Thursday, December 8, 2016

And more readers who read in schools for Child Month 2016

While most of our readers were writers of material for children or YA, there were others who either wrote for adults, or weren't writers at all. So as we get to the end of the year, thanks must go to all of them who responded to the call from JaWS to read in our schools.

Rebecca Tortello:
I read at Carbury Court pictured here with the librarian in the library. It was lots of fun to read with the children as they participated eagerly, and I wound up reading three  stories as they showed such keen interest.  Lots of smiles all around. 
I read Big and book part of Literacy 123,  Silly Sally Audrey W ood and Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andrae. All three are good read alouds that invite movement and laughter but also promote thought and reflection.

I enjoyed reading…encouraged me to write again. 

Bio: From 2007-2011, Dr. Rebecca Tortello served as a Senior Advisor/Consultant to the Minister of Education with special responsibility for early childhood, primary and parenting issues. Dr. Tortello holds a PhD in Comparative Education and Sociology from Columbia University, a Masters in Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor’s Degree with Honours in History and Literature from Harvard University.

A former Assistant Professor of Education at New York’s Adelphi University, for the past ten years, Dr. Tortello regularly lectures at the University of the West Indies. She is the author of a number of articles on education as well as the popular history book, “Pieces of the Past – A Stroll Down Jamaica’s Memory Lane” (now in its second printing). Dr. Tortello has edited and advised on a number of early childhood series for Jamaica and co-written the Teacher's Guide for Pearson's "1,2,3, You and Me." She has also written a number of children’s books including "My Jamaican ABCs," “Nancy and Grandy Nanny,” and the Ministry of Education’s titles, “Big and Strong” and “Colouring My School.”

From April 2012 to February 2015, Dr. Tortello focused on expanding the scope of the Spanish-Jamaican Foundation as its General Manager.  In March 2015, she began a new position as Quality Education Advisor at UNICEF Jamaica.
Dr. Tortello has also served on various school boards, the National Council on Education, the Jamaica Library Service, the Council of the Institute of Jamaica, chairing its Museums Division, as well as the Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO, the Early Childhood Commission and the National Museum Foundation.
Dr. Tortello is married to Dr. Jonathan Greenland and they have two young children, Rhys and Maria.

Marie Cunnigham-Clarke
Book read: "Abigail's Glorious Hair" by Diane Browne

  The Grade 3 class connected immediately with the story about Abigail's "Poufey" hair.  Both the boys and girls enjoyed reminiscing on their own Poufey hair and having it combed and de-tangled to their own occasional "OW!"  The children joined in the "one two twist, one two twist" chorus as Abigail's mother daintily parted and twisted her hair to produce eight beautiful twists all over Abigail's head.  They LOVED the illustrations and in particular the girls exclaimed with delight when they saw Abigail's trendy outfit and hairstyle at the end of the story.  The session ended with the students drawing different aspects of the story.  The  Class Monitor then formally thanked me on behalf of the students.  A truly delightful experience to see how the book boosted the self image of the children and helped them to celebrate and appreciate their African roots.  I was subsequently invited to be a guest reader to a Grade 4 class on June 1, Literacy Day. 

Bio: Marie Cunnigham-Clarke, is a Communications Consultant (retired). She conceptualized and is responsible for adjudicating a Speak Up Programme at St Andrew High School for Grades 7-10 students.  The programme  aims to improve students' use of Standard English through annual conversational, poetry and literary  competitions. Grade level winners receive cash and book prizes.

Marie was recently elected President of The International Proxy Parents (IPP), a non-profit organization which raises funds for less fortunate children  in Jamaica. Each year IPP gives over $1.5m in scholarships  and assistance to State run childrens' homes in Jamaica.

 Erika Heslop Martin
 “Reading maketh a full man, so read and read all you can”. (Francis Bacon) This is a powerful statement and I believe that it was very fitting for the “Read Across Jamaica” programme organized by the Jamaican Writers Society and the Jamaica Library Service. On April 27, 2016, I started the reading programme at Holy Childhood Preparatory School. I read from the children’s story book: “No Boy like Amanada” written by Hope Barnett. The children had a wonderful time. They were filled with enthusiasm and excitement.
On May 3, 2016, “Read Across Jamaica Day,” I read from the children’s story book: “Butterfly Meadows” by Olivia Moss at Elim Early Childhood Development Centre. It was such a delightful experience with these 5 and 6 year old children. On May 10, 2016, I read the fishing chapter from the children’s book: “No Boy Like Amanda “ to a group of 4th graders from the Porter’s Centre for Knowledge, this was facilitated by Bookophilia. These children were remarkable! Their motto for the day was: “Readers are leaders!”
On May 27, 2016, I read to another group of children from New Providence Primary School which was also facilitated by Bookophilia. It was wonderful! The book that I read from was: “Tek mi! Tek mi noh!” a book of Caribbean folk tales published by Carlong Publishers Limited. The reading programme was great and I would definitely participate again. Many thanks to the Jamaican Writers Society and Jamaica Library Service for organizing the programme.
Bio: Erika Heslop Martin is a Writer/Poet and Business Professional with over twenty years of writing experience and over twelve years of professional experience in accounting, financial and administrative management from several corporate entities in Jamaica.  She is a graduate of Camperdown High, the University of Technology, Jamaica and the University College of the Caribbean. She has published three books of poetry and motivational messages (A Poetic Revelation, The Power of Words and A Poetic Journey) and is in the process of writing other books. She contributes poetry to the Sunday Gleaner periodically, Facebook , you tube and She also presents poetry at a wide variety of events and judges poetry competitions as well. Her books can be found on Amazon and in several bookstores in Jamaica. She is a Director of the Jamaican Writers Society, a member of Book Industry Association of Jamaica, a member of the Poetry Society of Jamaica, a member of JAM Copy, a member of We Connect International and a member of Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica. She is a Creative Entrepreneur with a lot of potential; and is excited about exploring and utilizing all her talents to live a more fulfilling life and to make a positive contribution to her country and the world at large. She loves to write, read, recite poetry, dance, sing, cook, dabble into fashion, take pictures, travel, motivate others to be the best they can be and invest time with God, family and friends.





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More authors who read in schools for Child Month 2016

Melanie Schwapp:

I read at Holy Childhood Prep. School to the Kindergarten classes. I read Abigail’s Glorious Hair by Diane Browne and ‘Lally-May’s Farm Suss’ written by me.  

Abigail’s Glorious Hair sparked a lively discussion about hair and the joys and stresses of combing it. Many of the girls were thrilled to show that they had the same hairstyle as Abigail. Some of the boys expounded on going to the barber and the fact that they did not have to comb their hair every day.
Lally-May’s episode with the rolling half and Jonkanoo had them mesmerised and a little frightened, because many of them had never heard of the myth of the rolling calf, and only a handful had ever seen Jonkanoo. Again, a lively discussion of ‘scary’ things and how brave they were when they had to face frightening things. A few of the boys demonstrated some karate moves that they would use to fight the Jonkanoo if ever faced with the Lally-May scenario. 

Melanie Schwapp was born in Kingston, Jamaica. She attended Montego Bay High School in St. James from 1st to 5th form, then was enrolled in St. Andrew High School for Girls in 1982 to sit her A’level exams.
Two short migrations at two key stages of her life, opened Melanie’s eyes to the cultural and social discriminations in society, and thus began her quest for understanding through writing. At the age of five she moved to England with her family, where she was awakened to the nature of colour prejudice, and then during her late teens and early twenties, she attended the University of South Carolina, where the subtle traits of discrimination cemented her interest in the social repercussions of these prejudices.
Although Melanie has written recreationally all her life, her first published work was a children’s book, Lally-May’s Farm Suss in 2005 in which she revives a Jamaican myth and several cultural aspects through the eyes of a child. Her second publication was the novel Dew Angels in 2011 where she explores the hidden aspect of prejudice and other social handicaps in Jamaican society. Having fallen in love with the rural lifestyle while growing up on her
grandparents’ farm in Montego Bay, Melanie also does small garden landscaping and interior decorating. She is a devoted mother to her three children and a sometimes devoted wife to her husband. She resides in Kingston.


Diana McCaulay:
Diana McCaulay is an award winning Jamaican writer and a lifelong resident of its capital city Kingston.  She has written two critically acclaimed novels, Dog-Heart (March 2010) and Huracan (July 2012), published by Peepal Tree Press in the United Kingdom.  Dog-Heart won a Gold Medal in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s National Creative Writing Awards (2008), was shortlisted for the Guyana Prize (2011), the IMPAC Dublin Award (2012) and the Saroyan Prize for International Writing (2012).   Huracan was also shortlisted for the 2014 Saroyan Prize. Her third novel, Gone to Drift (February 29, 2016) is published by Papilote Press, placed second in the Burt Prize for Caribbean Literature and won the Lignum Vitae Vic Reid Award in 2015. 
Diana won the Hollick Arvon Prize for Caribbean writing in 2014, for her non fiction work-in-progress Loving Jamaica: a memoir of place and (not) belonging. 
Diana founded the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in 1991 and still serves as its CEO and guiding force.   She was a popular newspaper columnist for The Gleaner (1994-2001) and her short fiction has been published by the journal Eleven Eleven, Granta On Line, Fleeting Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, Afro-Beat, Lifestyle Magazine and the Jamaica Observer’s literary supplement, Bookends.  She was the regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2012, for her short story The Dolphin Catchers.  
Diana was born into the Jamaican upper-middle class and has spent a lifetime pondering questions of race, class, colour, and privilege in Jamaican society.  The honest and penetrating insights in her novels and stories come from sharp observation and profound self-reflection.  Hers is a uniquely authentic voice from a background which usually turns away from all that she unflinchingly faces.
 (I am having all sorts of challenges with the font, as I capture the words of the authors. So apologies for that, but I think you will enjoy what they have to say, what motivates them. I love hearing why authors write what they write.)



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Towards a gentler Jamaica: Authors/readers sharing the magic of stories in schools

Why should you consider having a local author come to your school and share the love of reading and writing with your students?
Well it is one of those little things which has a ripple effect that  keeps on giving dividends. It allows the students to recognize that there are Jamaicans who write books, that the writing of literature is not just a gift given to people who are abroad. This then encourages students who  themselves wish to write; but also it encourages the students to appreciate themselves and their environment. This bolsters their self confidence. You cannot develop a positive sense of self, if your sense of self is rooted elsewhere, in other books from other lands. You cannot develop a nation if your sense of self and all things good is located elsewhere, in other books from other lands.

Moreover reading and writing, in this new world of 140 characters, is at risk. Getting the full understanding of what another human being wants to say in this world of abbreviated language, is at risk. OMG! Sharing with an author and fellow students, words, paragraphs chapters, which  may lead to shared opinions, experiences, not only allows for  brain activity,  but also perhaps, perhaps a vision for the future, perhaps for a gentler Jamaica. I think every school should invite at least one author per term (okay per year) to visit their school and share their stories with their students. I think anything that helps us to develop self confidence and a gentler society is essential at this time. We are at a crossroads. So is the rest of the world actually; big, big cross roads! But our focus has be on us at this time.

I read somewhere that some representatives for office no longer have to be able to read and write in English as it was decided that that was a colonial device to belittle us/exclude us, the people. Nobody could have really said that, eh. However, if you believe that having to read and write English, (in a world where English is still an official language) is an imposition put upon you by ‘bad-mind’ people,  you might also be interested in buying an entire big country (not just an island or the Brooklyn Bridge)  at a discounted rate, J$1.00. Always be wary of those who require you to know less, especially when it’s something they have already mastered, or can easily master.

If you’re reading this, I’m reaching to the converted, eh. However, I’m not preaching, just sharing with you  thoughts, and dreams, and hopes which cannot be encapsulated in 140 characters or abbreviated language. LOL! For a long time I thought that meant lots of love, and I was astonished at all the love people were sending around. Personally, I think DWL is more Jamaican, (as in ded wid laugh!)

So I'm sharing with you the experiences of some of our writers who went into our schools and read for the children to celebrate Child Month (under the auspices of the Jamaican Writers Society). You will see from their comments that the children enjoyed their visits immensely. I will also include the bios of the authors/readers (because it’s interesting to see who writes/read and the reasons that motivated them)  and some photos (because photos always make for a more interesting blog). Perhaps you can get  some of them to read at your school if you wish.

Jean Forbes: Reading  in schools for Child Month, 2016
I did two readings for Child Month at Alvernia Prep.  For the pre kindergarten level, I read  The Happiness Dress and Abigail’s Glorious Hair, by Diane Browne, and they were very well received. For the kindergarten and grade one levels, I read Late Again from Little Lennie's Leisure time book (out of print) and Why the Rain Bird Calls the Rain by Jean Forbes, from the new Caribbean Junior Reader. I thought it might have been long but they enjoyed the stories and it generated a lot of discussion. 
On the second day, by request, I read The Happiness Dress and Abigail’s Glorious Hair again and A Right to be Me (audio book).
Bio: Jean is one of the original members of the Children's Writers Circle.

I am a widow and the mother of three boys and grandma to nine. I have won several silver and bronze medals and certificates of merit in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission literary competitions. I have had historical articles and short stories published in The Gleaner, The Observer, Jamaica InterCom (No longer published) . My children's stories have also been aired on the local children's programme, Colgate Cavity fighters programme. In addition, some of my children's stories published in collections by The Children's Writers Circle, are The Ghost in “Double Trouble and other stories” and Lydia in “Just Suppose and other stories”. Selectco published Late Again in Little Lennies Leisure Time Book. 1. Ginn Publishers used Why the Rainbird Calls the Rain in their New Caribbean Reader Book and Carlong Publishers used The Legend of Martha Brae in TeK Mi, Noh TekMi!, one of the books in their Sand Pebbles series. The Ministry of Education uses some of my stories in their print publications. In their audio Books they have used Midnight Earns Friends, Night Blooming Cereus, Toady, None Like Me and Why the Rain Bird Calls the Rain. “Kids Read”, a Canadian Publication has used Midnight Earns Friends in its Summer 2015 collection. The Little Christmas Tree was published as a story colouring book

●I hold a diploma in writing for children from the Institute of Children's and I am Fellow Of The Life Management Institute with specialties in Personnel Management and Administrative Management
●Presenter and Resource person for CARICOM/OAS workshop for new writers held at the Liguanea Club Jamaica in 2000
●Chosen by the JCDC as a Children’s writer to represent Jamaica at the Canadian Caribbean Cultural Exhibition in Toronto Canada in June 2003
More to come or to be continued:


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Morning coffee: and stories we cannot write or tell?


On a recent Saturday, after thinking about it for some time, I finally had ‘morning coffee’ with writers – three children’s writers, one adult and one poet, a male. The first time we have had a male for any meeting here. (And my husband joined us because he knows the poet, and actually seemed to enjoy our literary conversation)   We were supposed to be looking at the usual, the viability of children’s writing, marketing and other miseries. However, as we always do, we wondered off agenda to things of general interest, bearing in mind that anything we actually mention can be considered fuel for creativity. And this time, here with us  was a writer writing in another genre. Our poet wondered if any of us had ever considered writing poetry. It turned out two of us had. I have known him from he was a young poet of 19 or so, impressing us with his poems at the gate at the bottom of a hill on which his cousin, my friend, lived. I think she and I were about 14.  How far we have all come. Bona fide writers.

We talked; our poet was astonished as we addressed the matter of gatekeepers in the world  of children’s books, no violence, nor reality as faced regularly by sectors of this society, etc. So he said, (paraphrased of course) ‘You people can’t express your creativity fully; you have to be aware of what teachers, schools, the ministry will say? Silence for a moment as we considered this. (I think personally that we are so aware of this that it may be second nature to us now, or it will be to our editors.) We all talked at once. My friend, also one of my editors, told him of a story I wrote which one teacher said he didn’t like  because the child was rude (she was inclined to have an opinion about things and children who answer back or have opinions are not role models, in his opinion). My friend also indicated a series of YA books where there was a bit of the supernatural, and some parents in another territory found that objectionable as Christians. Well, we know that there was objection to Harry Potter for a similar reason, and if I think far back enough, I come up with one of my favourite books, Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I recall being astounded that in the early 80s there was a problem with this book in the USA because the characters discussed unmentionable female body functions, and I think it would also fall into the ‘opinionated’ children category.

I cast about for examples of real life which have made it into print for our region. I mentioned Bad Girls in School, by Gwyneth Harold (Harcourt Education, 2007) which I knew was used  in some schools. I also  mentioned Inner City Girl  by Colleen Smith-Dennis (LMH, 2009, and third place Burt Caribbean Award winner, 2014,) as one which certainly dealt with the realities of  life, the other side of Jamaica, far away from middle class norms and niceties.   I also told our group of  a visit two of us made to read at  a library  in a rural town. We read! The children then, with great pride, read a story they had written for us. It focused on a young man who was stealing goats in a  village.  The villagers caught him and chopped him with their machetes (true to life) and he was put into hospital where he could at length consider his evil ways. The children may write it, but we can’t.

So after our little ‘coffee morning’, I gave this further thought. And sometimes when you give further thought, you attract things to you. So I was sitting in an establishment, and one of the young ladies started telling us about her life. It was hard, unbelievably hard. I’m sure my eyes opened wide; I’m sure my mouth fell open. I know I kept saying, “Oh, Oh”. It was not that I hadn’t heard that story, or a version of it, before. It was that I knew her, and had no idea that she had had such a hard life, that indeed she was the heroine of her own life, as I told her. And that sounded so hollow in the face of the obstacles she had overcome, just to become a ‘normal person’.

I wondered if I could write her story, do it justice. I even considered coming straight home and writing down the main points before I forgot them. However, I don’t think the gatekeepers would pass it, too sad, too hard, to really true to the  life of some.  I wondered if  any of us could write it. Then I remembered Dew Angels by Melanie Schwapp, (HopeRoad Publishing, 2013). Dew Angels is a well written book, story harrowing and ringing true, and you feel you need to see how it works out. I think that Melanie  or Gwyneth could have  done  justice to my ‘real-life storyteller’. But the question is, could I write my storyteller’s story? Honestly, I don’t know. There’s so much to overcome,  even if it culminates in success. There’s so much  emotion.  So maybe it’s not only about the gatekeepers, when all is said and done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Distinguished Lecture National Library of Jamaica: Una Marson and Alison Donnell

How do we get young people interested in this? (by extension, various aspects of the arts?). This question was asked me by an associate of mine at a lecture, "Una  Marson: Animating the Archive of an Extraordinary Life",  at the National Library of Jamaica on Sunday Oct. 9, given by  Professor Alison Donnell, Modern Literatures in English, University of Reading, UK.

How do we indeed, in a world where everything is judged by its technological significance and the written word reduced to only 140 characters long? How do we, in an island, where for many survival is the main focus of their daily lives? This question could probably be asked in many developing countries. I recall sitting on a panel doing interviews for tertiary scholarships. One of the panel members, and educator like myself, suggested to one of the interviewees that while at the University he should take advantage of artistic activities, like plays, which often offered a reduced price for students. This sounded like an excellent idea. It warmed my heart. The student replied that he could not afford even the reduced rate. He would need that for lunch or bus fare. Reality had given all our artistic ideas a jolt.

The event  I was attending on Oct. 9,  was the National Library of Jamaica Distinguished Lecture 2016, given by Professor Alison Donnell, ‘who has researched  and taught Anglophone Caribbean Literature for more than twenty years. Her PhD, at the Centre for Caribbean  Studies at the University of Warwick,  focused on an  under–researched archive of early Caribbean women’s writing’. 

The lecture highlighted Jamaican activist, broadcaster, journalist, poet and playwright, Una Marson’s achievements, and suggested that she had not received the attention she should have because she was a woman.  It was a fascinating and stimulating lecture. Thank you, Professor Donnell.  Thank you for highlighting one of our women.

How do I come into this? Una Marson lived both here and in London. My grandmother, Clarissa Escoffery, acted in two of Una Marson's plays staged here, London Calling and At What a Price. I had done a blog post some time ago showing the programme for London Calling with the signatures of the actors, including Una Marson’s. Professor Donnell had come across this post and asked if she could use images from it in her lecture. Social media can work  positively. Of course, I was honoured to say  yes, on behalf of myself and my grandmother. I am always thrilled when I can trace creativity from my grandmother, amateur actress, through my mother, amateur painter and professional creator of illuminated addresses (now done by computer), to myself, writer, and one time amateur artist.  I know, totally immodest; but I so love that feeling of continuity.

Another lovely aspect of the event was the pre-launch of Una Marson's plays, Pocomania and London Calling by Blouse & Skirt Books - Tanya Batson-Savage. You know my cup runneth over when I see a synchronicity of events like this. The book is a joint publication between Blouse & Skirt Books and the National Library of Jamaica. So great to see a publisher and the National Library cooperate for the enlightenment of the country and preservation of our cultural heritage. I am so impressed with this young publisher. Quality books and books which inform the publishing landscape.

Yes, I will be passing over my grandmother’s material to the National Library. We are all encouraged to pass on things which we may have which would add to the store of cultural knowledge.

Back to the question which was asked at the beginning of the post. How do we get young people interested in things like this? Of course, in any population, only a percentage will be interested in the arts, writing, music, painting, dancing. However, I think we feel that we would like to see more of our young people exposed and involved, not only because of the great creativity which exists in our country/the region, but also because we know that the arts can bring joy to the individual, and go towards creating/recovering a gentler society. Obvious answers come to mind; exposure in the school curriculum, and activities at schools, and this is certainly being done; institutions which cater to the arts, and they exist, and are active. Perhaps what we really want to ask is how do we touch all lives with artistic endeavour and appreciation for artistic achievement? How do we expose all lives to the sensitivity which comes from exposure to the arts, and by so doing,  create a gentler society?  I don’t have an answer. I write this in the hope that you who read this will have ideas and share them, and that together we can achieve this.

I do recall when I was working with Olive Senior (yes, the Olive Senior) at the Institute of Jamaica Publications, us having a poetry reading by Lorna Goodison at the Institute of Jamaica with 5th and 6th forms from as many schools as we could. The auditorium was almost full. The students were enthusiastic, and this had nothing to do with school set books; it had to do with poetry. Afterwards the students crowded around the stage like Lorna Goodison  was a rock star, (which she is, come to think of it) asking questions, just wanting to share with her their joy at having experienced the event. (If anyone who was there reads this and can tell me that my memory of this event needs some clarification/correction, please feel free to  do so). This occasion is right up there with important memories in my life. I was overwhelmed that the students were overwhelmed.

What has all this got to do with children’s writing and children’s books, you ask? It has everything to do with it. Early exposure! “Train up the child in the way he should go  . . . .”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Two more new YA books from the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature

Lynn Joseph's Dancing in the Rain,  third place winner Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, 2015: another book answering the question why write? Or the power of stories

My last post was about books that bear evidence to the power of stories. Dancing in the Rain is one such  book.
Offline for three days, one felt  lost in space without  the ritual of opening emails.  I decided therefore that  I could use the time to consider at least one philosophical question. Would there be an answer if one opened one's mind? I needed to make sense of things. And the world was not making sense.  No doubt, there are others who  feel the same from time to time, and especially in today’s world.
In stepped Dancing in the Rain. I was pulled into the story by the lyrical writing. It's a joy to read; images abound, almost like being able to watch the  frames of a movie gently gliding by.  Joseph's characters are delightfully drawn;  you do indeed get to know them, want to know not only the outcome of the story, but the outcome of each of their own personal stories. The colours of the Caribbean  depicted (it's set in the Dominican Republic) are vibrant and magical.    
Against this mystical, magical background, two horrendous occurrences make their appearance,  the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11, and the Holocaust. The main characters are suffering from the effects of  9/11.  It’s significant that a book for young adults should deal with a traumatic occurrence which falls within present memory. It is contemporary; it is topical in a world where so many things seem out of our control, so beyond our wildest imaginations, and not in a pleasant way. The Holocaust appears as  a story within the  story, its purpose to draw attention to the different ways people survive after a tragedy of immense  proportions. So, in a sense, it informs the present.
The young protagonists ask philosophical questions and seek answers to the things we adults ourselves often do not understand. Yet,  it seemed as if by interacting with the characters and their story, and the  really brilliant protagonists, we understand what we always knew, but sometimes forget, that the only one way to deal with disasters is with faith/ hope and courage;  Joseph more than once refers to the importance of hope.
Joseph also speaks about joy and love, 'you are my heart', 'you are my joy', both of which I firmly believe in, and which from time to time appear in my stories.
So  did I have a breakthrough as a result  of my  journey with Joseph's characters, their philosophy, their brand of magic? Well something happened. It occurred while reading Dancing in the Rain. I have never doubted the power of stories, the power of books.  I gave thanks for the power of this story.
Children of the Spider by Imam Baksh, first place winner Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, 2015
 This is a rollicking adventure story set in Guyana. It’s really well written,  it keeps you on the edge of your seat, bed, wherever you read. Quoting from the blurb: Maya is a girl on the run. Driven by desperation and the search for her father  . . . she meets Joseph, a boy without the gift of speech but with much to say. Intriguing, right? The blurb also tells us . . . the story moves from the lush hinterlands of Guyana through the bustling city of Georgetown . . .It is a refreshing take on Caribbean myth and mythology from an interesting new voice.
So I was cheering for both Maya and Joseph. I enjoyed the trip from the interior to the coast, the river boat, the chase by the villains,  some of this world and some not, through markets and canals and along the roads of Georgetown.  The character of  Anancy, when it appears, is different, without losing the anancy characteristic, and is in fact  quite delightful.  I enjoyed the very clever mix of the present time along with this  old folktale character,  and what seemed to be another new created myth. And what do we know? Maybe the new isn’t new at all.
This is a great read!
This is a book to be in schools right now, at secondary, or even upper primary. Our Caribbean children will love this. For my part, it will show them we can also have adventure stories just like anything coming out of the developed world, and better, in fact.
Here we are with three new books, all Burt winners, Children of the Spider, Dancing in the Rain (both Blouse and Skirt Books - I salute Tanya Batson-Savage and her Blouse and Skirt Books for publishing these books); and Gone to Drift, (Papillote Press, review in my post of Saturday, June, 11). All are different, all contemporary, all great reads;  which should be in schools, which could hook our children onto reading. I believe the print run for the Burt Awards might in fact allow for many schools across the Caribbean to access these books. Will the powers that be put them on their master list which controls all reading? I do hope so, because they are enchanting,  they are enticing, they are exciting, and because it’s time to have some contemporary Caribbean stories in schools.
I feel really pleased that the Burt Awards are turning out to be so fantastic, helping us to develop  a library of outstanding  young adult books.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Why write if nobody is going to read it? If a tree falls in the forest . . .

You’ve seen this question, or versions of it, asked before: Would you still write if you knew that no-one would read it? It reminds me of the question first introduced to us in university. If a tree falls in the forest , and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? We were young; how we pondered that question, our introduction to philosophical thought. That was long ago. Today’s students would know the answer to that, and no doubt have far more serious concerns. Little did I know that that question might arise again. It has, after what I call the failure of the great Amazon experiment/expedition (for another blog).

A fellow writer, no doubt feeling as low as I did at the time, asked if people aren’t buying our books why write? She indicated that writing was her life, so what now? At the time,  I was concerned with unexpected family affairs and had no time to even consider the matter. However, I think I have an answer, and it is this. There is always somebody, reading. Have faith in that, and if even one person/child reads you story and finds comfort, finds himself/herself, finds something of merit, perhaps a glimmer to light his/her way through life, then it is worth writing. And in a way, like workers in some ancient colony or social organization, we have to write; that is our destiny. Perhaps this is worth a coffee morning of discussion with fellow authors.

A few weeks ago, I read a column by a young columnist in one of our newspapers. It was after The Olympics and we were just full up with gratitude to our athletes, and especially happy for our Usain Bolt. The writer said that he had read this book when he was in school about great sportsmen of the world, Mohammed Ali and Pele ( I think he mentioned those), and he wondered if he would ever see any greats like that again  in the world, and here he was seeing  our own Usain Bolt, as great an athlete as ever there was in the world. I was amazed. I wondered if he was referring to the Dr. Bird Series (he remembered the books arriving at his school in a box), provided by the Ministry of Education, and written by Peggy Campbell (of blessed memory), Karl Phillpotts and I.  This particular non-fiction piece, Some of the World’s Greats,  was written by Peggy or Karl, not by me. ( I thought that the title included  . . .in sports” but it isn’t written like that on my list, so apologies to the writer or heirs , if the title isn’t quite right). I could see the book, I searched for it in my collection of originals (so I could scan it for this blog), but there was no copy there. I concluded that I gave it to a library when I was doing one of my ‘culling of books exercises’, when I decided that I would only keep copies of those that contained stories written by me.  Hard decisions like this have to be made when you perceive that there is a danger that one day you may not be able to get into your study because of books, books, books, everywhere.

The point is, guys, the book made a lasting impression on him. He remembered it even as an adult. Finally, he had his own ‘world’s great in sports’. I think that is reason enough to write.

Here is another example, just in this last week, as a comment on one of my blog posts:

I am the quality person I am today because of your inspiring writings. My ability to ready had more to do with the interesting and captivating plots in your  short stories that had me engaged as a child. Now as an adult, I would like to collect them all. How possible is that?

By the way, I get requests from people about how to get the Dr. Bird Series ( I presume the above is about the Dr. Bird Series).  We get no royalties from these books, but I count it as one of the greatest blessings of my life that I was able to write on that series, with two great writers.

Then there is Abigail: Abigail’s Glorious Hair  created quite a stir. I thought it would be The Happiness Dress, the Commonwealth Prize winner. But Abigail is the one that touched a spark in us about our hair, brought back memories for some, made little girls absolutely sure that they had glorious hair. Earlier this year, I read at the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) conference held here in Jamaica, (along with Diana McCaulay, (Gone to Drift – see my previous blog), and A-dZiko Simba Gegele (All Over Again), both Burt Prize winners.  Again, there was that wonderful reception for Abigail. Someone from Belize asked that in signing her copy of the book, I also write, “You have beautiful hair”. This, she said, was for a little girl who didn’t think her hair was beautiful because it was too curly. Aah, my friends. Definitely reason enough to write?

But, you say, you are talking about books that people are buying and reading. Yes, guys, but when I wrote Abigail I had no idea. It was for my grandchildren, inspired by them. ( Rachel Wade, whose illustrations are so delightful, was actually sent pictures by me of my granddaughter’s hair, so that she could get the image right.) As I said, I thought it would be The Happiness Dress that would carry the two books. And in truth, children have found happiness dresses in their closets, and wear happiness dresses to my readings, as a couple of the girls did for  a recent reading at the Kingston and St. Andrew Parish Library. The  important thing is, you never know when a book will drop a ray of hope or love into a child’s heart or mind.  Definitely reason to write!

 As a postscript, at this time, hopefully Abigail will  enlighten, comfort, sing a hallelujah chorus. A story can quietly make a mighty noise.

Credits for image of forest: :