Saturday, October 2, 2010

Should these books be out of print?

Voice in the Wind

The Bird Gang

Why should I write about books which are out of print? Because we complain that there is not enough for the 9-12 year-old and the young adult audience. (Not sure who 'we' are, but I guess it's better than 'they', the 'faceless they' which frees us up from quite a bit of responsibility). You see, I think there is more for the older reader than we know, and while the picture story book is a gorgeous medium, colourful, and very necessary for our young children, the older child also needs more material. It's a time when as a pre-adolescents/adolescents, children begin to work out and understand who they are.

I recently read an article in a newspaper which was explaining the importance of literature as a subject at the secondary level. The writer gave very important points, the intrinsic nature of literature; the importance of reading about other people's lives in other countries, thereby understanding what we all share as human beings; universal values. No where did the writer mention our own lives, the validation of ourselves in literature.

Surely one of the things about literature is that it should also reflect for us an image of our lives, like a mirror; and allow us to reflect upon our lives, especially in post colonial regions. Yes, I know colonialism is long gone, but some of the effects have not gone: reference to the bleaching of skins, and the fact that all of us seem to prefer buying the books which we bought all through colonialism, rather than those from other territories. Look at the shelves of the children's section the next time you are in a bookshop. And believe me, if you can prove me wrong, I will rejoice!

I cannot tell you why these two books I've chosen are out of print. But one of the reasons could be that no one who might be interested in publishing for this group knows about them. I admit right up front that they are two of my favourite books.

One is Voice in the Wind, by Jean D'Costa., (Longman). It takes place in Jamaica during the second World War. I can hear some saying, "See that! Ancient history! That was then, and now is now. Who want to read that?" Could be! But I would ask why are there other books about children set in Europe during that time period on some of our reading lists, and not this one. Okay, persons liking one book over another is normal; everybody has a right to their opinion. True! I just hope that it is not because one is European, 'So we know is a good book because 'they' say is a good book.' We don't know if a Caribbean book is as good unless somebody tells us? And I'm not knocking books established as classics from outside of the region. I'm just asking us to consider as we look at books what we think the 'thinking process' is for selection/purchase.

Another I like is The Bird Gang, by Christine Craig, Heinneman Caribbean; and yes, I was the person who had it published when I was in charge of the then newly formed children's section. This book could be a delightful chapter book; contemporary children, relevant story, exciting adventure, delightful black and white illustrations by Andrea Haynes. It's about a group of friends who try to save the birds from the bird shooters in bird shooting season. Plotting and planning in secret; the execution is far more scary than they expect. The ending is happily resolved, but for those who want to read between the lines, it leaves us asking questions about the creatures in our environment.

Here is a section from the book:

We came screaming out of the bush with loud, loud wails. We hurled ourselves at the acacia trees shouting and shaking the trees. The birds made a soft 'wh-oosh' as they took to the skies. There was a terribly loud 'bang' and we whirled around, screaming in earnest now, and dropped to the the ground as a hail of pellets fell all around us. ... I was terrified.

The publisher that published this book no longer exists. But had this been published by a British publisher would it be better known and on some reading list? I'm really asking if it would have made the book more important for us if 'they' said it was a good story. You see, we, our literature teachers, our schools, our librarians, our examining bodies have to ask for books and so encourage publishers to reprint. Oh my God, what heresy! However, to quote Bob Marley, "Free us from mental slavery". 'Everybody vex now since I say that. Right? Yes, man! Sorry 'bout that.'

I think I'm going to make enquiries about this one. Surely there must be a publisher somewhere! Surely?


  1. I recently read a statement that said books are windows and mirrors, that they show us ourselves as well as they show us the world. This statement gives no validity to books that are inaccurate portrayals of who someone thinks we are. Now, to get publishers to understand that!
    No, colonialism no longer exists in its original form but it's still there and much more insidious. Teen years are when we're developing and most interested in learning more about who we are as individuals. I don't think there is a more important time to give someone a book who reflects who they are.
    Have you tried some of the online books sites to see if you can collect used copies of these books? That would get them into readers' hands until something else becomes available.

  2. Diane, I have been looking for a picture of the cover of D'Costa's 'Voice in the Wind' for the longest while! I can't seem to find a picture of the cover any where on the Internet. Do you have access to the book and if so, would it be too much for me to ask you to scan the cover and email it to me? I would be ever sooo grateful. *Fingers crossed*

    Over at the Anansesem Facebook page, we've begun building a Jamaican children's literature virtual library. This is basically a photo album with the covers of Jamaican children's books. I just added the covers of your books actually :-) Check it out: