences.

Why haven’t we done more storytelling about our history in the Caribbean? See previous post Historical stories in Caribbean children’s books    for some ideas on this.

Historical fiction can fall into two categories:

1. The setting is historical but people and events are entirely fictional.Time travel stories tend to do this e.g. there was a war, or a natural disaster at a particular time in history, but the story doesn’t dwell on the known historical characters or events. Sometimes an obscure fact in history can be taken out and expanded into a story.

2. Both setting and characters are factual with the author imaginatively expanding on aspects of the events – it could have happened, and this was probably what was happening behind the scenes that history records.

Writers of historical fiction need to remember that:

Plot must be clear and not railroaded by historical details

Historical details must be accurate

Characters must come alive

Illustrations must be relevant to the time period.

Obviously, research is a key for the writer of historical fiction who needs detail to make the story believable. The elements which make for good story are as important as the factual information – especially the use of sensory details. How did things look, taste, feel, smell and sound. These are very important challenges for the writer wanting to make the story come alive.

The author of Freedom Come, Jean Goulbourne, studied and taught history and evidently called upon her scholarship in writing these stories for children.

It isn’t often that we see slave children in stories or even in accounts of slavery. The more striking stories in Freedom Come are about slave children.

The author gives us a glimpse of what it must have been like for children in this era. In the story Cimarron! Cimarron! Goulbourne shows us two young boys taking a break from work (feeding the pigs) to play a little. The bookkeeper on the plantation catches them at play and whips them soundly. We feel the frustration of a way of life which has Alrick, the protagonist, threatening to take his life. Luckily for him, his father, who had escaped to join the free Maroons some years before, returns and rescues him and his mother. They safely escape to a better life in the mountains with the Maroons

Slaves on way to sell produce at market from  Freedom Come

In a gloomier tale, The Whipping, another slave child, this time a girl,  escapes through death. However, the author presents death as preferable to the slave life. In death she is welcomed by her ancestors and we get a feeling that she will be now at peace. This is a gripping first person story with details that make the slave experience come alive in personal ways. The death scene is presented as a celebration.

“There on the sands of a large and wonderful land was a crowd of black people; and the drums were beating and they were dancing; men and women, boys and girls; and the waves washed the shore and the drums beat and the trees waved their branches; and the drums beat and Ole Granpus came out of the crowds and into the sea and his hands were held upwards, welcoming me,and I knew. This was Africa. This was home.”

It is said that many slaves believed that death would carry them back to their home in Africa.The beliefs and superstitions of the slaves are skillfully woven into this story which is mostly about how the slaves themselves interacted with one another in this terrible dehumanizing era.

Slavery was an extremely harsh way of life and it is difficult to use it as a setting for children’s stories since so many of the experiences of the slaves were so painful, physically and emotionally and, no doubt, the kinds of experiences we would like to shield our children from. This collection of stories is meant for the 10 to 12+ age group.

Other stories in this collection deal with the experience of a Taino boy helping his village to celebrate with a feast to which he contributes wild ducks which we watch him catch, Taino style. Another story deals with boys in Port Royal, the famous city of the pirates. The boys learn, first hand from Peter, an old pirate, about one of the more famous raids carried out by the buccaneers -  the raid on  Panama City.  The last story is about the heroic journey of a boy who helped to carry a message to Daddy Sharpe (now a National Hero) on the eve of the Christmas Rebellion in Montego Bay, which helped to hasten the end of slavery.

All the stories bring the history of their era alive. Jean Goulbourne has won many awards and acclaim for her literary skills as a poet and storyteller. The poetic influence can often be seen in the language of her prose. This book is a very useful supplementary reader for students of our past.

Freedom Come was a runner up award winner in the 1999 Vic Reid Award for Children’s Literature, a competition hosted by the National Book Development Council of Jamaica.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

New children's book from Jamaica

It's Here!

Carlong Publishers ( Caribbean) Ltd

Everybody said how lucky she was to be going to live with  her mother in the USA, at last . . . but . . . her beloved granny, who is reluctant to see her go, warns: 'Everybody is talking about the American dream. Take care is not a nightmare you going to have'.
 A gorgeous red coat which her mother refuses to buy for her, becomes the symbol of happiness, sophistication and success which Princess hopes to achieve in her new life. But the new life with a mother she barely knows is very challenging. ....."school is different, and everything is different, and sometimes ... sometimes I don't know what to do or how to feel."
Contact Carlong:  email
tel  876 9609366 ext 2

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Historical stories in Caribbean children’s books

There is not a long list of historical fiction written by Caribbean authors for Caribbean children.
Perhaps it is a psychological problem. Most of our ancestors were uprooted and alienated from their ancestral pasts by slavery, (Africans), indentureship (Indians and Chinese) and indeed it was alienation, too, for many of the Europeans who came. There are few pockets of Carib/Taino descendants- these were the original inhabitants of the Caribbean. Up to fairly recent times even the study of Caribbean history in schools didn’t exist.  Oral history carried some of the stories but modernization has all but wiped out this source. So now, we have to rely on our authors to bring the past alive, as only stories can do, for our children.

Plantation life, on which the Caribbean was built, was no bed of roses; difficult even for the ruling class. Slavery was demeaning and cruel, robbing both masters and slaves of their essential humanity.

A new culture had to be forged out of the disparate elements present in the Caribbean. It has been a painful process for the many, and I think that, as a people, we would rather forget the shame and the pain.

But we can’t change history and as the popular saying goes, we have to know where we are coming from to know where we are going. But,how to deal with it, so that it is not merely sentimental, or damning, or so politically incorrect, in modern terms, that we ‘fraid of it? For example, much as we laud the Maroons for standing up to the British in Jamaica, there are still pockets of people who think that they sold out after they gained their freedom from slavery by helping the planters to catch runaway slaves - so maybe they’re not so heroic after all???

It is also difficult to emerge from the brainwashing which taught us that only European culture was valid. So our heroes couldn’t be heroic. They were ragtag blacks clad in osnaburg, and wicked in their wish for freedom from the masters who enslaved them. Their acts of defiance  - poison, burning the cane fields, rioting - were ‘evil’ acts; by a ‘lawless’ people.That’s how the chroniclers of that past saw the slaves.

Can we, in our stories, give our children a concept of heroism which transcends this? Can we give them stories which equate to the Robin Hoods of the English past, or any of the other European heroes who, in one way or another, changed life for their people. Can osnaburg be made to seem as glamorous as ‘men in tights?’

Of course, in the twentieth century, we got freedom songs and freedom singers and freedom fighters who gained international respect. In Jamaica, our governments have also created national heroes out of past political activists, and have declared a national holiday when we remember them. However, and this is something I usually point out to the aspiring writers for children in my classes, most of what we give the children to read are dry accounts of their dates and the deeds which made them famous. We give them posters of lifeless faces. We expect modern children to automatically understand why (and be enthusiastic about) people who fought for freedom from slavery and for Independence for our country are heroic.. These heroes do not come alive for the modern child, not in the way that fiction could make them.

Writers like Vic Reid (Jamaica) have written compelling historical fiction for children, but we need a lot more of this.

Here are two anecdotes from my own experience.  Draw your own conclusions.

1st anecdote
When my older grandchildren were about 6 and 7 years old, I was telling them some stories from our past, notably what slavery meant. I told them about the slaves being dissatisfied and wanting their freedom. So, I asked, what do you think they did? The girl was quick to answer. “They went up to JBC to demonstrate.”

(JBC was the former government television station. She was interpreting out of her experience watching television what people did when they were unhappy with their situation.)

2nd anecdote

Some time ago, I spent one week in Grenada, teaching writing for children, at what was then the Extra-mural Centre. I don’t know if they call them national heroes, but one of their influential political figures was T.A.Marryshow. The Centre was actually in what used to be his house, I was told.  After one class when I had introduced the topic of historical fiction, some students and I were in the car park, below the building. In St. George’s, on every level you have to look up to the next. One of the students remarked that her family used to live in an area below the house. She recalled having seen Marryshow at one of the windows looking out with a ‘trumpet’ at his ear. She also said that the children used to raid the plum tree in his yard, despite being afraid of him. I pointed out that she could use this as basis for a children’s story about the life of Marryshow. Such a story would certainly bring him alive for the children. I don’t think anybody took me up on this.

I like to remind my students that all these important men (and women) would have had children in their lives in some way They would have been fathers, uncles, godfathers etc. How they did or did not interact with the (fictional) children around them would help to give them faces children could understand.
Next post I will review Freedom Come by Jean Goulbourne:published by Carlong
 Publishers (Caribbean) Ltd. This book contains five stories about children in Jamaica’s
distant historical  past: Tainos, buccaneers and children in slavery.

And after that I will return to a discussion of Diane Browne’s novels A Tumbling World ... A
Time of Fire and The Ring and the Roaring Water, both time travel stories which take us back to
closer historical times in the twentieth century.

P.S. Since writing this post, I have been delighted to read Gwyneth Harold Davidson's Young Heroes of the Caribbean which marries both the history of the seven Jamaican Heroes with the story of a contemporary 10 year old boy. Title: Young Heroes of the Caribbean. I understand she intends to make it a series. Get a copy here: 

Hazel Campbell's (me) books available at 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Revisiting Caribbean children's book covers and illustrators

LMH publishers

As a writer and editor of children’s books, I find it difficult to understand how illustrators can take on the job of creating illustrations for a story they have not read. Very often, I am told, the artists have no time to read a manuscript, just give them the art brief. I contend that, with the best will in the world, an art brief cannot capture the nuances, the mood, the essence of a story to feed the artists’ creativity, so they are sometimes surprised at the requests for changes as they do not fully understand what is required to complement the story. No wonder some persons complain that the book covers and illustrations for Caribbean children’s books are rarely exciting, and we don’t get anything new by way of technique or vision.
My other complaint is the blanket expectation that a children’s book automatically means  whimsy or cartoons; and the lack of appreciation for the requirements of stories for the different age groups within the genre of children’s books. Writers often choose to specialize in writing for specific age groups, perhaps illustrators should do so too. But, since this section of publishing is not well developed in the Caribbean, perhaps there is little incentive to invest time and talent here.

What goes into the design of a book cover? Obviously the intended readership is of extreme importance. If we think of children’s books as covering the age range 0 to 14 years, we need to remember that there are several divisions within this range.
Carlong Publishers
 Easy divisions
0- 3 years –picture books
3-6 years – picture books
6-8 years – picture story books/ early chapter books
8 to 12 years – chapter books/novels
12 to 14 – chapter books/ novels

These age divisions may vary for different publishers. For example, some publishers now use
9 to 13 as a ‘tween age – not quite young adult not completely past chapter books.

These divisions are necessary as guides to writers, illustrators, and readers/purchasers of books. Children's reading readiness, their interests and needs vary from one group to the next, and books should reflect this.

 Can you tell, just by the covers of the books in this post, which age groups are being targeted?

Unfortunately, there is still a tendency to respond to the term children’s books as covering just the picture book ages. Whenever I am asked to read in the children’s section of any function, I point out that although I am an author of children’s books, my stories are for ages 8 and up. I was once asked to read at a morning session at a bookstore where the normal attendance was in the 6 and under age group. I had to abandon my reading plan in favour of something suitable for that age group. Fortunately, the bookstore now has an afternoon session for older children, and both audience and myself were more comfortable when I returned to read for this group.
Carlong publishers

I bring up the importance of the age divisions again, because in the Caribbean, the production of books for children is still, for the most part, in its infancy. The Book Industry of Jamaica (BIAJ) has just recently,for 2011, introduced two sections for children’s book awards- Picture books and Chapter books. Previously there was just one section.They need to consider adding a third, for the YA group (Young Adult).It is not fair to lump together books meant for different age groups in any competition. What standard criteria for judging can be used? A book meant for the YA group will differ from books for adults and should be judged separately. Notwithstanding all this, the fact is that many adults enjoy books for children, and many children
can enjoy books meant for older age groups.

Which brings me back to the problem of book covers. Book designers, of necessity must consider the ages of the intended readership. Illustrations for books in the different age ranges must obviously reflect  the difference in the interests of the readers. What works for one group will not necessarily work for another.

In light of this discussion, I pose this question - who is the best judge of a good book cover?
Jack Mandora
We all know what we want a cover to do – attract readers and buyers. A good cover will also reflect the story’s purpose and appeal specifically to the target age group. In the long run, many of us use very subjective judgements, and your guess may be as good as mine.However, a good story with popular appeal will sell whether the cover has or doesn’t have outstanding artistic appeal. My guess is that many Harry Potter fans, for example, would not really care if the book cover was just plain brown paper with title and author.
Diane Browne