Monday, June 22, 2015

Young Heroes of the Caribbean by Gwyneth Harold Davidson - first impressions

Between 1995 and 2013 when I taught Writing Stories for Children at the Philip Sherlock Centre at UWI, Mona, two of my pet recommendations to the students were:

1.    Widen the settings for our children's stories. I felt and still do that there are many areas of our national life which hardly  show up in our stories. (Maybe because some require research)

2.    The National Heroes were people who had a childhood and had children connected to them in some way, yet we hardly ever tell these stories. Each year for Heroes Week we trot out the same dry stories of the achievements of the heroes, and tell why they were selected in the same dry way, and expect the children to be excited about this. Where are the stories of children in the lives of these heroes? I would ask. Where are the stories of their childhood? Or of children interacting with them? Here's an extract from an earlier post on my blog at


"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, named for him, was actually in what used to be his house. 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. "

Young Heroes of the Caribbean by Gwyneth Harold Davidson

So, imagine how pleased I was when I bought a copy of Gwyneth Harold Davidson's book Young Heroes of the Caribbean. As I read I was delighted to find that her settings involved a cook house on the beach where, for the first part of the story, 10 year old Ramiro lived with his mother, helping her scale fish and prepare food for their customers.

            "He did not stop until he entered the shade of one of the long rectangular huts that seemed to grow out of the cream-coloured sand of Bonny Beach."

            "Ramiro stepped silently inside his mother's hut, his eyes quickly adjusting to the dimness of the one room building that was airy and well ventilated, yet no sand blew inside. ….

            He breathed deeply, taking in the aroma of his mother's cooking and nodded to the one customer in the building….. His mother was steaming red snapper on a stove behind a counter."


Then he moved on to live with his father who was a groom in the stables of the racehorse industry.  A completely different setting.

            "The housing estate where his father lived had many more children than the beach, and these children were more under the control of their parents. Many of them had a churchgoing life style that seemed fun and interesting."

In addition, Ramiro experiences some of the ups and downs of life in the stables preparing horses for the big races. These are not the usual settings for our children's stories.

Interspersed with Ramiro's story are the tales about Jamaica's National Heroes. These are memories or dreams which link, however vaguely, to the real life experiences of Ramiro and his mother.

Stories of the seven heroes are presented although they are not all young in these stories. William Gordon is already an established businessman. Teenager Manley is the champion runner for his school and Bustamente is an adult about to embark on his travels. Nanny and Bogle and Sam Sharpe and Marcus Garvey are younger.

This makes for a bit of unevenness in the language, as some of the vocabulary in the stories of the older Heroes seems a bit above the 10 year old level. I found also that I would have liked the design to better prepare me for the exits from the Heroes stories back to Ramiro's contemporary story. I felt the transitions were too abrupt.

My other contention is that the end, which rounds out Ramiro's story, seems a bit rushed – solutions to his various family problems being crammed into the last chapter.

However, the book makes an interesting read, both for the settings and the representation of the Heroes in their various 'real' people roles, interacting with other 'real' people, even as they show aspects of the characteristics which made them become Heroes. Fiction and history delightfully intertwined.

Get yourself a copy. It's on amazon at 

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