As my friend and fellow writer, Hazel Campbell has pointed out in her blog, some people seem to equate children's books with picture books. However, there are also chapter books and young adult novels which are for the top of primary and lower secondary. That is, they may appeal to the independent reader at grade 4 - about age 9 (or an adult can read to the child) and will certainly provide entertaining reading for children in grades 5, 6, and 7 - approximately ages 10 - 12. Grade 7 is the same as what used to be form 1 in high schools.
We ignore this group to their peril, and to our constant on-going disappointment when the CSEC results come out. No, exams are not everything, but as all of us who were educated in the 'good old days' know, English, which is not an easy language, becomes that much easier when you read widely and often. I have heard some young people say about the so-called old days. 'Then is then and now is now'. End of story. No examination of the past.
This is not going to be a discussion about the merits of Creole (patios) and Standard English. Both definitely have their place in our children's' lives and in books. This is about story books, children's literature for older children. It is just about books which should engage our children.
So, 1) I take it as a given that reading story books is one of the easiest ways of moving towards literacy. Structures just seep into your head from the page, and then come back out when you need them. Have you ever had the experience of using the right word, the right construction, and not being able to tell anyone why it is, but you know it's right? That's what reading does. It gives you confidence in using a language. 2) Reading story books helps in understanding what literature is all about before one is thrown into the hectic life of high school literature and towards the exam. 3) Moreover, it can be so much fun.
Therefore to my topic: I am going to mention some relatively new books which are topical and very interesting. I am not doing book reviews. They are simply books that I have read recently; I will just say what I liked about them, and hope that you can get hold of them to read them for yourselves.
Tragedy of Emerald Isle by S.E. James, published by Sharon Publications, Antigua, 2000.
This is about a child who witnesses the beginning of the volcanic eruptions in Montserrat, and then having moved to Antigua for safety, experiences two hurricanes, one after another. Scary real stuff, eh! The descriptions of the eruptions beginning, the ash, the fright of not knowing at first what it is, what was actually happening, and then once reality dawned, the fear of what would happen next, grabbed me. I was sitting 'scrunched up' in my bed (which is where I read) with fright. The description of the hurricanes was also full of tension, raising unwanted memories of recent hurricanes.
I like the sharing of the reality of other islands, as different from the sharing of folktales, which is how we usually get to know each other at this age level.
Bernie and the Captain's Ghost by Hazel D. Campbell, Carlong Publsihers, Jamaica, 2010.
Move over Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew! Yes, this book can replace them in the young reader's life. In a remote setting there is the reality of bad men involved in drugs, danger, and the secrets which may lead to the solution of the mystery and also to safety.
An interesting aspect is that the protagonists are all children with a handicap of some sort, but they soar onwards against all odds. You forget that they are handicapped and get caught up in their adventure, fearful for them, wondering if they know what they are doing, and cheering them on. I do hope that someone donates copies of this to children's homes, children involved in Special Olympics, and so on.
In a further blog I will mention books for even older children.